By self is one defiled,
By self is one purified.
— Dhp 165
Is it the doer of the act or another who reaps its results in the succeeding birth? 380
To say that he who sows is absolutely the same as he who reaps is one extreme, and to say that he who sows is totally different from he who reaps is the other extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Buddha teaches the doctrine of the middle way in terms of cause and effect. “Neither the same nor another” (na ca so na ca añño), writes the Venerable Buddhaghosa in the Visuddhimagga. The evolution of the butterfly may be cited in illustration.
Its initial stage was an egg. Then it turned into a caterpillar. Later it developed into a chrysalis, and eventually into a butterfly. This process occurs in the course of one lifetime. The butterfly is neither the same as, nor totally different from, the caterpillar. Here also there is a flux of life, or a continuity.
Venerable Nāgasena explains this point by citing the illustration of a lamp that burns throughout the night. The flame of the first watch is not identical with that of the last watch, yet throughout the night the light burns in dependence upon one and the same lamp. As with the flame so there is a continuity of life—each succeeding stage depending upon the preceding one.
If there be no soul, can there be any moral responsibility? 381
Yes, because there is a continuity or identity in process, which is substituted for an identical personality.
A child, for instance, becomes a man. The latter is neither absolutely the same as the former—since the cells have undergone a complete change nor totally different—being the identical stream of life. Nevertheless, the individual, as man, is responsible for whatever he has done in his childhood. Whether the flux dies here and is reborn elsewhere, or continues to exist in the same life, the essential factor is this continuity. Suppose a person was ‘A’ in his last birth, and is ‘B’ in this. With the death of ‘A’ the physical vehicle, the outward manifestation of kammic energy is relinquished and, with the birth of ‘B’ a fresh physical vehicle arises. Despite the apparent material changes, the invisible stream of consciousness (cittasantati) continues to flow, uninterrupted by death, carrying along with it all the impressions received from the tributary streams of sense. Conventionally speaking, must not ‘B’ be responsible for the actions of ‘A’ who was his predecessor?
Some may object that in this case there is no memory owing to the intervening death.
But is identity or memory absolutely essential in assessing moral responsibility?
Strictly speaking, neither is essential.
If, for instance, a person were to commit a crime and suddenly, losing his memory, were to forget the incident, would he not be responsible for his act?
His forgetfulness would not exempt him from responsibility for the commission of that crime. To this, some may ask: “What is the use of punishing him, for he is not aware that he is being punished for that crime? Is there any justice here?”
Of course, there is not, if we are arbitrarily governed by a God who rewards and punishes us.
Buddhists believe in a just and rational law of kamma that operates automatically and speak in terms of cause and effect instead of rewards and punishments.
In the words of Bhikkhu Sīlacāra:
If a person does something in sleep, gets out of bed and walks over the edge of a verandah, he will fall into the road below and in all likelihood break an arm or leg. But this will happen not at all as a punishment for sleep-walking, but merely as its result. And the fact that he did not remember going out on the verandah would not make the slightest difference to the result of his fall from it, in the shape of broken bones. So the follower of the Buddha takes measures to see that he does not walk over verandahs or other dangerous places, asleep or awake, so as to avoid hurting himself or anyone who might be below and on whom he might fall.
The fact that a person does not remember his past is no hindrance to the intelligent understanding of the working of kammic law. It is the knowledge of the inevitability of the sequence of kamma in the course of one’s life in Saṃsāra that helps to mould the character of a Buddhist.
Kammic Descent and Kammic Ascent
Kamma differentiates beings into high and low states.
— Majjhima Nikāya
Is kammic descent possible? In other words, can a man be born as an animal?
The Buddhist answer may not be acceptable to all, for Buddhism does recognise this possibility.
Material forms, through which the life-continuum expresses itself, are merely temporary visible manifestations of the kammic energy. The present physical body is not directly evolved from the past physical form, but is the successor of this past form—being linked with it through the same stream of kammic energy.
Just as an electric current can be manifested in the forms of light, heat and motion successively—one not necessarily being evolved from the other—so this kammic energy may manifest itself in the form of a deva, man, animal, or other being, one form having no physical connection with the other. It is one’s kamma that determines the nature of one’s material form, which varies according to the skilfulness or unskilfulness of one’s past actions, and this again depends entirely on the evolution of one’s understanding of reality. Instead of saying that man becomes an animal, or vice versa, it would be more correct to say that the kammic force which manifested itself in the form of man may manifest itself in the form of an animal.
In the course of our wanderings in saṃsāra—to speak in conventional terms—we gather various experiences, receive manifold impressions, acquire diverse characteristics. Our every thought, word, or deed is indelibly recorded in the palimpsest-like mind. The different natures we thus acquire in the course of such successive births whether as men, devas, animals or petas, lie dormant within us, and as long as we are worldlings these undestroyed natures may, at unexpected moments, rise to the surface “in disconcerting strength” and reveal our latent kammic tendencies.
It is quite natural for us to remark after witnessing an unexpected outburst of passion in a highly cultured person: “How could he have done such a thing? Who would have thought that he would commit such an act!”
There is nothing strange in this misdemeanour of his. It is just a revelation of a hidden part of his intricate self. This is the reason why men normally of lofty motives are sometimes tempted to do things which one would least expect of them.
Devadatta, for example, a noble prince by birth, a leading member of the holy order, was possessed of supernormal powers. Overcome by jealousy, latent in him, he made several attempts to kill his own master the Buddha.
Such is the intricate nature of man. One’s immediate past is not always a true index to one’s immediate future. Every moment we create fresh kamma. In one sense we are truly what we were, and we will be what we are. In another sense we are not absolutely what we were, and we will not be what we are. Who was yesterday a criminal may today become a saint, who today is holy may tomorrow turn out to be a wretched sinner.
We can safely and rightly be judged by this eternal present. Today we sow the seeds of the future. At this very moment we may act the part of a brute and create our own hell, or, on the other hand, act the part of a superman and create our own heaven. Each present thought-moment conditions the next thought-moment. The subsequent birth also, according to Buddhist philosophy, is determined by the last thought-process we experience in this life. Just as through the course of one’s life each thought perishes, giving up all its potentialities to its successor, even so the last thought-process of this life ends, transmitting all its acquired characteristics and natures to the succeeding moment—namely, the first thought-moment (paṭisandhi viññāṇa) in the subsequent birth.
Now, if the dying person cherishes a base desire or idea, or experiences a thought, or does an act which befits an animal, his evil kamma will condition him to birth in animal form. The kammic force which manifested itself in the form of a man will manifest itself in the form of an animal. This does not imply that thereby all his past good kammic tendencies are lost. They too lie dormant seeking an opportunity to rise to the surface. It is such good kamma that will later effect birth as a human being.
The last thought-process does not, as a rule, depend on the sum-total of our actions in our lifetime. Generally speaking, a good person gets a good birth, and a bad person, a bad one. Under exceptional circumstances, however, the unexpected may happen.
Queen Mallikā, 382 for example, led a good life, but as the result of experiencing an evil thought at her dying moment, she was born in a state of woe. As her good kamma was powerful the expiation lasted only for a few days.
“Is this justifiable?” one might ask.
If a holy person, due to some provocation, were to commit a murder, he would be charged as a murderer. His past good actions would no doubt stand to his credit and have their due effect, but the brutal act could not be obliterated by his past good. Perhaps his past good record would tend to mitigate the sentence, but never could it acquit him altogether of his heinous crime. This unexpected event would compel him to live in an uncongenial atmosphere amongst similar criminals. Is this fair? Imagine how one single immoral act may degrade a noble man!
On one occasion two ascetics Puṇṇa and Seniya who were practising ox-asceticism and dog-asceticism came to the Buddha and questioned him as to their future destiny:
The Buddha replied:
In this world a certain person cultivates thoroughly and constantly the practices, habits, mentality, and manners of a dog. He, having cultivated the canine practices, habits, mentality, and manners thoroughly and constantly, upon the breaking up of the body, after death, will be reborn amongst dogs. Certainly if he holds such a belief as this—’by virtue of this practice, austerity or noble life, I shall become a god or a deity of some kind’—that is a false belief of his. For one who holds a false belief I declare that there is one of two future states—the state of torment or the animal kingdom. Thus, failing a state of torment, successful canine asceticism only delivers one to companionship with dogs. 383
In the same way the Buddha declared that he who observes ox-asceticism will, after death, be born amongst oxen. So there is the possibility for a kammic descent in one bound in the so-called evolutionary scale of beings.
But the contrary, a kammic ascent, is also possible.
When, for instance, an animal is about to die, it may experience a moral consciousness that will ripen into a human birth. This last thought-process does not depend wholly on any action or thought of the animal, for generally speaking, its mind is dull and it is incapable of doing any moral action. This depends on some past good deed done during a former round of its existence which has long been prevented from producing its inevitable results. In its last moment the animal therefore may conceive ideas or images which will cause a human birth.
Poussin, a French writer, illustrates this fact by the law of heredity: “A man may be like his grandfather but not like his father. The germs of disease have been introduced into the organism of an ancestor, for some generations they remain dormant. But suddenly they manifest themselves in actual diseases.”
So intricate is the nature of this doctrine of kamma and rebirth!
Whence we came, whither we go, and when we go, we know not. The fact that we must go we know for certain.
Our cherished possessions, our kith and kin follow us not—nay, not even our bodies which we call our own. From elements they came, to elements they return. Empty fame and vain glory vanish in thin air.
Alone we wander in this tempest-tossed sea of saṃsāra wafted hither and thither by our own kamma, appearing here as an animal or man and there perchance as a god or Brahmā.
We meet and part and yet we may meet again incognito. For seldom do we find a being who, in the course of our wandering, had not at one time been a mother, a father, a sister, a son, a daughter.
“If a man,” says the Buddha, “were to prune out the grasses, sticks, boughs, and twigs in this India and collecting them together, should make a pile laying them in a four inch stack, saying for each: ‘This is my mother, this is my mother’s mother,’—the grasses, sticks, boughs, twigs in this India would be used up, ended but not the mothers of that man’s mother.”
So closely bound are we during our journeyings in saṃsāra.
The countless lives we have led and the innumerable sufferings we were subject to in the infinite past are such that the Buddha remarks:
“The bones of a single person wandering in saṃsāra would be a cairn, a pile, a heap as Mount Vepulla, were there a collector of these bones and were the collections not destroyed.
“Long time have you suffered the death of father and mother, of sons, daughters, brothers and sisters, and while you were thus suffering, you have verily shed tears upon this long way, more than there is water in the four oceans.
“Long time did your blood flow by the loss of your heads when you were born as oxen, buffaloes, rams, goats, etc.
“Long time have you been caught as dacoits or highwaymen or adulterers, and through your being beheaded, verily more blood has flowed upon this long way than there is water in the four oceans.
“And thus have you for long time undergone sufferings, undergone torment, undergone misfortune, and filled the graveyards full, verily long enough to be dissatisfied with every form of existence, long enough to turn away and free yourself from them all.” 384
The Doctrine of Kamma and Rebirth in the West
The doctrine of kamma and rebirth is the keystone of the philosophy of Plato. Beings are for ever travelling through “a cycle of necessity”; the evil they do in one semicircle of their pilgrimage is expiated in the other. In The Republic, we find kamma personified as “Lachesis, the daughter of necessity,” at whose hands disembodied beings choose their incarnations. Orpheus chooses the body of a swan, Thersites that of an ape, Agamemmon that of an eagle. “In like manner, some of the animals passed into men, and into one another, the unjust passing into the wild, and the just into the tame.”
In the period preceding the Persian Wars, the contact of the West with the East caused a revolt against the simple eschatology of Homer, and the search began for a deeper explanation of life. This quest, it is interesting to note, was begun by the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor, who were influenced by India.
Pythagoras, 385 who was born about 580 BCE on the island of Samos, travelled widely and, according to his biographer, studied the teaching of the Indians. It was he who taught the West the doctrine of kamma and rebirth.
“It is not too much,” says Garbe in his Greek Thinkers, 386 “to assume that the curious Greek, who was a contemporary of the Buddha, would have acquired a more or less exact knowledge of the East, in that age of intellectual fermentation, through the medium of Persia.”
Rebirth As Viewed By Others
“As a man, casting off worn-out garments, taketh the new ones, so the dweller in the body, casting off worn-out bodies, entereth into others that are new.”
“For certain is death for the born, and certain is birth for the dead.”
“The Egyptians propounded the theory that the human soul is imperishable, and that where the body of anyone dies it enters into some other creature that may be ready to receive it.”
“All have souls, all is soul, wandering in the organic world and obeying eternal will or law.”
“Soul is older than body. Souls are continually born over again into this life.”
Ovid on Pythagoras
“Death so called, is but old matter dressed
In some new form: and in varied vest
From tenement to tenement though tossed,
The soul is still the same, the figure only lost.
And as the softened wax new seals receives,
This face assumes, and that impression leaves,
Now called by one, now by another name,
The form is only changed, the wax is still the same,
Then, to be born is to begin to be
Some other thing we were not formerly.
That forms are changed I grant;
That nothing can continue in the figure it began.”
—translated by Dryden
“We find the doctrine of metempsychosis, springing from the earliest and noblest ages of the human race, always spread abroad in the earth as the belief of the great majority of mankind, nay really as the teaching of all religions, with the exception of the Jews and the two which have proceeded from it in the most subtle form however, and coming nearest to the truth as has already been mentioned in Buddhism. Accordingly while Christians console themselves with the thought of meeting in another world in which one regains one’s complete personality and knows oneself at once, in these other religions the meeting again is already going on only incognito. In the succession of births those who now stand in close connection or contact with us will also be born along with us at our next birth, and will have the same or analogous relations and sentiments towards us as now, whether these are of a friendly or hostile description.
“Taught already in the Vedas, as in all sacred books of India, metempsychosis is well known to be the kernel of Brahmanism and Buddhism. It accordingly prevails at the present day in the whole of the non-Mohammedan Asia, thus among more than half of the whole human race, as the firmest conviction and with an incredibly strong practical influence. It was also the belief of the Egyptians from whom it was received with enthusiasm by Orpheus, Pythagoras and Plato: the Pythagoreans, however, specially retain it. That it was also taught in the mysteries of the Greeks undeniably follows the ninth book of Plato’s Laws.”
“The Edda also especially in the ‘Volusna’ teaches metempsychosis; not less was it the foundation of the Druids.”
“According to all this, the belief in metempsychosis presents itself as the natural conviction of man, whenever he reflects at all in an unprejudiced manner…”
—The World As Will And Idea
“Metempsychosis is the only system of immortality that philosophy can hearken to.”
“There is no system so simple, and so little repugnant to our understanding as that of metempsychosis. The pains and pleasures of this life are by this system considered as the recompense or the punishment of our actions in another state.”
“And then son, who through your mortal weight shall again return below.”
“We must infer our destiny from the preparation we are driven by instinct to have innumerable experiences which are of no visible value, and which we may receive through many lives before we shall assimilate or exhaust them.”
“Why should I not come back as often as I am capable of acquiring fresh knowledge, fresh experience? Do I bring away so much from one that there is nothing to repay the trouble of coming back?”
“Like the doctrine of evolution itself, that of transmigration has its roots in the realm of reality.
“Everyday experience familiarises us with the facts which are grouped under the name of heredity. Everyone of us bears upon him obvious marks of his parentage perhaps of remoter relationships. More particularly the sum of tendencies to act in a certain way, which we call character, is often to be traced through a long series of progenitors and collaterals. So we may justly say that this character, this moral and intellectual essence of a man does veritably pass over from one fleshly tabernacle to another, and does really transmigrate from generation to generation. In the new-born infant the character of the stock lies latent, and the ego is little more than a bundle of potentialities, but, very early these become actualities: from childhood to age they manifest themselves in dullness or brightness, weakness or strength, viciousness or uprightness; and with each feature modified by confluence with another character, if by nothing else, the character passes on to its incarnation in new bodies.
“The Indian philosophers called character, as thus defined, ‘Karma.’ “It is this karma which passed from life to life and linked them in the chain of transmigrations; and they held that it is modified in each life, not merely by confluence of parentage but by its own acts.”
Or if through lower lives I came
Tho’all experience past became,
Consolidate in mind and frame.
I might forget my weaker lot;
For is not our first year forgot
The haunts of memory echo not.
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from after:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness.
“If there be no reasons to suppose that we have existed before that period at which existence apparently commences, then there are no grounds for supposing that we shall continue to exist after our existence has apparently ceased.”
Professor Francis Bowen of Harvard University, in urging Christians to accept rebirth, writes:
Our life on earth is rightly held to be a discipline and a preparation for a higher and eternal life hereafter, but if limited to the duration of a single mortal body, it is so brief as to seem hardly sufficient for so grand a purpose. Three score years and ten must surely be an inadequate preparation for eternity. But what assurance have we that the probation of the soul is confined within such narrow limits? Why may it not be continued or repeated through a long series of successive generations, the same personality animating one after another an indefinite number of tenements of flesh and carrying forward into each the training it has received, the character it has formed, the temper and dispositions it has indulged, in the steps of existence immediately preceding. It need not remember its past history even whilst bearing the fruits and the consequence of that history deeply ingrained into its present nature. How many long passages of any one life are now completely lost to memory, though they may have contributed largely to build up the heart and the intellect which distinguish one man from another? Our responsibility surely is not lessened by such forgetfulness. We still seem accountable for the misuse of time, though we have forgotten how or on what we have wasted it. We are even now reaping the bitter fruits, through enfeebled health and vitiated desires and capacities, of many forgotten acts of self-indulgence, wilfulness and sin—forgotten just because they were so numerous.
If every birth were an act of absolute creation, the introduction to life of an entirely new creature, we might reasonably ask why different souls are so variously constituted at the outset? If metempsychosis is included in the scheme of the divine government of the world, this difficulty disappears altogether. Considered from this point of view, every one is born into the state which he had fairly earned by his own previous history. The doctrine of inherited sin and its consequence is a hard lesson to be learned. But no one can complain of the dispositions and endowments which he has inherited so to speak from himself, that is from his former self in a previous state of existence. What we call death is only the introduction of another life on earth, and if this be not a higher and better life than the one just ended, it is our own fault.
I laid me down upon the shore
And dreamed a little space;
I heard the great waves break and roar;
The sun was on my face.
My idle hands and fingers brown
Played with the pebbles grey;
The waves came up, the waves went down;
Most thundering and gay.
The pebbles they were smooth and round
And warm upon my hands;
Like little people I had found
Sitting among the sands.
The grains of sand so shining small.
So through my fingers ran;
The sun shown down upon it all.
And so my dream began;
How all of this had been before,
How ages far away.
I lay on some forgotten shore
As here I lie today.
The waves came up shinning up the sands,
As here today they shine;
And in my pre-Pelasgian hands
The sand was warm and fine.
I have forgotten whence I came
Or what my home might be,
Or by what strange and savage name
I called that thundering sea.
I only know the sun shone down
As still it shines today.
And in my fingers long and brown
The little pebbles lay. 387
“Nibbāna is bliss supreme.”
— Dhp vv. 203–204
Nibbāna is the summum bonum of Buddhism.
However clearly and descriptively one may write on this profound subject, however glowing may be the terms in which one attempts to describe its utter serenity, comprehension of Nibbāna is impossible by mere perusal of books. Nibbāna is not something to be set down in print, nor is it a subject to be grasped by intellect alone; it is a supramundane state (lokuttara dhamma) to be realised only by intuitive wisdom.
A purely intellectual comprehension of Nibbāna is impossible because it is not a matter to be arrived at by logical reasoning (atakkāvacara). The words of the Buddha are perfectly logical, but Nibbāna, the ultimate goal of Buddhism, is beyond the scope of logic. Nevertheless, by reflecting on the positive and negative aspects of life, the logical conclusion emerges that in contradistinction to a conditioned phenomenal existence, there must exist a sorrowless, deathless, non-conditioned state.
The Jātaka Commentary relates that the Bodhisatta himself in his birth as the ascetic Sumedha contemplated thus:
Even as, although misery is,
Yet happiness is also found,
So, though indeed existence is,
Non-Existence should be sought.
Even as, although there may be heat,
Yet grateful cold is also found,
So, though the threefold fire exists,
Likewise Nibbāna should be sought.
Even as, although there evil is,
That which is good is also found,
So, though ’tis true that birth exists.
That which is not birth should be sought. 388
The Pali word nibbāna (Skt. nirvāna) is composed of “ni(r)” and “vāna.” Ni(r) is a negative particle. Vāna means weaving or craving. This craving serves as a cord to connect one life with another.
“It is called nibbāna in that it is a departure (nir) from that craving which is called vāna, lusting.” 389
As long as one is bound up by craving or attachment one accumulates fresh kammic activities which must materialise in one form or other in the eternal cycle of birth and death. When all forms of craving are eradicated, reproductive kammic forces cease to operate, and one attains Nibbāna, escaping the cycle of birth and death. The Buddhist conception of deliverance is escape from the ever-recurring cycle of life and death and not merely an escape from sin and hell.
Nibbāna is also explained as the extinction of the fire of lust (lobha), hatred (dosa), and delusion (moha).
“The whole world is in flames,” says the Buddha. “By what fire is it kindled? By the fire of lust, hatred and delusion, by the fire of birth, old age, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair is it kindled.”
Nibbāna, in one sense, may be interpreted as the extinction of these flames. One must not thereby infer that Nibbāna is nothing but the extinction of these flames. 390 The means should be differentiated from the end. Here the extinction of the flames is the means of attaining Nibbāna.
Is Nibbāna Nothingness?
To say that Nibbāna is nothingness simply because one cannot perceive it with the five senses, is as illogical as to conclude that light does not exist simply because the blind do not see it. In a well-known fable the fish, who was acquainted only with water, arguing with the turtle, triumphantly concluded that there existed no land, because he received “No” to all his queries.
“Once upon a time there was a fish. And just because it was a fish, it had lived all its life in the water and knew nothing whatever about anything else but water. And one day as it swam about in the pond where all its days had been spent, it happened to meet a turtle of its acquaintance who had just come back from a little excursion on the land.”
“Good day, Mr. Turtle!” said the fish. “I have not seen you for a long time. Where have you been?”
“Oh”, said the turtle, “I have just been for a trip on dry land.”
“On dry land!” exclaimed the fish. “What do you mean by on dry land? There is no dry land. I had never seen such a thing. Dry land is nothing.”
“Well,” said the turtle good-naturedly. “If you want to think so, of course you may; there is no one who can hinder you. But that’s where I’ve been, all the same.”
“Oh, come,” said the fish. “Try to talk sense. Just tell me now what is this land of yours like? Is it all wet?”
“No, it is not wet,” said the turtle.
“Is it nice and fresh and cool?” asked the fish.
“No, it is not nice and fresh and cool,” the turtle replied.
“Is it clear so that light can come through it?”
“No, it is not clear. Light cannot come through it.”
“Is it soft and yielding, so that I could move my fins about in it and push my nose through it?”
“No, it is not soft and yielding. You could not swim in it.”
“Does it move or flow in streams?”
“No, it neither moves nor flows in streams?”
“Does it ever rise up into waves then, with white foams in them?” asked the fish, impatient at this string of “Nos.”
“No!” replied the turtle, truthfully, “It never rises up into waves that I have seen.”
“There now,” exclaimed the fish triumphantly. “Didn’t I tell you that this land of yours was just nothing? I have just asked, and you have answered me that it is neither wet nor cool, not clear nor soft and that it does not flow in streams nor rise up into waves. And if it isn’t a single one of these things what else is it but nothing? Don’t tell me.”
“Well, well,” said the turtle, “If you are determined to think that dry land is nothing, I suppose you must just go on thinking so. But any one who knows what is water and what is land would say you were just a silly fish, for you think that anything you have never known is nothing just because you have never known it.”
“And with that the turtle turned away and, leaving the fish behind in its little pond of water, set out on another excursion over the dry land that was nothing.” 391
It is evident from this significant story that neither can the turtle, who is acquainted with both land and sea, explain to the fish the real nature of land, nor can the fish grasp what is land since it is acquainted only with water. In the same way arahants who are acquainted with both the mundane and the supramundane cannot explain to a worldling what exactly the supramundane is in mundane terms, nor can a worldling understand the supramundane merely by mundane knowledge.
If Nibbāna is nothingness, then it necessarily must coincide with space (ākāsa). Both space and Nibbāna are eternal and unchanging. The former is eternal because it is nothing in itself. The latter is spaceless and timeless. With regard to the difference between space and Nibbāna, it may briefly be said that spaceis not, but Nibbānais.
The Buddha, speaking of the different planes of existence, makes special reference to a “realm of nothingness” (ākiñcaññāyatana).
The fact that Nibbāna is realised as one of the mental objects (vatthudhamma), decidedly proves that it is not a state of nothingness. If it were so, the Buddha would not have described its state in such terms as “infinite” (ananta), “non-conditioned” (asaṇkhata), “incomparable” (anupameyya), “supreme” (anuttara), “highest” (para), “beyond” (pāra), “highest refuge” (parāyana), “safety” (tāna), “security” (khema), “happiness” (siva), “unique” (kevala), “abodeless” (anālaya), “imperishable” (akkhara), “absolute purity” (visuddha), “supramundane” (lokuttara), “immortality” (amata), “emancipation” (mutti), “peace” (santi), etc.
In the Udāna and Itivuttaka the Buddha refers to Nibbāna as follows:
There is, O bhikkhus, an unborn (ajāta), unoriginated (abhūta), unmade (akata) and non-conditioned state (asaṇkhata). If, O bhikkhus, there were not this unborn, unoriginated, unmade and non-conditioned, an escape for the born, originated, made, and conditioned, would not be, possible here. As there is an unborn, unoriginated, unmade, and non-conditioned state, an escape for the born, originated, made, conditioned is possible. 392
The Itivuttaka states:
The born, become, produced, compounded, made,
And thus not lasting, but of birth and death
An aggregate, a nest of sickness, brittle,
A thing by food supported, come to be—
‘Twere no fit thing to take delight in such.
Th’escape therefrom, the real, beyond the sphere
Of reason, lasting, unborn, unproduced,
The sorrowless, the stainless path that ends
The things of woe, the peace from worries—bliss. 393
The Nibbāna of Buddhists is, therefore, neither a state of nothingness nor a mere cessation. What it is not, one can definitely say. What precisely it is, one cannot adequately express in conventional terms as it is unique. It is for self-realisation (paccattaṃ veditabbo).
