Question and Answers
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Questionnaire No 12 and Answers of First Year Diploma Course
Q.1 Write an essay on the core teaching of all Buddhas. When and where was this discourse delivered?
“Not to do any evil, To cultivate good, To purify one’s mind, – This is the advice of the Buddhas.“
In most Theravada countries it is the custom for Buddhists to hold elaborate festivals to honor 28 Buddhas. For example, in various parts of Myanmar, festivals are held to pay homage to 28 Buddhas, especially in the fair weather season. The twenty eight Buddhas are said to have attained enlightenment from the time Gautama Buddha attained his first definite prophecy (assurance that one will definitely become a Buddha one day) from Dipankara Buddha. According to most Buddhist traditions, Maitreya Bodhisattva is expected to be the 29th Buddha.
|Sanskrit name||Pāli name|
These are the Buddhas before our present Buddha including Buddha Gotama as described in the Pali Scripture.
|1. Buddha Tanhankara|
4. Buddha Dipankara
The Bodhisatta was then Ascetic Sumedha when he made a verbal aspiration before the Buddha Dipankara and a definite proclamation was made to be the Buddha Gotama in future.
5. Buddha Kondanna 6. Buddha Mangala 7. Buddha Sumana 8. Buddha Revata 9. Buddha Sobhita 10. Buddha Anomadassi
11. Buddha Paduma
12. Buddha Narada
13. Buddha Padumuttara 14. Buddha Sumedha 15. Buddha Sujata 16. Buddha Piyadassi 17. Buddha Atthadassi 18. Buddha Dhammadassi 19. Buddha Siddhattha 20. Buddha Tissa 21. Buddha Phussa 22. Buddha Vipassi 23. Buddha Sikhi 24. Buddha Vessabhu 25. Buddha Kakusandha 26. Buddha Konagamana 27. Buddha Kassapa 28. Buddha Gotama
Explaining the significance of the 28 Buddhas, Chandakitthi Thera says they have been identified as the ones from whom Gautama the Buddha as a Bodhisatva obtained ‘niyatha vivarana’ (asseveration) over many centuries. The details have been recorded in Buddha Vansaya, a Tripitaka volume. The Bodhisatva obtains ‘niyatha vivarana’ in three ways - by seeing a Buddha, by meeting a Buddha and by getting a Buddha to pronounce that he would definitely become a Buddha. The Buddhas fall into three categories - ’saddhadhika ‘ - those whose forte is piety and devotion, ‘pragnadhika’ - wisdom being their highlight and ‘veerayadhika’ - those with courage and bravery.
Q.2. How can the middle path be exdplained in terms of ethics, psychology and philosophy?
Emotions are generally regarded in the mind of the Buddhist as aspects of our personality that interfere with the development of a spiritual life, as unwholesome states ethically undesirable, and roadblocks to be cleared in the battleground between reason and emotion. In keeping with this perspective emotions are described as states of “agitation” or “imbalance.”1
While a large number of emotional states discussed in Buddhist texts fit in to this description, are we to accept that all the emotions are of this sort? Within the field of experimental psychology, some accept that emotions can be both organizing (making behavior more effective) and disorganizing. In the field of ethics, the place of emotions in the moral life is a neglected subject, but a few voices in the contemporary world have expressed opinions which bring out the relevance of the psychology of emotions to moral assessment, reminding us of the very refreshing discussions in Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. In these discussions too there is an acceptance of the creative role of emotions in the moral life of man. It may be that there is an emotional aspect of man that distorts his reasoning, feeds his prejudices and darkens his vision, but should we not look for an emotional facet in man that expands one’s horizons of thinking, breaks through our egotism, sharpens a healthy sense of the tragic and evokes the ennobling emotions of sympathy and compassion for fellow man?
There are young people all over the world today torn between the world of the senses with its excitement and boredom and “path of renunciation” about which they are not clear, as it combines a sense of rebellion, escape, mystery, and a search for the exotic East. I am sure the message of the Buddha presents to them a philosophy of life that will combine non-attachment with zest for doing things. This evening, let us turn our minds towards an aspect of this modern predicament, with the hope of discovering a little light in the ancient wisdom of the Buddha, a light that may help us to see clearly the nature of the little world of turmoil that surrounds us.
Our discussion today is not a matter of mere academic interest. The recent drama competition organized by the Kandy Y.M.B.A., an attempt to present a drama based on the Buddhist Jataka stories, is the kind of venture that makes us think that the “education of the emotions” is not alien to the Buddhist tradition. This talk will be concerned with the psychological, the ethical and, to a limited extent, the aesthetic dimension of emotions.
An emotion is the meaning we give to our felt states of arousal. Psychologists consider emotions to be complex states involving diverse aspects. On the one hand an emotion is a physiological state of arousal; on the other, it also involves an object as having a certain significance or value to the individual. Emotions are dynamically fed by our drives and dispositions; they are also interlocked with other emotions, related to an individual’s beliefs, a wide-ranging network of symbols and the “cultural ethos” of a society.
Emotions basically involve dispositions to act by way of approach or withdrawal. Let us take an example to illustrate this. A man who walks a long distance across a forest track feels thirsty, he is attracted by the sight of water in a passing stream and he approaches; but there is a fierce animal close to the stream and he is impelled to withdraw or fight; if he withdraws he might then have a general feeling of anxiety, and if he gets back home safely he will be relieved. Thus perception of objects and situations is followed by a kind of appraisal of them as attractive or harmful. These appraisals initiate tendencies to feel in a certain manner and an impulse to act in a desirable way. All states of appraisal do not initiate action; for instance, in joy we like a passive continuation of the existing state and in grief we generally give up hope. Though there may be certain biologically built-in patterns of expressing emotions, learning plays a key role. Learning influences both the type and intensity of arousal as well as the control and expression of emotions.
The emotional development of people has been the subject of serious study. There are significant differences in the emotional development of people depending on the relevant cultural and social variables. In fact, certain societies are prone to give prominence to certain types of emotions (a dominant social ethos). There are also differences regarding the degree of expressiveness and control of emotions. The important point is that each of us develops a relatively consistent pattern of emotional development, colored by the individual’s style of life.
An emotion occurs generally when an object is considered as something attractive or repulsive. There is a felt tendency impelling people towards suitable objects and impelling them to move away from unsuitable or harmful objects. The individual also perceives and judges the situation in relation to himself as attractive or repulsive. While a person feels attraction (saarajjati) for agreeable material shape, he feels repugnance (byaapajjati) for disagreeable material shapes. An individual thus possessed of like (anurodha) and dislike (virodha) approaches pleasure-giving objects and avoids painful objects.2
Pleasant feelings (sukhaa vedanaa) and painful feelings (dukkhaa vedanaa) are affective reactions to sensations. When we make a judgment in terms of hedonic tone of these affective reactions, there are excited in us certain dispositions to possess the object (greed), to destroy it (hatred), to flee from it (fear), to get obsessed and worried over it (anxiety), and so on. Our attitudes which have been formed in the past influence our present reactions to oncoming stimuli, and these attitudes are often rooted in dynamic personality traits. These attitudes, according to Buddha, are not always the result of deliberations at a conscious level, but emerge on deep-rooted proclivities referred to as anusaya. Pleasant feelings induce an attachment to pleasant objects, as they rouse latent sensuous greed (raagaanusaya), painful feelings rouse latent anger and hatred (pa.tighaanusaya). States like pride, jealousy, elation, etc., can also be explained in terms of similar proclivities (anusaya).3 It is even said that such proclivities as leaning towards pleasurable experience (kaama raagaanusaya) and malevolence (byaapaadaanusaya) are found latent even in “an innocent baby boy lying on his back.”4
The motivational side of the emotions can be grasped by a study of the six roots of motivation (muula). They fall into two groups, wholesome (kusala) and unwholesome (akusala). The unwholesome roots are greed (lobha), hatred (dosa), and delusion (moha), while the wholesome roots are non-greed, non-hatred, and non-delusion. Greed generates the approach desires in the form of the drive for self-preservation (bhava-ta.nhaa) and the drive for sensuous pursuits (kaama-ta.nhaa); hatred generates the avoidance desires in the form of the drive for annihilation and aggressive tendencies (vibhava-ta.nhaa).5 In keeping with our initial observations, non-greed, non-hatred, and non-delusion should be considered as the springs of wholesome or ethically desirable emotions. In fact, in a study of the impact of the wholesome roots on the forms of wholesome consciousness, the following significant observations has been made by the Venerable Nyanaponika Maha Thera:
“Non-greed and non-hate may, according to the particular case, have either a mainly negative meaning signifying absence of greed and hate; or they may posses a distinctly positive character, for example: non-greed as renunciation, liberality; non-hate as amity, kindness, forbearance. Non-delusion has always a positive meaning: for it represents the knowledge which motivates the respective state of consciousness. In their positive aspects, non-greed and non-hate are likewise strong motives of good actions. They supply the non-rational, volitional or emotional motives, while non-delusion represents the rational motive of a good thought or action.” 6
In the light of this analysis it is plausible to accept non-greed and non-hatred as the sources of healthy and positive emotions. It is also interesting to note that non-delusion is the basis of good reasons for ethical behavior. A wrong ethical perspective also may be conditioned by one’s desires and emotions. In the light of the Buddha’s analysis, a materialistic ethics, influenced by the annihilationist view (uccheda di.t.thi),7 may itself be conditioned by desires. On account of desire there is clinging (ta.nhaa-paccayaa di.t.thi-upaadaana.m), and clinging is said to be of four forms, one of which is clinging to metaphysical beliefs.8 Thus there can be rational motives for good actions as well as rationalizations influenced by emotions. What is of importance in the observation we cited is that the Buddhist psychology of emotions does provide a base for creative emotional response, a point which, if accepted, has significant implications for Buddhist ethics, social theory and even art and aesthetics.
While we shall come to the role of the creative emotions as we proceed, let us now examine in detail the specific emotions discussed by Buddha. First we shall discuss the nature of fear, anger, guilt, and grief, and then move on to the four sublime states of loving-kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity.
Regarding the range of our analysis, our study of emotions is basically limited to the psychodynamics of emotional states. However, there is a significant range of factors emerging out of socio-economic structure of a particular society. Differing economic and social structures stimulate differing types of psychological drives. Sometimes, even when the socio-economic conditions change, the character structure of individuals is slow to change. In general, whether it be the desire to acquire or desire to share and care for others, these desires are in truth dependent on certain social structures for nourishment and existence. The desires to save and hoard, to protect and accumulate, to spend and consume, to share and sacrifice, have significant relations to the values embedded in a certain society. The emergence of greed and hatred or compassion and sympathy is related to the value system of a society.
If we glance through the discourses of the Buddha as preserved in the Pali canon, the available material on the nature of emotions appears to be dispersed and colored by the nature of the diverse contextual situations where emotions are discussed. However, in general there appear to be four types of situations where the nature of emotions is discussed: emotions obstructing the ideal of good life sought by the layman, emotions that interfere with the recluse seeking the path to perfection, emotions enhancing the layman’s ideal of good life, and emotions developed by the recluse seeking the path of perfection. The grouping of emotions in this manner brings an ethical and spiritual dimension to the psychology of emotions in Buddhism. In the context of the psychology of the West, the undesirable emotions are those that create adjustive problems and impair our mental health, and those desirable are valuable as an adaptive resource. Delineation of mental health merely in terms of adjustment is being questioned in some psychological groups in the West, and new horizons have emerged, a trend which might help to bridge the gap between the psychology of Buddhism and the currently dominant psychology of the West.9
Fear generally arises as a response to a danger which is of a specific nature, whereas anxiety arises as a reaction to a danger which is not clearly seen. In anxiety, both the nature of the object and one’s attitude to it are not clearly recognized. However, these states fade off into each other in certain contexts. Bhaya in Pali can be rendered as fear, fright, or dread.
Regarding the genesis of the emotion of fear, there are at least two clear types of situations which cause fear. Fear is often caused by strong desires (ta.nhaaya jaayati bhaya.m)10 Strong desires and attachment to either persons or things cause fear because if we cling to some precious and valuable object, we have to defend it against loss or theft; thieves can even be a serious threat to one’s life. If one is tremendously attached to a person, and if the person is struck by a serious sickness, a concern for his well-being turns into a fear. The possibility of death causes anguish and anxiety. It is the same with the attachment to one’s own self: a threat to one’s life, sickness, the threat of losing one’s job or reputation — all these situations are conditions for the emergence of fear. It is due to the strong self-preservative drive (bhavata.nhaa) which in turn is fed by the bhavaraaga anusaya (the lurking tendency to crave for existence) that fear becomes such an agitating condition. Apart from the drive for self-preservation, the desire for power, lust, jealousy and pride are intimately related to the emergence of fear. As we mentioned earlier, some emotions are interlocked with other emotions, as is the cause, for instance, with jealousy, pride, and fear.
The second type of fear is the consequence of leading an undesirable life. Here the emotion of fear is related to the emotion of guilt. In this context the emotion of fear has an unhealthy destructive aspect and a positive healthy aspect. If a person is burdened with a heavy sense of pathological remorse, it has a bad effect; it creates worry and restlessness. On the other hand a lively sense of moral dread and shame (hiri-ottappa) prevents man from taking to an evil life and forms the basis of responsibility and a civic sense.
The damaging aspect of a heavy conscience in respect to morals has been the subject of discussion since the work of Sigmund Freud. In admonishing both the laymen and the recluse regarding the bad effects of a pathological sense of guilt, the Buddha refers to a person who is subject to anxiety, fear and dejection: a person who has done the wrong thing fears that other people talk about him, and if he is in a place where people meet together, he fears that others are talking about him. When he sees others being punished by the king, he thinks that the same will happen to him and is disturbed by this possibility. Finally, when he is resting on a chair or the bed, these thoughts come to him and he fears that he will be born in a bad place. “Monks, as at eventide the shadows of the great mountain peaks rest, lie and settle on the earth, so, monks, do these evil deeds… lie and settle on him.”11 The kind of fear and guilt that disturbs the man here is different from a healthy and productive sense of shame and fear (hiri-ottappa). In the Anguttara Nikaya there is a reference to four types of fears: Fear of self-reproach (attaanuvaada bhaya), fear of others’ reproach (paraanuvaada bhaya), fear of punishment (da.n.da bhaya) and fear of lower worlds (duggati bhaya). In this context these fears have a good effect on the person: “he abandons evil,” and “develops the practice of good.”
Fear is often found mixed with hatred (even self-hate) and discontent, and this is often so in the emergence of pathological guilt. Kukkucca, which can be rendered as uneasiness of conscience, remorse or worry, is considered a hindrance to spiritual development. It is associated with a hateful and discontented consciousness, similar to the Freudian super-ego consisting of aggressive elements. Among people who are disappointed with the way that they have lived in the past, some successfully change into better and productive men; others who take a more unrewarding line display a complex admixture of fear, hatred, and guilt.12 The religious melancholy, the self-punishing ascetics, and similar types have an unproductive sense of fear and dread. Restlessness and worry are described in the Nikayas with an apt analogy: if a pot of water were shaken by the wind so that the water trembles, eddies, and ripples, and a man were to look there for his own reflection, he would not see it. Thus restlessness and worry blind one’s vision of oneself, and form an obstruction to the development of tranquility and insight.13
Hiri-ottappa (shame and dread), however, is a positive and healthy sense which must be cultivated and developed. In the words of Mrs. Rhys Davis, “Taken together they give us the emotional and conative aspects of the modern nation of conscience, just as sati represents it on its intellectual side.”14 He who lacks these positive emotions lacks a conscience.
In a recent study of “Morality and Emotions,”15 Bernard Williams says that if we grasp the distinction made in Kleinian psychoanalytical work between “persecutory guilt” and “reparative guilt” we do not neglect the possibility of a creative aspect for remorse or guilt: “He who thinks he has done wrong may not just torment himself, he may seek to put things together again. In this rather evident possibility, we not only have in general a connection between the emotions and the moral life, we also have something that illustrates the point… about the interpretation of a set of actions in terms of an emotional structure.”
It is also of interest to note that a student of Buddhism in the West has made an analysis of the “Dynamics of Confession in Early Buddhism.”16 Teresine Havens too says that in place of the external rites of purification (like bathing in the river, etc.) advocated by existing religions, the Buddha advocated a radical inner transformation of the affective side of man. According to Havens, the Buddha was as realistic as Freud or St. Paul in accepting and “recognizing the egocentric, lustful, hostile and grasping proclivities in unawakened man.”17 While advocating a method to uproot these traits, the Buddha “condemned worry over past offenses as a hindrance to concentration and found a religion which in general seems to have produced far fewer neurotic guilt feelings than has Judaism and Christianity.”18 The Buddha has thus presented the principles of the catharsis of emotions, which have certainly caught the eyes of many contemporary students of Buddhism in the West.
Often we make a distinction between fear and anxiety. Fear is a response to a specific situation or a particular object. It is specific and demonstrable, whereas dread is objectless, diffuse, and vague. In anxiety both the nature of the object and one’s attitude to it are not clearly recognized.
Anxiety is generally caused by ego-centered desires of diverse types. There are some anxieties or vague apprehensions which under clear analysis can be reduced to some specific fear. For instance, a person approaching the possibility of marriage may feel some fear due to financial problems or a sense of apprehension whether the marriage would be success, but such vague apprehension could again under analysis be explained in a specific form. The Buddha says that there is a more basic type of anxiety due to our deep-rooted attachment to the ego. Thus in the words of Conze there is a type of “concealed suffering”19 which lies behind much of everyday apprehensions. These emerge from the nature of the basic human condition: something which, while pleasant, is tied up with anxiety, as one is afraid to lose it. Here anxiety is inseparable from attachment; something while pleasant binds us to conditions which are the grounds on which a great deal of suffering is inevitable, like the possession of a body; and finally the five aggregates (khandha) have a kind of built-in anxiety.
Inability to face the inner vacuity of the so-called ego results in a flight from anxiety: some facets symptomatic of this overt anxiety are the frantic effort of people to join clubs, compulsive gregariousness, seeking to fill one’s leisure by frantic activity such as motoring, and such diversions which will help people to avoid being alone.20 The love of solitude and the way of silence advocated by the Buddha is anathema to large numbers of people who live in the “lonely crowd”!
The Buddha traces this predilection of the “anxious” man to his inability to grasp the basic truth of egolessness, which is the key to understand any form of anxiety. The belief in “I” and “Mine,” though it gives a superficial feeling of security, is the cause of anxiety, fear, and worry. The discourse on The Snake Simile refers to anxiety (paritissanaa) about unrealities that are external and those that are internal; external unrealities refer to houses or gold that one possesses, or children and friends, and internal to the non-existing “I”.
The Bhaya-bherava Sutta (Discourse on Fear and Dread) says that purely subjective conditions can cause fear in a recluse who has gone to the forest. If a recluse who has gone to the forest has not mastered his emotions like lust and covetousness, is corrupt in heart, etc., the rustling of fallen leaves by the wind or the breaking of the twig by an animal can cause fear and dread. Thus, whether we are dealing with the fears of man attached to his possessions, the anxieties of one torn between conflicting desires, the fear and dread arising in the recluse gone to the wilderness, or the fears consequent on leading a bad life — in all these senses, the Buddha is for us a “dispeller of fear, dread, and panic.”21
Now the most important question is, “Is there no creative existential stirring that awakens man to his real predicament?” There are references to authentic religious emotions caused by the contemplation of miseries in the world. The emotion of sa.mvega, translated as “stirring” or “deeply moving,” can be an invigorating experience which enhances one’s faith and understanding of Dhamma. 22 The sa.mvega that is referred to here as an emotional state of existential stirring should be distinguished from paritassanaa, which is a kind of anxiety.
The doctrine of the Buddha is compared to a lion’s roar.23 In the forest, when the lesser creatures hear the roar of the king of the beast, they tremble. In the same way when the devas who are long-lived and blissful hear the doctrine of conditioned origination they tremble, but they yet understand the Buddha’s doctrine of impermanence. This should be compared with the state paritassanaa, where a person finds his eternalism challenged, but sees the doctrine of the Buddha through the eyes of an annihilationist, and laments, “‘I’ will be annihilated.” When sa.mvega is kindled in a person, he sticks to the doctrine with more earnestness.