Sopādisesa and Anupādisesa Nibbāna Dhātu
References are frequently made in the books to Nibbāna as sopādisesa 394 and anupādisesa nibbāna dhātu.
These in fact are not two kinds of Nibbāna, but the one single Nibbāna receiving its name according to experience of it before and after death.
Nibbāna is attainable in this present life itself if the seeker fits himself for it. Buddhism nowhere states that its ultimate goal can be reached only in a life beyond. Here lies the difference between the Buddhist conception of Nibbāna and the non-Buddhist conception of an eternal heaven which is attainable only after death.
When Nibbāna is realised in the body, it is called sopādisesa nibbāna dhātu. When an arahant attains parinibbāna after the dissolution of the body, without any remainder of any physical existence, it is called anupādisesa nibbāna dhātu.
In the Itivuttaka the Buddha says:
There are, O bhikkhus, two elements of Nibbāna. What two? The element of Nibbāna with the basis (upādi) still remaining and that without basis.
Herein, O bhikkhus, a bhikkhu is an arahant, one who has destroyed the defilements, who has lived the life, done what was to be done, laid aside the burden, who has attained his goal, who has destroyed the fetters of existence, who, rightly understanding, is delivered. His five sense-organs still remain, and as he is not devoid of them he undergoes the pleasant and the unpleasant experiences. That destruction of his attachment, hatred and delusion is called the ‘the element of Nibbāna with the basis still remaining.’
What O Bhikkhus, is ‘the element of Nibbāna without the basis’?
Herein, O bhikkhus, a bhikkhu is an arahant … is delivered. In this very life all his sensations will have no delight for him, they will be cooled. This is called ‘the element of Nibbāna without a basis. 395
These two Nibbāna-states are shown by him
Who sees, who is Such and unattached.
One state is that in this same life possessed
With base remaining, though becoming’s stream
Is cut off. While the state without a base
Belongs to the future, wherein all
Becomings utterly do come to cease.
They who, by knowing this state uncompounded
Have heart’s release, by cutting off the stream,
They who have reached the core of Dhamma, glad
To end, such have abandoned all becomings. 396
Characteristics of Nibbāna
What is Nibbāna, friend? The destruction of lust, the destruction of hatred, the destruction of delusion—that, friend, is called Nibbāna.
— Saṃyutta Nikāya
In contradistinction to saṃsāra, the phenomenal existence, Nibbāna is lasting (dhuva), desirable (subha), and happy (sukha).
According to Buddhism all things, mundane and supramundane, are classified into two divisions, namely, those conditioned by causes (saṇkhata) and those not conditioned by any cause (asaṇkhata).
“These three are the features of all conditioned things (sankhatalakkhani): arising (uppāda), cessation (vaya), and change of state (thitassa aññathattaṃ).” 397
Arising or becoming is an essential characteristic of everything that is conditioned by a cause or causes. That which arises or becomes is subject to change and dissolution. Every conditioned thing is constantly becoming and is perpetually changing. The universal law of change applies to everything in the cosmos—both mental and physical—ranging from the minutest germ or tiniest particle to the highest being or the most massive object. Mind, though imperceptible, changes faster even than matter.
Nibbāna, a supramundane state, realised by Buddhas and arahants, is declared to be not conditioned by any cause. Hence it is not subject to any becoming, change and dissolution. It is birthless (ajāta), decayless (ajarā), and deathless (amara). Strictly speaking, Nibbāna is neither a cause nor an effect. Hence it is unique (kevala).
Everything that has sprung from a cause must inevitably pass away, and as such is undesirable (asubha).
Life is man’s dearest possession, but when he is confronted with insuperable difficulties and unbearable burdens, then that very life becomes an intolerable burden. Sometimes he tries to seek relief by putting an end to his life as if suicide would solve all his individual problems.
Bodies are adorned and adored. But those charming, adorable and enticing forms, when disfigured by time and disease, become extremely repulsive.
Men desire to live peacefully and happily with their near ones, surrounded by amusements and pleasures, but, if by some misfortune, the wicked world runs counter to their ambitions and desires, the inevitable sorrow is then almost indescribably sharp.
The following beautiful parable aptly illustrates the fleeting nature of life and its alluring pleasures.
A man was forcing his way through a thick forest beset with thorns and stones. Suddenly to his great consternation, an elephant appeared and gave chase. He took to his heels through fear, and, seeing a well, he ran to hide in it. But to his horror he saw a viper at the bottom of the well. However, lacking other means of escape, he jumped into the well, and clung to a thorny creeper that was growing in it. Looking up, he saw two mice—a white one and a black one—gnawing at the creeper. Over his face there was a beehive from which occasional drops of honey trickled.
This man, foolishly unmindful of this precarious position, was greedily tasting the honey. A kind person volunteered to show him a path of escape. But the greedy man begged to be excused till he had enjoyed himself.
The thorny path is saṃsāra, the ocean of life. Man’s life is not a bed of roses. It is beset with difficulties and obstacles to overcome, with opposition and unjust criticism, with attacks and insults to be borne. Such is the thorny path of life.
The elephant here resembles death; the viper, old age; the creeper, birth; the two mice, night and day. The drops of honey correspond to the fleeting sensual pleasures. The man represents the so-called being. The kind person represents the Buddha.
The temporary material happiness is merely the gratification of some desire. When the desired thing is gained, another desire arises. Insatiate are all desires.
Sorrow is essential to life, and cannot be evaded.
Nibbāna, being non-conditioned, is lasting (dhuva), desirable (subha), and happy (sukha).
The happiness of Nibbāna should be differentiated from ordinary worldly happiness. Nibbānic bliss grows neither stale nor monotonous. It is a form of happiness that never wearies, never fluctuates. It arises by allaying passions (vūpasama) unlike that temporary worldly happiness which results from the gratification of some desire (vedayita).
In the Bahuvedanīya Sutta (MN 57) the Buddha enumerates ten grades of happiness beginning with the gross material pleasures which result from the pleasant stimulation of the senses. As one ascends higher and higher in the moral plane the type of happiness becomes ever more exalted, sublime and subtle, so much so that the world scarcely recognises it as happiness. In the first jhāna one experiences a transcendental happiness (sukha), absolutely independent of the five senses. This happiness is realised by inhibiting the desire for the pleasures of the senses, highly prized by the materialist. In the fourth jhāna however, even this type of happiness is discarded as coarse and unprofitable, and equanimity (upekkha) is termed happiness.
The Buddha says: 398
“Fivefold, Ánanda, are sensual bonds. What are the five? Forms cognisable by the eye—desirable, lovely, charming, infatuating, accompanied by thirst, and arousing the dust of the passions; sounds cognisable by the ear … odours cognisable by the nose … flavours cognisable by the tongue … contacts cognisable by the body—desirable, lovely charming, infatuating, accompanied by thirst, and arousing the dust of passions. These, Ánanda, are the five sensual bonds.
Whatever happiness or pleasure arises from these sensual bonds is known as sensual happiness.
“Whoso should declare: ‘This is the highest happiness and pleasure which beings may experience’ I do not grant him that, and why? Because there is other happiness more exalted and sublime.
“And what is that other happiness more exalted and sublime? Here a bhikkhu lives, completely separated from sense-desires, remote from immoral states, with initial and sustained application born of seclusion, in joy and happiness abiding in the first ecstasy (paṭhama jhāna). This is happiness more exalted and sublime.
“But should anyone declare: ‘This is the highest happiness and pleasure which beings may experience’—I do not grant him that, and why? Because there is another happiness yet more exalted and sublime.
“Here a bhikkhu, stilling initial and sustained application, having tranquillity within, mind one-pointed, initial and sustained application having ceased, as a result of concentration lives in joy and happiness, abiding in the second ecstasy (dutiya jhāna). This is the other happiness more exalted and sublime.
“Yet should anyone declare that this is the highest happiness and pleasure experienced by beings—I do not grant it. There is happiness more exalted.
“Here a bhikkhu, eliminating joy, abides serene, mindful, and completely conscious, experiencing in the body that of which the ariyas say: ‘Endowed with equanimity and mindfulness he abides in bliss.’ Thus he lives abiding in the third ecstasy (tatiya jhāna). This is the other happiness and pleasure more exalted and sublime.
“Still should anyone declare that this is the highest happiness—I do not grant it. There is happiness more exalted.
“Here a bhikkhu, abandoning pleasure and pain, leaving behind former joy and grief—painless, pleasureless, perfect in equanimity and mindfulness—lives abiding in the fourth ecstasy (catuttha jhāna). This is the other happiness more exalted and sublime.
“However, were this declared to be the highest happiness—I do not grant it. There is happiness more sublime.
“Here a bhikkhu, passing entirely beyond the perception of form, with the disappearance of sense reaction, freed from attention to perceptions of diversity, thinks: ‘infinite is space’—and lives abiding in the realm of infinite space (ākāsānañcāyatana). This other happiness is more exalted and sublime.
“Nevertheless, if this were declared the highest happiness—I do not grant it. There is happiness more sublime.
“Here a bhikkhu, transcending entirely the realm of infinite space, thinks: ‘infinite is consciousness’, and lives abiding in the realm of infinite consciousness (viññāṇañcāyatana). This other happiness is more exalted and sublime.
“And yet should this be declared the highest happiness—I do not grant. There is higher happiness.
“Here a bhikkhu, transcending the realm of infinite consciousness, thinks: ‘There is nothing whatsoever’ and lives abiding in the realm of nothingness (ākiñcaññāyatana). This other happiness is more exalted and sublime than that.
“And still were this declared the highest happiness—I do not grant it. There is happiness more exalted.
“Here a bhikkhu, passing entirely beyond the realm of nothingness, lives abiding in the realm of neither-perception-nor-non-perception (nevasaññānāsaññayatana). This other happiness is more exalted and sublime.
“Yet whoso should declare: ‘This is the highest bliss and pleasure which beings may experience’—l do not grant him that, and why? Because yet another happiness is more exalted and sublime.
“And what is this other happiness more exalted and sublime? Here a bhikkhu, utterly transcending the realm of neither-perception-nor-non-perception, lives, having attained to the cessation of perception and sensation (saññāvedayita-nirodha). This, Ánanda, is the other happiness more exalted and sublime.”
Of all the ten grades of happiness this is the highest and the most sublime. This transcendental state is nirodha samāpatti, that is, experiencing Nibbāna in this life itself.
As the Buddha himself has anticipated, one may ask: “How can that state be called highest happiness when there is no consciousness to experience it.”
The Buddha replies: “Nay, disciples, the Tathāgata does not recognise bliss merely because of a pleasurable sensation, but, disciples, wherever bliss is attained there and there only does the Accomplished One recognise bliss.” 399
“I proclaim,” says the Buddha, “that everything experienced by the senses is sorrow.” But why? Because one in sorrow craves to be happy, and the so-called happy crave to be happier still. So insatiate is worldly happiness.
In conventional terms the Buddha declares:
Nibbānaṃ paramaṃ sukhaṃ
Nibbāna is the highest bliss.
It is bliss supreme because it is not a kind of happiness experienced by the senses. It is a blissful state of positive relief from the ills of life.
The very fact of the cessation of suffering is ordinarily termed happiness, though this is not an appropriate word to depict its real nature.
Where is Nibbāna?
In the Milindapañha the Venerable Nāgasena answers this question thus:
There is no spot looking East, South, West, or North, above, below or beyond, where Nibbāna is situate, and yet Nibbāna is, and he who orders his life aright, grounded in virtue and with rational attention, may realise it whether he lives in Greece, China, Alexandria, or in Kosala.
Just as fire is not stored up in any particular place but arises when the necessary conditions exist, so Nibbāna is said not to exist in a particular place, but it is attained when the necessary conditions are fulfilled.
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. 400
Here “world” means suffering. The cessation of the world, therefore, means the cessation of suffering which is Nibbāna.
One’s Nibbāna is dependent upon this one-fathom body. It is not something that is created nor is it something to be created. 401
Nibbāna is there where the four elements of cohesion (āpo), extension (paṭhavī), heat (tejo), and motion (vāyo) find no footing.
Referring to where Nibbāna is, Saṃyutta Nikāya states: 402
Where the four elements that cleave, and stretch,
And burn, and move, no further footing find.
In the Udāna 403 the Buddha says:
Just as, O bhikkhus, notwithstanding those rivers that reach the great ocean and the torrents of rain that fall from the sky, neither a deficit nor a surplus is perceptible in the great ocean, even so despite the many bhikkhus that enter the remainderless parinibbāna there is neither a deficit nor a surplus in the element of Nibbāna.
Nibbāna is, therefore, not a kind of heaven where a transcendental ego resides, but a Dhamma (an attainment) which is within the reach of us all.
An eternal heaven, which provides all forms of pleasures desired by man and where one enjoys happiness to one’s heart’s content, is practically inconceivable. It is absolutely impossible to think that such a place could exist permanently anywhere.
Granting that there is no place where Nibbāna is stored up, King Milinda questions Venerable Nāgasena whether there is any basis where-on a man may stand and, ordering his life aright, realise Nibbāna:
“Yes, O King, there is such a basis.”
“Which, then, Venerable Nāgasena, is that basis?”
“Virtue, O King, is that basis. For, if grounded in virtue, and careful in attention, whether in the land of the Scythians or the Greeks, whether in China or in Tartary, whether in Alexandria or in Nikumba, whether in Benares or in Kosala, whether in Kashmir or in Gandhāra, whether on a mountain top or in the highest heavens,—wherever he may be, the man who orders his life aright will attain Nibbāna.” 404
What Attains Nibbāna?
This question must necessarily be set aside as irrelevant, for Buddhism denies the existence of a permanent entity or an immortal soul. 405
The so-called being of which we often hear as the “vestment of the soul” is a mere bundle of conditioned factors.
The arahant bhikkhuṇī Vajirā says:
And just as when the parts are rightly set,
The word chariot arises (in our minds),
So doth our usage covenant to say
A being when the aggregates are there. 406
According to Buddhism the so-called being consists of mind and matter (nāma-rūpa) which constantly change with lightning rapidity. Apart from these two composite factors there exists no permanent soul or an unchanging entity. The so-called “I” is also an illusion.
Instead of an eternal soul or an illusory “I” Buddhism posits a dynamic life-flux (santati) which flows ad infinitum as long as it is fed with ignorance and craving. When these two root causes are eradicated by any individual on attaining arahantship, they cease to flow with his final death.
In conventional terms one says that the arahant has attained parinibbāna or passed away into Nibbāna.
As right here and now, there is neither a permanent ego nor an identical being it is needless to state that there can be no “I” or a soul (atta) in Nibbāna.
Misery only doth exist, none miserable;
Nor doer is there, nought save the deed is found;
Nibbāna is, but not the man who seeks it;
The path exists, but not the traveller on it.
The chief difference between the Buddhist conception of Nibbāna and the Hindu conception of Nirvāna or Mukti lies in the fact that Buddhists view their goal without an eternal soul and creator, while Hindus do believe in an eternal soul and a creator.
This is the reason why Buddhism can neither be called eternalism nor nihilism.
In Nibbāna nothing is ‘eternalised’ nor is anything ‘annihilated.’
As Sir Edwin Arnold says:
lf any teach Nirvāna is to cease,
Say unto such they lie.
If any teach Nirvāna is to live,
Say unto such they err.
It must be admitted that this question of Nibbāna is the most difficult in the teaching of the Buddha. However much we may speculate we shall never be in a position to comprehend its real nature. The best way to understand Nibbāna is to try to realise it with our own intuitive knowledge.
Although Nibbāna cannot be perceived by the five senses and lies in obscurity in so far as the average man is concerned, the only straight path that leads to Nibbāna has been explained by the Buddha with all the necessary details and is laid open to all. The goal is now clouded, but the method of achievement is perfectly clear and when that achievement is realised, the goal is as clear as “the moon free from clouds.”
The Way to Nibbāna (I)
This Middle Path leads to tranquillity, realisation, enlightenment, and Nibbāna.
The way to Nibbāna is the Middle Path (majjhimā paṭipadā) which avoids the extreme of self-mortification that weakens the intellect and the extreme of self-indulgence that retards moral progress.
This middle path consists of the following eight factors: right understanding, right thoughts, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
The first two are classified as wisdom (paññā), the second three as morality (sīla), and the last three as concentration (samādhi).
According to the order of development morality, concentration, and wisdom are the three stages on the grand highway that leads to Nibbāna.
These three stages are embodied in the beautiful ancient verse:
etaṃ Buddhāna sāsanaṃ.
To cease from all evil
To cultivate good
To purify one’s mind —
This is the advice of all the Buddhas.
We reap what we sow. Evil results in pain, and good in happiness. Our pain and happiness are the direct results of our own good and evil.
A person with a right understanding realises this just law of action and reaction and, of his own accord, refrains from evil and does good to the best of his ability. He does so for his own good and for the good of others. He considers it his duty to live as a blessing to himself and to all others.
Knowing that life is precious to all and that none has any right whatever to destroy the life of another, he extends compassion and loving kindness towards every living being, even to the tiniest creature that crawls at his feet, and refrains from killing or causing injury to any living being.
There is no rule that one is to be preyed upon by another. However, the strong do mercilessly kill the weak and feast on their flesh. This is animal instinct. Such actions by animals are excusable because they know not what they do, but when those who are gifted with reason and understanding perpetrate such crimes, there is no excuse. Whether to satisfy one’s palate or as pastime, it is not justifiable to kill or to cause another living being to be killed. If the killing of animals is wrong, how much more heinous is it to kill human beings—individually or collectively, employing brutal or so-called civilised methods—for the sake of peace, religion, or any other seemingly good purpose?
Honesty, trustworthiness, and uprightness also are the characteristics of a person with right understanding. Such a person tries to abstain from all forms of stealing “whether in its dissembled or obvious forms.” Abstaining from sexual misconduct, which debases the exalted nature of man, he tries to be pure and chaste. He avoids false speech, harsh language, slander and frivolous talk and speaks only what is true, sweet, kind and helpful. As certain drinks and drugs promote heedlessness and mental distraction, he avoids intoxicating liquor and cultivates heedfulness and clarity of vision.
These elementary principles of regulated behaviour are essential to one who treads the path to Nibbāna, chiefly because they tend to control both deeds and words. Violation of them introduces obstacles that hinder his moral progress on the path. Observance of them means smooth and steady progress along the path.
Having progressed a step further in his gradual advance, the aspirant now tries to control his senses. To control craving for food and to promote buoyancy of mind and body, abstemiousness or fasting, at least once a month, is advisable. Plain and simple living is preferable to a luxurious life which makes one a slave to passions. A life of celibacy is recommended, as one’s valuable energy thus conserved could then be utilised wholly for the intellectual and moral welfare of oneself and others. In such a life one is detached from additional worldly bonds that impede moral progress. Almost all spiritual teachers, it would appear, have nourished their bodies sparingly and have led a life of strict celibacy, simplicity, voluntary poverty, and self-control.
While he progress slowly and steadily, with regulated word and deed and sense-restraint, the kammic force of the striving aspirant compels him to renounce worldly pleasures and adopt the ascetic life. To him then comes the idea that:
A den of strife is household life,
And filled with toil and need,
But free and high as the open sky
Is the life the homeless lead. 407
Thus realising the vanity of sensual pleasures, he voluntarily forsakes all earthly possessions, and donning the ascetic garb tries to lead the holy life in all its purity.
It is not, however, the external appearance that makes a man holy but internal purification and an exemplary life. Transformation should come from within, not from without. It is not absolutely necessary to retire to solitude and lead the life of an ascetic to realise Nibbāna. The life of a bhikkhu no doubt expedites and facilitates spiritual progress, but even as a layman sainthood may be attained.
He who attains arahantship as a layman in the face of all temptations is certainly more praiseworthy than a bhikkhu who attains arahantship living amidst surroundings that are not distracting.
Concerning a minister who attained arahantship while seated on an elephant decked in his best apparel, the Buddha remarked:
Even though a man be richly adorned, if he walks in peace,
If he be quiet, subdued, certain and pure,
And if he refrains from injuring any living being,
That man is a Brahmin, that man is a hermit,
That man is a monk.
There have been several such instances of laymen who realised Nibbāna without renouncing the world. The most devout and generous lay follower Anāthapiṇḍika was a sotāpanna, 408 the Sakya Mahānāma was a sakadāgāmi, 409 the potter Ghaīkāra was an anāgāmi 410 and King Suddhodana died as an arahant. 411
A bhikkhu is expected to observe the four kinds of higher morality:
Pātimokkha sīla: the fundamental moral code 412
Indriyasaṃvara-sīla: morality pertaining to sense-restraint
Ájīvapārisuddhi-sīla: morality pertaining to purity of livelihood
Paccayasannissita-sīla: morality pertaining to the use of the necessaries of life.
These four kinds of morality are collectively called sīla-visuddhi (purity of virtue), the first of the seven stages of purity on the way to Nibbāna.
When a person enters the order and receives his higher ordination (upasampadā), he is called a bhikkhu. There is no English equivalent that exactly conveys the meaning of this Pali term bhikkhu. “Mendicant Monk” may be suggested as the nearest translation, not in the sense of one who begs but in the sense of one who lives on alms.
There are no vows for a bhikkhu. Of his own accord he becomes a bhikkhu in order to lead the holy life as long as he likes. He is at liberty to leave the order at any time.
A bhikkhu is bound to observe 220 rules, 413 apart from several other minor ones. The four major rules which deal with perfect celibacy, stealing, murder, and false claims to higher spiritual powers, must strictly be observed. If he violates any one of them, he becomes defeated (pārājikā) and automatically ceases to be a bhikkhu. If he wishes, he can re-enter the order and remain as a sāmaṇera (novice). In the case of other rules, which he violates, he has to make amends according to the gravity of the offence.
Among the salient characteristics of a bhikkhu are purity, perfect celibacy, voluntary poverty, humility, simplicity, selfless service, self-control, patience, compassion, and harmlessness.
The life of a bhikkhu or, in other words, renunciation of worldly pleasures and ambitions, is only an effective means to attain Nibbāna, but is not an end in itself.
The Way to Nibbāna (II) — Meditation
One way is to acquire gain,
Quite another is that which leads to Nibbāna.
— Dhp 75
Securing a firm footing on the ground of morality, the aspirant then embarks upon the higher practice of samādhi, the control and culture of the mind, the second stage of the path of purity.
Samādhi is one-pointedness of the mind. It is concentration of the mind on one object to the entire exclusion of all else.
According to Buddhism there are forty subjects of meditation (kammahāna) which differ according to the temperaments of individuals:
The ten kasiṇas (devices), 414 namely:
light kasiṇa and
The ten impurities (asubha), 415 that is, ten corpses that are:
mutilated and scattered-in-pieces (hata-vikkhittaka),
worm-infested (pulapaka), and
The ten reflections (anussati), 416 on these topics:
The Buddha (buddhānussati),
the doctrine (dhammānussati),
the Sangha (saṇghānussati),
death (maraṇānussati), respectively, together with
mindfulness regarding the body (kāyagatāsati), and
The four illimitables or the four modes of sublime conduct (brahmavihāra), namely:
The one perception—i.e., the perception of the loathsomeness of material food (āhāre paikkūla-saññā). 417
The one analysis—i.e., of the four elements (catudhātuvavatthāna). 418
The four arūpa jhānas—namely:
the realm of the infinity of space (ākāsānañcāyatana)
the realm of the infinity of consciousness (viññāṇañcāyatana),
the realm of nothingness (ākiñcaññāyatana), and
the realm of neither-perception-nor-non-perception (nevasaññānāsaññāyatana).
Suitability of Subjects for Different Temperaments
According to the texts the ten impurities and the mindfulness regarding the body—such as the contemplation of the thirty-two parts of the body—are suitable for those of a lustful temperament because they tend to create a disgust for the body which fascinates the senses.
The four illimitables and the four coloured kasiṇas are suitable for those of a hateful temperament.
The reflections on the Buddha and so forth are suitable for those of a devout temperament. The reflections on death and peace, perception on the loathsomeness of material food, and analysis of the four elements are suitable for those of an intellectual temperament. The remaining objects, chiefly reflection on the Buddha, meditation on loving kindness, mindfulness regarding the body, and reflection on death are suitable for all, irrespective of temperament.
There are six kinds of temperaments (carita):
Lustful temperament (rāgacarita),
Hateful temperament (dosacarita),
Ignorant temperament (mohacarita),
Devout temperament (saddhācarita),
Intellectual temperament (buddhicarita), and
Carita signifies the intrinsic nature of a person which is revealed when one is in normal state without being preoccupied with anything. The temperaments of people differ owing to the diversity of their actions or kamma. Habitual actions tend to form particular temperaments.
Rāga or lust is predominant in some while dosa or anger, hatred, ill will in others. Most people belong to these two categories. There are a few others who lack intelligence and are more or less ignorant (mohacarita). Akin to ignorant are those whose minds oscillate unable to focus their attention deliberately on one thing (vitakka-carita). By nature some are exceptionally devout (saddhācarita) while others are exceptionally intelligent (buddhicarita).
Combining these six with one another, we get sixty-three types. With the inclusion of speculative temperament (diṭṭhicarita) there are sixty-four types.
The subjects of meditation are variously adapted to these different temperaments and types of people.
Before practising samādhi, the qualified aspirant should give a careful consideration to the subject of meditation. In ancient days it was customary for pupils to seek the guidance of a competent teacher to choose a suitable subject according to their temperaments. But today, if no competent teacher is available, the aspirant must exercise his own judgement and choose one he thinks most suited to his character.
When the subject has been chosen, he should withdraw to a quiet place where there are the fewest distractions. The forest, a cave, or any lonely place is most desirable, for there one is least liable to interruption during the practice.
It should be understood that solitude is within us all. If our minds are not settled, even a quiet forest would not be a congenial place. But if our minds are settled, even the heart of a busy town may be congenial. The atmosphere in which we live acts as an indirect aid to tranquillizing our minds.
Next to be decided by the aspirant is the most convenient time when he himself and his surroundings are in the best possible condition for the practice.
Early in the morning when the mind is fresh and active, or before bedtime, if one is not overtired, is generally the most appropriate time for meditation. But whatever the time selected, it is advisable daily to keep to that particular hour, for our minds then become conditioned to the practice.
The meditating posture, too, serves as a powerful aid to concentration.