Fear is something which by its very nature entails “avoidance,” but there is a strange phenomenon which may be described as “flirting with fear.” There are people who search for forms of entertainment and sports which excite a mild degree of fear, like participating in mountain climbing that can be dangerous, motor sports, fire walking, etc.; there are others who like to read, see, and talk about gruesome incidents. A person who goes to see wildlife would like a little excitement rather than plainly see the animals at a distance. This kind of ambivalent nature is found in behavior where a mild degree of fear created by situations helps people to break through monotony and boredom. Also disgust with life and one’s own self can make people court situations, which are a danger to their life. Freud’s study of the death instinct (which we have elsewhere compared with vibhava ta.nhaa) might shed some light on this rather dark facet of human nature. Even in ancient Rome it was said that people wanted both bread and circus. It is possible that situations of disorder, turmoil, and violence, etc., are fed by this ambivalent nature.
Another facet of this compulsion to “flirt with fear” is found in the strange delight people find in violating taboos, laws, and commands. When desires are curbed through fear they are repressed and emerge through other channels. The coexistence of states which are condemned at the conscious level and approved at the unconscious level partly explain this compulsion to violate taboos. There are other types of irrational fears presently unearthed in the field of abnormal psychology,24 which stresses that an undesirable situation has to be avoided on the basis of understanding rather than by an irrational fear or a process of drilling.
This brings us to the final aspect of the questions regarding the emotion of fear. The Buddha was not much directly concerned with the question whether the spontaneous expression of an emotion is good or whether it should be inhibited. He held that, rather, by a process of self-understanding, diligent self-analysis, and insight one can come to the point where emotions will not overwhelm him.
A recent study which attempts to work out a technique of living based on Buddhist principles has something significant to say on this problem.25 Leonard Bullen says that there are three aspects to the disciplining of emotions: first is the development of a habit of self-observation with regard to one’s emotional condition (a detailed observation of the mental state); the second involves the control of emotional manifestations as they arise; and finally the development of a new set of values, so that the situations which earlier elicited the responses of fear will fail to do so. As Bullen himself points out, the disciplining of emotions at the level of the individual has social implications.
If we begin with ourselves we do not excite the emotions of fear, hatred, jealousy, and pride in others. If others do not excite them in us, we are not impelled to see the shadows of our own fears and jealousies in the bosom of their own hearts. Self-analysis and understanding when practiced with within a community has a reciprocal effect.
The emotion of fear when it is generated at the social level creates mutual mistrust, suspicion, and hatred. The roots of racial prejudices, for instance, can be understood in the light of this phenomenon of mutual fear.
The problem of the young has to be dealt with at the level of the family. It may be said in this connection that ambivalent feelings of love and hatred within the family, irrational fears and guilt complexes, have a very bad impact on children. At the school level the medium of art, literature, and drama could do much to honestly encounter the problem emerging out of the affective side of man.
If young people do not get a glimpse of their own emotional facets, there is the possibility that they create their own forms of rebellion and defiance. There are already in the West today emerging marginal faiths of a highly exotic nature, some of which are generated by fears and impulsion of immature minds; some of these “marginal faiths” may be described as forms of siilabbatapaaraamasa (rite and ritual clinging). On the other hand, there may be an unexpected ray of hope in the rebellion of the young mind trying to break through certain forms of conventional thinking, which to them lack the warmth, ardor, and sincerity of a dynamic faith. It is by a spirited rejuvenation of our own traditions that we respond to this challenge with sympathy and understanding. Let our reflections this evening be a very humble attempt to pursue the problem in this direction.
Emotions often create a kind of fog between the subject and the object. In “approach desires,” like greed, there is an infatuation due to which the person is blind to the undesirable aspects of the objects which he longs to possess. In the case of “avoidance desires” generated by fear, and more so by hatred, the subject projects his hatred in perceiving the object; in extreme anger his vision is blinded, like the fury of a serpent. Thus there is a positive attitude regarding things we like and a negative aversion for those we dislike. If we desire to avoid a situation or a person we dislike, and we cannot do so, there is excited in us an urge to destroy, harm, fight, etc. The actual human situation is a little more complicated, as sometimes a certain aspect of an object attracts us, whereas another aspect repels us, and if so, under certain conditions what is lovable will turn out to be repulsive. The kind of emotional ambivalence that exists between parents and children is a case in point. Then there are things that we consciously like but unconsciously detest.
In the ethico-psychological analysis of emotions that we find in Buddhism, there are a number of terms used to connote the existence and expression of anger and hatred: dosa (hate), vyaapaada (ill-will), pa.tigha (aversion), kodha (anger), etc. Hatred is also related to the states such as issaa (envy), macchariya (jealousy) and hiina maana (inferiority conceit).
Dosa (hate) is one of the basic roots of immoral action, along with greed and delusion. Sometimes in a particular situation all the roots of immoral action may be excited: a person is longing to obtain object X, but A stands in his way. Thus greed for X is followed by a hatred for A, and the desire for X is in turn nourished by the root delusion. The expression of hatred can take various forms, by way of thought (wishing the person dies), by way of harsh words, and by way of aggressive behavior.
Due to certain forms of development that the human being has undergone, people often do not speak out their feelings but, by a process of repression and concealment, accumulate them. Accumulated anger of this sort can explode in very many subtle forms, as such anger exists at a subterranean level in the form of the pa.tighaanusaya. A baby who is angry with the mother will direct this on to a doll — this is called “displacement.” If a person takes pleasure in beating a child, he will say it will do the child good — this is a form of rationalization. A person who unconsciously hates a person can be oversolicitous about his health — this is a reaction formation. If a person suspects that another person is harboring a grievance against him without grounds, he is merely projecting his own hatred onto someone else.
We have elsewhere discussed this concept of self-deception, but it is relevant to the emotion of hatred for very good reason. Hatred is an emotion which has been generally condemned by the Buddha, so it is difficult to think of any positive forms it may take, such as “righteous indignation” or a “just war.” Thus it expresses itself in many subtle forms. If a person starves himself to death because of a social grievance it may be a way of directing the accumulated hatred on to himself. While suicide has been condemned by the Buddha, no form of self-torture can be accepted according to the path of the Buddha. There is a classic case of the child who refused to take medicine, and finally through compulsion, drank it with a vengeance. It is in the understanding of the deceptive spell of the aggressive urges in man that the Buddha condemned the path of self-mortification (attakilamathaanuyoga). It is a way of life that generates suffering (dukkha), annoyance (upaghaata), trouble (upaayaasa) and fret (parilaaha). The Buddha advocated a middle path that will dry up both the roots of greed and hatred, and delusion too.
It is in an era close to ours that Sigmund Freud remarked that the voice of aggression is sometimes subtle, invisible, and difficult to unravel. It is perhaps the subtle appreciation26 of these psychological mechanisms in Buddhism which made Rhys Davis remark that “compared with the ascetic excess of the times, the Buddhist standpoint was markedly hygienic.”27 Not merely does the Buddha grasp the subtle mechanism through which the aggressive urge manifests, but he has presented the finest antidote to the spring of hatred in man preaching the doctrine of the four sublime states. If the genius for both good and evil rests within ourselves the Buddha has given us a sense of optimism to deal with the turmoil around us.
Though the Buddha attempted to deal with the emergence of hatred both at the social and individual level, the inner transformation of the individual is the basis on which the urge to aggression can be tamed. Thus in working out the different levels of spiritual development, there are references to the forms of anger, hatred, and ill-will that obstruct man. Hatred in the form of vyaapaada is referred to as one of the hindrances (nivaara.na), along with sensuality, sloth and torpor, restlessness and remorse, and doubt. Vyaapaada is one of the fetters that bind beings to the wheel of existence. Vyaapaada (ill-will), kodha (anger) and upanaaho (malice), issaa (envy) and macchariya are considered as defilements (upakkilesa) in a list of sixteen defilements. These defilements have to be eliminated for the development of insight. These states work in significant combinations; for instance, in contempt there is a combination of aversion and conceit, and denigration is a stronger form of this contempt.28 Envy is fed by greed and aversion. If we succumb to the last defilement of negligence, then these defilements will form into a layer which is hard to break through, and has got hardened through habit. It is in this way that we can account for the emergence of certain personality types, and the type referred to as the dosa carita will be the very embodiment of hatred.
There is a graphic description of the angry man in the Anguttara Nikaya, some of which we shall reproduce briefly:
When anger does possess a man; He looks ugly; he lies in pain; What benefit he may come by He misconstrues as a mischance; He loses property (through fines) Because he has been working harm Through acts of body and speech By angry passion overwhelmed; The wrath and rage that madden him Gain him a name of ill-repute; His fellows, relatives and kin Will seek to shun him from afar; And anger fathers misery: This fury does so cloud the mind Of man that he cannot discern This fearful inner danger. An angry man no meaning knows, No angry man sees the Dhamma, So wrapped in darkness, as if blind, Is he whom anger dogs. Someone a man in anger hurts; But, when his anger is later spent With difficulty or with ease, He suffers as if seared by fire. His look betrays the sulkiness Of some dim smoky smoldering glow. Whence may flare up an anger-blaze That sets the world of men aflame. He has no shame or conscience curb, No kindly words come forth from him, There is no island refuge for The man whom anger dogs. Such acts as will ensure remorse, Such as are far from the true Dhamma: It is of these that I would tell, So harken to my words. Anger makes man a parricide, Anger makes him a matricide, Anger can make him slay the saint As he would kill the common man. Nursed and reared by a mother's care, He comes to look upon the world, Yet the common man in anger kills The being who gave him life. No being but seeks his own self's good, None dearer to him than himself, Yet men in anger kill themselves, Distraught for reasons manifold: For crazed they stab themselves with daggers, In desperation swallow poison, Perish hanged by ropes, or fling Themselves over a precipice. Yet how their life-destroying acts Bring death unto themselves as well, That they cannot discern, and that Is the ruin anger breeds. This secret place, with anger's aid, Is where mortality sets the snare. To blot it out with discipline, With vision, strength, and understanding, To blot each fault out one by one, The wise man should apply himself, Training likewise in the true Dhamma; \"Let smoldering be far from us.\" Then rid of wrath and free from anger, And rid of lust and free from envy, Tamed, and with anger left behind, Taintless, they reach Nibbana.