Easterners generally sit cross-legged, with the body erect. They sit placing the right foot on the left thigh and the left foot on the right thigh. This is the full position. If this posture is difficult, as it certainly is to many, the half position may be adopted, that is, simply placing the right foot on the left thigh or the left foot on the right thigh.
When this triangular position is assumed, the whole body is well balanced. The right hand should be placed on the left hand, the neck straightened so that the nose is in a perpendicular line with the navel. The tongue should rest on the upper palate. The belt should be loosened, and clothes neatly adjusted. Some prefer closed eyes so as to shut out all unnecessary light and external sights.
Although there are certain advantages in closing the eyes, it is not always recommended as it tends to drowsiness. Then the mind gets out of control and wanders aimlessly, vagrant thoughts arise, the body loses its erectness, quite unconsciously the mouth opens itself, saliva drivels, and the head nods.
The Buddhas usually sit with half closed eyes looking through the tip of the nose not more than a distance of four feet away.
Those who find the cross-legged posture too difficult may sit comfortably in a chair or any other support, sufficiently high to rest the feet on the ground.
It is of no great importance what posture one adopts provided it is easy and relaxed.
The aspirant who is striving to gain one-pointedness of the mind should endeavour to control any unwholesome thoughts at their very inception. As mentioned in the Padhāna Sutta (Sn iii.2) he may be attacked by the ten armies of the Evil One. They are: i.) sensual desires (kāma), ii.) discouragement (arati), iii.) hunger and thirst (khuppipāsā), iv.) craving (taṇhā), v.) sloth and torpor (thīnamiddha), vi.) fear (bhaya), vii.) doubt (vicikicchā), viii.) detraction and stubbornness (makkha, thambha), ix.) gain, praise, honour and ill-gotten fame (lābha, siloka, sakkāra, micchāyasa), and x.) self-praise and contempt for others (attukkaṃsana paravambhana).
On such occasions the following practical suggestions given by the Buddha will be beneficial to all.
Harbouring a good thought opposite to the encroaching one, e.g., loving kindness in case of hatred.
Reflecting upon possible evil consequences, e.g., anger sometimes results in murder.
Simple neglect or becoming wholly inattentive to them.
Tracing the cause which led to the arising of the unwholesome thoughts and thus forgetting them in the retrospective process.
Just as a strong man overpowers a weak person, so one should overcome evil thoughts by bodily strength. “With teeth clenched and tongue pressed to the palate,” advises the Buddha, “the monk by main force must constrain and coerce his mind; and thus with clenched teeth and taut tongue, constraining and coercing his mind, those evil and unsalutary thoughts will disappear and go to decay; and with their disappearing, the mind will become settled, subdued, unified, and concentrated (Vitakka Santhāna Sutta, MN 20).
Having attended to all these necessary preliminaries, the qualified aspirant retires to a solitary place, and summoning up confidence as to the certainty of achieving his goal, he makes a persistent effort to develop concentration.
A physical object like a kasiṇa circle only aids concentration. But a virtue like loving kindness has the specific advantage of building up that particular virtue in the character of the person.
While meditating one may intelligently repeat the words of any special formula, since they serve as an aid to evoke the ideas they represent.
However intent the aspirant may be on the object of his meditation he will not be exempt from the initial difficulties that inevitably confront a beginner. “The mind wanders, alien thoughts dance before him, impatience overcomes him owing to the slowness of progress, and his efforts slacken in consequence.” The determined aspirant only welcomes these obstacles, the difficulties he cuts through and looks straight to his goal, never for a moment turning away his eyes from it.
Suppose, for instance, an aspirant takes an earth-kasiṇa for his object (kammahāna). 419
The surface of a circle of about one foot in diameter is covered with clay and smoothed well. This concentrative circle is known as the preliminary object (parikamma nimitta). He sets it down some four feet away and concentrates on it, saying, paṭhavī, paṭhavī (earth, earth), until he becomes so wholly absorbed in it that all adventitious thoughts get automatically excluded from the mind. When he does this for some time—perhaps weeks or months or years—he would be able to visualise the object with closed eyes. On this visualised image (uggaha nimitta), which is a mental replica of the object, he concentrates until it develops into a conceptualised image (paibhāga nimitta).
According to the Visuddhimagga the difference between the first visualised image and the second conceptualised image is that “in the former a fault of the kasiṇa object appears while the latter is like the disc of a mirror taken out of a bag, or a well-burnished conch-shell, or the round moon issuing from the clouds.”
The conceptualised image neither possesses colour nor form. It is just a mode of appearance and is born of perception.
As he continually concentrates on this abstract concept he is said to be in possession of “proximate concentration” (upacāra samādhi) and the innate five hindrances to spiritual progress (nīvaraṇa)—namely, sensual desires (kāmacchanda), hatred (vyāpāda), sloth and torpor (thīnamiddha), restlessness and worry (uddhaccakukkucca), and indecision (vicikicchā), are temporarily inhibited by means of one-pointedness (ekaggatā), zest (pīti), initial application, (vitakka), happiness (sukha), and sustained application (vicāra) respectively.
Eventually he gains “ecstatic concentration” (appanā samādhi) and becomes absorbed in jhāna, enjoying the calmness and serenity of a one-pointed mind.
This one-pointedness of the mind, achieved by inhibiting the hindrances, is termed ‘purity of mind’ (cittavisuddhi), the second stage on the path of purity.
For the water-kasiṇa one may take a vessel full of colourless water, preferably rainwater, and concentrate on it, saying, “āpo, āpo,” (“water, water”)—until he gains one-pointedness of the mind.
To develop the fire-kasiṇa one may kindle a fire before him and concentrate on it through a hole, a span and four fingers wide, in a rush-mat, a piece of leather, or a piece of cloth.
One who develops the air-kasiṇa concentrates on the wind that enters through window-space or a hole in the wall, saying, “vāyo, vāyo” (“air, air”).
To develop the colour kasiṇas one may make a disc (maṇḍala) of the prescribed size and colour it blue, yellow, red, or white and concentrate on it repeating the name of the colour as in the case of the earth-kasiṇa.
He may even concentrate on blue, yellow, red, and white flowers.
Light-kasiṇa may be developed by concentrating on the moon or an unflickering lamplight or on a circle of light made on the ground or the wall by sunlight or moonlight entering through a wall-crevice or holes, saying, “āloka, āloka” (“light, light”).
The space-kasiṇa could be developed by concentrating on a hole; a span and four fingers wide, in either a well-covered pavilion or a piece of leather or a mat, saying, “okāsa, okāsa” (“space, space”).
The ten kinds of corpses were found in ancient Indian cemeteries where dead bodies were not buried or cremated and where flesh-eating animals frequent. In modern days finding them is more difficult.
Buddhānussati is the reflection on the virtues of the Buddha, as follows:
“Such indeed is that Exalted One—worthy, fully enlightened, endowed with wisdom and conduct, well-farer, knower of the worlds, an incomparable charioteer for the training of individuals, teacher of gods and men, omniscient, and holy.”
Dhammānussati is the reflection on the characteristics of the Doctrine as follows:
“Well-expounded is the doctrine by the Blessed One, to be realised by oneself, of immediate fruit, inviting investigation (ehi-passiko: inviting to come and see), leading to Nibbāna, to be understood by the wise, each one for himself.”
Saṇghānussati is the reflection on the virtues of the pure members of the holy celibate order as follows:
“Of good conduct is the order of the disciples of the Blessed one; of upright conduct is the order of the disciples of the Blessed One; of wise conduct is the order of the disciples of the Blessed One; of dutiful conduct is the order of the disciples of the Blessed One. These four pairs of persons constitute eight individuals. This order of the disciples of the Blessed One is worthy of offerings, is worthy of hospitality, is worthy of gifts, is worthy of reverential salutation, is an incomparable field of merit to the world.”
Sīlānussati is the reflection on the perfection of one’s own virtuous conduct.
Cāganussati is the reflection on one’s own charitable nature.
Devatānussati: “Deities are born in such exalted states on account of their faith and other virtues, I too possess them.” Thus when one reflects again and again on one’s own faith and other virtues, placing deities as witnesses, it is called devatānussati.
Upasamānussati is the reflection on the attributes of Nibbāna such as the cessation of suffering and the like.
Maraṇānussati is the reflection on the termination of psycho-physical life.
Contemplation on death enables one to comprehend the fleeting nature of life. When one understands that death is certain and life is uncertain, one endeavours to make the best use of one’s life by working for self-development and for the development of others instead of wholly indulging in sensual pleasures. Constant meditation on death does not make one pessimistic and lethargic, but, on the contrary, it makes one more active and energetic. Besides, one can face death, with serenity.
While contemplating death one may think that life is like a flame, or that all so-called beings are the outward temporary manifestations of the invisible kammic energy just as an electric light is the outward manifestation of the invisible electric energy. Using various similes as one likes, one may meditate on the uncertainty of life and on the certainty of death.
Kāyagatāsati is the reflection on the thirty-two impure parts of the body such as “hair, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, diaphragm, spleen, lungs, bowels, mesentery, stomach, faeces, brain, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, lymph, tears, grease, saliva, nasal mucus, articular fluid, and urine.”
This meditation on the loathsomeness of the body leads to dispassion. Many bhikkhus in the time of the Buddha attained arahantship by meditating on these impurities. If one is not conversant with all the thirty-two parts, one may meditate on one part such as bones, flesh, or skin. Inside this body is found a skeleton. It is filled with flesh which is covered with a skin. Beauty is nothing but skin deep. When one reflects on the impure parts of the body in this manner, passionate attachment to this body gradually disappears.
This meditation may not appeal to those who are not sensual. They may meditate on the innate creative possibilities of this complex machinery of man.
Ánāpānasati is mindfulness on respiration. Ána means inhalation and apāna, exhalation.
In some books these two terms are explained in the reverse order.
Concentration on the breathing process leads to one-pointedness of the mind and ultimately to insight which leads to arahantship.
This is one of the best subjects of meditation which appeals equally to all. The Buddha also practised this ānāpānasati before his enlightenment.
A detailed exposition of this meditation is found in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta 420 and in the Visuddhimagga.
A few practical hints are given here for the benefit of the average reader.
Adopt a convenient posture, breathe out and close the mouth. Then breathe through the nostrils naturally and not forcefully. Inhale first and mentally count one. Exhale and count two, concentrating on the breathing process. In this manner one may count up to ten constantly focussing one’s attention on respiration. It is possible for the mind to wander before one counts up to ten. But one need not be discouraged. Let one try till one succeeds. Gradually one may increase the number of series—say five series of ten. Later one may concentrate on respiration without counting. Some prefer counting as it aids concentration, while some others prefer not to count.
What is essential is concentration and not counting which is secondary. When one does this concentration, one feels light in body and mind and very peaceful too. One might perhaps feel as if one were floating in the air. When this concentration is practised for a certain period, a day will come when one will realise that this so-called body is supported by mere breath and that body perishes when breathing ceases.
One instantly realises Impermanence. Where there is change there cannot be a permanent entity or an immortal soul. Insight could then be developed to gain arahantship.
It is now clear that the object of this concentration on respiration is not merely to gain one pointedness but also to cultivate insight in order to obtain deliverance.
This simple method may be pursued by all without any harm. For more details readers are referred to the Visuddhimagga.
Ánāpānasatiis described as follows in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta:
“Mindfully he inhales, mindfully he exhales.
“When making a long inhalation, he knows: ‘I make a long inhalation;’ when making a long exhalation, he knows: ‘I make a long exhalation.’
“When making a short inhalation he knows: ‘I make a short inhalation;’ when making a short exhalation, he knows: ‘I make a short exhalation.’
“Clearly perceiving the entire breathing process (i.e., the beginning, middle and end), ‘I will inhale,’ thus he trains himself; clearly perceiving the entire breathing process, ‘l will exhale,’ thus he trains himself.
“Calming the respirations, ‘I will inhale,’ thus he trains himself; calming the respirations, ‘I will exhale,’ thus he trains himself.” 421
Here brahma means sublime or noble as in brahmacariya (sublime life); vihāra means mode or state of conduct, or state of living.
They are also termed appamaññā (limitless, boundless), because these thoughts are radiated towards all beings without limit or obstruction.
Mettā (Skt. maitri)—loving kindness, benevolence, goodwill—is defined as that which softens one’s heart. It is not carnal love or personal affection. The direct enemy of mettā is hatred, ill will or aversion (kodha), its indirect enemy is personal affection (pema).
Mettā embraces all beings without exception. The culmination of mettā is the identification of oneself with all beings (sabbattatā). It is the wish for the good and happiness of all. Benevolent attitude is its chief characteristic. It discards ill will.
Karuṇā (compassion) is defined as that which makes the hearts of the good quiver when others are subject to suffering, or that which dissipates the sufferings of others. Its chief characteristic is the wish to remove the sufferings of others. Its direct enemy is wickedness (hiṃsā) and its indirect enemy is passionate grief (domanassa).Compassion embraces sorrow-stricken beings and it eliminates cruelty.
Muditā is not mere sympathy but sympathetic or appreciative joy. Its direct enemy is jealousy (issā) and its indirect enemy is exhilaration (pahāsa).Its chief characteristic is happy acquiescence in others’ prosperity and success (anumodanā). Muditāembraces all prosperous beings. It eliminates dislike (arati) and is the congratulatory attitude of a person.
Upekkhā literally means to view impartially, that is, with neitherattachment nor aversion. It is not hedonic indifference but perfect equanimity or well-balanced mind. It is the balanced state of mind amidst all vicissitudes of life, such as praise and blame, pain and happiness, gain and loss, repute and disrepute. Its direct enemy is attachment (rāga) and its indirect enemy is callousness. Upekkhā discards clinging and aversion. Impartial attitude is its chief characteristic. Here upekkhā does not mean mere neutral feeling, but implies a sterling virtue. Equanimity, mental equilibrium are its closest equivalents. Upekkhā embraces the good and the bad, the loved and the unloved, the pleasant and the unpleasant.
The Visuddhimagga describes in detail the method to cultivate the brahmavihāras in order to develop the jhānas.
When once the aspirant succeeds in cultivating the jhānas he can, without difficulty, develop the five supernormal powers (abhiññā)—namely, divine eye (dibbacakkhu), divine ear (dibbasota), reminiscence of past births (pubbe nivāsānussatiñāṇa), thought-reading (paracittavijāñāṇa), and various psychic powers (iddhi-vidha).
Samādhi and these supernormal powers, it may be mentioned, are not essential for the attainment of arahantship, though they would undoubtedly be an asset to the possessor. There are, for instance, dry-visioned arahants (sukkhavipassaka) who, without the aid of the jhānas, attain arahantship straightaway by merely cultivating insight. Many men and women attained arahantship in the time of the Buddha himself without developing the jhānas.
It is only one who has gained the fifth jhāna that could develop the five kinds of abhiññā.
Dibbacakkhu is the celestial or divine eye, also called clairvoyance, which enables one to see heavenly or earthly things, far or near, that are imperceptible to the physical eye.
Cutūpapātañāṇa, knowledge with regard to the dying and reappearing of beings, is identical with this celestial eye. Anāgataṃsañāṇa, knowledge with regard to the future and yathākammūpagatañāṇa, knowledge with regard to the faring of beings according to their own good and bad actions, are two other kinds of knowledge belonging to the same category.
Dibbasota is the celestial ear, also called clairaudience, which enables one to hear subtle or coarse sounds far or near.
Pubbe nivāsānussatiñāṇa is the power to remember the past lives of oneself and others. With regard to this knowledge the Buddha’s power is limitless, while in the case of others it is limited.
Paracittavijāñāṇa is the power to discern the thoughts of others.
Iddhividha is the power to fly through the air, walk on water, dive into the earth, create new forms etc.
The Five Hindrances
“There are these five corruptions of the heart, tainted by which the heart is neither soft, nor pliable, nor gleaming, nor easily broken up, nor perfectly composed for the destruction of the corruptions.”
— Saṃyutta Nikāya
Nīvaraṇa (ni + var, to hinder, to obstruct) is that which hinders one’s progress or that which obstructs the path to emancipation and heavenly states. It is also explained as that which “muffles, enwraps, or trammels thought.”
There are five kinds of nīvaraṇas or hindrances. They are:
sensual desires (kāmacchanda),
ill will (vyāpāda),
sloth and torpor (thīna-middha),
restlessness and worry (uddhacca-kukkucca), and
1. Kāmacchanda means sensual desires or attachment to pleasurable sense-objects such as form, sound, odour, taste, and contact. This is regarded as one of the fetters, too, that bind one to saṃsāra.
An average person is bound to get tempted by these alluring objects of sense. Lack of self-control results in the inevitable arising of passions. This hindrance is inhibited by one-pointedness (ekaggatā), which is one of the five characteristics of jhānas. It is attenuated on attaining sakadāgāmi and is completely eradicated on attaining anāgāmi. Subtle forms of attachment such as rūpa rāga and arūpa rāga (attachment to realms of form and formless realms) are eradicated only on attaining arahantship.
The following six conditions tend to the eradication of sense-desires:
perceiving the loathsomeness of the object,
constant meditation on loathsomeness,
moderation in food,
good friendship, and
2. Vyāpāda is ill will or aversion. A desirable object leads to attachment, while an undesirable one leads to aversion. These are the two great fires that burn the whole world. Aided by ignorance these two produce all sufferings in the world.
Ill will is inhibited by pīti or joy which is one of the jhāna factors. It is attenuated on attaining sakadāgāmi and is eradicated on attaining anāgāmi.
The following six conditions tend to the eradication of ill will:
perceiving the object with thoughts of goodwill,
constant meditation on loving kindness (mettā),
thinking that kamma is one’s own,
adherence to that view,
good friendship, and
3. Thīna or sloth is explained as a morbid state of the mind, and middha as a morbid state of the mental states. A stolid mind is as “inert as a bat hanging to a tree, or as molasses cleaving to a stick, or as a lump of butter too stiff for spreading”. Sloth and torpor should not be understood as bodily drowsiness, because arahants, who have destroyed these two states, also experience bodily fatigue. These two promote mental inertness and are opposed to strenuous effort (viriya). They are inhibited by the jhāna factor (vitakka, or initial application), and are eradicated on attaining arahantship.
The following six conditions tend to the eradication of sloth and torpor:
reflection on the object of moderation in food,
changing of bodily postures,
contemplation on the object of light;
living in the open,
good friendship, and
4. Uddhacca is mental restlessness or excitement of the mind. It is a mental state associated with all types of immoral consciousness. As a rule an evil is done with some excitement or restlessness.
Kukkucca is worry. It is either repentance over the committed evil or over the unfulfilled good. Repentance over one’s evil does not exempt one from its inevitable consequences. The best repentance is the will not to repeat that evil.
Both these hindrances are inhibited by the jhāna factor sukha or happiness.
Restlessness is eradicated on attaining arahantship, and worry is eradicated on attaining anāgāmi.
The following six conditions tend to the eradication of these two states:
erudition or learning,
questioning or discussion,
understanding the nature of the vinaya discipline,
association with senior monks,
good friendship, and
5. Vicikicchā is doubt or indecision. That which is devoid of the remedy of wisdom is vicikicchā (vi, devoid; cikicchā, wisdom). It is also explained as vexation due to perplexed thinking (vici, seeking; kicchā, vexation).
Here it is not used in the sense of doubt with regard to the Buddha etc., for even non-Buddhists inhibit vicikicchā and gain jhānas. As a fetter, vicikicchā is that doubt about Buddha etc., but as a hindrance it denotes unsteadiness in one particular thing that is being done. The commentarial explanation of vicikicchā is the inability to decide anything definitely that it is so. In other words, it is indecision.
This state is inhibited by the jhāna factor vicāra (sustained application). It is eradicated on attaining sotāpatti.
The following six conditions tend to its eradication:
knowledge of the Dhamma and Vinaya,
discussion or questioning,
understanding of the nature of the vinaya discipline,
excessive confidence, >
good friendship, and
The Way to Nibbāna (III)
Transient are all conditioned things,
Sorrowful are all conditioned things,
Soulless are all conditioned and non-conditioned things.
When the jhānas are developed by temporarily inhibiting the hindrances (nīvaraṇa) the mind is so purified that it resembles a polished mirror, where everything is clearly reflected in true perspective. Still there is not complete freedom from unwholesome thoughts, for by concentration the evil tendencies are only temporarily inhibited. They may rise to the surface at quite unexpected moments.
Discipline regulates words and deeds; concentration controls the mind; but it is insight (paññā), the third and the final stage, that enables the aspirant to sainthood to eradicate wholly the defilements inhibited by samādhi.
At the outset he cultivates ‘purity of vision’ (diṭṭhi-visuddhi) 422 in order to see things as they truly are. With one-pointed mind he analyses and examines this so-called being. This searching examination shows what he has called personality, to be merely a complex compound of mind and matter which are in a state of constant flux.
Having thus gained a correct view of the real nature of this so-called being, freed from the false notion of a permanent soul, he searches for the causes of this “I” personality. He realises that there is nothing in the world but is conditioned by some cause or causes, past or present, and that his present existence is due to past ignorance (avijjā), craving (taṇhā) grasping (upādāna), kamma, and physical food of the present life. On account of these five causes this so-called being has arisen, and as past causes have conditioned the present, so the present will condition the future. Meditating thus, he transcends all doubts with regard to past, present and future. 423
Thereupon he contemplates the truth that all conditioned things are transient (anicca), subject to suffering (dukkha), and devoid of an immortal soul (anattā). Wherever he turns his eyes he sees naught but these three characteristics standing out in bold relief. He realises that life is a mere flux conditioned by internal and external causes. Nowhere does he find any genuine happiness, for everything is fleeting.
As he thus contemplates the real nature of life and is absorbed in meditation, a day comes when, to his surprise, he witnesses an aura (obhāsa) emitted by his body. He experiences an unprecedented pleasure, happiness, and quietude. He becomes even-minded, religious fervour increases, mindfulness becomes clear and insight keen. Mistaking this advanced state of moral progress for sainthood, chiefly owing to the presence of the aura, he develops a liking for this mental state. Soon the realisation comes that these new developments are impediments to moral progress, and he cultivates the purity of knowledge with regard to the path and not-path. 424
Perceiving the right path, he resumes his meditation on the arising (udaya ñāṇa) and passing away (vaya ñāṇa) of all conditioned things. Of these two states the latter becomes more impressed on his mind since change is more conspicuous than becoming. Therefore he directs his attention to contemplation of the dissolution of things (bhaṇga ñāṇa). He perceives that both mind and matter which constitute this so-called being are in a state of constant flux, not remaining for two consecutive moments the same. To him then comes the knowledge that all dissolving things are fearful (bhaya ñāṇa). The whole world appears to him as a pit of burning embers—a source of danger. Subsequently he reflects on the wretchedness and vanity (ādīnava ñāṇa) of the fearful and deluded world, and gets a feeling of disgust (idā ñāṇa) followed by a strong will for deliverance from it (muñcitukamyatā ñāṇa).
With this object in view, he resumes his meditations on the three characteristics of transiency, sorrow, and soullessness (paṭisaṇkhā ñāṇa) and thereafter develops complete equanimity towards all conditioned things—having neither attachment nor aversion for any worldly object (upekkhā ñāṇa). 425
Reaching this point of spiritual culture, he chooses one of the three characteristics for his object of special endeavour and intently cultivates insight in that particular direction until the glorious day when he first realises Nibbāna, 426 his ultimate goal.
“As the traveller by night sees the landscape around him by a flash of lightning and the picture so obtained swims long thereafter before his dazzled eyes, so the individual seeker, by the flashing light of insight, glimpses Nibbāna with such clearness that the after-picture never more fades from his mind.” 427
When the spiritual pilgrim realises Nibbāna for the first time, he is called a sotāpanna, one who has entered the stream that leads to Nibbāna for the first time.
The stream represents the noble Eightfold Path.
A stream-winner is no more a worldling (puthujjana), but an ariya (noble one).
On attaining this first stage of sainthood, he eradicates the following three fetters (saṃyojana) that bind him to existence:
1. Sakkāya-diṭṭhi (sati + kāye + diṭṭhi)—literally, view, when a group or compound exists. Here kāya refers to the five aggregates of matter—feeling, perception, mental states, and consciousness. The view that there exists an unchanging entity, a permanent soul, when there is a complex-compound of psycho-physical aggregates, is termed sakkāyadiṭṭhi. The Dhammasaṇgaṇī enumerates twenty kinds of such soul-theories. 428 Sakkāya-diṭṭhi is usually rendered as self-illusion, theory of individuality, or illusion of individualism.
2. Vicikicchā—doubts. They are doubts about (i) the Buddha, (ii) the Dhamma, (iii) the Sangha, (iv) the disciplinary rules (sikkhā), (v) the past, (vi) the future, (vii) both the past and the future, and (viii) dependent origination (paṭicca samuppāda).
3. Sīlabbataparāmāsa—adherence to (wrongful) rites and ceremonies.
The Dhammasaṇgaṇī explains it thus: “it is the theory held by ascetics and brahmins outside this doctrine that purification is obtained by rules of moral conduct, or by rites, or by both rules of moral conduct and rites.” 429
For the eradication of the remaining seven fetters a sotāpanna is reborn seven times at the most. He gains implicit confidence in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. He would not for any reason violate any of the five precepts. He is not subject to rebirth in states of woe as he is destined to enlightenment.
With fresh courage as a result of this distant glimpse of Nibbāna, the noble pilgrim makes a rapid progress, and perfecting his insight becomes a sakadāgāmi (once-returner), the second stage of sainthood, by attenuating two other fetters—namely, sense-desires (kāmatāga) and ill will (paigha).
Now he is called a once-returner because he is born in the human realm only once, should he not attain arahantship in that birth itself. It is interesting to note that the ariya saint who has attained the second stage of sainthood can only weaken these two powerful fetters with which he is bound from a beginningless past. At times, though to a slight extent, he may harbour thoughts of lust and anger.
It is by attaining the third stage of sainthood, that of the anāgāmi (never-returner), that he completely eradicates those two fetters. Thereafter he neither returns to this world nor is he born in the celestial realms, since he has rooted out the desire for sensual gratification. After death he is reborn in the pure abodes (suddhāvāsa), an environment reserved for anāgāmis. There he attains arahantship and lives till the end of his life.
When a layman becomes an anāgāmi, he leads a celibate life.
The anāgāmi saint now makes his final advance and destroying the remaining five fetters—namely, attachment to realms of form (rūpatāga), attachment to formless realms (arūparāga), pride (māna), restlessness (uddhacca), and ignorance (avijjā)—attains arahantship, the final stage of sainthood.
Stream-winners, once-returners, never-returners are called sekhas because they have yet to undergo a training. arahants are called asekhas (adepts) because they no more undergo any training.
An arahant, literally, “worthy one”, is not subject to rebirth because he does not accumulate fresh kammic activities. The seeds of his reproduction have all been destroyed.
The arahant realises that what was to be accomplished has been done, a heavy burden of sorrow has finally been relinquished, and all forms of craving and all shades of ignorance are totally annihilated. The happy pilgrim now stands on heights more than celestial, far removed from uncontrolled passions and the defilements of the world, experiencing the unutterable bliss of Nibbāna.
Rebirth can no longer affect him since no more reproductive seeds are formed by fresh kammic activities.
Though an arahant he is not wholly free from physical suffering, as this experience of the bliss of deliverance is only intermittent nor has he yet cast off his material body.
An arahant is called an asekha, one who does not undergo training, as he has lived the holy life and has accomplished his object. The other saints from the sotāpatti stage to the arahant path stage are called sekhas because they still undergo training.
It may be mentioned in this connection that anāgāmis and arahants who have developed the rūpa and arūpa jhānas could experience the nibbānic bliss uninterruptedly for as long as seven days even in this life. This, in Pali, is known as nirodha-samāpatti. 430 An ariya, in this state, is wholly free from pain, and his mental activities are all suspended. His stream of consciousness temporarily ceases to flow.
With regard to the difference between one who has attained nirodha-samāpatti and a dead man, the Visuddhimagga states: “In the corpse, not only are the plastic forces of the body (i.e., respiration), speech and mind stilled and quiescent, but also vitality is exhausted, heat is quenched, and the faculties of sense broken up, whereas in the bhikkhu in ecstasy vitality persists, heart abides, and the faculties are clear, although respiration, observation, and perception are stilled and quiescent. 431
According to Buddhism, in conventional terms, this is the highest form of bliss possible in this life.
Why Does an Arahant Continue to Live When He Has Already Attained Nibbāna?
It is because the kammic force which produced his birth is still not spent. To quote Schopenhauer, it is like the potter’s wheel from which the hand of the potter has been lifted, or, to cite a better illustration from our own books—an arahant is like a branch that is severed from the tree. It puts forth no more fresh leaves, flowers and fruits, as it is no longer supported by the sap of the tree.
Those which already existed however last till the death of that particular branch.
The arahant lives out his life span adding no more fresh kamma to his store, and utterly indifferent to death.
Like Venerable Sāriputta he would say:
Not fain am I to die nor yet to live.
I shall lay down this mortal frame anon
With mind alert, with consciousness controlled.
With thought of death I dally not, nor yet
Delight in living. I await the hour
Like any hireling who hath done his task. 432
What Happens to the Arahant After His Passing Away?
As a flame blown to and fro by the wind goes out and cannot be registered, so says the Buddha, an arahant, set free from mind and matter, has disappeared and cannot be registered.
Has such an arahant then merely disappeared, or does he indeed no longer exist?
For him who has disappeared, states the Sutta Nipāta, there exists no form by which they could say, ‘He is’. When all conditions are cut off, all matter for discussion is also cut off.
The Udāna explains this intricate point thus:
“As the fiery sparks from a forge
are one by one extinguished,
And no one knows where they have gone
So it is with those who have attained
to complete emancipation,
Who have crossed the flood of desire,
Who have entered the calm delight,
of those no trace remains.” 433
The Aggivacchagotta Sutta (MN 72) also relates an interesting discussion between the Buddha and Vacchagotta concerning this very question.
Vacchagotta, a wandering ascetic, approached the Buddha and questioned, “But, Gotama, where is the bhikkhu who is delivered of mind reborn?”
He was of course referring to the arahant. The Buddha replied:
“Vaccha, to say that he is reborn would not fit the case.”
“Then, Gotama, he is not reborn.”
“Vaccha, to say that he is not reborn would not fit the case.”
“Then, Gotama, he is both reborn and not reborn.”
“Vaccha, to say that he is both reborn and not reborn would not fit the case.”
“Then, Gotama, he is neither reborn nor not reborn.”
Vaccha, to say that he is neither reborn nor not reborn would not fit the case.”
Vaccha was baffled on hearing these seemingly inconsistent answers, and, in his confusion, exclaimed:
“Gotama, I am at a loss to think in this matter, and I have become greatly confused.”
“Enough, O Vaccha. Be not at a loss to think in this matter, and be not greatly confused. Profound, O Vaccha, is this doctrine, recondite and difficult of comprehension, good, excellent, and not to be reached by mere reasoning, subtle and intelligible only to the wise and it is a hard doctrine for you to learn, who belong to another sect, to another faith, to another persuasion, to another discipline, and who sit at the feet of another teacher. Therefore, O Vaccha, I shall now question you, and do you make answer as may seem to you good. What think you, Vaccha? Suppose a fire were to burn in front of you, would you be aware that fire was burning in front of you?”
“Gotama, if a fire were to burn in front of me, I should be aware that a fire was burning in front of me.”
“But suppose, Vaccha, someone were to ask you: ‘On what does this fire that is burning in front of you depend?’ What would you answer, Vaccha?”
“I would answer, O Gotama, ‘It is on fuel of grass and wood that this fire burning in front of me depends’.”
“But Vaccha, if the fire in front of you were to become extinct, would you be aware that the fire in front of you had become extinct?”
“Gotama, if the fire in front of me were to become extinct, I should be aware that the fire in front of me had become extinct.”
“But, Vacca, if someone were to ask you—’In what direction has that fire gone, East or West, North or South?’ What would you say, Vaccha?”
“The question would not fit the case, Gotama, for the fire depended on fuel of grass and wood, and when that fuel has all gone, and it can get no other, being thus without nutriment, it is said to be extinct.”
“In exactly the same way, Vaccha, all forms, sensations, perceptions, mental activities, and consciousness have been abandoned, uprooted, made like a palmyra stump, become extinct, and not liable to spring up in the future.
“The saint, O Vaccha, who has been released from what are styled the five aggregates, is deep, immeasurable like the mighty ocean. To say that he is reborn would not fit the case. To say that he is not reborn would not fit the case. To say that he is neither reborn nor not reborn would not fit the case.”
One cannot say that the arahant is reborn as all passions that condition rebirth are eradicated, nor can one say that the arahant is annihilated, for there is nothing to annihilate.
Robert Oppenheimer, a scientist, writes:
If we ask, for instance, whether the position of the electron remains the same, we must say ‘no’, if we ask whether the electron’s position changes with time, we must say ‘no’; if we ask whether it is in motion, we must say ‘no.’
The Buddha has given such answers when interrogated as to the condition of man’s self after death. 434 But they are not familiar answers from the tradition of the 17th and 18th century science.”
Nibbāna, it may safely be concluded, is obtained by the complete cessation of the defilements (kilesa), but the real nature of this supreme state (dhamma) cannot be expressed in words.
From a metaphysical standpoint, Nibbāna is complete deliverance from suffering. From a psychological standpoint, Nibbāna is the eradication of egoism. From an ethical standpoint, Nibbāna is the destruction of lust, hatred and ignorance.
The State of an Arahant
“Though little he recites the sacred texts, but acts in accordance with the teaching, forsaking lust, hatred and ignorance, truly knowing, with mind well freed, clinging to naught here and hereafter, he shares the fruits of the holy life.”
— Dhp v. 20
The Tipiṭaka abounds with interesting and self-elevating sayings that describe the peaceful and happy state of an arahant, who abides in the world, till the end of his life, serving other seekers of truth by example and by precept.
In the Dhammapada the Buddha states:
For him who has completed the journey, 435 for him who is sorrowless, 436 for him who from everything 437 is wholly free, for him who has destroyed all ties, 438 the fever (of passion) exists not. 439 (v. 90)
The mindful exert themselves. To no abode are they attached. Like swans that quit their pools, home after home they abandon (and go). 440 (v. 91)
They for whom there is no accumulation, 441 who reflect well over their food, 442 who have deliverance, 443 which is void and signless, as their object, their course like that of birds in the air cannot be traced. (v. 92)
He whose corruptions are destroyed, he who is not attached to food, he who has deliverance, which is void and signless, as his object, his path, like that of birds in the air, cannot be traced. (v. 93)
He whose senses are subdued, like steeds well trained by a charioteer, he whose pride is destroyed and is free from the corruptions,—such a steadfast one even the gods hold dear. (v. 94)
Like the earth, a balanced and well-disciplined person resents not. He is comparable to an indakhīla. 444 Like a pool, unsullied by mud, is he—to such a balanced one 445 life’s wanderings do not arise. 446 (v. 95)
Calm is his mind, calm is his speech, calm is his action, who, rightly knowing, is wholly freed, 447 perfectly peaceful, 448 and equipoised. (v. 96)
The 449 man who is not credulous, 450 who understands the Uncreated 451 (Nibbāna), who has cut off the links, 452 who has put an end to occasion 453 (of good and evil), who has eschewed 454 all desires 455 he, indeed, is a supreme man. (v. 97)
Whether in village or in forest, in vale or on hill, 456 wherever arahants dwell, delightful, indeed, is that spot. (v. 98)
Delightful are the forests where worldlings delight not; the passionless 457 will rejoice (therein),(for) they seek no sensual pleasures. (v. 99)
Ah, happily do we live without hate amongst the hateful; amidst hateful men we dwell unhating. (v. 197)
Ah, happily do we live in good health 458 amongst the ailing; amidst ailing men we dwell in good health. (v. 198)
Ah, happily do we live without yearning (for sensual pleasures) amongst those who yearn (for them); amidst those who yearn (for them) we dwell without yearning. (v. 199)
Ah, happily do we live, we who have no impediments. 459 Feeders of joy shall we be even as the gods of the Radiant Realm. (v. 200)
For whom there exists neither the hither 460 nor the farther shore, 461 nor both the hither and the farther shore, he who is undistressed and unbound 462 —him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 385)
He who is meditative, 463stainless and secluded, 464 he who has done his duty and is free from corruptions, 465 he who has attained the highest goal, 466 —him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 386)
He that does no evil through body, speech, or mind, who is restrained in these three respects—him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 391)
He who has cut off all fetters, who trembles not, who has gone beyond ties, who is unbound—him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 397)
He who has cut the strap (hatred), the thong (craving), and the rope (heresies), together with the appendages (latent tendencies), who has thrown up the cross-bar (ignorance), who is enlightened 467 (Buddha)—him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 398)
He who, without anger, endures reproach, flogging and punishments, whose power—the potent army—is patience—him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 399)
He who is not wrathful, but is dutiful, 468 virtuous, free from craving, self-controlled and bears his final body, 469 — him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 400)
Like water on a lotus leaf, like a mustard seed on the point of a needle, he who clings not to sensual pleasures,—him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 401)
He who realises here in this world the destruction of his sorrow, who has laid the burden 470 aside and is emancipated—him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 402)
He whose knowledge is deep, who is wise, who is skilled in the right and wrong way, 471 who has reached the highest goal—him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 403)
He who is not intimate either with householders or with the homeless ones, who wanders without an abode, who is without desires—him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 404)
He who has laid aside the cudgel in his dealings with beings, 472 whether feeble or strong, who neither harms nor kills—him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 405)
He who is friendly amongst the hostile, who is peaceful amongst the violent, who is unattached amongst the attached 473— him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 406)
In whom lust, hatred, pride, and detraction are fallen off like a mustard seed from the point of a needle—him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 407)
He who utters gentle, instructive, true words, who by his speech gives offence to none—him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 408)
He who has no desires, whether pertaining to this world or to the next, who is desireless and emancipated—him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 410)
Herein he who has transcended both good and bad and the ties 474 as well, who is sorrowless, stainless, and pure—him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 412)
He who is spotless as the moon, who is pure, serene, and unperturbed, who has destroyed craving for becoming—him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 413)
He who, discarding human ties and transcending celestial ties, is completely delivered from all ties 475 —him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 417)
He who has given up likes 476 and dislikes 477 who is cooled and is without defilements, 478 who has conquered the world, 479 and is strenuous—him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 418)
He who has no clinging to aggregates that are past, future, or present, who is without clinging and grasping,—him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 421)
The fearless, 480 the noble, the hero, the great sage, 481 the conqueror, 482 the desireless, the cleanser 483 (of defilements), the enlightened 484—him I call a brāhmaṇa (v. 422)
That sage who knows his former abodes, who sees the blissful 485 and the woeful states, 486 who has reached the end of births, 487 who, with superior wisdom, has perfected himself 488 who has completed 489 (the holy life), and reached the end of all passions—him I call a brāhmaṇa. (v. 423)
The Bodhisatta Ideal
This body of flesh and blood I bear
Just for the world’s good and welfare.
— Sri Saṇgabodhi
In the teachings of the Buddha, for the realisation of the ultimate goal, there are three modes of enlightenment (bodhi) one of which an aspirant may choose in accordance with his particular temperament. They are sāvaka-bodhi, 490 pacceka-bodhi and the sammā-sambodhi.
Sāvaka-Bodhi is the enlightenment of a disciple. This is known as the arahant 491 ideal. He who aspires to become an arahant usually seeks the guidance of a superior enlightened instructor. A slight indication from an understanding teacher would alone be sufficient for a morally advanced aspirant to progress on the upward path of enlightenment. Venerable Sāriputta, for instance, attained the first stage of sainthood, hearing only half a stanza from the arahant Assaji. The sorrow-afflicted Paācārā, who lost all those dear to her under tragic circumstances, attained arahantship by watching the water that washed her feet. The child-like Kisāgotamī who implored the Buddha for a cure for her dead infant, attained sainthood by watching a lamp that was being extinguished. Cūla Panthaka, who could not memorise a verse for four months, attained arahantship by meditating on impermanence while handling a clean piece of white cloth in his hand, gazing at the sun.
After achieving his goal, an arahant devotes the remainder of his life to serving other seekers of peace by example and by precept. First he purifies himself, and then he tries to purify others by expounding to them the teachings which he himself has followed. An arahant is more qualified to teach the Dhamma than ordinary worldling teachers, who have no realisation of truth, since he speaks from personal experience.
There is nothing selfish in the noble ideal of arahantship, for arahantship is gained only by eradicating all forms of selfishness. Self-illusion and egoism are some of the fetters that have to be discarded in order to attain arahantship. The wise men and women who lived in the time of the Buddha, and others later, benefited by the golden opportunity offered by him to gain their enlightenment in this present life itself.
Pacceka-bodhi is the independent enlightenment of a highly evolved person who achieves his goal by his own efforts without seeking any external aid. Such a holy person is termed a pacceka (private) buddha because he lacks the power to purify and serve others by expounding the Dhamma which he himself has discovered. Nevertheless he teaches morality.
Paccekabuddhas arise only during those periods when the teaching does not exist. Their number is not limited only to one at a particular time as in the case of sammā-sambuddhas.
Although the Buddha Gotama of the present era has passed away we are still living in a Buddha cycle, for the teaching still exists in its pristine purity. Accordingly no paccekabuddhas arise during this period. In the Khaggavisāṇa Sutta (Sn 1.3) are treasured some beautiful sayings of paccekabuddhas. A few of their wise utterances are quoted below:
1. Leaving aside the cudgel towards all beings, harming none of them, let him not yearn for sons or friends, but wander alone like a rhinoceros.
2. Affection arises from intimacy, and sorrow results thereby. Realising the evil born of affection wander alone like a rhinoceros.
3. We certainly praise the value of comradeship. One should associate with superiors or equals. Failing them, lead a blameless life and wander alone like a rhinoceros.
4. Variegated, sweet, and enchanting are sensual pleasures. In diverse forms they seduce the heart. Recognising their menace, wander alone like a rhinoceros.
5. Cold and heat, hunger, thirst, wind, sun, mosquitoes and snakes—overcome them all, and wander alone like a rhinoceros.
6. Like a lion that does not tremble at every sound, like the wind that does not cling to the meshes of a net, like the lotus that is unsoiled by the mud, wander alone like a rhinoceros.
7. In due season cultivate loving kindness, equanimity, compassion, release, appreciative joy, and unthwarted by the world, wander alone like a rhinoceros.
Sammā-sambodhi is the supreme enlightenment of a most developed, most compassionate, most loving, all-knowing perfect being. He who attains this bodhi is called a sammā-sambuddha, literally, a fully self-enlightened One. He is so called because he not only comprehends the Dhamma by his own efforts and wisdom but also expounds the doctrine to seekers of truth to purify and save them from this ever-recurring cycle of birth and death. Unlike the private buddhas, only one supreme buddha arises at a particular time, just as on certain trees one flower alone blooms.
He who aspires to attain sammā-sambuddhahood is called a bodhisatta. This bodhisatta ideal is the most refined and the most beautiful that could ever, in this ego-centric world, be conceived for what is nobler than a life of service and purity?
Those who, in the course of their wanderings in saṃsāra, wish to serve others and reach ultimate perfection, are free to pursue the bodhisatta ideal, but there is no compulsion that all must strive to attain buddhahood, which, to say the least, is practically impossible. Critics, who contend that the bodhisatta ideal was evolved to counteract the tendency to a cloistered, placid, and inert monastic life, only reveal ignorance of the pure Buddha-Dhamma.
The Abhisamayālaṇkāra-āloka, a later Sanskrit work, a sub-commentary to the Prajñāpāramitā, states:
The great disciples (srāvakas), having attained the two kinds of enlightenment (i.e., of the srāvaka proper and the pratyeka Buddha) with and without residue, remain with their minds full of fear, since they are deprived of great compassion and highest wisdom (uru karuṇā prajnā vaikal-yena). Owing to the cessation of the force of life, produced by the previous Biotic force, the attainment of Nirvana becomes possible. But in reality (the Hinayānist saints) are possessed only of that seeming Nirvana which is called the Nirvana resembling an extinguished light. The births in the three spheres of existence have ceased, but, after their worldly existence has taken an end, the arahants are born in the most pure sphere of Buddhist activity in the unaffected plane (anāsravadhātu), in state of perpetual trance and abiding within the petals of lotus flowers (padmaphutesu jāyante). Thereafter the Buddha Amitābhā and other Buddhas resembling the sun arouse them in order to remove the undefiled ignorance (akilishta ñāṇa). Thereupon the arahants make their creative effort for supreme enlightenment and, though they abide in a state of deliverance, they act (in the phenomenal world) as if they were making a descent to hell. And gradually, having accumulated all the factors for the attainment of enlightenment, they become teachers of living beings (i.e., Buddhas).
This is an absolutely fantastic view completely foreign to the spirit of the original teachings of the Buddha.
It is argued that arahantship is selfish and that all must strive to attain buddhahood to save others. Well one might ask: What is the object of attaining buddhahood? Is it to make others attain arahantship and save them? If so, the logical conclusion is that buddhahood itself fosters selfishness which is absurd.
Buddhahood is indisputably the best and the noblest of all the three ideals, but all are not capable of achieving this highest ideal. Surely all scientists cannot be Einsteins and Newtons. There must also be lesser scientists who help the world according to their capabilities.
The Pali term bodhisatta is composed of bodhi which means “wisdom” or “enlightenment”, and “satta” which means “devoted to” or “intent on.” A bodhisatta, therefore, means one who is devoted to, or intent on, wisdom or enlightenment. The Sanskritized form should be bodhishakta but the popular term is bodhisattva which means “wisdom being” or a being aspiring to become a buddha.
This term is generally applied to anyone who is striving for enlightenment, but, in the strictest sense of the term, should be applied only to those who are destined to become supremely enlightened ones. 492
In one sense all are potential buddhas, for buddhahood is not the special prerogative of specially graced persons.
It should be noted that Buddhists do not believe that there lies dormant in us all a divine spark that needs development, for they deny the existence of a creator, but they are conscious of the innate possibilities and the creative power of man.
Buddhism denies too the existence of a permanent soul that transmigrates from life to life, acquiring all experiences. Instead of an unchanging soul, the so-called essence of man, it posits a dynamic life-flux where there is an identity in process.
As a man, Prince Siddhartha, by his own will, wisdom and love, attained buddhahood, the highest state of perfection any being could aspire to, and he revealed to mankind the only path that leads thereto. A singular characteristic of Buddhism is that anyone may aspire to the state of the teacher himself if only he makes the necessary exertion. The Buddha did not claim any monopoly of buddhahood. It is not a sort of evolutionary process. It may be achieved by one’s own effort without the help of another. The Buddha does not condemn men by calling them wretched sinners, but, on the contrary, encourages them saying that they are pure in heart at conception. Instead of disheartening followers, creating an inferiority complex, and reserving the exalted state of Buddha to himself, he encourages them and inspires them to emulate him.
A bodhisatta need not necessarily be a Buddhist. We may find ever-loving bodhisattas among Buddhists today, though they may be unaware of their lofty aspirations, and bodhisattas may also be found among other religionists as well.
Three Types of Bodhisattas
According to Buddhism there are three types of bodhisattas—namely, intellectual bodhisattas (paññādhika), devotional bodhisattas (saddhādhika), and energetic bodhisattas (viriyādhika). These three kinds of bodhisattas correspond to māna yogi, bhakti yogi and karma yogi of the Hindus.
Intellectual bodhisattas are less devotional and more energetic; devotional ones are less energetic and more intellectual; energetic ones are less intellectual and more devotional. Seldom, if ever, are these three characteristics harmoniously combined in one person. The Buddha Gotama is cited as one of the intellectual group.
According to the commentaries the intellectual ones attain buddhahood within a short period, devotional ones take a longer time, and energetic ones take longer still.
Intellectual bodhisattas concentrate more on the development of wisdom and on the practice of meditation than on the observance of external forms of homage. They are always guided by reason and accept nothing on blind belief. They make no self-surrender, and are not slaves either to a book or to an individual. They prefer lonely meditation. With their silent but powerful thoughts of peace radiating from their solitary retreats they render moral help to suffering humanity.
The element of piety—saddhā or trustful confidence—is predominant in the devotional bodhisattas. With saddhā as their companion they achieve their goal.
These bodhisattas take a keen interest in all forms of homage. The image of the Buddha is a great inspiration to them.
It should be understood that Buddhists do not worship an image. They pay homage to what it represents and reflect on the virtues of the Buddha. The more they think of the Buddha the more they love him. This is the reason why Buddhism does not denounce these external forms of homage (āmisa pūjā) though undoubtedly practice (paipatti pūjā) is more commendable and indisputably superior. But dry intellect has to be flavoured with saddhā (faith) to obtain satisfactory results. As excessive saddhā might also sometimes be detrimental, it has to be restrained by wisdom.
The energetic ones always seek opportunities to be of service to others. Nothing gives them greater delight than active service. “For them work is happiness, and happiness is work.” They are not happy unless they are active. As King Saṇgabodhi of Sri Lanka said they “bear this body of flesh and blood for the good and happiness of the world.” They live not only for themselves but for others as well.
This spirit of selfless service is one of the chief characteristics of all bodhisattas.
With relentless energy they work not as slaves but as masters. They crave for neither fame nor name. They are interested only in service. It is immaterial to them whether others recognise their selfless service or not. They are utterly indifferent to praise or blame.
They forget themselves in their disinterested service to others. They would sacrifice even life itself could such action save another fellow-being.
A bodhisatta who forgets himself in the service of others should practise karuṇā and mettā (compassion and loving kindness) to an exceptionally high degree.
A bodhisatta desires the good and welfare of the world. He loves all beings as a mother loves her only child. He identifies himself with all. To him nothing gives more delight than to think that all are his brothers and sisters. He is like a mother, a father, a friend, a teacher, to all beings.
“The compassion of a bodhisatta consists in realising the equality of oneself with others (para ātma-samatā) and also the substitution of others for oneself (para-ātma-parivartana).” When he does so he loses his I-notion and finds no difference between himself and others. He returns good for evil, and helps even unasked the very persons who have wronged him, for he knows that “the strength of a religious teacher is his patience.”
“Being reviled, he reviles not; being beaten, he beats not; being annoyed, he annoys not. His forgiveness is unfailing even as the mother earth suffers in silence all that may be done to her.”
Pāramī — Perfections
Work for the welfare of others.
— Sutta Nipāta
There are ten transcendental virtues, which, in Pali, are termed pāramī 493 that every bodhisatta practises in order to gain supreme enlightenment—sammā-sambuddhahood. They are generosity (dāna), moralitv (sīla), renunciation (nekkhamma), wisdom (paññā), energy (viriya), patience (khanti), truthfulness (sacca), determination (adhiṭhāna) and equanimity (upekkhā).
According to the Cariyā Piṭaka Commentary, pāramī are those virtues which are cultivated with compassion, guided by reason, uninfluenced by selfish motives, and unsullied by misbelief and all feelings of self-conceit.
The actions of a bodhisatta are absolutely selfless, being prompted solely by compassion towards all beings. So boundless is his love and so pervasive is his infinite compassion that unceasingly throughout the series of his countless lives he strives to diminish suffering, to elevate to greater honour the poor and the lowly, and to help the needy in every possible way.
He seeks no delight in self-indulgence while his less fortunate brethren and sisters are steeped in misery. To alleviate suffering he would not hesitate to sacrifice his most cherished possessions—not excepting life itself as illustrated in the story in the Vyāghri-Jātaka. 494
With heart full of compassion he works for the weal and happiness of all beings; though always guided by reason. He is generously endowed with all the essential qualities of both head and heart in their full development which are dedicated to the service of the world at large.
In serving others a bodhisatta is not actuated by a desire for power or worldly possessions. Knowing as he does, that fame comes unsought to him who is worthy of it, why should he pursue it?
He is completely altruistic in his motives and egoism plays no part in his disinterested activities.
“Let laymen and monks both think that this was done by myself. In every work great or small, let them refer to me. Such is the aspiration of the fool. His desires and pride increase,” states the Dhammapada (v. 74). Such narrow and selfish aspirations do not enter into the mind of a bodhisatta.
Dāna or generosity is the first pāramī. It confers upon the giver the double blessing of inhibiting immoral thoughts of selfishness, while developing pure thoughts of selflessness.
A bodhisatta is not concerned as to whether the recipient is truly in need or not, for his one object in practising generosity, as he does, is to eliminate craving that lies dormant within himself. The joy of service, its attendant happiness, and the alleviation of suffering are other blessings of generosity.