— AN 7.60
On the therapeutic side there are many contexts where the Buddha offers advice to face situations, such that one’s anger, wrath, and ill-will not be excited, and if one is agitated there are techniques to get rid of them. This is not a process of repression by which you push them into a lower level of consciousness, but a process by which understanding, insight, and mindfulness lead one to control and restraint. While the Buddhist analysis of genesis of emotional states helps one to understand their emergence, positive techniques are advocated to deal with them and this is done in the case of anger, fear, greed, jealousy, or any such unwholesome emotional state. The Vitakkasanthana Sutta recommends five techniques to deal with such states.29
Grief is a universal phenomenon. It is basically a reaction to bereavement, but it is also consequent on other types of losses. If there has been a close identification with the person or the thing lost, the person concerned feels as if a part of himself has been lost. The most significant observations on the nature of “mourning and melancholy” were made by Sigmund Freud.30
When an object is charged with a strong emotional cathexis, or in Buddhist terminology “clinging” (upaadaana), a sudden loss or separation creates a disturbing vacuum. Feelings of guilt, depression, and self-pity may color the emotion of grief in various situations. The Attahasaalinii warns that sometimes people will not be able to distinguish between sorrow and compassion; while the distant enemy of compassion is cruelty, the close enemy is a kind of self-pity filled with worldly sorrow.31 While a deep sense of compassion has a power to transform a person spiritually, worldly sorrow binds him more insidiously to the wheel of sa.msaara.
Sorrow, grief, and lamentation are all facets of dukkha and can be overcome only by grasping the philosophy of the “tragic” in Buddhism.32 Mourning and weeping are not effective in dealing with the tragic. We should understand the causes and conditions of suffering and work out a therapy to remove the causes of suffering. The Buddhist attitude demands a sense of reality; this is different from either excessive mourning or the use of diversions to drown one’s sorrow. Dukkha is a universal feature of samsaric existence along with impermanence and egolessness. The Buddha has said: “What is impermanent, that is suffering. What is suffering, that is void of an ego.” To think that there is an ego where there is only a changing psycho-physical complex is to create the conditions that generate sorrow, grief and dejection.
The Buddhist philosophy of tragedy is contained in the four noble truths: the truth of suffering, the origin of suffering, the extinction of suffering, the eightfold path leading to the extinction of suffering. The nature of suffering is thus described by the Buddha: birth, decay, disease, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering. To be joined with the unpleasant and to be separated from the pleasant is suffering; the failure to get what one wants is suffering. In short, clinging to the five groups of mental and physical qualities that go to make up the individual constitutes suffering. It is the last part of the formula that gives a sense of depth to the meaning of tragedy in Buddhism.
If the nature of the Buddhist analysis of Dukkha is understood, within that setting the confrontation with genuine tragic situations in life may have a positive role to play; it could break through the natural slumber and complacency and create the sense of urgency in the mind of the Buddhist. Authentic tragic experience (sa.mvega) should be a spur to the religious life and strengthen one’s faith in the doctrine.
The way in which the impact of genuine tragic situations may bring about a spiritual alertness without falling into the unwholesome extreme of morbidity is brought out clearly in the Anguttara Nikaya.33 A certain person hears that in a village or town someone is afflicted or dead, and stirred in his way he realizes the truth; another beholds with his own eyes… and realizes the truth; the third person sees a kinsman afflicted and realizes the truth; and finally the person himself is stricken with pain and suffering and this situation stirs him to a realization of the truth of suffering. This is by analogy compared to a steed that is stirred when the stick is seen, one stirred when the stick touches the skin, a third when the flesh is pierced and a fourth when the very bone is pierced by a stick. There is an element of stirring (which the translator renders as agitation) which awakens a person to the tragic sense of life and the emergence of faith in the doctrine. Even if we call this a state of “agitation,” it is different from a person whose fear, anger, or grief has been aroused. Even the sense of the tragic in life can turn out to be a creative emotional response.
Not only does compassion form the basis for a wholesome dimension of emotional warmth and positive concern for others, but it is specifically advocated as a corrective to the elimination of hatred, fear, and allied states. But it has its own alluring disguises and as stated earlier it must be saved from the near enemies of worldly sorrow and pseudo-love and superficial attachments.
The four sublime states (the Brahma Viharas) are mettaa (loving kindness), karunaa (compassion), muditaa (sympathetic joy) and upekkhaa (equanimity). Their potentiality to deal with conflicts, jealousies, prejudice, and hatred are immense, and at the social level very significant. In the words of Ven. Nyanaponika: “They are the great removers of tension, the great peace-makers in social conflict, the great healers of wounds suffered in the struggle of existence: levelers of social barriers, builders of harmonious communities, awakeners of slumbering magnanimity long forgotten, revivers of joy and hope…”34
In the early part of the lecture it was mentioned that morality has a significant relation to the psychology of human emotions. In the context of the four sublime states, this observation has much relevance. Gunapala Dharmasiri has pointed out that one type of moral justification advocated by the Buddha was the appeal to sympathetic feelings.35 “The simple fact that others are living beings is the reason why I should not harm and this is based on an inference from one’s personal experience to that of others: As all people dislike punishment and are scared of death, one should not kill or harm others.” In the context of the four sublime states, a kind of disinterestedness or neutrality is a safeguard against the emergence of sentimental attachments.
These states are considered as boundless, as they are not limited, narrowed down to a special person or persons. These are not merely principles of conduct, but subjects of methodical meditation, and these could only get rooted in a strong affinity with this unbounded outlook by the integration of the meditational level and the practical level of conduct. It is by meditative practice that they sink deeply into the heart and thus later become spontaneous attitudes.36 In the four sublime states we see the finest base for a creative emotional response, and moreover a response related to the emotion of natural sympathy and concern for fellow beings.
Having dealt with the psychological and ethical aspects of the emotions in Buddhism, it would naturally fall in line with our discussion to say a few words on the aesthetic aspects too. These comments are made as an incentive to further reflection rather than in the form of a definitive statement.
In the course of our discussion it was observed that Buddhism upholds the cultivation of good emotions and the elimination of unwholesome emotions. Art and aesthetics is basically a medium of human communication. Is there a facet of the aesthetic that can enhance the education of the emotions? There are two sides to the question, one from the standpoint of art, the other from the standpoint of Buddhism.
Let us take the standpoint of art first. There are three views on the relationship between art and morality, out of which philosophers like R.W. Beardsmore favor the third.37 The view called “Moralism” upholds that the aim of art is to teach morality; “Autonomism” is the belief that the art has nothing to do with morality. Both points are mistaken on Beardsmore’s view; art does not crudely teach morality or deliberately eliminate it; rather, art can give an understanding which makes moral judgment sensitive and intelligent. In the recent development of what is called “Situational Ethics,” examples from literature are used for the discussion of moral issues. By thus reflecting on the conflicts and dilemmas of the characters we can enrich our own sensibility. Without having undergone the experience ourselves, moral and religious problems can be viewed with a “sense of detachment.” Thirdly, the uses of pure reason are sometimes limited, and the use of literary techniques are extremely effective on occasions; the fact is quite obviously seen in the importance of the Jatakas, the Thera- and Theri-gathas etc. Finally, philosophers like Aristotle discovered a certainly cathartic purpose in art. By the use of the sympathetic imagination, one tends to see the common human nature that exists behind the façade of divisive doctrines.38
Now can a Buddhist absorb the aims of art and aesthetics in this manner? As we have already mentioned, for the purpose of efficient communication a wide variety of techniques have been used by the Buddha: stories, fables, poetry, paradoxes, similes, etc. Some of these techniques are well developed — for instance, in Zen Buddhism. Drama and song are used today as media for depicting thematically a Buddhist idea. Sculpture and painting have developed over the years with a Buddhist inspiration.
But there are problems in this area. Though the five precepts do not directly prohibit artistic activity, the call to restrain the senses is important. Also in the more stringent code of morality (the ten precepts), and for monks, seeing dances and such forms of amusements is prohibited. The crucial question is how do we differentiate between the “sensuous” with its harmful effects and the “aesthetic”? O.H. de A. Wijesekera, discussing the relationship between “Buddhism and Art,”39 says: “In the Sigala homily we have one of the best abstracts of the Buddha’s attitude as to what a lay disciple should do and not do. One will find that the Buddha there admonishes Sigala not to fall into the error of developing a habitual liking for amusements, but he certainly does not ask Sigala to cut himself off completely from all aesthetic pursuits, only that which is bad and demoralizing.” Thus if we do not adopt a very limited notion of the “sensuous” to eliminate the aesthetic, education of the emotion through aesthetic media is possible.
Jothiya Dhirasekera says “…the Buddhist recognizes beauty where the senses can perceive it. But in the beauty he also sees its own change and destruction. He remembers what the Buddha said with regard to all components things, that they come in to being, undergo change and are destroyed.”40 It is because of the ability to look at life with equanimity that Buddhism provided a base for the development of a very rich nature poetry: the images of peace and tranquility, of change and continuity — all these find graphic expression in Buddhist poetry.
There is also a devotional aspect of religion which finds fitting expression in aesthetic media, and within the concept of saddhaa, art and aesthetic can stimulate faith and reverence for the Dhamma.
To conclude — In the depiction of human tragedy, the lure of power, the pitfalls of ambition, the roots of passion and the springs of compassion, the Jatakas have already provided a veritable gold mine for the education of the emotions. With the tranquility and peace that one sees in the Samadhi statue or the beauty of the ancient cave paintings, we enter into a dimension which is predominantly Buddhistic. These observations are offered to re-activate a facet of human nature (namely the affective side) that comes most naturally to man and harness this potential in the wake of a higher spiritual transformation.
Q.3. How are the terms ‘good’ and ‘bad’ understood in Buddhism? Are they mere religious dogmas and concepts, or are they realities?
The problem of good and evil
Because kamma is directly concerned with good and evil, any discussion of kamma must also include a discussion of good and evil. Standards for defining good and evil are, however, not without their problems. What is “good,” and how is it so? What is it that we call “evil,” and how is that so? These problems are in fact a matter of language. In the Buddha’s teaching, which is based on the Pali language, the meaning becomes much clearer, as will presently be demonstrated.
The English words “good” and “evil” have very broad meanings, particularly the word “good,” which is much more widely used than “evil.” A virtuous and moral person is said to be good; delicious food might be called “good” food; a block of wood which happens to be useful might be called a “good” block of wood. Moreover, something which is good to one person might not be good to many others. Looked at from one angle, a certain thing may be good, but not from another. Behavior which is considered good in one area, district or society might be considered bad in another.
It seems from these examples that there is some disparity. It might be necessary to consider the word “good” from different viewpoints, such as good in a hedonistic sense, good in an artistic sense, good in an economic sense, and so on. The reason for this disparity is a matter of values. The words “good” and “evil” can be used in many different value systems in English, which makes their meanings very broad.
In our study of good and evil the following points should be borne in mind:
(a) Our study will be from the perspective of the law of kamma, thus we will be using the specialized terms kusala and akusala or skillful and unskillful, which have very precise meanings.
(b) Kusala and akusala, in terms of Buddhist ethics, are qualities of the law of kamma, thus our study of them is keyed to this context, not as a set of social values as is commonly used for the words “good” and “evil.”
(c) As discussed in Chapter One, the operation of the law of kamma is related to other laws. Specifically, insofar as the inner life of the individual is concerned, kammaniyama interacts with psychological laws (cittaniyama), while externally it is related to Social Preference.
The meaning of kusala and akusala
Although kusala and akusala are sometimes translated as “good” and “evil,” this may be misleading. Things which are kusala may not always be considered good, while some things may be akusala and yet not generally considered to be evil. Depression, melancholy, sloth and distraction, for example, although akusala, are not usually considered to be “evil” as we know it in English. In the same vein, some forms of kusala, such as calmness of body and mind, may not readily come into the general understanding of the English word “good.”
Kusala and akusala are conditions which arise in the mind, producing results initially in the mind, and from there to external actions and physical features. The meanings of kusala and akusala therefore stress the state, the contents and the events of mind as their basis.
Kusala can be rendered generally as “intelligent, skillful, contented, beneficial, good,” or “that which removes affliction.” Akusala is defined in the opposite way, as in “unintelligent,” “unskillful” and so on.
The following are four connotations of kusala derived from the Commentaries:
1. Arogya: free of illness, a mind that is healthy; mental states which contain those conditions or factors which support mental health and produce an untroubled and stable mind.
2. Anavajja: unstained; factors which render the mind clean and clear, not stained or murky.
3. Kosalasambhuta: based on wisdom or intelligence; mental states which are based on knowledge and understanding of truth. This is supported by the teaching which states that kusala conditions have yoniso-manasikara, clear thinking, as forerunner.
4. Sukhavipaka: rewarded by well-being. Kusala is a condition which produces contentment. When kusala conditions arise in the mind, there is naturally a sense of well-being, without the need for any external influence. Just as when one is strong and healthy (aroga), freshly bathed (anavajja), and in a safe and comfortable place (kosalasambhuta), a sense of well-being naturally follows.
The meaning of akusala should be understood in just the opposite way from above: as the mind that is unhealthy, harmful, based on ignorance, and resulting in suffering. In brief, it refers to those conditions which cause the mind to degenerate both in quality and efficiency, unlike kusala, which promotes the quality and efficiency of the mind.
In order to further clarify these concepts, it might be useful to look at the descriptions of the attributes of a good mind, one that is healthy and trouble-free, found in the Commentaries, and then to consider whether kusala conditions do indeed induce the mind to be this way, and if so, how. We could then consider whether akusala conditions deprive the mind of such states, and how they do this.
For easy reference, the various characteristics of kusala found in the Commentaries can be compiled into groups, as follows:
1. Firm: resolute, stable, unmoving, undistracted.
2. Pure and clean: unstained, immaculate, bright.
3. Clear and free: unrestricted, free, exalted, boundless.
4. Fit for work: pliant, light, fluent, patient.
5. Calm and content: relaxed, serene, satisfied.
Having looked at the qualities of a healthy mind, we can now consider the qualities which are known as kusala and akusala, assessing to see how they affect the quality of the mind.
Some examples of kusala conditions are: sati, mindfulness or recollection, the ability to maintain the attention with whatever object or duty the mind is engaged; metta, goodwill; non-greed, absence of desire and attachment (including altruistic thoughts); wisdom, clear understanding of the way things are; calm, relaxation and peace; kusalachanda, zeal or contentment with the good; a desire to know and act in accordance with the truth; and gladness at the good fortune of others.
When there is goodwill, the mind is naturally happy, cheerful, and clear. This is a condition which is beneficial to the psyche, supporting the quality and efficiency of the mind. Goodwill is therefore kusala. Sati enables the attention to be with whatever the mind is involved or engaged, recollecting the proper course of action, helping to prevent akusala conditions from arising, and thus enabling the mind to work more effectively. Sati is therefore kusala.
Examples of akusala conditions are: sexual desire; ill will; sloth and torpor; restlessness and anxiety; doubt[a], anger, jealousy, and avarice.
Jealousy makes the mind spiteful and oppressive, clearly damaging the quality and health of the mind. Therefore it is akusala. Anger stirs up the mind in such a way that rapidly affects even the health of the body, and thus is clearly akusala. Sensual desire confuses and obsesses the mind. This is also akusala.
Having established an understanding of the words kusala and akusala, we are now ready to understand good and bad kamma, or kusala kamma and akusala kamma. As has been already mentioned, intention is the heart of kamma. Thus, an intention which contains kusala conditions is skillful, and an intention which contains akusala conditions is unskillful. When those skillful or unskillful intentions are acted on through the body, speech or mind, they are known as skillful and unskillful kamma through body, speech and mind respectively, or, alternatively, bodily kamma, verbal kamma and mental kamma which are skillful and unskillful as the case may be.
Kusala and akusala as catalysts for each other
An act of faith or generosity, moral purity, or even an experience of insight during meditation, which are all kusala conditions, can precipitate the arising of conceit, pride and arrogance. Conceit and pride are akusala conditions. This situation is known as “kusala acting as an agent for akusala.” Meditation practice can lead to highly concentrated states of mind (kusala), which in turn can lead to attachment (akusala). The development of thoughts of goodwill and benevolence to others (kusala), can, in the presence of a desirable object, precipitate the arising of lust (akusala). These are examples of kusala acting as an agent for akusala.
Sometimes moral or meditation practice (kusala) can be based on a desire to be reborn in heaven (akusala). A child’s good behavior (kusala) can be based on a desire to show off to its elders (akusala); a student’s zeal in learning (kusala) can stem from ambition (akusala); anger (akusala), seen in the light of its harmful effects, can lead to wise reflection and forgiveness (kusala); the fear of death (akusala) can encourage introspection (kusala): these are all examples of akusala as an agent for kusala.
An example: the parents of a teenage boy warn their son that his friends are a bad influence on him, but he takes no notice and is lured into drug addiction. On realizing his situation, he is at first angered and depressed, then, remembering his parents’ warnings, he is moved by their compassion (akusala as an agent for kusala), but this in turn merely aggravates his own self-hatred (kusala as an agent for akusala).
These changes from kusala to akusala, or akusala to kusala, occur so rapidly that the untrained mind is rarely able to see them.
Gauging good and bad kamma
It has been mentioned that the law of kamma has a very intimate relationship with both psychological laws and Social Preference. This very similarity can easily create misunderstandings. The law of kamma is so closely related to psychological laws that they seem to be one and the same thing, but there is a clear dividing line between the two, and that is intention. This is the essence and motivating force of the law of kamma and is that which gives the law of kamma its distinct niche among the other niyama or laws. Cittaniyama, on the other hand, governs all mental activity, including the unintentional.
Human intention, through the law of kamma, has its own role distinct from the other niyama, giving rise to the illusion that human beings are independent of the natural world. Intention must rely on the mechanics of cittaniyama in order to function, and the process of creating kamma must operate within the parameters of cittaniyama.
Using an analogy of a man driving a motor boat, the “driver” is intention, which is the domain of the law of kamma, whereas the whole of the boat engine is comparable to the mental factors, which are functions of cittaniyama. The driver must depend on the boat engine. However, for the “boat engine” to lead the “boat,” that is, for the mind to lead life and the body, in any direction, is entirely at the discretion of the “driver,” intention. The driver depends on and makes use of the boat, but also takes responsibility for the welfare of both boat and engine. In the same way, the law of kamma depends on and makes use of cittaniyama, and also accepts responsibility for the welfare of life, including both the body and the mind.
There is not much confusion about this relationship between the law of kamma and cittaniyama, mainly because these are not things in which the average person takes much interest. The issue that creates the most confusion is the relationship between the law of kamma and Social Preference, and this confusion creates ambiguity in regard to the nature of good and evil.
We often hear people say that good and evil are human or social inventions. An action in one society, time or place, may be regarded as good, but in another time and place regarded as bad. Some actions may be acceptable to one society, but not to another. For example, some religions teach that to kill animals for food is not bad, while others teach that to harm beings of any kind is never good. Some societies hold that a child should show respect to its elders, and that to argue with them is bad manners, while others hold that respect is not dependent on age, and that all people should have the right to express their opinions.
To say that good and evil are matters of human preference and social decree is true to some extent. Even so, the good and evil of Social Preference do not affect or upset the workings of the law of kamma in any way, and should not be confused with it. “Good” and “evil” as social conventions should be recognized as Social Preference. As for “good” and “evil,” or more correctly, kusala and akusala, as qualities of the law of kamma, these should be recognized as attributes of the law of kamma. Even though the two are related they are in fact separate, and have very clear distinctions.