In extending his love with supernormal generosity, he makes no distinction between one being and another, but he uses judicious discrimination in this generosity. If, for instance, a drunkard were to seek his help, and, if he were convinced that the drunkard would misuse his gift, the bodhisatta without hesitation would refuse it, for such misplaced generosity would not constitute a pāramī.
Should anyone seek his help for a worthy purpose, then instead of assuming a forced air of dignity or making false pretensions, he would simply express his deep obligation for the opportunity afforded, and willingly and humbly render every possible aid. Yet, he would never set it down to his own credit as a favour conferred upon another, nor would he ever regard the man as his debtor for the service rendered. He is interested only in the good act, but in nothing else springing from it. He expects no reward in return, nor even does he crave enhancement of reputation from it.
A bodhisatta, though always ready to confer a favour, seldom, if ever, stoops to ask one. The Brahma Jātaka (No. 323) relates that once the Bodhisatta was leading an ascetic life in the park of a certain king who used to visit him daily and minister to his needs. Yet, for twelve long years he refrained from asking the boon of a pair of sandals and a leaf-parasol, trifling as they were.
When questioned as to his strange, but modest attitude, he replied to the king:
Who beg, Pañcāla, Lord, to weep are fain.
They who refuse are apt to weep again.
In abundance he gives to others, irrespective of caste, creed, or colour, though seeking nothing for himself in return. A characteristic of his mind is perfect contentment such as the poet Edward Dyer contemplated.
Some have too much, yet still do crave,
I little have and seek no more,
They are but poor though much they have,
And I am rich with little store.
In the Kaṇha Jātaka (No. 440) it is related that Sakka, attracted by the exemplary, virtuous life of the Bodhisatta, approached him and offered him a boon. Acceding to Sakka’s kindly request, he wished for the following:
May I harbour no malice or hatred against my neighbour!
May I not covet my neighbour’s possessions!
May I cherish no personal affection towards others!
Greatly disappointed, though full of admiration for the disinterest shown, Sakka entreated him to choose yet another boon. The Buddha replied:
Where in the wood I ever dwell,
Where all alone dwell I,
Grant no disease may mar any peace,
Or break my ecstasy.
Hearing this, Sakka thought, “Wise Kaṇha, in choosing a boon, chooses nothing connected with food. All he chooses pertain to the ascetic life!”
Yet again Sakka said, “Choose a boon!”
The Bodhisatta responded:
O Sakka, Lord of the world, a choice you do declare:
No creature should be harmed for me, O Sakka, anywhere,
Neither in body nor in mind; this, Sakka, is my prayer. 495
A bodhisatta exercises this virtue of generosity to such an extent that he is prepared to give away not only wealth and other cherished possessions, but also his kingdom, his limbs and even his children and wife; and he is ever ready to sacrifice his own life wherever such sacrifice would benefit humanity.
The Vessantara Jātaka (No. 547) relates how, when Prince Vessantara was a child of only eight years, he thought with all sincerity: “If one should need my heart, I would cut open my breast, tear it out and give it; if one should need my eyes, I would gouge them out and give them; if one should need my flesh, I would cut off what he needed.”
The Vyāghrī Jātaka depicts, in glowing terms, an incident in which he willingly and joyfully sacrificed his life for the good and happiness of others. In the Jātakamālā the story runs as follows:
On one occasion when the Bodhisatta was passing through a forest, accompanied by his disciple, he saw a tigress and her three cubs near death from starvation. Moved to compassion, he asked his disciple to secure some food for them. This was but a pretext to send him away, for the Bodhisatta thought:
“Why should I search after meat from the body of another while the whole of my own body is available? Finding other meat is a matter of chance, and I may well lose the opportunity of doing my duty. This body being foul and a source of suffering, he is not wise who would not rejoice at its being spent for the benefit of another. There are but two things that make one disregard the grief of another—attachment to one’s own pleasure and the absence of the power of helping. But I cannot take my pleasure while another grieves, as long as I am able to help him. Why should I, therefore, be indifferent?
“By casting myself down this precipice, I sacrifice my miserable body which will feed the tigress, thus preventing her from killing the young ones and saving the young ones from dying by the teeth of their mother.
“Furthermore, by so doing I set an example to those whose longings are for the good of the world. I encourage the feeble; I gladden those who understand the meaning of charity; and I inspire the virtuous. And finally that opportunity I yearned for, when may I have the opportunity of benefiting others by offering them my own limbs, I shall obtain it now, and acquire before long the Sammā Sambuddhahood—supreme enlightenment.”
Thinking thus, he cast himself down the precipice sacrificing his life for the welfare of those helpless beings.
The Nevari (Nepāla Bhāshā) version of this interesting and pitiful story is as follows:
In the remote past there lived a devout and powerful king named Mahārattha. He had three sons by name, Mahā Prashāda, Mahā Deva, and Mahāsattva, all good and obedient.
One bright day the king, accompanied by the princes and attendants, went on an excursion to a forest park. The young princes, admiring the enchanting beauty of the flowers and trees, gradually penetrated far into the thick forest.
The attendants noticed their absence and reported the matter to the king. He ordered his ministers to go in search of them and returned to his palace.
The three princes, wandering through the forest, reached a mountain top. From there the eldest saw a starving tigress with five cubs almost on the verge of death. For seven days since her delivery she had been without food. The cubs approached the mother to suck milk, but she had nothing to satisfy their hunger, and the tigress, driven by starvation, was clearly at the point of unnaturally devouring her own cubs.
The eldest brother was the first to see this pathetic spectacle. He showed the tigress to his brothers and said: “Behold that pitiful sight, O brothers! That starving tigress is about to devour her cubs. How wretched is their condition!”
“What is their staple food, brother?” inquired Mahāsattva.
“Flesh and blood is the staple food of tigers and lions,” replied Mahā Prashāda.
“The tigress seems to be very weak. Evidently she is without food for some days. How noble if one could sacrifice one’s body for their sake!
“But, who is willing to make such great sacrifice!” remarked Mahā Deva.
“Surely, no one would be able to do so,” stated Mahā Prashāda.
“I lack intelligence. Ignorant persons like us would not be able to sacrifice their bodies for the sake of another. But there may be selfless men of boundless compassion who would willingly do so,” said Mahāsattva in a merciful tone.
Thus they discussed amongst themselves and casting a last glance at the helpless tigress, they departed.
Mahāsattva thought to himself:
“Sacrifice I must this fleeting body for the sake of this starving tigress. Foul is this body, and is subject to decay and death. One may adorn and perfume it, but soon it will stink and perish.”
Reflecting thus, he requested his brothers to proceed as he would be retiring to the forest for some reason or other.
He retraced his steps to the place where the tigress was resting. Hanging his garments and ornaments on a tree, again he thought:
“Work I must for the weal of others. Compassionate we must be towards all beings. To serve those who need our succour is our paramount duty. This foul body of mine will I sacrifice and thus save the tigress and her five cubs. By this meritorious act may I gain Sammā Sambuddhahood and save all beings from the ocean of saṃsāra! May all beings be well and happy!”
Moved by compassion and inspired by the spirit of selfless service, dauntlessly he jumped off the precipice towards the tigress.
The fall did not result in an instantaneous death. The tigress, though ruthless by nature, pitied the Bodhisattva and would not even touch his body.
The Bodhisattva thought otherwise: “Obviously the poor animal is too weak to devour me!”
So he went in search of a weapon. He came across a bamboo splinter, and drawing near the tigress, he cut off his neck and fell dead on the ground in a pool of blood.
The hungry tigress greedily drank the blood and devoured the flesh leaving mere bones.
The story adds that, at the moment the Bodhisattva sacrificed his body, the earth quaked, the waters of the ocean were disturbed, the sun’s rays dimmed, eye-sight was temporarily blurred, devas gave cries of Sādhu, and Pārijāta flowers came down as rain from heaven.
Affected by the earthquake, the two elder brothers rightly guessed that their younger brother must have become a prey to the tigress.
“Surely, Mahāsattva must have sacrificed his life, for he spoke in a very merciful tone,” said Mahā Deva.
Both of them turned back and went to the spot. They were horrified and awe-struck at the unexpected spectacle. What they saw was not their beloved brother but a mass of bones besmeared with blood. On a tree close by they saw the hanging garments.
They wept and fainted and on regaining consciousness, they returned home with a heavy heart.
On the very day the Bodhisattva sacrificed his life the mother-queen dreamt that she was dead, that her teeth had fallen out, and that she experienced a pain as if her body were cut by a sharp weapon. Furthermore, she dreamt that a hawk came drooping down and carried one of the three beautiful pigeons that were perched on the roof.
The queen was frightened, and on waking she remembered that her princes had gone for an airing in the forest. She hastened to the king and related the inauspicious dreams.
On being informed that the princes were missing, she entreated the king to send messengers in search of them.
Some ministers who had gone earlier to search for them returned to the palace with the sad news of the lamentable death of the youngest prince. Hearing it, nobody was able to refrain from weeping. The king, however, comforted the queen and, mounting an elephant, speedily proceeded to the forest with his attendants and brought back the other two grieving sons.
So great was their grief that at first they were speechless. Later summoning up courage, they explained to their bereaved mother the heroic deed of their noble brother.
Soon the order was given by the king to make necessary arrangements for them all to visit the memorable scene of the incident.
All reached the spot in due course. At the mere sight of the blood-smeared bones of the dearest son scattered here and there, both the king and queen fainted. The Purohita Brahmin instantly poured sandal wood water over them, and they regained consciousness.
Thereupon the king ordered his ministers to gather all the hair, bones, and garments and, heaping them together, worshipped them. Advising them to erect a golden cetiya enshrining the relics, with a grieving heart, he departed to his palace.
At the end of the Jātaka it is stated that the cetiya is at present called “Namurā.”
In spite of differences in the two versions, the central point in both is the self-sacrifice of the Bodhisatta. It is immaterial whether the Bodhisatta sacrificed his life as an ascetic or as a prince.
As in the other Jātakas the Nidāna or the occasion for the Jātaka appears in this one too. But the identification of the personages found at the end of all Jātakas is absent here.
The Nevāri Jātaka is obviously more descriptive than the Sanskrit version. The origin of the Nevāri is uncertain.
Dealing with the Bodhisatta’s mode of practising dāna, an interesting account appears in an important text of the Cariyā Piṭaka Commentary.
In giving food the Bodhisatta intends thereby to endow the recipient with long life, beauty, happiness, strength, wisdom, and the highest fruit, Nibbāna. He gives drink to thirsty beings with the object of quenching the thirst of passion; garments to acquire moral shame and moral dread; conveyances to cultivate psychic powers; odours for the scent of sīla (morality); garlands and unguents to gain the glory pertaining to the Buddha’s virtues; seats to win the seat of enlightenment; lodging with the hope of serving as a refuge to the world; lights to obtain the five kinds of eyes—namely, the physical eye, the eye of wisdom, the divine eye, the Buddha eye, and the eye of omniscience; forms to possess the Buddha aura; sounds to cultivate a voice as sweet as Brahmā’s; tastes so that he may be pleasing to all; contacts to gain the delicate organism of a Buddha; medicine for the sake of deathlessness (Nibbāna). He emancipates slaves in order to deliver men from the thraldom of passions; renounces children to develop the paternal feeling towards all; renounces wives to become the master of the world; renounces kingdoms to inherit the kingdom of righteousness. Besides revealing the altruistic attitude of a bodhisatta, these lofty aspirations disclose his disinterested efforts for the amelioration of mankind.
Combined with this supernormal generosity of a bodhisatta is his virtuous conduct (sīla). The meaning of the Pali term is discipline. It consists of duties that one should perform (cāritta) and abstinences which one should practise (vāritta). These duties towards parents, children, husband, wife, teachers, pupils, friends, monks, subordinates, etc., are described in detail in the Sigālovāda Sutta (Dn 31).
The duties of a layman are described in a series of relationships, each for mnemonic reasons of five items.
A child should minister to his parents by:
doing their duties,
keeping the family lineage,
acting in such a way as to be worthy of his inheritance and furthermore,
offering alms in honour of his departed relatives.
Parents, who are thus ministered to by their children, should:
dissuade them from evil,
persuade them to do good,
teach them an art,
give them in marriage to a suitable wife, and
hand over to them their inheritance at the proper time.
A pupil should minister to a teacher by:
attending on him,
personal service, and
respectfully receiving instructions.
Teachers, thus ministered to by pupils should:
train them in the best discipline,
make them receive that which is well held by them,
teach them every suitable art and science,
introduce them to their friends and associates, and
provide for their safety in every quarter.
A husband should minister to his wife by:
not despising her,
handing over authority to her, and
providing her with ornaments.
The wife, who is thus ministered to by her husband, should:
perform her duties in perfect order,
be hospitable to the people around,
protect what he brings, and
be industrious and not lazy in discharging her duties.
A noble scion should minister to his friends and associates by:
promoting their good,
The friends and associates, who are thus ministered to by a noble scion, should:
protect him when he is heedless,
protect his property when he is heedless,
become a refuge when he is afraid,
not forsake him when in danger, and
be considerate towards his progeny.
A master should minister to servants and employees by:
assigning them work according to their strength,
supplying them with food and wages,
tending them in sickness,
sharing with them extraordinary delicacies, and
relieving them at times.
The servants and employees, who are thus ministered to by their master, should:
rise before him,
go to sleep after him,
take only what is given,
perform their duties satisfactorily, and
spread his good name and fame.
A noble scion should minister to ascetics and Brahmins by:
not closing the doors against them, and
supplying their material needs.
The ascetics and brahmins, who are thus ministered to by a noble scion, should:
dissuade him from evil,
persuade him to do good,
love him with a kind heart,
make him hear what he has not heard and clarify what he has already heard, and
point out the path to a heavenly state.
A bodhisatta who fulfils all these household duties (cāritta sīla) becomes truly a refined gentleman in the strictest sense of the term. Apart from these obligatory duties he endeavours his best to observe the other rules relating to vāritta sīla (morality) and thus lead an ideal Buddhist life.
Rightly discerning the law of action and reaction, of his own accord, he refrains from evil and does good to the best of his ability. He considers it his duty to be a blessing to himself and others, and not a curse to any, whether man or animal.
As life is precious to all and as no man has the right to take away the life of another, he extends his compassion and loving kindness towards every living being, even to the tiniest creature that crawls at his feet, and refrains from killing or causing injury to any living creature. It is the animal instinct in man that prompts him mercilessly to kill the weak and feast on their flesh. Whether to appease one’s appetite or as a pastime it is not justifiable to kill or cause a helpless animal to be killed by any method whether cruel or humane. And if it is wrong to kill an animal, what must be said of slaying human beings, however noble the motive may at first sight appear.
Furthermore, a bodhisatta abstains from all forms of stealing, direct or indirect, and thus develops honesty, trustworthiness and uprightness. Abstaining from mis-conduct, which debases the exalted nature of man, he tries to be pure and chaste in his sex life. He avoids false speech, harsh language, slander, and frivolous talk and utters only words which are true, sweet, peaceable and helpful. He avoids intoxicating liquors which tend to mental distraction and confusion, and cultivates heedfulness and clarity of vision.
A bodhisatta would adhere to these five principles which tend to control deeds and words, whether against his own interests or not. On a proper occasion he will sacrifice not only possessions and wealth but life itself for the sake of his principles. 496
It should not be understood that a bodhisatta is perfect in his dealings in the course of his wanderings in saṃsāra. Being a worldling, he possesses his own failings and limitations. Certain Jātakas like the Kanavera Jātaka (No. 318) depict him as a very desperate highway robber. This, however, is the exception rather than the rule.
The great importance attached by an aspirant to buddhahood to morality is evident from the Sīlavimamsa Jātaka (No. 362) where the Bodhisatta says: “Apart from virtue wisdom has no worth.” In praise of sīla (morality), the foundation of all other higher virtues, Venerable Buddhaghosa writes in the Visuddhimagga.
What scent else blows with and against the wind?
What stairway leads like her to heaven’s gate?
What door into Nibbāna’s city opens?
The sage whose virtue is his ornament
Outshines the pomp and pearls of jewelled kings.
In virtuous men virtue destroys self-blame,
Begetting joy and praise. Thus should be known
The sum of all the discourse on the power
Of virtue, root of merits, slayer of faults.
—The Path of Purity, vol. i., p. 12.
Still keener is the enthusiasm a bodhisatta exhibits towards nekkhamma (renunciation), for by nature he is a lover of solitude. Nekkhamma implies both renunciation of worldly pleasures by adopting the ascetic life and the temporary inhibition of hindrances (nīvaraṇa) by jhānas (ecstasies).
A bodhisatta is neither selfish nor self-possessive but is selfless in his activities. He is ever ready to sacrifice his happiness for the sake of others.
Though he may sit in the lap of luxury, immersed in worldly pleasures, he may comprehend their transitoriness and the value of renunciation.
Realising thus the vanity of fleeting material pleasures, he voluntarily leaves his earthly possessions, and donning the simple ascetic garb, tries to lead the holy life in all its purity. Here he practises the higher morality to such an extent that he becomes practically selfless in all his actions. No inducement whether fame, wealth, honour, or worldly gain, could induce him to do anything contrary to his principles.
Sometimes, the first grey hair, as in the case of the Makhādeva Jātaka (No. 9), is alone a sufficient call to a bodhisatta to abandon the uncongenial atmosphere of the palace for the independent solitary life of a hermit. At times a dew-drop or a withered leaf may induce him to adopt the ascetic life.
As a rule, however, the practice of renunciation is not observed by a bodhisatta.
In the Kusa Jātaka (No. 531), for instance, the Bodhisatta was subjected to much humiliation owing to his unrestrained desire to win the hand of the beautiful princess Pabhāvati.
Again in the Darīmukha Jātaka (No. 373) it is mentioned that a paccekabuddha, quondam friend of the Bodhisatta, approached him and said:
Pleasures of sense are but morass and mire,
The triply-rooted terror them I call.
Vapour and dust I have proclaimed them, Sire,
Become a brother and forsake them all.
He promptly replied:
Infatuate, bound and deeply stained am I,
Brahmin, with pleasures, fearful, they may be.
But I love life, and cannot them deny;
Good works I undertake continually. 497
In the period of a Buddhaless cycle a bodhisatta would adopt the life of an ascetic and lead the holy celibate life in solitude. If born in a Buddha Cycle, he would lead the life of a bhikkhu in a strict accordance with the rules that pertain thereto. An ideal bhikkhu who leads an exemplary life is a blessing to himself and others. He teaches both by example and by precept. Within he is pure, without he purifies.
He is very strenuous in working for his inner spiritual development, catering at the same time for the spiritual needs of those lesser brethren and sisters. He is no burden to society because he gives no trouble to any. He is like the bee that extracts honey from the flower without damaging it. He possesses no property for he has renounced everything worldly. His needs are few, and contentment is his wealth. He repents not for the past, nor is he worried about the future. He lives in the present, free from all responsibilities and trammels of the world. He is ready to wander wherever he chooses for the good and happiness of others, without clinging to any abode. Under all vicissitudes of life he maintains a balanced mind, his free services are always at the disposal of others.
Non-Buddhist ascetics are invariably called Paribbājakas, Ájīvakas, Sanyāsins, etc. Bhikkhu (Skt. Bhikshu) has now become exclusively Buddhist.
The rules laid down for a bhikkhu 498 do not permit him to beg anything from another. He may accept the four requisites—robes, alms, lodging, medicine—presented to him. If in need of any requisite, he is allowed to ask it from his parents, close relatives, or from professed supporters.
A bhikkhu is not bound to life-long vows. Of his own accord he enters the order in order to lead the holy life until he chooses to leave it. Once he dons the yellow robe, the emblem of arahants, he is bound to observe the rules that pertain thereto.
To lead a life of perfect purity and selfless service, to control and purify the mind with ease, to see things as they truly are, to think rightly and deeply, to develop the higher nature of man, to appreciate fully the higher spiritual values, no other mode of life affords such facilities and such great opportunities as the life of a bhikkhu.
A bhikkhu may lead either a contemplative or a studious life. The former is more in harmony with the ideal of a bhikkhu, for the ultimate object in donning the yellow robe, the emblem of sanctity and humility, is to eradicate passions and realise Nibbāna.
Nekkhamma is followed by paññā (wisdom or knowledge). It is the right understanding of the nature of the world in the light of transience (anicca), sorrowfulness (dukkha) and soullessness (anattā). A bodhisatta meditates on these three characteristics but not to such an extent as to attain arahantship, for to do this would be deviating from his goal.
At the same time he does not disparage worldly wisdom. He tries to acquire knowledge even from his servants. Never does he show any desire to display his knowledge, nor is he ashamed to plead ignorance even in public, for under no circumstances does he ever prove to be a charlatan. What he knows is always at the disposal of others, and that he imparts to them unreservedly. He tries his best to lead others from darkness to light.
Knowledge is of three kinds. The first is knowledge acquired orally (sutamaya paññā). In the ancient days when printing was not in vogue knowledge was acquired by hearing—hence a learned man was then called bahussuta (= he who has heard much), corresponding to English erudition. The second kind of knowledge is acquired by thought (cintāmaya paññā). The practical scientific knowledge of the West is the direct outcome of this kind of knowledge. The third is a superior kind of knowledge acquired by meditation and contemplation (bhāvanāmaya paññā). It is by such meditation that one realises intuitive truths which are beyond logical reasoning. Bhāvanā or meditation is not a passive reverie, but an energetic striving. It leads to self-elevation, self-discipline, self-control, and self-illumination. It is a heart tonic as well.
Wisdom is the apex of Buddhism. It is the first factor (sammā diṭṭhi) in the Noble Eightfold Path. It is one of the seven factors of enlightenment (dhammavicayasambojjhaṇga). It is one of the four means of accomplishment (vīmaṃsa-iddhipāda). It is one of the five powers (pañca-bala) and one of the five controlling faculties (pañcindriya). It is wisdom that leads to purification and to final deliverance.
Closely allied with paññā (wisdom) is viriya (energy or perseverance). Here viriya does not mean physical strength though this is an asset, but mental vigour or strength of character, which is far superior. It is defined as the persistent effort to work for the welfare of others both in thought and deed. Firmly establishing himself in this virtue, the Bodhisatta develops self-reliance and makes it one of his prominent characteristics.
In the words of Dr. Tagore, a bodhisatta, relying on his own resources, would form his mind thus:
Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them.
Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain, but for the heart to conquer it.
Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved, but hope for the patience to win my freedom.
The viriya of a bodhisatta is clearly depicted in the Mahājanaka Jātaka (No. 539). Shipwrecked in the open sea for seven days he struggled on without once giving up hope until he was finally rescued.
Failures he views as steps to success, opposition causes him to double his exertion, dangers increase his courage. Cutting his way through difficulties, which impair the enthusiasm of the feeble, surmounting obstacles, which dishearten the ordinary, he looks straight towards his goal. Nor does he ever stop until his goal is reached.
To Māra who advised the Bodhisatta to abandon his quest, he said: “Death in battle with passions to me seems more honourable than a life of defeat.”
Just as his wisdom is always directed to the service of others, so also is his fund of energy. Instead of confining it to the narrow course leading to the realisation of personal ends, he directs it into the open channel of activities that tend to universal happiness. Ceaselessly and untiringly he works for others, expecting no remuneration in return or reward. He is ever ready to serve others to the best of his ability.
In certain respects viriya plays an even greater part than paññā in the achievement of the goal. In one who treads the Noble Eightfold Path, right effort (sammā-vāyāma or viriya) suppresses the arising of evil states, eradicates those which have arisen, stimulates good states, and perfects those good states which have already arisen. It serves as one of the seven factors of enlightenment (viriya-sambojjhaṇga). It is one of the four means of accomplishment (viriyiddhipāda). It is viriya that performs the function of the four modes of right endeavour (sammappadhāna). It is one of the five powers (viriya-bala) and one of the five controlling faculties (viriyindriya).
Viriya therefore may be regarded as an officer that performs nine functions. It is effort coupled with wisdom that serves as a powerful hand to achieve all ends.
As important as viriya is khanti. It is the patient endurance of suffering inflicted upon oneself by others, and the forbearance of others’ wrongs.
A bodhisatta practises patience to such an extent that he is not provoked even when his hands and feet are cut off. In the Khantivādi Jātaka, (No. 313) it appears that not only did the Bodhisatta cheerfully endure the tortures inflicted by the drunkard king, who mercilessly ordered his hands and feet, nose and ears to be cut off, but requited those injuries with a blessing.
Lying on the ground, in a deep pool of his own blood, with mutilated limbs, the Bodhisatta said:
Long live the king, whose cruel hand my body
thus has marred.
Pure souls like mine such deeds as these with anger
ne’er regard. 499
Of his forbearance it is said that whenever he is harmed he thinks of the aggressor:
“This person is a fellow-being of mine. Intentionally or unintentionally I myself must have been the source of provocation, or it may be due to a past evil kamma of mine. As it is the outcome of my own action, why should I harbour ill will towards him?”
It may be mentioned that a bodhisatta is not irritated by any man’s shameless conduct either.
Admonishing his disciples to practise forbearance, the Buddha says in the Kakacūpama Sutta:
Though robbers, who are highway men, should sever your limbs with a two-handled saw yet if you thereby defile your mind, you would be no follower of my teaching.
Thus should you train yourselves: Unsullied shall our hearts remain. No evil word shall escape our lips. Kind and compassionate with loving heart, harbouring no ill will shall we abide, enfolding, even these bandits with thoughts of loving kindness. And forth from them proceeding, we shall abide radiating the whole world with thoughts of loving kindness, vast, expansive, measureless, benevolent and unified.
Practising patience and tolerance, instead of seeing the ugliness in others, a bodhisatta tries to seek the good and beautiful in all.
Truthfulness or sacca is the seventh perfection. By sacca is here meant the fulfilment of one’s promise. This is one of the salient characteristics of a bodhisatta, for he is no breaker of his word. He acts as he speaks, he speaks as he acts (yathāvādī tathākārī yathākārī tathāvādī).
According to the Hārita Jātaka (No. 431) a bodhisatta, in the course of his life’s wanderings, never utters an untruth although at times he may violate the other four precepts.
Truth he hides not even to be polite.
He makes truth his guide, and holds it his bounden duty to keep his word. He ponders well before he makes his promise, but once made the promise is fulfilled at any cost, even that of his life.