That which is at once the relationship, and the point of distinction, between this natural law and the Social Preference is intention, or will. As to how this is so, let us now consider.
In terms of the law of kamma, the conventions of society may be divided into two types:
1. Those which have no direct relationship to kusala and akusala.
2. Those which are related to kusala and akusala.
Those conventions which have no direct relationship to kusala and akusala are the accepted values or agreements which are established by society for a specific social function, such as to enable people to live together harmoniously. They may indeed be instruments for creating social harmony, or they may not. They may indeed be useful to society or they may in fact be harmful. All this depends on whether or not those conventions are established with sufficient understanding and wisdom, and whether or not the authority who established them is acting with pure intention.
These kinds of conventions may take many forms, such as traditions, customs or laws. “Good” and “evil” in this respect are strictly matters of Social Preference. They may change in many ways, but their changes are not functions of the law of kamma, and must not be confused with it. If a person disobeys these conventions and is punished by society, that is also a matter of Social Preference, not the law of kamma.[b]
Now, let us consider an area in which these social conventions may overlap with the law of kamma, such as when a member of a society refuses to conform to one of its conventions, or infringes on it.[c] In so doing, that person will be acting on a certain intention. This intention is the first step in, and is therefore a concern of, the law of kamma. In many societies there will be an attempt to search out this intention for ascertaining the quality of the action. That is again a concern of Social Preference, indicating that that particular society knows how to utilize the law of kamma. This consideration of intention by society is not, however, in itself a function of the law of kamma. (That is, it is not a foregone conclusion — illegal behavior is not always punished. However, whether actions are punished or not they are kamma in the sense that they are volitional actions and will bring results.)
As for the particular role of the law of kamma, regardless of whether society investigates the intention or not, or even whether society is aware of the infringement, the law of kamma functions immediately the action occurs, and the process of fruition has already been set in motion.
Simply speaking, the deciding factor in the law of kamma is whether the intention is kusala or akusala. In most cases, not to conform with any Social Preference can only be said to constitute no intentional infringement when society agrees to abandon or to reform that convention. Only then will there be no violation of the public agreement.
This can be illustrated by a simple example. Suppose two people decide to live together. In order to render their lives together as smooth and as convenient as possible, they agree to establish a set of regulations: although working in different places and returning from work at different times, they decide to have the evening meal together. As it would be impractical to wait for each other indefinitely, they agree that each of them should not eat before seven pm. Of those two people, one likes cats and doesn’t like dogs, while the other likes dogs and doesn’t like cats. For mutual well-being, they agree not to bring any pets at all into the house.
Having agreed on these regulations, if either of those two people acts in contradiction to them, there is a case of intentional infringement, and kamma arises, good or bad according to the intention that instigated it, even though eating food before seven pm., or bringing pets into a house, are not in themselves good or evil. Another couple might even establish regulations which are directly opposite to these. And in the event that one of those people eventually considers their regulations to be no longer beneficial, they should discuss the matter together and come to an agreement. Only then would any intentional nonconformity on that person’s part be free of kammic result. This is the distinction between “good” and “evil,” and “right” and “wrong,” as changing social conventions, as opposed to the unchanging properties of the law of kamma, kusala and akusala.
The conventions which are related to kusala and akusala in the law of kamma are those conventions which are either skillful or unskillful. Society may or may not make these regulations with a clear understanding of kusala and akusala, but the process of the law of kamma continues along its natural course regardless. It does not change along with those social conventions.
For example, a society might consider it acceptable to take intoxicants and addictive drugs. Extreme emotions may be encouraged, and the citizens may be incited to compete aggressively in order to spur economic growth. Or it might be generally believed that to kill people of other societies, or, on a lesser scale, to kill animals, is not blameworthy.
These are examples where the good and evil of Social Preference and kusala and akusala are at odds with each other: unskillful conditions are socially preferred and “good” from a social perspective is “bad” from a moral one. Looked at from a social perspective, those conventions or attitudes may cause both positive and negative results. For example, although a life of tension and high competitiveness may cause a high suicide rate, an unusually large amount of mental and social problems, heart disease and so on, that society may experience rapid material progress. Thus, social problems can often be traced down to the law of kamma, in the values condoned and encouraged by society.
Social Preference and the law of kamma are separate and distinct. The fruits of kamma proceed according to their own law, independent of any social conventions which are at odds with it as mentioned above. However, because the convention and the law are related, correct practice in regard to the law of kamma, that is, actions that are kusala, might still give rise to problems on the social level. For example, an abstainer living in a society which favors intoxicating drugs receives the fruits of kamma dictated by the law of kamma — he doesn’t experience the loss of health and mental clarity due to intoxicating drugs — but in the context of Social Preference, as opposed to the law of kamma, he may be ridiculed and scorned. And even within the law of kamma there may arise problems from his intentional opposition to this Social Preference, in the form of mental stress, more or less depending on his wisdom and ability to let go of social reactions.
A progressive society with wise administrators uses the experience accumulated from previous generations in laying down the conventions and laws of society. These become the good and evil of Social Preference, and ideally they should correlate with the kusala and akusala of kammaniyama. The ability to establish conventions in conformity with the law of kamma would seem to be a sound gauge for determining the true extent of a society’s progress or civilization.
In this context, when it is necessary to appraise any convention as good or evil, it would best be considered from two levels. Firstly, in terms of Social Preference, by determining whether or not it has a beneficial result to society. Secondly, in terms of the law of kamma, by determining whether or not it is kusala, beneficial to mental well-being.
Some conventions, even though maintained by societies for long periods of time, are in fact not at all useful to them, even from the point of view of Social Preference, let alone from the point of view of the law of kamma. Such conventions should be abandoned, and it may be necessary for an exceptional being with pure heart to point out their fault.
In the case of a convention which is seen to be helpful to society and to human progress, but which is not in conformity with the kusala of the law of kamma, such as one which enhances material progress at the expense of the quality of life, it might be worth considering whether the people of that society have not gone astray and mistaken that which is harmful as being beneficial. A truly beneficial custom should conform with both Social Preference and the law of kamma. In other words, it should be beneficial to both the individual and society as a whole, and beneficial on both the material and psychic levels.
In this regard we can take a lesson from the situation of society in the present time. Human beings, holding the view that wealth of material possessions is the path to true happiness, have proceeded to throw their energies into material development. The harmful effects of many of our attempts at material progress are only now becoming apparent. Even though society appears to be prosperous, we have created many new physical dangers, and social and environmental problems threaten us on a global scale. Just as material progress should not be destructive to the physical body, social progress should not be destructive to the clarity of the mind.
The Buddha gave a set of reflections on kusala and akusala for assessing the nature of good and evil on a practical level, encouraging reflection on both the good and evil within (conscience), and the teachings of wise beings (these two being the foundation of conscience and modesty).[d] Thirdly, he recommended pondering the fruits of actions, both individually and on a social basis. Because the nature of kusala and akusala may not always be clear, the Buddha advised adhering to religious and ethical teachings, and, if such teachings are not clear enough, to look at the results of actions, even if only from a social basis.
For most people, these three bases for reflection (i.e., individually, socially, and from the accepted teachings of wise beings) can be used to assess behavior on a number of different levels, ensuring that their actions are as circumspect as possible.
Thus, the criteria for assessing good and evil are: in the context of whether an action is kamma or not, to take intention as the deciding factor; and in the context of whether that kamma is good or evil, to consider the matter against the following principles:
Inquiring into the roots of actions, whether the intentions for them arose from one of the skillful roots of non-greed, non-aversion or non-delusion, or from one of the unskillful roots of greed, aversion or delusion.
Inquiring into the effects on the psyche, or mental well-being, of actions: whether they render the mind clear, calm and healthy; whether they promote or inhibit the quality of the mind; whether they encourage the arising of skillful conditions and the decrease of unskillful conditions, or vice versa.
1. Considering whether one’s actions are censurable to oneself or not (conscience).
2. Considering the quality of one’s actions in terms of wise teachings.
3. Considering the results of those actions:
a. towards oneself
b. towards others.
It is possible to classify these standards in a different way, if we first clarify two points. Firstly, looking at actions either in terms of their roots, or as skillful and unskillful in themselves, are essentially the same thing. Secondly, in regard to approval or censure by the wise, we can say that such wise opinions are generally preserved in religions, conventions and laws. Even though these conventions are not always wise, and thus any practice which conflicts with them is not necessarily unskillful, still it can be said that such cases are the exception rather than the rule.
We are now ready to summarize our standards for good and evil, or good and bad kamma, both strictly according to the law of kamma and also in relation to Social Preference, both on an intrinsically moral level and on a socially prescribed one.
1. In terms of direct benefit or harm: are these actions in themselves beneficial? Do they contribute to the quality of life? Do they cause kusala and akusala conditions to increase or wane?
2. In terms of beneficial or harmful consequences: are the effects of these actions harmful or beneficial to oneself?
3. In terms of benefit or harm to society: are they harmful to others, or helpful to them?
4. In terms of conscience, the natural human reflexive capacity: will those actions be censurable to oneself or not?
5. In terms of social standards: what is the position of actions in relation to those religious conventions, traditions, social institutions and laws which are based on wise reflection (as opposed to those which are simply superstitious or mistaken beliefs)?
Prior to addressing the question of the results of kamma in the next chapter, it would be pertinent to consider some of the points described above in the light of the Pali Canon.
“What are skillful (kusala) conditions? They are the three roots of skillfulness — non-greed, non-aversion and non-delusion; feelings, perceptions, proliferations and consciousness which contain those roots of skillfulness; bodily kamma, verbal kamma and mental kamma which have those roots as their base: these are skillful conditions.
“What are unskillful (akusala) conditions? They are the three roots of unskillfulness — greed, aversion and delusion — and all the defilements which arise from them; feelings, perceptions, proliferations and consciousness which contain those roots of unskillfulness; bodily kamma, verbal kamma and mental kamma which have those roots of unskillfulness as a foundation: these are unskillful conditions.”
* * *
“There are two kinds of danger, the overt danger and the covert danger.