In the Hiri Jātaka (No. 363) the Bodhisatta advises:
Be you in deed to every promise true,
Refuse to promise what you can not do;
Wise men on empty braggarts look askew. 500
Again, the Mahā Sutasoma Jātaka (No. 537) recounts that to fulfil a promise the Bodhisatta was prepared even to sacrifice his life.
Just as the morning star on high
In balanced course doth ever keep,
And through all seasons, times, and years,
Does never from its pathway swerve,
So likewise he in all wise speech
Swerves never from the path of truth. 501
A bodhisatta is trustworthy, sincere and honest. What he thinks, he speaks. There is perfect harmony in his thoughts, words and deeds.
He is consistent and straightforward in all his dealings. He is no hypocrite since he strictly adheres to his high principles. There is no difference between his inner self and his outward utterance. His private life accords with his public life.
He does not use flattery to win the hearts of others, does not exalt himself to win their admiration, does not hide his defects or vainly exhibit his virtues. The praiseworthy he praises without malice, the blameworthy he blames judiciously, not with contempt but out of compassion.
Even the truth he does not always utter. Should such utterance not be conducive to the good and happiness of others, then he remains silent. If any truth seems beneficial to others, he utters it, however detrimental to himself it may be. And he honours the word of others as he honours his own.
Truthfulness is followed by adhiṭhāna which may be translated as resolute determination. Without this firm determination the other perfections cannot be fulfilled. It is compared to the foundation of a building. This will-power forces all obstructions out of the Bodhisatta’s path, and no matter what may come to him, sickness, grief, or disaster—he never turns his eyes away from his goal.
For instance, the Bodhisatta Gotama made a firm determination to renounce his royal pleasures and gain enlightenment. For six long years his was a superhuman struggle. He had to endure manifold hardships and face innumerable difficulties. At a crucial moment when he most needed their help, his five favourite disciples deserted him. Yet he did not give up his effort. His enthusiasm was redoubled. He strove on alone and eventually achieved the goal.
Just as a rocky mountain peak,
Unmoved stands, firm established.
Unshaken by the boisterous gale,
And always in its place abides.
So likewise he must ever be
In resolution firm entrenched. 502
A bodhisatta is a man of iron determination whose high principles cannot be shaken. Easily persuaded to do good, none could tempt him to do anything contrary to those principles. As occasion demands he is as soft as a flower and as firm as a rock.
The most important of all pāramīs is mettā (Skt. maitri). There is no graceful English equivalent for mettā. It may be rendered as benevolence, goodwill, friendliness, or loving kindness, and is defined as the wish for the happiness of all beings without exception. It is this mettā that prompts a bodhisatta to renounce personal deliverance for the sake of others. He is permeated with boundless goodwill towards all beings irrespective of caste, creed, colour, or sex. Since he is the embodiment of universal love he fears none, nor is he feared by any. Wild beasts in lonely jungles are his loving friends. His very presence amongst them fosters their mutual friendliness. He ever cherishes in his heart boundless goodwill towards all that lives.
Mettā, in Buddhism, should be differentiated from personal affection (pema) or ordinary carnal love. From affection come fear and grief, but not from mettā.
In exercising this loving kindness one should not ignore oneself. Mettā should be extended towards oneself equally with others. Mettā of a Buddhist embraces the whole world, including himself.
In the Mahā-Dhammapāla Jātaka (No. 385), it appears that the young Bodhisatta, extended his loving kindness, in equal measure, towards his cruel father who ordered him to be tortured and killed, the wicked executioner, his loving, weeping mother, and his humble self.
Loving kindness possesses a mystic power, which can easily influence beings far and near. A pure heart that radiates this beneficent force is capable of transforming wild beasts into tame ones, murderers into saints.
This mystic power lies within the reach of all. Only a slight exertion is necessary to make it our own.
“Dwelling on the mountain slopes” says the Buddha, “I drew to me lions and tigers, by the power of loving kindness. Surrounded by lions and tigers, by panthers and buffaloes, by antelopes, stags and boars, I dwelt in the forest. No creature was terrified of me, and neither was I afraid of any creature. The power of loving kindness was my support. Thus I dwelt upon the mountain side.”
As one loves others, so is one loved by them. No opposing forces, no hostile vibrations, no negative thoughts can affect one who is so protected by this aura of loving kindness. With mind at peace, he will live in a heaven of his own creation. Even those who contact him will also experience that bliss. When one habitually feels loving kindness and demonstrates it in words and deeds, water-tight compartments dissolve away. Distinctions gradually disappear, and the “I” is absorbed in the “all.” Nay, there will be no “I” at all. Finally one will be able to identify oneself with all (sabbattatā), the culmination of mettā.
A bodhisatta extends this mettā towards every living being and identifies himself with all, making no distinction whatsoever of caste, creed, colour, or sex. It is this Buddhist mettā that attempts to break all the barriers which separate one from another. To a bodhisatta there is no far and near, no enemy or foreigner, no renegade or untouchable, since universal love, realised through understanding, has established the brotherhood of all living beings. A bodhisatta is a true citizen of the world, ever kind, friendly, and compassionate.
The tenth pāramī is upekkhā or equanimity.
The Pali term upekkhā is composed of upa, which means justly, impartially, or rightly (yuttito) and ikkha, to see, discern or view. The etymological meaning of the term is discerning rightly, viewing justly, or looking impartially, that is, without attachment or aversion, without favour or disfavour.
Here the term is not used in the sense of indifference or neutral feeling.
The most difficult and the most essential of all perfections is this equanimity, especially for a layman who has to live in an ill-balanced world with fluctuating fortunes.
Slights and insults are the common lot of humanity. So are praise and blame, loss and gain, pain and happiness. Amidst all such vicissitudes of life a bodhisatta tries to stand unmoved like a firm rock, exercising perfect equanimity.
In times of happiness and adversity, amidst praise and blame, he is even-balanced. Like a lion that does not tremble at any sound, he is not perturbed by the poisoned darts of uncurbed tongues. Like the wind that does not cling to the meshes of a net, he is not attached to the illusory pleasures of this changing world. Like a lotus that is unsoiled by the mud from which it springs, he lives unaffected by worldly temptations, ever calm, serene and peaceful.
Just as the earth whate’er is thrown
Upon her, whether sweet or foul,
Indifferent is to all alike,
Nor hatred shows, nor amity,
So likewise he in good or ill,
Must even-balanced ever be. 503
As no waves break the calm of ocean’s depths, unruffled should his mind be. 504
Furthermore, a bodhisatta who practises upekkhā metes out justice to all without being influenced by desire (chanda), hatred (dosa), fear (bhaya), and ignorance (moha).
It will be seen from the above perfections that Bodhisattahood is, in its entirety, a course of self-sacrifice, discipline, renunciation, deep insight, energy, forbearance, truthfulness, determination, boundless love, and perfect mental equilibrium.
Three Modes of Conduct
In addition to these ten pāramīs a bodhisatta has to practise three modes of conduct (cariyā): buddhi cariyā, doing good with wisdom, not ignoring self-development, nātyattha cariyā, working for the betterment of relatives, and lokattha cariyā, working for the amelioration of the whole world.
By the second mode of conduct is not meant nepotism, but work to promote the well-being of one’s kinsfolk without any favouritism.
Thus practising the ten pāramīs to the highest pitch of perfection, while developing the three modes of conduct, he traverses the tempest-tossed sea of saṃsāra, driven hither and thither by the irresistible force of kamma, manifesting himself at different times in multifarious births.
Now he comes into being as a mighty Sakka, or as a radiant deva, at another time as a human being, high or low, again as an animal and so on until finally he seeks birth in the Tusita Heaven, having consummated the pāramīs. There he abides, awaiting the opportune moment to appear on earth as a Sammā Sambuddha.
It is not correct to think that a bodhisatta purposely manifests himself in such various forms in order to acquire universal experience. No person is exempt from the inexorable law of kamma which alone determines the future birth of individuals, except arahants and Buddhas who have put an end to all life in a fresh existence.
Due to his intrinsic merit, a bodhisatta, however, possesses some special powers. If, for instance, he is born in a Brahmā Realm where the span of life extends for countless aeons, by exercise of his will-power, he ceases to live in that sphere, and is reborn in another congenial place where he may serve the world and practise pāramīs.
Apart from this kind of voluntary death (adhimutti-kālakiriyā), the Jātaka Commentary states that there are eighteen states in which a bodhisatta, as the result of his potential kammic force accumulated in the course of his wanderings in saṃsāra, is never reborn. For instance, he is never born blind or deaf, nor does he become an absolute misbeliever (niyata micchādiṭṭhi), who denies kamma and its effects. He is born in the animal kingdom, but not larger than an elephant and smaller than a snipe. He may suffer in the ordinary states of misery (apāya), but is never destined to the nethermost states of woe (avīci). Also a bodhisatta does not seek birth in the pure abodes (suddhāvāsa), where anāgāmis are reborn, nor in the formless realms where one is deprived of the opportunity to be of service to others.
It might be asked: Is a bodhisatta aware that he is aspiring to buddhahood in the course of his births?
Sometimes, he is, and at times he is not.
According to certain Jātakas it appears that on some occasions the Bodhisatta Gotama was fully conscious of his striving for buddhahood. Visayha Sehi Jātaka (No. 340) may be cited as an example. In this particular story Sakka questioned the Bodhisatta as to why he was exceptionally generous. He replied that it was not for the sake of any worldly power, but for the sole purpose of attaining supreme buddhahood. In certain births as in the case of Jotipāla, 505 he was not only unaware of his high aspiration, but also abused the noble Teacher Buddha Kassapa at the mere utterance of the sacred word “Buddha.” It may be mentioned that it was from this very Buddha that he obtained his last revelation (vivaraṇa).
We ourselves may be bodhisattas who have dedicated our lives to the noble purpose of serving the world. One need not think that the bodhisatta ideal is reserved only for supermen. What one has done another can do, given the necessary effort and enthusiasm. Let us too endeavour to work disinterestedly for the good of ourselves and all others, having for our object in life—the noble ideal of service and perfection.
Serve to be perfect; be perfect to serve.
Brahmavihāra — The Sublime States
Rare is birth as a human being.
Hard is the life of mortals.
… Do not let slip this opportunity.
— Dhp vv. 182, 315
Man is a mysterious being with inconceivable potentialities. Latent in him are both saintly characteristics and criminal tendencies. They may rise to the surface at unexpected moments in disconcerting strength. How they originated we know not. We only know that they are dormant in man in varying degree.
Within the powerful mind in this complex machinery of man are also found a storehouse of virtue and a rubbish heap of evil. With the development of the respective characteristics man may become either a blessing or a curse to humanity.
Those who wish to be great, noble and serviceable, who wish to sublimate themselves and, serve humanity both by example and by precept, and who wish to avail themselves of this golden opportunity as human beings, endeavour their best to remove the latent vices and to cultivate the dormant virtues.
To dig up precious gems embedded in the earth men spend enormous sums of money and make laborious efforts, and sometimes even sacrifice their lives. But to dig up the valuable treasures latent in man, only persistent effort and enduring patience are necessary. Even the poorest man or woman can accomplish this task, for wealth is not an essential prerequisite to the accumulation of transcendental treasures.
It is strange that the vices latent in man seem to be almost natural and spontaneous. It is equally strange that every vice possesses its opposite sterling virtue, which does not however appear to be so normal and automatic, though still within the range of all.
One powerful destructive vice in man is anger (dosa). The sweet virtue that subdues this evil force and sublimes man is loving kindness (mettā).
Cruelty (hiṃsā) is another vice that is responsible for many horrors and atrocities prevalent in the world. Compassion (karuṇā) is its antidote.
Jealousy (issā) is another vice that poisons one’s system and leads to unhealthy rivalries and dangerous competitions. The most effective remedy for this poisonous drug is appreciative joy (muditā).
There are two other universal characteristics that upset the mental equipoise of man. They are attachment to the pleasurable and aversion to the non-pleasurable. These two opposite forces can be eliminated by developing equanimity (upekkhā).
These four sterling virtues are collectively termed in Pali brahmavihāra which may be rendered by “modes of sublime conduct,” “sublime states,” or “divine abodes.”
These virtues tend to elevate man. They make one divine in this life itself. They can transform man into a superman. If all try to cultivate them, irrespective of creed, colour, race, or sex, the earth can be transformed into a paradise where all can live in perfect peace and harmony as ideal citizens of one world.
The four sublime virtues are also termed illimitables (appamaññā). They are so called because they find no barrier or limit and should be extended towards all beings without exception. They embrace all living beings including animals.
Irrespective of religious beliefs, one can cultivate these sweet virtues and be a blessing to oneself and all others.
The first sublime state is mettā (Skt. maitri). It means that which softens one’s heart, or the state of a true friend. It is defined as the sincere wish for the welfare and genuine happiness of all living beings without exception. It is also explained as the friendly disposition, for a genuine friend sincerely wishes for the welfare of his friend.
“Just as a mother protects her only child even at the risk of her life, even so one should cultivate boundless loving kindness towards all living beings” is the advice of the Buddha.
It is not the passionate love of the mother towards her child that is stressed here but her sincere wish for the genuine welfare of her child.
Mettāis neither carnal love nor personal affection, for grief inevitably arises from both.
Mettāis not mere neighbourliness, for it makes no distinction between neighbours and others.
Mettāis not mere universal brotherhood, for it embraces all living beings including animals, our lesser brethren and sisters that need greater compassion as they are helpless.
Mettā is not political brotherhood or racial brotherhood, or national brotherhood, or even religious brotherhood.
Political brotherhood is confined only to those who share similar political views, such as the partial brotherhood of democrats, socialists, communists, and so forth.
Racial brotherhood and national brotherhood are restricted only to those of the same race and nation. Some nationalists love their race so much that sometimes they ruthlessly kill innocent men, women and children because they unfortunately are not blessed with blond hair and blue eyes. The white races have particular love for the white skin, the black for the black, the yellow for the yellow, the brown for the brown, the pale for the pale, the red for the red. Others of a different complexion are at times viewed with suspicion and fear. Very often to assert their racial superiority they resort to brutal warfare, killing millions by mercilessly raining bombs from the sky above. The pathetic incidents of the Second World War are striking examples which can never be forgotten by mankind.
Amongst some narrow-minded peoples, within the wider circle of their ancient nations, there exist minor circles of caste and class where the so-called brotherhood of the powerful oppressors is so limited that the oppressed are not even permitted to enjoy bare human rights merely because of the accidents of birth or class. These oppressors are to be pitied because they are confined to their water-tight compartments.
Mettā is not religious brotherhood either. Owing to the sad limitations of so-called religious brotherhood human heads have been severed without the least compunction; sincere outspoken men and women have been roasted and burnt alive; many atrocities have been perpetrated which baffle description; cruel wars have been waged which mar the pages of world history. Even in this supposedly enlightened twentieth century the followers of one religion hate or ruthlessly persecute and even kill those of other faiths merely because they cannot force them to think as they do or because they have a different label.
If, on account of religious views, people of different faiths cannot meet on a common platform like brothers and sisters, then surely the missions of compassionate world teachers have pitifully failed.
Sweet mettā transcends all these kinds of narrow brotherhood. It is limitless in scope and range. Barriers it has none. Discrimination it makes not. Mettā enables one to regard the whole world as one’s motherland and all as fellow beings.
Just as the sun sheds its rays on all without any distinction, even so sublime mettā bestows its sweet blessings equally on the pleasant and the unpleasant, on the rich and the poor, on the high and the low, on the vicious and the virtuous, on man and woman, and on human and animal.
Such was the boundless mettā of the Buddha who worked for the welfare and happiness of those who loved him as well as of those who hated him and even attempted to harm and kill him.
The Buddha exercised mettā equally towards his own son Rāhula, his adversary Devadatta, his attendant Ánanda, his admirers and his opponents.
This loving kindness should be extended in equal measure towards oneself as towards friend, foe and neutral alike. Suppose a bandit were to approach a person travelling through a forest with an intimate friend, a neutral person and an enemy, and suppose he were to demand that one of them be offered as a victim. If the traveller were to say that he himself should be taken, then he would have no mettā towards himself. If he were to say that anyone of the other three persons should be taken, then he would have no mettā towards them.
Such is the characteristic of real mettā. In exercising this boundless loving kindness oneself should not be ignored. This subtle point should not be misunderstood, for self-sacrifice is another sweet virtue and egolessness is yet another higher virtue. The culmination of this mettā is the identification of oneself with all beings (sabbattatā), making no difference between oneself and others. The so-called “I” is lost in the whole. Separatism evaporates. Oneness is realised.
There is no proper English equivalent for this graceful Pali term mettā. Goodwill, loving kindness, benevolence, and universal love are suggested as the best renderings.
The antithesis of mettā is anger, ill will, hatred, or aversion. Mettā cannot co-exist with anger or vengeful conduct. The Buddha states:
Hatreds do not cease through hatreds:
through love alone they cease. 506
Mettā not only tends to conquer anger but also does not tolerate hateful thoughts towards others. He who has mettā never thinks of harming others, nor does he disparage or condemn others. Such a person is neither afraid of others nor does he instil fear into any.
A subtle indirect enemy assails mettā in the guise of a friend. It is selfish affection (pema), for unguarded mettā may sometimes be assailed by lust. This indirect enemy resembles a person who lurks afar in the jungles or hills to cause harm to another. Grief springs from affection but not from mettā.
This delicate point should not be misunderstood. Parents surely cannot avoid having affection towards their children and children towards their parents; husbands towards their wives and wives towards their husbands. Such affection is quite natural. The world cannot exist without mutual affection. The point to be clarified here is that unselfish mettā is not synonymous with ordinary affection.
A benevolent attitude is the chief characteristic of mettā. He who practises mettā is constantly interested in promoting the welfare of others. He seeks the good and beautiful in all but not the ugliness in others.
Attendant Blessings of Mettā
He who practises mettā sleeps happily. As he goes to sleep with a light heart free from hatred he naturally falls asleep at once. This fact is clearly demonstrated by those who are full of loving kindness. They are fast asleep immediately on closing their eyes.
As he goes to sleep with a loving heart he awakes with an equally loving heart. Benevolent and compassionate persons often rise from bed with smiling faces.
Even in sleep loving persons are not perturbed by bad dreams. As they are full of love during their waking hours, they are peaceful in their sleeping hours too. Either they fall into deep sleep or have pleasant dreams.
He becomes dear to human beings. As he loves others, so do others love him.
When a persons looks at a mirror with a smiling face, a similar face will greet him. If, on the contrary, he looks with a wry face, he will see a similar reflection. The outside world reacts on one in the same way that one acts towards the world. One full of faults himself is apt to see the evil in others. The good he ignores. An English poet—Bolton Hall—has put it beautifully:
I looked at my brother with the microscope of criticism.
And I said ‘How coarse my brother is!’
I looked at him through the telescope of scorn
And I said, ‘How small my brother is!’
Then I looked in the mirror of the Dhamma
And I said, ‘How like me my brother is!’
Why should we see the ugliness in others when there is evil in the best of us and good in the worst of us? It would be a source of pleasure to all if we could see the good and beautiful in all.
He who practises mettā is dear to non-humans as well. Animals are also attracted to him. Radiating their loving kindness, ascetics live in wild forests amidst ferocious beasts without being harmed by them.
Owing to his power of mettā he becomes immune from poison and so forth unless he is subject to some inexorable kamma.
As mettā is a constructive healthy force it has the power to counteract hostile influence. Just as hateful thoughts can produce toxic effects in the system, even so loving thoughts can produce healthy physical effects. It is stated that a very generous and devout woman named Suppiyā, who had a wound in her thigh, was healed on seeing the Buddha. The peaceful thought vibrations of the Buddha and the woman combined to produce this salutary effect.
When the Buddha visited his birthplace for the first time, his son Rāhula, who was only seven years of age, approached him and spontaneously remarked: “O ascetic, even your shadow is pleasing to me.” The child was so much dominated by the Buddha’s mettā that he deeply felt its magnetic power.
Invisible deities protect him because of the power of his mettā.
Mettā leads to quick mental concentration. As the mind is not perturbed by hostile vibrations one-pointedness can be gained with ease. With mind at peace he will live in a heaven of his own creation. Even those who come in contact with him will also experience that bliss.
Mettā tends to beautify one’s facial expression. The face as a rule reflects the state of the mind. When one gets angry, the heart pumps blood twice or three times faster than the normal rate. Heated blood rushes up to the face, which then turns red or black. At times the face becomes repulsive to sight. Loving thoughts on the contrary, gladden the heart and clarify the blood. The face then presents a lovable appearance.
It is stated that when the Buddha, after enlightenment, reflected on the causal relations (patthāna), his heart was so pacified and his blood so clarified that rays of different hue such as blue, yellow, red, white, orange, and a mixture of these emanated from his body.
A person imbued with mettā dies peacefully as he harbours no thoughts of hatred towards any. Even after death his serene face reflects his peaceful death.
Since a person with mettā dies happily, he will subsequently be born in a blissful state. If he has gained the jhānas (ecstasies), he will be born in a Brahmā realm.
Power of Mettā
Besides these inevitable worldly blessings mettā possesses a magnetic power. It can produce a good influence on others even at a distance and can attract others to oneself.
Once when the Buddha visited a certain city, many distinguished nobles came to welcome him, amongst whom was a nobleman named Roja, who was a friend of Venerable Ánanda. Seeing him, Venerable Ánanda said: “It is very kind of you, Roja, to have come to welcome the Buddha.”
“No, Venerable Sir, it is not out of any reverence towards the Buddha that I have come to greet him. We agreed amongst ourselves that whoever would not go to greet the Buddha would be fined 500 gold coins. It is through fear of the fine that I have come here to welcome the Buddha”, replied Roja.
Venerable Ánanda was slightly displeased. He approached the Buddha and implored him to preach the Dhamma to Roja.
The Buddha instantly radiated mettā towards Roja and retired to his chamber.
Roja’s body was saturated with the mettā of the Buddha. He was electrified, so to say, with the magnetic power of Buddha’s irresistible love. Just as a calf would run after its mother he ran from cell to cell in the monastery inquiring where the Buddha was. The monks directed him to the Buddha’s chamber. He knocked at the door. The Buddha opened it. In he went, saluted the Buddha, heard the doctrine, and became a convert.
Such is the magnetic power of mettā which everyone can exercise according to his ability.
On another occasion an intoxicated elephant was driven towards the Buddha in an effort to kill him. The Buddha calmly radiated his love towards the elephant and subdued it.
A beautiful story may be cited to show how the Bodhisatta as a boy extended his boundless mettā when his own father ordered him to be killed. Young though he was, the Bodhisatta thought to himself:
“Here is a golden opportunity for me to practise my mettā. My father stands before me, my good mother is weeping, the executioner is ready to chop off my hands and feet. I, the victim, am in the centre. Love I must all the four in equal measure without any distinction. May my good father not incur any suffering because of this ruthless act! May I become a Buddha in the future!”
In one of his previous births the Bodhisatta was once practising the virtue of patience in a royal park. The king, a drunkard, meaning to test his patience, ordered the executioner to beat him and cut off his hands and feet. Still he practised patience. The impatient king kicked him in the chest. Lying in a pool of blood, almost on the verge of death, the Bodhisatta blessed the king and wished him long life saying that men like himself never get angry.
A bhikkhu is expected to practise mettā to such an extent that he is forbidden to dig or cause to dig the ground lest insects and other minute creatures die.
The high standard of mettā expected from a bhikkhu can be understood by the following admonition of the Buddha: “If bandits sever your limbs with a two-handled saw, and if you entertain hate in your heart, you will not be a follower of my teaching.”
Such enduring patience is extremely difficult. But, that is the lofty ethical standard the Buddha expects from his followers.
The Buddha himself has set the noble example:
“As an elephant in the battlefield withstands arrows shot from a bow,” says the Buddha, “even so will I endure abuse; verily most people are undisciplined.” 507
This chaotic, war-weary, restless world of today, where the nations are arming themselves to their teeth, frightened of one another, where human life is endangered by nuclear weapons which may be released at any moment, is sorely in need of this universal loving kindness so that all may live in one world in perfect peace and harmony like brothers and sisters.
Is it practically possible to exercise mettā when one is threatened with devastating bombs and other destructive weapons?
Well, what can powerless people do when bombs rain from above? Can they avert such a catastrophe?
Buddhist mettā is the only answer to such deadly bombs when one is faced with inexorable death.
If all warlike nations could be prevailed upon to substitute this spiritual mettā for the destructive weapons of materialism and rule the world not with might and force but with right and love, then only would there be genuine peace and happiness in this world.
Leaving the almost unpractical major issues aside, it is advisable to be concerned with oneself and the rest of mankind in cultivating this sweet virtue of mettā to the best of one’s ability.
How to Practise Mettā
A few practical hints are given below to practise this meditation on loving kindness.
Mettā should be practised first towards oneself. In doing so a person should charge his mind and body with positive thoughts of peace and happiness. He should think how he could be peaceful, happy, free from suffering, worry and anger. He then becomes the embodiment of loving kindness.
Shielded by loving kindness, he cuts off all hostile vibrations and negative thoughts. He returns good for evil, love for anger. He becomes ever tolerant and tries his best not to give occasion for anger to any. Himself beaming with happiness, he injects happiness into others not only inwardly but also outwardly by putting his mettā into practice in the course of his daily life.
When he is full of peace and is free from thoughts of hatred, it is easy for him to radiate loving kindness towards others. What he does not possess he cannot give to others. Before he tries to make others happy he should first be happy himself. He should know the ways and means to make himself happy.
He now radiates his loving kindness towards all his near and dear ones individually and collectively, wishing them peace and happiness and freedom from suffering, disease, worry and anger.
Diffusing his thoughts of loving kindness towards his relatives and friends, he radiates them also towards neutrals. Just as he wishes for the peace and happiness of himself and of his near and dear ones, even so he sincerely wishes for the peace and happiness of those who are neutral to him, wishing them freedom from suffering, disease, worry and anger. Finally, though this is somewhat difficult, he should radiate his mettā in the same way towards those (if any) who are inimical to him. If, by practising mettā, he could adopt a friendly attitude towards those thought to be inimical towards him, his achievement would be more heroic and commendable. As the Buddha advises, “Amidst those who hate let him live free from hatred.”
Starting from himself he should gradually extend his mettā towards all beings, irrespective of creed, race, colour, or sex, including dumb animals, until he has identified himself with all, making no distinction whatever. He merges himself in the whole universe and is one with all. He is no more dominated by egoistic feelings. He transcends all forms of separatism. No longer confining himself to water-tight compartments, no longer influenced by caste, class, national, racial, or religious prejudices, he can regard the whole world as his motherland and all as fellow beings in the ocean of life.