“What are the ‘overt dangers’? These are such things as lions, tigers, panthers, bears, leopards, wolves … bandits … eye diseases, ear diseases, nose diseases … cold, heat, hunger, thirst, defecation, urination, contact with gadflies, mosquitoes, wind, sun, and crawling animals: these are called ‘overt dangers.’
“What are the ‘covert dangers’? They are bad bodily actions, bad verbal actions, bad mental actions; the hindrances of sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and doubt; greed, aversion and delusion; anger, vengeance, spite, arrogance, jealousy, meanness, deception, boastfulness, stubbornness, contention, pride, scornfulness, delusion, heedlessness; the defilements, the bad habits; the confusion; the lust; the agitation; all thoughts that are unskillful: these are the ‘covert dangers.’
“They are called ‘dangers’ for what reason? They are called dangers in that they overwhelm, in that they cause decline, in that they are a shelter.
“Why are they called dangers in that they overwhelm? Because those dangers suppress, constrict, overcome, oppress, harass and crush …
“Why are they called dangers in that they cause decline? Because those dangers bring about the decline of skillful conditions …
“Why are they called dangers in that they are a shelter? Because base, unskillful conditions are born from those things and take shelter within them, just as an animal which lives in a hole takes shelter in a hole, a water animal takes shelter in water, or a tree-dwelling animal takes shelter in trees .. “
* * *
“When greed, aversion and delusion arise within his mind, they destroy the evil doer, just as the bamboo flower signals the ruin of the bamboo plant …”
* * *
“See here, Your Majesty. These three things arise in the world not for welfare or benefit, but for woe, for discomfort. What are those three? They are greed, aversion and delusion …”
* * *
“Monks, there are these three roots of unskillfulness. What are the three? They are the greed-root, the aversion-root and the delusion-root of unskillfulness …
“Greed itself is unskillful; whatever kamma is created on account of greed, through action, speech or thought, is also unskillful. One in the power of greed, sunk in greed, whose mind is distorted by greed, causes trouble for others by striking them, imprisoning them, crushing them, decrying them, and banishing them, thinking, ‘I am powerful, I am mighty.’ That is also unskillful. These many kinds of coarse, unskillful conditions, arising from greed, having greed as their cause, having greed as their source, having greed as condition, persecute the evil doer.
“Hatred itself is unskillful; whatever kamma is created on account of hatred, through action, speech or thought, is also unskillful. One in the power of hatred … causes trouble for others … that is also unskillful. These many kinds of coarse, unskillful conditions persecute the evil doer …
“Delusion itself is unskillful; whatever kamma is created on account of delusion, through action, speech or thought, is also unskillful. One in the power of delusion causes trouble for others … that is also unskillful. These many kinds of unskillful conditions persecute the evil doer in this way.
“One who is thus caught up, whose mind is thus infected, in the coarse, unskillful conditions born of greed, hatred and delusion, experiences suffering, stress, agitation and anxiety in this present time. At death, at the breaking up of the body, he can expect a woeful bourn, just like a tree which is completely entwined with a banyan creeper comes to ruin, to destruction, to decline, to dissolution …
“Monks! There are these three roots of skillfulness. What are the three? They are the non-greed root, the non-aversion root and the non-delusion root …”
* * *
“Monks! There are three root causes of kamma. What are the three? They are greed … hatred … delusion …
“Whatever kamma is performed out of greed … hatred … delusion, is born from greed … hatred … delusion, has greed … hatred … delusion as its root and as its cause, that kamma is unskillful, that kamma is harmful, that kamma has suffering as a result, that kamma brings about the creation of more kamma, not the cessation of kamma.
“Monks! There are these three root causes of kamma. What are the three? They are non-greed … non-hatred … non-delusion …
“Whatever kamma is performed out of non-greed … non-hatred … non-delusion, is born of non-greed … non-hatred … non-delusion, has non-greed … non-hatred … non-delusion as its root and its cause, that kamma is skillful, that kamma is not harmful, that kamma has happiness as a result, that kamma brings about the cessation of kamma, not the creation of more kamma …”
* * *
“Listen, Kalamas. When you know for yourselves that these things are unskillful, these things are harmful, these things are censured by the wise, these things, if acted upon, will bring about what is neither beneficial nor conducive to welfare, but will cause suffering, then you should abandon them.”
“Kalamas, how do you consider this matter? Do greed … hatred … delusion in a person, bring about benefit or non-benefit?”
(Answer: Non-benefit, Venerable Sir.)
“One who is desirous … is angry … is deluded; who is overwhelmed by greed … hatred … delusion, whose mind is thus distorted, as a result resorts to murder, to theft, to adultery, to lying, and encourages others to do so. This is for their non-benefit and non-welfare for a long time to come.”
(Answer: That is true, Venerable Sir.)
“Kalamas, how say you, are those things skillful or unskillful?”
(Answer: They are unskillful, Venerable Sir.)
“Are they harmful or not harmful?”
(Answer: Harmful, Venerable Sir.)
“Praised by the wise, or censured?”
(Answer: Censured by the wise, Venerable Sir.)
“If these things are acted upon, will they bring about harm and suffering, or not? What do you think?”
(Answer: When put into practice, these things bring about harm and suffering, this is our view on this matter.)
“In that case, Kalamas, when I said, ‘Come, Kalamas, do not believe simply because a belief has been adhered to for generations … nor simply because this man is your teacher, or is revered by you, but when you know for yourselves that these things are unskillful, then you should abandon those things,’ it is on account of this that I thus spoke.”
* * *
The following passage is from an exchange between King Pasenadi of Kosala and the Venerable Ananda. It is a series of questions and answers relating to the nature of good and evil, from which it can be seen that Venerable Ananda makes use of all the standards mentioned above.
King: Venerable Sir, when foolish, unintelligent people, not carefully considering, speak in praise or blame of others, I do not take their words seriously. As for pundits, the wise and astute, who carefully consider before praising or criticizing, I give weight to their words. Venerable Ananda, which kinds of bodily actions, verbal actions and mental actions would, on reflection, be censured by wise ascetics and Brahmins?
Ananda: They are those actions of body … speech … mind that are unskillful, Your Majesty.
King: What are those actions of body … speech … mind that are unskillful?
Ananda: They are those actions of body … speech … mind that are harmful.
King: What are those actions of body … speech … mind that are harmful?
Ananda: They are those actions of body … speech … mind that are oppressive.
King: What are those actions of body … speech … mind that are oppressive?
Ananda: They are those actions of body … speech … mind which result in suffering.
King: What are those actions of body … speech … mind which result in suffering?
Ananda: Those actions of body … speech … mind which serve to torment oneself, to torment others, or to torment both; which bring about an increase in unskillful conditions and a decrease of skillful conditions; Your Majesty, just these kinds of actions of body … speech … mind are censured by wise ascetics and Brahmins.
Following that, Venerable Ananda answered the King’s questions about skillful conditions in the same way, summarizing with:
“Those actions of body … speech … mind which result in happiness, that is, those actions which do not serve to torment oneself, to torment others, nor to torment both; which bring about a decrease in unskillful conditions and an increase in skillful conditions; Your Majesty, just these kinds of actions of body … speech … mind are not censured by wise ascetics and Brahmins.”
* * *
“One in the power of greed and desire … hatred and resentment … delusion … with mind thus distorted … does not know as it is what is useful to oneself … what is useful to others … what is useful to both sides. Having abandoned desire … aversion … delusion, one knows clearly what is useful to oneself … useful to others … useful to both.”
* * *
“Bad kamma is like freshly squeezed milk — it takes time to sour. Bad kamma follows and burns the evil doer just like hot coals buried in ash.”
* * *
“One who previously made bad kamma, but who reforms and creates good kamma, brightens the world like the moon appearing from behind a cloud.”
* * *
“To make good kamma is like having a good friend at your side.”
* * *
“Ananda! For those bad actions through body, speech and mind, which are discouraged by me, the following consequences can be expected: one is blameworthy to oneself; the wise, on careful consideration, find one censurable; a bad reputation spreads; one dies confused; and at death, on the breaking up of the body, one goes to the woeful states, the nether realms, hell …
“Ananda! For those good actions through body, speech and mind recommended by me, the following rewards can be expected: one is not blameworthy to oneself; the wise, after careful consideration, find one praiseworthy; a good reputation spreads; one dies unconfused; and at death, on the breaking up of the body, one attains to a pleasant realm, to heaven …”
* * *
“Monks, abandon unskillful conditions. Unskillful conditions can be abandoned. If it were impossible to abandon unskillful conditions, I would not tell you to do so … but because unskillful conditions can be abandoned, thus do I tell you … Moreover, if the abandoning of those unskillful conditions was not conducive to welfare, but to suffering, I would not say, ‘Monks, abandon unskillful conditions,’ but because the abandoning of these unskillful conditions is conducive to benefit and happiness, so I say, ‘Monks, abandon unskillful conditions.’
“Monks, cultivate skillful conditions. Skillful conditions can be cultivated. If it were impossible to cultivate skillful conditions, I would not tell you to do so … but because skillful conditions can be cultivated, thus do I tell you … Moreover, if the cultivation of those skillful conditions was not conducive to welfare, but to suffering, I would not tell you to cultivate skillful conditions, but because the cultivation of skillful conditions is conducive to welfare and to happiness, thus do I say, ‘Monks, cultivate skillful conditions.’”
* * *
“Monks, there are those things which should be abandoned with the body, not the speech; there are those things which should be abandoned with the speech, not the body; there are those things which should be abandoned neither with the body, nor speech, but must be clearly seen with wisdom (in the mind) and then abandoned.
“What are those things which should be abandoned with the body, not through speech? Herein, a monk in this Dhamma-Vinaya incurs transgressions through the body. His wise companions in the Dhamma, having considered the matter, say to him: ‘Venerable Friend, you have incurred these offenses. It would be well if you were to abandon this wrong bodily behavior and cultivate good bodily behavior.’ Having been so instructed by those wise companions, he abandons those wrong bodily actions and cultivates good ones. This is a condition which should be abandoned by body, not by speech.