The second virtue that sublimes man is compassion (karuṇā). It is defined as that which makes the hearts of the good quiver when others are subject to suffering, or that which dissipates the sufferings of others. Its chief characteristic is the wish to remove the woes of others.
The hearts of compassionate persons are even softer than flowers. They do not and cannot rest satisfied until they relieve the sufferings of others. At times they even go to the extent of sacrificing their lives so as to alleviate the sufferings of others. The story of the Vyāghri Jātaka 508 where the Bodhisatta sacrificed his life to save a starving tigress and her cubs may be cited as an example.
It is compassion that compels one to serve others with altruistic motives. A truly compassionate person lives not for himself but for others. He seeks opportunities to serve others expecting nothing in return, not even gratitude.
Who needs compassion?
Many amidst us deserve our compassion. The poor and the needy, the sick and the helpless, the lonely and the destitute, the ignorant and the vicious, the impure and the undisciplined are some that demand the compassion of kind-hearted, noble-minded men and women, to whatever religion or to whatever race they belong.
Some countries are materially rich but spiritually poor, while some others are spiritually rich but materially poor. Both these pathetic conditions have to be taken into consideration by the materially rich and the spiritually rich.
It is the paramount duty of the wealthy to come to the succour of the poor, who unfortunately lack most of the necessaries of life. Surely those who have in abundance can give to the poor and the needy their surplus without inconveniencing themselves.
Once a young student removed the door curtain in his house and gave it to a poor person telling his good mother that the door does not feel the cold but the poor certainly do. Such a kind-hearted attitude in young men and women is highly commendable.
It is gratifying to note that some wealthy countries have formed themselves into various philanthropic bodies to help under-developed countries, especially in Asia, in every possible way. Charitable organisations have also been established in all countries by men, women and students to give every possible assistance to the poor and the needy. Religious bodies also perform their respective duties in this connection in their own humble way. Homes for the aged, orphanages and other similar charitable institutions are needed in under-developed countries.
The beggar problem has still to be solved in some countries where begging has become a profession. Out of compassion for the unfortunate beggars this problem has to be solved satisfactorily by the respective governments as the existence of beggars is an insult to any self-respecting nation.
As the materially rich should have compassion on the materially poor and try to elevate them, it is the duty of the spiritually rich, too, to have compassion on the spiritually poor and sublime them though they may be materially rich. Wealth alone cannot give genuine happiness. Peace of mind can be gained not by material treasures but by spiritual treasures. Many in this world are badly in need of substantial spiritual food, which is not easily obtained, as the spiritually poor far exceed the materially poor numerically, as they are found both amongst the rich and the poor.
Even more than poverty sickness prevails throughout the world. Many are physically sick, some are mentally sick. Science provides effective medicine for the former but not for the latter, who very often languish in mental hospitals.
There are causes for these two kinds of diseases. Compassionate men and women must try to remove the causes if they wish to produce an effective cure.
Effective measures have been employed by various nations to prevent and cure diseases not only of mankind but also of animals. The Buddha set a noble example by attending on the sick himself and exhorting his disciples with the memorable words, “He who ministers unto the sick ministers unto me.”
Some selfless doctors render free services towards the alleviation of suffering. Some expend their whole time and energy in ministering to the poor patients even at the risk of their lives.
Hospitals and free dispensaries have become a blessing to humanity but more are needed so that the poor may benefit by them. In underdeveloped countries the poor suffer through lack of medical facilities. The sick have to be carried for miles with great inconvenience to the nearest hospital or dispensary for medical treatment. Sometimes they die on the way. Pregnant mothers suffer most. Hospitals, dispensaries, maternity homes, etc. are essential needs in backward village areas.
The lowly and the destitute deserve the compassion of wealthy men and women. Sometimes servants and workers are not well paid, well fed, well clothed and more often than not they are ill treated. Justice is not meted out to them. They are neglected and are powerless as there is nobody to plead for them. Glaring cases of inhuman cruelty receive publicity in some exceptional cases. Many such cases are not known. These unfortunate ones have no other alternative but to suffer meekly even as Mother Earth suffers everything in silence. When the grief is unbearable, they commit suicide in utter desperation.
The vicious, the wicked, and the ignorant deserve compassion even more than those who suffer physically, as they are mentally and spiritually sick. They should not be condemned and despised but sympathised with for their failings and defects. Though a mother has equal compassion towards all her children still she may have more compassion towards a sick child. Even so, greater compassion should be exercised towards the spiritually sick as their sickness ruins their character.
The Buddha, for instance, had great compassion towards the courtesan Ambapāli, and towards Aṇgulimāla the murderer. Both of them later became his converts and underwent a complete reformation in character.
We must understand that greatness is latent in all however wicked they may be. Perhaps one appropriate word at the right moment may change the whole outlook of a person.
The Emperor Asoka perpetrated many crimes, so much so that he was stigmatised Asoka the Wicked. Later the words from a young novice—”Diligence is the path to the deathless”—produced such a great change in him that he became Asoka the Righteous (Dharmāsoka).
The Buddha’s advice is to shun the company of the foolish. That does not mean that the good should not associate with them so as to reform them. People avoid those who suffer from contagious diseases. But compassionate physicians, attend on them so as to heal them. Otherwise they might die. In the same way the wicked may die spiritually if the good are not tolerant and compassionate towards them.
As a rule the Buddha went in search of the poor, the ignorant and the vicious, but the good and the virtuous came in search of the Buddha.
Like mettā (loving kindness), karuṇā (compassion) should also be extended without limit towards all suffering and helpless beings, including dumb animals and fertile eggs.
To deny the rights and privileges of mankind on account of caste, colour, or race is inhuman and cruel. To feast on the flesh of animals by killing or causing them to be killed is not human compassion. To rain bombs from above and ruthlessly destroy millions of men, women and children is the worst form of cruelty that deluded man has ever perpetrated.
Today this pitiless, vengeful world has sacrificed the most precious thing on earth—life—at the altar of brute force. Whither has compassion fled?
The world needs today compassionate men and women to banish violence and cruelty from the face of the earth.
Buddhist compassion, it should be noted, does not consist in mere shedding of tears and the like, for the indirect enemy of compassion is passionate grief (domanassa).
Compassion embraces all sorrow-stricken beings, while loving kindness embraces all living beings, happy or sorrowful.
The third sublime virtue is muditā. It is not mere sympathy but sympathetic or appreciative joy which tends to destroy jealousy, its direct enemy.
One devastating force that endangers our whole constitution is jealousy. Very often some cannot bear to see or hear the successful achievements of others. They rejoice over their failures but cannot tolerate their successes. Instead of praising and congratulating the successful, they try to ruin, condemn and vilify them. In one way muditā is concerned more with oneself than with others as it tends to eradicate jealousy which ruins oneself. On the other hand it aids others as well since one who practises muditā will not try to hinder the progress and welfare of others.
It is quite easy to rejoice over the success of one’s near and dear ones, but rather difficult to do so over the success of one’s adversaries. Yes, the majority not only find it difficult but also do not and cannot rejoice. They seek delight in creating every possible obstacle so as to ruin their adversaries. They even go to the extent of poisoning, crucifying, and assassinating the good and the virtuous.
Socrates was poisoned, Christ was crucified, Gandhi was shot. Such is the nature of the wicked and deluded world.
The practice of mettā and karuṇā is easier than the practice of muditā which demands great personal effort and strong will-power.
Do the Western nations rejoice over the prosperity of the Eastern and the Eastern over the prosperity of the Western? Does one nation rejoice over the welfare of another nation? Is one race happy over the growing prosperity of another race? Does even one religious sect, which stands for the cultivation of morals, rejoice over the spiritual influence of another sect?
One religion is jealous of another religion, one part of the globe is jealous of another part of the globe, one institution is jealous of another institution, one business firm is jealous of another business firm, one family is jealous of another family, unsuccessful pupils are jealous of successful pupils, sometimes even one brother or sister is jealous of another brother or sister.
This is the very reason why individuals and groups should practise appreciative joy if they wish to sublime themselves and be internally happy.
The chief characteristic of muditā is happy acquiescence in others’ prosperity and success (anumodanā). Laughter and the like are not the characteristics of muditā as exhilaration (pahāsa) is regarded as its indirect enemy.
Muditā embraces all prosperous beings and is the congratulatory attitude of a person. It tends to eliminate any dislike (arati) towards a successful person.
The fourth sublime state is the most difficult and the most essential. It is upekkhā or equanimity. The etymological meaning of the term upekkhā is “discerning rightly,” “viewing justly” or “looking impartially,” that is, without attachment or aversion, without favour or disfavour.
Equanimity is necessary especially for laymen who have to live in an ill-balanced world amidst fluctuating circumstances.
Slights and insults are the common lot of mankind. The world is so constituted that the good and the virtuous are often subject to unjust criticism and attack. It is heroic to maintain a balanced mind in such circumstances.
Loss and gain, fame and infamy, praise and blame, pain and happiness are eight worldly conditions 509 that affect all humanity. Most people are perturbed when affected by such favourable or unfavourable states. One is elated when one is praised, and depressed when blamed and reviled. He is wise, says the Buddha, who, amidst such vicissitudes of life, stands unmoved like unto a firm rock, exercising perfect equanimity.
The Buddha’s exemplary life offers us worldlings an excellent example of equanimity.
There was no religious teacher in the world who was so severely criticised, attacked, insulted and reviled as the Buddha, and yet none so highly praised, honoured and revered as the Buddha.
Once when he went in quest of alms, he was called an outcast by an impertinent brahmin. He calmly endured the insult and explained to him that it is not birth that makes one an outcast but an ignoble character. The brahmin was converted.
Inviting him to a house for alms, a certain man entertained the Buddha with the filthiest language, current in his time. He was called ‘swine,’ ‘brute,’ ‘ox,’ etc. But he was not offended. He did not retaliate. Calmly he questioned his host what he would do when guests visited his house. He replied that he would prepare a feast to entertain them.
“Well, what would you do if they did not partake of it?” questioned the Buddha.
“In that case we ourselves would partake of the feast.”
“Well, good brother, you have invited me to your house for alms. You have entertained me with a torrent of abuse. I do not accept it. Please take it back,” calmly replied the Buddha.
The offender’s character was completely transformed.
“Retaliate not. Be silent as a cracked gong when you are abused by others. If you do so, I deem that you have already attained Nibbāna although you have not realised Nibbāna.” 510
Such is the advice of the Buddha.
These are golden words that should be given heed to in this ill-disciplined world of today.
Once a lady of the court induced some drunkards to revile the Buddha so much that Venerable Ánanda, his attendant disciple, implored the Buddha to leave the city and go elsewhere. But the Buddha was unperturbed.
Another woman feigned pregnancy and publicly accused the Buddha of having placed her in that condition. A woman was killed by his rivals and the Buddha was accused of murder. His own cousin and disciple Devadatta made an unsuccessful attempt to crush him to death by hurling a rock from a cliff. Some of his own disciples accused him of jealousy, partiality, favouritism, etc.
On the other hand many sang the praises of the Buddha. Kings prostrated themselves before his feet and paid the highest reverence.
Like the Mother Earth the Buddha suffered everything in silence with perfect equanimity.
Like a lion that does not tremble at every sound, one should not be perturbed by the poisoned darts of uncurbed tongues. Like the wind that does not cling to the meshes of a net, one should not be attached to the illusory pleasures of this changing world. Like the lotus that is unsoiled by the mud from which it springs, one should live unaffected by worldly temptations, ever calm, serene and peaceful.
As with the first three virtues so also upekkhā has for its direct enemy attachment (tāga) and for its indirect enemy callousness or unintelligent indifference.
Upekkhā discards clinging and aversion. An impartial attitude is its chief characteristic. He who practises equanimity is neither attracted by desirable objects nor is averse to undesirable objects.
His attitude towards the sinner and saint will be the same, for he makes no distinction.
Mettā embraces all beings, karuṇā embraces sufferers, muditā embraces the prosperous, and upekkhā embraces the good and the bad, the loved and the unloved, the pleasant and the unpleasant.
He who wishes to be divine in this life itself may daily cultivate these four sublime virtues which are dormant in all.
He who wishes to perfect himself and compassionately work for the welfare of all beings in the course of his countless births in saṃsāra may strenuously develop the ten perfections (pāramī) and ultimately become a Sammā Sambuddha, a Supremely Enlightened One.
He who wishes to eradicate his passions and put an end to suffering by realising Nibbāna at the earliest possible opportunity may diligently follow the unique Noble Eightfold Path which still exists in its pristine purity.
The Buddha exhorts:
“Suppose, O monks, this mighty earth were one mass of water and a man were to throw down thereon a yoke with one hole. Then comes a wind from the east and wafts it west, and a wind from the west wafts it east; a north wind wafts it south, and a south wind wafts it north. Then once at the end of a hundred years would a blind turtle push his neck through that yoke with one hole when he popped up to the surface?
“It is unlikely, lord, that the blind turtle would do that.
“It is just as unlikely, O monks, that one will get birth in human form; just as unlikely that a Tathāgata should arise in the world, an arahant, a fully enlightened one; just as unlikely that the Norm (Dhamma) and Discipline (Vinaya) proclaimed by a Tathāgata should be shown in the world.
“But now indeed, O monks, this state of human birth is won, and a Tathāgata has arisen in the world, and the Norm and Discipline proclaimed by the Tathāgata is shown in the world.
“Therefore, O monks, you must make an effort to realise: ‘This is ill, this is the cause of ill, this is the cessation of ill, this is the way leading to the cessation of ill.'” 511
Eight Worldly Conditions (Aṭhalokadhammā)
This ill-balanced world is not absolutely rosy. Nor is it totally thorny. The rose is soft, beautiful and fragrant. But the stem on which it grows is full of thorns. What is rosy is rosy; what is thorny is thorny. Because of the rose one will not meddle with the thorns nor will one disparage the rose on account of the thorns.
To an optimist this world is absolutely rosy; to a pessimist this world is absolutely thorny. But to a realist this world is neither absolutely rosy nor absolutely thorny. It abounds with beautiful roses and prickly thorns as well, from a realistic standpoint.
An understanding person will not be infatuated by the beauty of the rose but will view it as it is. Knowing well the nature of the thorns, he will view them as they are and will take the precaution not to be wounded.
Like the pendulum that perpetually turns to the right and left, four desirable and undesirable conditions prevail in this world which everyone, without exception, must perforce face in the course of one’s lifetime.
They are gain (lābha) and loss (alābha), fame (yasa) and defame (ayasa), praise (pasaṃsā) and blame (nindā), happiness (sukha) and pain (dukkha).
Gain and Loss
Business men, as a rule, are subject to both gain (lābha) and loss (alābha). It is quite natural to be complacent in obtaining a gain or a profit. In itself there is nothing wrong. Such righteous or unrighteous profits produce some pleasure which average men seek. Without pleasurable moments, though temporary, life would not be worth living. In this competitive and chaotic world rarely do people enjoy some kind of happiness which gladdens their hearts. Such happiness, though material, does conduce to health and longevity.
The problem arises in case of loss. Profits one can bear smilingly but not so the losses. More often than not they lead to mental derangement and sometimes to suicide when the losses are unbearable. It is under such adverse circumstances that one should exhibit moral courage and maintain a balanced mind. All have ups and downs while battling with life. One should always be prepared for the losses in particular. Then there will be less disappointment.
When something is stolen naturally one feels sad. But by becoming sad one would not be able to retrieve the loss. One should think that someone had benefited thereby though unrighteously. May he be well and happy!
Or one can console oneself thinking: “It’s only a minor loss.” One may even adopt a highly philosophical attitude: “There is nothing to be called ‘Me’ or ‘Mine.'”
In the time of the Buddha once a noble lady was offering food to the Venerable Sāriputta and some monks. While serving them she received a note stating that her husband and all her sons who had gone to settle a dispute were waylaid and killed. Without getting upset, calmly she kept the note in her waist-pouch and served the monks as if nothing had happened. A maid, who was carrying a pot of ghee to offer to the monks, inadvertently slipped and broke the pot of ghee. Thinking that the lady would naturally feel sorry over the loss, Venerable Sāriputta consoled her, saying that all breakable things are bound to break. The wise lady unperturbly remarked—”Bhante, what is this trivial loss? I have just received a note stating that my husband and sons were killed by some assassins. I placed it in my pouch without losing my balance. I am serving you all despite the loss.”
Such valour on the part of courageous women is highly commendable.
Once the Buddha went seeking alms in a village. Owing to the intervention of Māra the Evil One, the Buddha did not obtain any food. When Māra questioned the Buddha rather sarcastically whether he was hungry or not, the Buddha solemnly explained the mental attitude of those who are free from impediments, and replied: “Ah, happily do we live, we who have no impediments. Feeders of joy shall we be even as the gods of the Radiant Realm.”
On another occasion the Buddha and his disciples observed vassa (rainy period) in a village at the invitation of a brahmin, who, however, completely forgot his duty to attend to the needs of the Buddha and the Sangha. Throughout a period of three months, although Venerable Moggallāna volunteered to obtain food by his psychic powers, the Buddha, making no complaint, was contented with the fodder of horses offered by a horse-dealer.
Visākhā, the Buddha’s chief female lay disciple, used to frequent the monastery to attend to the needs of the Buddha and the Sangha decked with a very valuable outer garment. On entering the monastery, she used to remove it and give it to the maid for safe custody. Once, the maid inadvertently left it in the temple and returned home. Venerable Ánanda, noticing it, kept it in a safe place to be given to Visākhā when she visited the monastery. Visākhā discovering the loss advised the maid to look for it but not to take it back in case any bhikkhu had touched it. On inquiry the maid understood that Venerable Ánanda had kept it in safe custody. Returning home, she reported the matter.
Visākhā visited the monastery and inquired of the Buddha what meritorious act should she perform with the money obtained by selling the costly garment. The Buddha advised her to build a monastery for the benefit of the Sangha. As there was nobody to buy the garment because of its high cost, she herself bought it and built a monastery and offered it to the Sangha. After the offering, she expressed her gratitude to the maid, saying: “If you had not inadvertently left my garment, I would not have got an opportunity to perform this meritorious act. Please share the merit.”
Instead of grieving over the temporary loss and reprimanding the maid for her carelessness she thanked her for granting an opportunity for service.
The exemplary attitude of cultured Visākhā is a memorable lesson to all those who are quickly irritated over the misdoings of helpless servants.
Losses one must try to bear cheerfully with manly vigour. Unexpectedly one confronts them, very often in groups and not singly. One must face them with equanimity (upekkhā) and think it is an opportunity to practise that sublime virtue.
Fame and Defame
Fame (yasa) and defame (ayasa) are another pair of inevitable worldly conditions that confront us in the course of our daily lives.
Fame we welcome, defame we dislike. Fame gladdens our mind, defame disheartens us. We desire to become famous. We long to see our names and pictures appear in the papers. We are greatly pleased when our activities, however insignificant, are given publicity. Sometimes we seek undue publicity too.
To see their picture in a magazine some are ready to pay any amount. To obtain an honour some are prepared to offer any bribe or give a fat donation to the party in power. For the sake of publicity some exhibit their generosity by giving alms to one hundred monks and even more, but they may be totally indifferent to the sufferings of the poor and the needy in the neighbourhood. One may charge and punish a starving person who, to appease his hunger, were to steal a coconut in his garden, but would not hesitate to present thousand coconuts to get a good name.
These are human frailties.
Most people do even a good action with an ulterior motive. Selfless persons who act disinterestedly are rare in this world. Even if the motive is not very praiseworthy, those who do any good are to be congratulated on having done a beneficial act. Most worldlings have something up their sleeves. Well, who is hundred percent good? How many are perfectly pure in their motives? How many are absolutely altruistic?
We need not hunt after fame. If we are worthy of fame, it will come to us unsought. The bee will be attracted to the flower, laden with honey. The flower however, does not invite the bee.
True indeed, we feel naturally happy, nay extremely happy, when our fame is spread far and wide. But we must realise that fame, honour and glory only lead to the grave. They vanish in thin air. Empty words are they, though pleasing to the ear.
What about defame? It is not palatable either to the ear or mind. We are undoubtedly perturbed when unkind defamatory words pierce our ears. The pain of mind is still greater when the so-called report is unjust and absolutely false.
Normally it takes years to erect a magnificent building. In a minute or two, with modern devastating weapons, it could easily be demolished. Sometimes it takes years or a lifetime to build up a good reputation. In no long time the hard-earned good name can be ruined. Nobody is exempt from the devasting remark beginning with the infamous “but.” Yes, he is very good, he does this and that, but His whole good record is blackened by the so-called “but.” You may live the life of a Buddha, but you will not be exempt from criticism, attacks and insults.
The Buddha was the most famous and the most maligned religious teacher in his time.
Great men are often not known; even if they are known, they are misknown.
Some antagonists of the Buddha spread a rumour that a woman used to spend the night in the monastery. Foiled in this base attempt, they spread a false rumour amongst the populace that the Buddha and his disciples murdered that very woman and hid her corpse in the rubbish-heap of withered flowers within the monastery. When his historic mission met with success and when many sought ordination under him, his adversaries maligned him, saying that he was robbing the mothers of their sons, depriving wives of their husbands, and that he was obstructing the progress of the nation. Failing in all these attempts to ruin his noble character, his own cousin and a jealous disciple of his, attempted to kill him by hurling a rock from above.
Being a Buddha, he could not be killed.
If such be the sad fate of faultless, pure Buddhas, what can be the state of ordinary mortals?
The higher you climb a hill, the more conspicuous you become and much smaller in the eyes of others. Your back is revealed but your front is hidden. The fault-finding world exhibits your shortcomings and misdoings but hides your salient virtues. The winnowing fan ejects the husks but retains the grains: the strainer, on the contrary, retains the gross remnants but drains out the sweet juice. The cultured take the subtle and remove the gross; the uncultured retain the gross and reject the subtle.
When you are misrepresented, deliberately or undeliberately unjustly reported, as Epictetus advises, it is wise to think or say, “O, by his slight acquaintanceship and little knowledge of myself I am slightly criticised. But if I am known better, more serious and much greater would be the accusations against me.”
It is needless to waste time in correcting the false reports unless circumstances compel you to necessitate a clarification. The enemy is gratified when he sees that you are hurt. That is what he actually expects. If you are indifferent, such misrepresentations will fall on deaf cars.
In seeing the faults of others, we should behave like a blind person.
In hearing unjust criticism of others, we should behave like a deaf person.
In speaking ill of others, we should behave like a dumb person.
It is not possible to put a stop to false accusations, reports and rumours.
The world is full of thorns and pebbles. It is impossible to remove them. But if we have to walk in spite of such obstacles, instead of trying to remove them, which is impossible, it is advisable to wear a pair of slippers and walk harmlessly.
The Dhamma teaches:
Be like a lion that trembles not at sounds.
Be like the wind that does not cling to the meshes of a net.
Be like a lotus that is not contaminated
by the mud from which it springs up.
Wander alone like a rhinoceros.
Being the king of the forest, lions are fearless. By nature they are not frightened by the roaring of other animals. In this world we may hear adverse reports, false accusations, degrading remarks of uncurbed tongues. Like a lion, we should not even listen to them. Like the boomerang they will end where they began.
Dogs bark, caravans peacefully move on.
We are living in a muddy world. Numerous are the lotuses that spring therefrom. Without being contaminated by the mud, they adorn the world. Like lotuses we should try to lead blameless noble lives unmindful of the mud that may be thrown at us.
We should expect mud to be thrown at us instead of roses. Then there will be no disappointment.
Though difficult we should try to cultivate non-attachment.
Alone we come, alone we go.
Non-attachment is happiness in this world.
Unmindful of the poisonous darts of uncurbed tongues alone we should wander serving others to the best of our ability.
It is rather strange that great men have been slandered, vilified, poisoned, crucified, or shot.
Great Socrates was poisoned. Noble Jesus Christ was ruthlessly crucified. Harmless Mahatma Gandhi was shot.
Well, is it dangerous to be too good?
Yes, during their lifetime they are criticised, attacked and killed. After death they are deified and honoured.
Great men are indifferent to fame or defame. They are not upset when they are criticised or maligned for they work not for fame or name. They are indifferent whether others recognise their services or not. “To work they have the right but not to the fruit thereof.”
Praise and Blame
Praise (pasaṃsā) and blame (nindā) are two more worldly conditions that affect mankind. It is natural to be elated when praised and to be depressed when blamed.
Amidst praise and blame, the Buddha says, the wise do not exhibit either elation or depression. Like a solid rock that is not shaken by the wind they remain unmoved.
Praise, if worthy, is pleasing to the ears; if unworthy, as in the case of flattery, though pleasing, it is deceptive. But they are all sounds which have no effect if they do not reach our ears.
From a worldly standpoint a word of praise goes a long way. By praising a little a favour can easily be obtained. One word of merited praise is sufficient to attract an audience before one speaks. If, at the outset, a speaker praises the audience, he will have attentive ears. If he criticises the audience at the outset, the response will not be satisfactory.
The cultured do not resort to flattery nor do they wish to be flattered by others. The praiseworthy they praise without any jealousy. The blame-worthy they blame not contemptuously but out of compassion with the object of reforming them.
Great men are highly praised by the great and small who know them well though they are utterly indifferent to such praise.
Many who knew the Buddha intimately extolled the virtues of the Buddha in their own way. One Upāli, a millionaire, a new convert, praised the Buddha, enumerating hundred virtues ex tempore. Nine sterling virtues of the Buddha that were current in his time are still being recited by his followers, looking at his image. They are a subject of meditation to the devout. Those well-merited virtues are still a great inspiration to his followers.
What about blame?
The Buddha says:
“They who speak much are blamed. They who speak a little are blamed. They who are silent are also blamed. In this world there is none who is not blamed.”
Blame seems to be a universal legacy to mankind.
The majority of the people in the world, remarks the Buddha, are ill-disciplined. Like an elephant in the battle-field that endures all arrows shot at him, even so, the Buddha says, do I suffer all insults.
The deluded and the wicked are prone to seek only the ugliness in others but not the good and beautiful.
None, except the Buddha, is one hundred percent good. Nobody is one hundred percent bad either. There is evil in the best of us. There is good in the worst of us. “He who silences himself like a cracked gong when attacked, insulted and abused, he, I say,” the Buddha exhorts, “is in the presence of Nibbāna although he has not yet attained Nibbāna.”
One may work with the best of motives. But the outside world very often misconstrues him and will impute motives never even dreamt of.
One may serve and help others to the best of one’s ability sometimes by incurring debt or selling one’s articles or property to save a friend in trouble. But later, the deluded world is so constituted that those very persons whom one has helped will find fault with him, blackmail him, blemish his good character and will rejoice in his downfall.
In the Jātaka stories it is stated that Guttila the musician taught everything he knew to his pupil without a closed fist, but the ungrateful man he was, he unsuccessfully tried to compete with his teacher and ruin him.
Devadatta, a pupil and cousin of the Buddha who had developed psychic powers, not only tried to discredit the Buddha but also made an unsuccessful attempt to crush him to death by hurling a rock from above while he was pacing up and down below.
On one occasion the Buddha was invited by a brahmin for alms to his house. As he was invited, the Buddha visited his house. Instead of entertaining him, he poured forth a torrent of abuse with the filthiest of words.
The Buddha politely inquired, “Do visitors come to your house good brahmin?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“What do you do when they come?”
“Oh, we prepare a sumptuous feast.”
“If they fail to turn up, please?”
“Why, we gladly partake of it.”
“Well, good brahmin, you have invited me for alms and entertained me with abuse. I accept nothing. Please take it back.”
The Buddha did not retaliate, but politely gave back what the brahmin gave him. Retaliate not, the Buddha exhorts. Vengeance will be met with vengeance. Force will be met with force. Bombs will be met with bombs. “Hatreds do not cease through hatreds, but through love alone they cease” is a noble utterance of the Buddha.
There was no religious teacher so highly praised and so severely criticised, reviled and blamed like the Buddha. Such is the fate of great men.
In a public assembly a vile woman named Ciñcā feigning pregnancy, maligned the Buddha. With a smiling face the Buddha patiently endured the insult and the Buddha’s innocence was proved.
The Buddha was accused of murdering a woman assisted by his disciples. Non-Buddhists severely criticised the Buddha and his disciples to such an extent that the Venerable Ánanda appealed to the Buddha to leave for another village.
“How, Ánanda, if those villagers also abuse us?”
“Well then, Lord, we will proceed to another village.”
“Then Ánanda, the whole of India will have no place for us. Be patient. These abuses will automatically cease.”
Māgandiyā, a lady of the harem, had a grudge against the Buddha for speaking ill of her attractive figure when her father, through ignorance, wished to give her in marriage to the Buddha. She hired drunkards to insult the Buddha in public. With perfect equanimity the Buddha endured the insults. But Māgandiyā had to suffer for her misdemeanour.
Insults are the common lot of humanity. The more you work and the greater you become, the more are you subject to insult and humiliation.
Jesus Christ was insulted, humiliated and crucified.
Socrates was insulted by his own wife. Whenever he went out to help others his intolerant wife used to scold him. One day as she was unwell she failed to perform her unruly task. Socrates left home on that day with a sad face. His friends inquired why he was sad. He replied that his wife did not scold him on that day as she was unwell.
“Well, you ought to be happy for not getting that unwelcome scolding,” remarked his friends.
“Oh no! When she scolds me I get an opportunity to practise patience. Today I missed it. That is the reason why I am sad,” answered the philosopher.
These are memorable lessons for all.
When insulted we should think that we are being given an opportunity to practise patience. Instead of being offended, we should be grateful to our adversaries.
Happiness and Pain
Happiness (sukha) and pain (dukkha) are the last pair of opposites. They are the most powerful factors that affect mankind. What can be endured with ease is sukha (happiness), what is difficult to bear is dukkha (pain). Ordinary happiness is the gratification of a desire. No sooner is the desired thing gained than we desire some other kind of happiness. So insatiate are our selfish desires. 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 material pleasures highly priced by the sensualist, but they are illusory and temporary.
Can material possessions give one genuine happiness?
If so, millionaires would not think of committing suicide. In a certain country which has reached the zenith of material progress about ten percent suffer from mental diseases. Why should it be so if material possessions alone can give genuine happiness?
Can dominion over the whole world produce true happiness?
Alexander, who triumphantly marched to India, conquering the lands on the way, sighed for not having more pieces of earth to conquer.
Are Emperors and Kings who wear crowns always happy?
Very often the lives of statesmen who wield power are at stake. The pathetic cases of Mahatma Gandhi and J. F. Kennedy are illustrative examples.
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. What is happiness to one may not be happiness to another. What is meat and drink to one may be poison to another.
The Buddha enumerates four kinds of happiness for a layman.
They are the happiness of possession (atthi-sukha), namely, health, wealth, longevity, beauty, joy, property, strength, children, etc.
The second source of happiness is derived by the enjoyment of such possessions (bhoga-sukha). Ordinary men and women wish to enjoy themselves. The Buddha does not advise all to renounce their worldly pleasures and retire to solitude.
The enjoyment of wealth lies not only in using it for ourselves but also in giving it for the welfare of others. What we eat is only temporary. What we preserve we leave and go. What we give we take with us. We are remembered for ever by the good deeds we have done with our worldly possessions.
Not falling into debt (anaṇa-sukha) is another source of happiness. If we are contented with what we have and if we are economical, we need not be in debt to any one. Debtors live in mental agony and are under obligation to their creditors. Though poor, when debt free, you feel relieved and are mentally happy.
Leading a blameless life (anavajjā-sukha) is one of the best sources of happiness for a layman. A blameless person is a blessing to himself and to others. He is admired by all and feels happier, being affected by the peaceful vibrations of others. It should be stated however that it is very, very difficult to get a good name from all. The noble-minded persons are concerned only with a blameless life and are indifferent to external approbation. The majority in this world delight themselves in enjoying pleasures while some others seek delight in renouncing them. Non-attachment or the transcending of material pleasures is happiness to the spiritual. Nibbānic bliss, which is a bliss of relief from suffering, is the highest form of happiness.
Ordinary happiness we welcome, but not its opposite—pain, which is rather difficult to endure.
Pain or suffering comes in different guises.
We suffer when we are subject to old age which is natural. With equanimity we have to bear the sufferings of old age.
More painful than sufferings due to old age are sufferings caused by disease, which, if chronic, we feel that death is preferable. Even the slightest toothache or headache is sometimes unbearable.
When we are subject to disease, without being worried, we should be able to bear it at any cost. Well, we must console ourselves thinking that we have escaped from a still more serious disease.
Very often we are separated from our near and dear ones. Such separation causes great pain of mind. We should understand that all association must end with separation. Here is a good opportunity to practise equanimity.
More often than not we are compelled to be united with the unpleasant, which we detest. We should be able to bear them. Perhaps we are reaping the effects of our own kamma, past or present. We should try to accommodate ourselves to the new situation or try to overcome the obstacle by some means or other.
Even the Buddha, a perfect being, who had destroyed all defilements, had to endure physical suffering caused by disease and accidents.
The Buddha was constantly subject to headache. His last illness caused him much physical suffering. As a result of Devadatta’s hurling a rock to kill him, his foot was wounded by a splinter which necessitated an operation. Sometimes he was compelled to starve. At times he had to be contented with horse-fodder. Due to the disobedience of his own pupils, he was compelled to retire to a forest for three months. In the forest, on a couch of leaves spread on rough ground, facing piercing cool winds, he slept with perfect equanimity. Amidst pain and happiness he lived with a balanced mind. Death is the greatest sorrow we are compelled to face in the course of our wanderings in saṃsāra. Sometimes, death comes not singly but in numbers which may even cause insanity.
Paācārā lost her near and dear ones—parents, husband, brother and two children—and she went mad. The Buddha consoled her.
Kisā Gotamī lost her only infant, and she went in search of a remedy for her dead son, carrying the corpse. She approached the Buddha and asked for a remedy.
“Well, sister, can you bring some mustard seed?”
“But, sister, it should be from a house where no one has died.”
Mustard seeds she found, but not a place where death had not visited.
She understood the nature of life.
When a mother was questioned why she did not weep over the tragic death of her only son, she replied; “Uninvited he came, uninformed he went. As he came, so he went. Why should we weep? What avails weeping?”
As fruits fall from a tree—tender, ripe or old—even so we die in our infancy, in the prime of manhood or even in old age.
The sun rises in the East only to set in the West.
Flowers bloom in the morning to fade in the evening.
Inevitable death, which comes to all without exception, we have to face with perfect equanimity.
Just as the earth whate’er is thrown
Upon her, whether sweet or foul,
Indifferent is to all alike,
No hatred shows, nor amity,
So likewise he in good or ill,
Must even-balanced ever be.
The Buddha says:
When touched by worldly conditions the mind of an arahant never wavers.
Amidst gain and loss, fame and defame, praise and blame, happiness and pain, let us try to maintain a balanced mind.
The Problems of Life
Who? Whence? Whither? Why? What? are some important problems that affect all humanity.
1) Who is man? is our first question.
Let us proceed with what is self-evident and perceptible to all.
Man possesses a body which is seen either by our senses or by means of apparatus. This material body consists of forces and qualities which are in a state of constant flux.
Scientists find it difficult to define what matter is. Certain philosophers define “matter as that in which proceed the changes called motion, and motion as those changes which proceed in matter.” 512
The Pali term for matter is rūpa. It is explained as that which changes or disintegrates. That which manifests itself is also another explanation.
According to Buddhism there are four fundamental material elements. They are paṭhavī, āpo, tejo, and vāyo.
Paṭhavī means the element of extension, the substratum of matter. Without it objects cannot occupy space. The qualities of hardness and softness which are purely relative are two conditions of this element. This element of extension is present in earth, water, fire and air. For instance, the water above is supported by water below. It is this element of extension in conjunction with the element of motion (vāyo) that produces the upward pressure. Heat or cold is the tejo element, while fluidity is the āpo element.
Ápo is the element of cohesion. Unlike paṭhavī it is intangible. It is this element which enables the scattered atoms of matter to cohere and thus gives us the idea of body.
Tejo is the element of heat. Cold is also a form of tejo. Both heat and cold are included in tejo because they possess the power of maturing bodies, or, in other words, the vitalizing energy. Preservation and decay are due to this element.
Vāyo is the element of motion. The movements are caused by this element. Motion is regarded as the force or the generator of heat. Both motion and heat in the material realm correspond respectively to consciousness and kamma in the mental.
These four powerful forces are inseparable and interrelated, but one element may preponderate over another, as, for instance, the element of extension preponderates in earth; cohesion, in water; heat, in fire; and motion, in air.
Thus, matter consists of forces and qualities which constantly change not remaining the same even for two consecutive moments. According to Buddhism matter endures only for seventeen thought-moments. 513
At the moment of birth, according to biology, man inherits from his parents an infinitesimally minute cell thirty-millionth part of an inch across. “In the course of nine months this speck grows to a living bulk 15,000 million times greater than it was at outset. 514 This tiny chemico-physical cell is the physical foundation of man.
According to Buddhism sex is also determined at the moment of conception.
Combined with matter there is another important factor in this complex machinery of man. It is the mind. As such it pleases some learned writers to say that man is not mind plus body, but is a mind-body. Scientists declare that life emerges from matter and mind from life. But they do not give us a satisfactory explanation with regard to the development of the mind
Unlike the material body immaterial mind is invisible, but it could be sensed directly. An old couplet runs:
We are aware of our thoughts and feelings and so forth by direct sensation, and we infer their existence in others by analogy.
There are several Pali terms for mind. Mana, citta, viññāṇa are the most noteworthy of them. Compare the Pali root man, to think, with the English word man and the Pali word manussa which means he who has a developed consciousness.
In Buddhism no distinction is made between mind and consciousness. Both are used as synonymous terms. Mind may be defined as simply the awareness of an object since there is no agent or a soul that directs all activities. It consists of fleeting mental states which constantly arise and perish with lightning rapidity. “With birth for its source and death for its mouth it persistently flows on like a river receiving from the tributary streams of sense constant accretions to its flood.” Each momentary consciousness of this ever-changing life-stream, on passing away, transmits its whole energy, all the indelibly recorded impressions, to its successor. Every fresh consciousness therefore consists of the potentialities of its predecessors and something more. As all impressions are indelibly recorded in this ever-changing palimpsest-like mind, and as all potentialities are transmitted from life to life, irrespective of temporary physical disintegrations, reminiscence of past births or past incidents becomes a possibility. If memory depends solely on brain cells, it becomes an impossibility.
Like electricity mind is both a constructive and destructive powerful force. It is like a double-edged weapon that can equally be used either for good or evil. One single thought that arises in this invisible mind can even save or destroy the world. One such thought can either populate or depopulate a whole country. It is mind that creates one’s heaven. It is mind that creates one’s hell.
Ouspensky writes: “Concerning the latent energy contained in the phenomena of consciousness, i.e., in thoughts, feelings, desires, we discover that its potentiality is even more immeasurable, more boundless. From personal experience, from observation, from history, we know that ideas, feelings, desires, manifesting themselves, can liberate enormous quantities of energy, and create infinite series of phenomena. An idea can act for centuries and millenniums and only grow and deepen, evoking ever new series of phenomena, liberating ever fresh energy. We know that thoughts continue to live and act when even the very name of the man who created them has been converted into a myth, like the names of the founders of ancient religions, the creators of the immortal poetical works of antiquity, heroes, leaders, and prophets. Their words are repeated by innumerable lips, their ideas are studied and commented upon.
“Undoubtedly each thought of a poet contains enormous potential force, like the power confined in a piece of coal or in a living cell, but infinitely more subtle, imponderable and potent.” 515
Observe, for instance, the potential force that lies in the following significant words of the Buddha:
Mind or consciousness, according to Buddhism, arises at the very moment of conception, together with matter. Consciousness is therefore present in the foetus. This initial consciousness, technically known as rebirth-consciousness or relinking-consciousness (paṭisandhi viññāṇa), is conditioned by past kamma of the person concerned. The subtle mental, intellectual, and moral differences that exist amongst mankind are due to this kamma conditioned consciousness, the second factor of man.
To complete the trio that constitutes man there is a third factor, the phenomenon of life that vitalises both mind and matter. Due to the presence of life reproduction becomes possible. Life manifests itself both in physical and mental phenomena. In Pali the two forms of life are termed nāma jīvitindriya and rūpa jīvitindriya—psychic and physical life.
Matter, mind, and life are therefore the three distinct factors that constitute man. With their combination a powerful force known as man with inconceivable possibilities comes into being. He becomes his own creator and destroyer. In him are found a rubbish-heap of evil and a storehouse of virtue. In him are found the worm, the brute, the man, the superman, the deva, the Brahmā. Both criminal tendencies and saintly characteristics are dormant in him. He may either be a blessing or a curse to himself and others. In fact man is a world by himself.
2) Whence? is our second question.
How did man originate?
Either there must be a beginning for man or there cannot be a beginning. Those who belong to the first school postulate a first cause, whether as a cosmic force or as an almighty being. Those who belong to the second school deny a first cause for, in common experience, the cause ever becomes the effect and the effect becomes the cause. In a circle of cause and effect a first cause is inconceivable. According to the former life has had a beginning; while according to the latter it is beginningless. In the opinion of some the conception of a first cause is as ridiculous as a round triangle.
According to the scientific standpoint, man is the direct product of the sperm and ovum cells provided by his parents. Scientists while asserting “Omne vivum ex vivo“—all life from life, maintain that mind and life evolved from the lifeless.
Now, from the scientific standpoint, man is absolutely parent-born. As such life precedes life. With regard to the origin of the first protoplasm of life, or “colloid” (whichever we please to call it), scientists plead ignorance.
According to Buddhism man is born from the matrix of action (kammayoni). Parents merely provide man with a material layer. As such being precedes being. At the moment of conception, it is kamma that conditions the initial consciousness that vitalises the foetus. It is this invisible kammic energy generated from the past birth that produces mental phenomena and the phenomenon of life in an already extant physical phenomenon, to complete the trio that constitutes man.
Dealing with the conception of beings the Buddha states:
“Where three are found in combination, there a germ of life is planted. If mother and father come together, but it is not the mother’s period, and the ‘being-to-be-born’ (gandhabba) is not present, then no germ of life is planted. If mother and father come together, and it is the mother’s period, but the ‘being-to-be-born’ is not present, then again no germ of life is planted. If mother and father come together, and it is the mother’s period, and the ‘being-to-be-born’ is also present, then, by the combination of these three, a germ of life is there planted.”
Here gandhabba (= gantabba) refers to a suitable being ready to be born in that particular womb. This term is used only in this particular connection, and must not be mistaken for a permanent soul.
For a being to be born here a being must die somewhere. The birth of a being corresponds to the death of a being in a past life; just as, in conventional terms, the rising of the sun in one place means the setting of the sun in another place.
The Buddha states: “a first beginning of beings, who, obstructed by ignorance and fettered by craving, wander and fare on, is not to be perceived.”
This life-stream flows ad infinitum as long as it is fed with the muddy waters of ignorance and craving. When these two are completely cut off, then only does the life-stream cease to flow; rebirth ends as in the case of Buddhas and arahants. An ultimate beginning of this life-stream cannot be determined, as a stage cannot be perceived when this life force was not fraught with ignorance and craving.
The Buddha has here referred merely to the beginning of the life-stream of living beings. It is left to scientists to speculate on the origin and the evolution of the universe.
3) Whither? is our third question.
Where goes man?
According to ancient materialism which, in Pali and Sanskrit, is known as lokāyata, man is annihilated after death, leaving behind him any force generated by him. “Man is composed of four elements. When man dies the earthy element returns and relapses into the earth; the watery element returns into the water; the fiery element returns into the fire; the airy element returns into the air, the senses pass into space. Wise and fools alike, when the body dissolves, are cut off, perish, do not exist any longer. There is no other world. Death is the end of all. This present world alone is real. The so-called eternal heaven and hell are the inventions of imposters.” 516
Materialists believe only in what is cognisable by the senses. As such matter alone is real. The ultimate principles are the four elements—earth, water, fire and air. The self conscious life mysteriously springs forth from them, just as the genie makes its appearance when Aladdin rubs his lamp. The brain secretes thought just as liver secretes bile.
In the view of materialists the belief in the other world, as Sri Radhakrishna states, “is a sign of mendaciousness, feminism, weakness, cowardice and dishonesty.”
According to Christianity there is no past for man. The present is only a preparation for two eternities of heaven and hell. Whether they are viewed as places or states man has for his future endless felicity in heaven or endless suffering in hell. Man is therefore not annihilated after death, but his essence goes to eternity.
“Whoever,” as Schopenhaeur says, “regards himself as having become out of nothing must also think that he will again become nothing; or that an eternity has passed before he was, and then a second eternity had begun, through which he will never cease to be, is a monstrous thought.”
The adherents of Hinduism who believe in a past and present do not state that man is annihilated after death. Nor do they say that man is eternalised after death. They believe in an endless series of past and future births. In their opinion the life-stream of man flows ad infinitum as long as it is propelled by the force of kamma, one’s actions. In due course the essence of man may be reabsorbed into ultimate reality (paramātma) from which his soul emanated.
Buddhism believes in the present. With the present as the basis it argues the past and future. Just as an electric light is the outward manifestation of invisible electric energy even so man is merely the outward manifestation of an invisible energy known as kamma. The bulb may break, and the light may be extinguished, but the current remains and the light may be reproduced in another bulb. In the same way the kammic force remains undisturbed by the disintegration of the physical body, and the passing away of the present consciousness leads to the arising of a fresh one in another birth. Here the electric current is like the kammic force, and the bulb may be compared to the egg-cell provided by the parents.
Past kamma conditions the present birth; and present kamma, in combination with past kamma, conditions the future. The present is the offspring of the past, and becomes in turn the parent of the future.
Death is therefore not the complete annihilation of man, for though that particular life span ended, the force which hitherto actuated it is not destroyed.
After death the life-flux of man continues ad infinitum as long as it is fed with the waters of ignorance and craving. In conventional terms man need not necessarily be born as a man because humans are not the only living beings. Moreover, earth, an almost insignificant speck in the universe, is not the only place in which he will seek rebirth. He may be born in other habitable planes as well. 517
If man wishes to put and end to this repeated series of births, he can do so as the Buddha and arahants have done by realising Nibbāna, the complete cessation of all forms of craving.
Where does man go? He can go wherever he wills or likes if he is fit for it. If, with no particular wish, he leaves his path to be prepared by the course of events, he will go to the place or state he fully deserves in accordance with his kamma.
4) Why? is our last question.
Why is man? Is there a purpose in life? This is rather a controversial question.
What is the materialistic standpoint? Scientists answer:
Has life purpose? What, or where, or when?
Out of space came Universe, came Sun,
Came Earth, came Life, came Man, and more must come.
But as to Purpose: whose or whence? Why, None.
As materialists confine themselves purely to sense-data and the present material welfare ignoring all spiritual values, they hold a view diametrically opposite to that of moralists. In their opinion there is no purposer—hence there cannot be a purpose. Non-theists, to which category belong Buddhists as well, do not believe in a creative purposer.
“Who colours wonderfully the peacocks, or who makes the cuckoos coo so well?” This is one of the chief arguments of the materialists to attribute everything to the natural order of things.
“Eat, drink, and be merry, for death comes to all, closing our lives,” appears to be the ethical ideal of their system. In their opinion, as Sri Radhakrishna writes: “Virtue is a delusion and enjoyment is the only reality. Death is the end of life. Religion is a foolish aberration, a mental disease. There was a distrust of everything good, high, pure, and compassionate. The theory stands for sensualism and selfishness and the gross affirmation of the loud will. There is no need to control passion and instinct, since they are nature’s legacy to men.” 518
The Sarvadarṣana Saṇgraha says:
While life is yours, live joyously,
None can escape Death’s searching eye;
When once this frame of ours they burn,
How shall it e’er again return? 519
“While life remains let a man live happily, let him feed on ghee even though he runs in debt.”
Now let us turn towards science to get a solution to the question “why.”
It should be noted that “science is a study of things, a study of what is and that religion is a study of ideals, a study of what should be.”
Sir J. Arthur Thompson maintains that science is incomplete because it cannot answer the question why.
Dealing with cosmic purpose, Bertrand Russell states three kinds of views—theistic, pantheistic, and emergent. “The first”, he writes, “holds that God created the world and decreed the laws of nature because he foresaw that in time some good would be evolved. In this view purpose exists consciously in the mind of the creator, who remains external to his creation.
“In the ‘pantheistic’ form, God is not external to the universe, but is merely the universe considered as a whole. There cannot therefore be an act of creation, but there is a kind of creative force in the universe, which causes it to develop according to a plan which this creative force may be said to have had in mind throughout the process.
“In the ’emergent’ form the purpose is more blind. At an earlier stage, nothing in the universe foresees a later stage, but a kind of blind impulsion leads to those changes which bring more developed forms into existence, so that, in some rather obscure sense, the end is implicit in the beginning.” 520
We offer no comments. These are merely the views of different religionists and great thinkers.
Whether there is a cosmic purpose or not a question arises as to the usefulness of the tapeworm, snakes, mosquitoes and so forth, and for the existence of rabies. How does one account for the problem of evil? Are earthquakes, floods, pestilences, and wars designed?
Expressing his own view about cosmic purpose, Russell boldly declares:
Why in any case, this glorification of man? How about lions and tigers? They destroy fewer animals or human lives than we do, and they are much more beautiful than we are. How about ants? They manage the corporate state much better than any Fascist. Would not a world of nightingales and larks and deer be better than our human world of cruelty and injustice and war?
The believers in cosmic purpose make much of our supposed intelligence, but their writings make one doubt it. If I were granted omnipotence, and millions of years to experiment in, I should not think Man much to boast of as the final result of all my efforts. 521
What is the purpose of life according to different religions?
According to Hinduism the purpose of life is “to be one with Brahmā” or “to be re-absorbed in the Divine Essence from which his soul emanated.”
According to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, it is “to glorify God and to enjoy him for ever.”
Will an average person of any religion be prepared to give up his earthly life, to which he tenaciously clings, for immortality in their ultimate havens of peace?
Very doubtful, indeed!
Now, how does Buddhism answer the question “why?”
Buddhism denies the existence of a Creator. As such from a Buddhist standpoint there cannot be a fore-ordained purpose. Nor does Buddhism advocate fatalism, determinism, or pre-destination which controls man’s future independent of his free actions. In such a case free will becomes an absolute farce and life becomes purely mechanistic.
To a large extent man’s actions are more or less mechanistic, being influenced by his own doings, upbringing, environment and so forth. But to a certain extent man can exercise his free will. A person, for instance, falling from a cliff will be attracted to the ground just as an inanimate stone would. In this case he cannot use his free will although he has a mind unlike the stone. If he were to climb a cliff, he could certainly use his free will and act as he likes. A stone, on the contrary, is not free to do so of its own accord. Man has the power to choose between right and wrong, good and bad. Man can either be hostile or friendly to himself and others. It all depends on his mind and its development.
Although there is no specific purpose in man’s existence, yet man is free to have some purpose in life.
What, therefore, is the purpose of life?
Ouspensky writes: “Some say that the meaning of life is in service, in the surrender of self, in self-sacrifice, in the sacrifice of everything, even life itself. Others declare that the meaning of life is in the delight of it, relieved against ‘the expectation of the final horror of death.’ Some say that the meaning of life is in perfection, and the creation of a better future beyond the grave, or in future life for ourselves. Others say that the meaning of life is in the approach to non-existence; still others, that the meaning of life is in the perfection of the race, in the organisation of life on earth; while there are those who deny the possibility of even attempting to know its meaning.”
Criticising all these views the learned writer says: “The fault of all these explanations consists in the fact that they all attempt to discover the meaning of life outside of itself, either in the nature of humanity, or in some problematical existence beyond the grave, or again in the evolution of the Ego throughout many successive incarnations—always in something outside of the present life of man. But if instead of thus speculating about it, men would simply look within themselves, then they would see that in reality the meaning of life is not after all so obscure. It consists in knowledge.” 522
In the opinion of a Buddhist, the purpose of life is supreme enlightenment (sambodhi), i.e., understanding of oneself as one really is. This may be achieved through sublime conduct, mental culture, and penetrative insight; or in other words, through service and perfection.
In service are included boundless loving kindness, compassion, and absolute selflessness which prompt man to be of service to others. Perfection embraces absolute purity and absolute wisdom.
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