“What are the things which should be abandoned through speech, not through the body? Herein, a monk in this Dhamma-Vinaya incurs some transgressions through speech. His wise companions in the Dhamma, having considered the matter, say to him: ‘Venerable Friend, you have incurred these offenses of speech. It would be well if you were to relinquish this wrong speech and cultivate good speech.’ Having been so instructed by those wise companions, he abandons that wrong speech and cultivates good speech. This is a condition which should be abandoned by speech, not by body.
“What are the things which should be abandoned neither by body nor speech, but which should be clearly understood with wisdom and then abandoned? They are greed … hatred … delusion … anger … vindictiveness … spite … arrogance … meanness. These things should be abandoned neither by the body or speech, but should be clearly understood with wisdom and then abandoned.”
a. These first five qualities are called the Five Hindrances (nivarana), so named because they are obstacles to the successful development of meditation or a clear mind.
b. Examples of such conventions are social codes of dress: before entering a Buddhist temple in Thailand, for example, it is appropriate to remove shoes and hat, whereas to enter a Christian church it is often required to wear both.
c. — such as by refusing to remove one’s shoes in a Buddhist temple or to wear a hat in a Christian church.
d. Hiri: sense of shame; ottappa: fear of wrong doing.
Q.4. Are good or bad kammas theories or do they represent universal law?
The law of cause and effect is commonly known throughout science. For every action there is a reaction or similarly, for every cause there is an effect and from every effect there must have been a cause. This law is an inescapable truth and until you learn and accept it you will be like the cat chasing its tail.
Often people are living their lives reacting to one event after the next. They presume life is just a random series of circumstances and that they must deal with what life throws at them from moment to moment. They are unaware that they are directly responsible for each and every event that appears in their lives. Due to the law of cause and effect they have in fact created the circumstances that have arrived in their reality from their own thoughts, words and actions. These thoughts, words and actions on the part of the individual are the cause and the resultant outcome at some later date is the direct effect from the initial cause. To follow the chain of events from a particular cause through to its effect would be virtually impossible as a complex series of actions takes place from the initial cause and the universe ultimately brings to us the end effect from that cause.
Kamma is a common word used to describe the law of cause and effect. People often associate good actions with good kamma and believe if we do the right thing by people then good things will come back to us and this is absolutely correct. There is no specific time in which our good deeds will be repaid to us but at some stage we will be rewarded. The same thing goes for any bad things we do. We will accrue bad kamma if we do wrongly by others and our bad deeds will come back on us.
The law of cause and effect applies to everything and everyone in the universe. Although we cannot live outside the law, we can learn to live within the law and learn to use it to our advantage. We have all been gifted with the willpower to choose our thoughts, words and make decisions on our own actions. With positive thoughts, words and actions we draw positive people and events into our lives. We each know intuitively whether our actions will benefit or hinder others and as we learn to incorporate this law into our life we see the positive effects begin to appear in our lives as we do and say the right things by other people and our environment.
Learn to live in faith and know that due to the law of cause and effect, just like the law of attraction, if we live with thoughts of fear this is exactly what will come back to us. However, if we can change our thoughts to love and prosperity, this is the effect that will appear in our life. Just as we trust in the unfailing law of gravity, trust in the law of cause and effect and you will work wonders in your life.
Q.5. When a person dies, is it the end of existence or is he reincarnated or reborn?
Q.6. What is the term the Buddhist use – Reincarnation or Rebirth? Do Buddhists believe in soul or atma? If so, how? If not, why not? Explain.
Reincarnation is not a teaching of the Buddha. In Buddhism the teaching is of rebirth, not of reincarnation
The reincarnation idea is to believe in a soul or a being, separate from the body. At the death of the physical body, this soul is said to move into another state and then enter a womb to be born again.
Rebirth is different and can be explained in this way. Take away the notion of a soul or a being living inside the body; take away all ideas of self existing either inside or outside the body. Also take away notions of past, present and future; in fact take away all notions of time. Now, without reference to time and self, there can be no before or after, no beginning or ending, no birth or death, no coming or going. Yet there is life! Rebirth is the experience of life in the moment, without birth, without death; it is the experience of life which is neither eternal nor subject to annihilation.
Q.7. Soul believers say that if there is no soul or self who is reincarnated. What is the Buddhist answer?
That which is born, dies. Forms come and go. All that comes into existence is impermanent; it is born and it dies. But the very essence of what “I” am — the Buddha-nature — is unborn and undying.
Buddhists are people and people do believe things, but Buddhism is concerned with truth, not with belief, and the teaching is to see things as they are. If we believe anything which has not been experienced, we should know what we are doing. When we do not understand something, then to maintain an open mind is the healthiest and wisest practice.
Q.8. What are the three characteristics of samsara, worldly existence?
According to the Buddhist tradition, all phenomena other than Nibbana, (sankhara) are marked by three characteristics, sometimes referred to as the Dhamma seals, that is dukkha (suffering), anicca (impermanence), and anatta (non-Self).
Together the three characteristics of existence are called ti-lakkhana, in Pali; or tri-laksana, in Sanskrit.
By bringing the three (or four) seals into moment-to-moment experience through concentrated awareness, we are said to achieve Wisdom - the third of the three higher trainings - the way out of Samsara. In this way we can identify that, according to Sutta, the recipe (or formula) for leaving Samsara is achieved by a deep-rooted change to our world view.
Before you go off
in search of awakenment,
see the Buddha
of your own mind.
Q.9. Is Nibbana a concept or a reality?
The concept of Nibbana was originally explained by the Lord Buddha (566-486 BC). His Lordship reached Awakenment, at the age of 35, awakening to the true nature of reality, which is Nibbana (Absolute Truth). The word Nibbana comes from the root meaning ‘to blow out’ and refers to the extinguishing of the fires of greed, hatred and delusion.
When these emotional and psychological defilements are destroyed by wisdom, the mind becomes free, radiant and joyful and at death one is no longer subject to rebirth. Nibbana is the ultimate happiness.
The Buddha describes the abiding in nibbana as a state of ‘deathlessness’ and as the highest spiritual attainment, the reward for one who lives a life of virtuous conduct. Nibbana is meant specifically as pertains gnosis that which ends the identity of the mind with empirical phenomena.
Nibbana can only be explained to the ‘unawakened’ by negation. Thus the Buddha tries to explain this deep concept to one of his disciples. He asks whether the fire, when it is extinguished, can be said to have gone north, south, east, or west. Nibbana, however, cannot be described as existing, not existing, both existing and not, or neither existing nor not.
Venerable Dr. Walpola Rahula explains the concept of Nibbana as
…The only reasonable reply is that it can never be answered completely and satisfactorily in words, because human language is too poor to express the real nature of the Absolute Truth or Ultimate Reality which is Nibbana. Language is created and used by masses of human beings to express things and ideas experienced by their sense organs and their mind.
A supramundane experience like that of the Absolute Truth is not of such a category. Words are symbols representing things and ideas known to us; and these symbols do not and cannot convey the true nature of even ordinary things. Language is considered deceptive and misleading in the matter of understanding of the Truth. So the Lankavatara-sutra says that ignorant people get stuck in words like an elephant in the mud. Nevertheless, we cannot do without langauge.
It is incorrect to think that Nibbana is the natural result of the extinction of craving. Nibbana is not the result of anything. If it would be a result, then it would be an effect produced by a cause. It would be ‘produced’ and ‘conditioned’. Nibbana is neither cause nor effect. It is not produced like a mystic, spiritual, mental state, such as dhyana or samadhi.
People often ask: What is there after Nibbana? This question cannot arise, because Nibbana is the Ultimate Truth. If it is Ultimate there can be nothing after it. If there is anything after Nibbana, then that will be the Ultimate Truth and not Nibbana.
He who has realised Truth, Nibbana, is the happiest being in the world. He is free from all ‘complexes’ and obsessions, the worries and troubles that torment others. His mental health is perfect. He does not repent the past, nor does he brood over the future.
He lives fully in the present. Therefore he appreciates and enjoys things in the purest sense without self-projections. He is joyful, exultant, enjoying the pure life, his faculties pleased, free from anxiety, serene and peaceful.
As he is free from selfish desire, hatred, ignorance, conceit, pride, and all such ‘defilements’, he is pure and gentle, full of universal love, compassion, kindness, sympathy, understanding and tolerance. His service to others is of the purest, for he has no thought of self. He gains nothing, accumulated nothing, because he is free from the illusion of self and the ‘thirst’ of becoming.
Q.10. In Buddhism there are two truths which explain everything both concerning samsara and Nibbana. Explain.
Back in the days of the Buddha, nirvana (nibbana) had a verb of its own: nibbuti. It meant to “go out,” like a flame. Because fire was thought to be in a state of entrapment as it burned — both clinging to and trapped by the fuel on which it fed — its going out was seen as an unbinding. To go out was to be unbound. Sometimes another verb was used — parinibbuti — with the “pari-” meaning total or all-around, to indicate that the person unbound, unlike fire unbound, would never again be trapped.
Now that nirvana has become an English word, it should have its own English verb to convey the sense of “being unbound” as well. At present, we say that a person “reaches” nirvana or “enters” nirvana, implying that nibbana is a place where you can go. But nirvana is most emphatically not a place. It’s realized only when the mind stops defining itself in terms of place: of here, or there, or between the two.
This may seem like a word-chopper’s problem — what can a verb or two do to your practice? — but the idea of nirvana as a place has created severe misunderstandings in the past, and it could easily create misunderstandings now. There was a time when some philosophers in India reasoned that if nibbana is one place and samsara another, then entering into nirvana leaves you stuck: you’ve limited your range of movement, for you can’t get back to samsara. Thus to solve this problem they invented what they thought was a new kind of nibbana: an unestablished nibbana, in which one could be in both places — nibbana and samsara — at once.
However, these philosophers misunderstood two important points about the Buddha’s teachings. The first was that neither samsara nor nibbana is a place. Samsara is a process of creating places, even whole worlds, (this is called becoming) and then wandering through them (this is called birth). Nibbana is the end of this process. You may be able to be in two places at once — or even develop a sense of self so infinite that you can occupy all places at once — but you can’t feed a process and experience its end at the same time. You’re either feeding samsara or you’re not. If you feel the need to course freely through both samsara and nibbana, you’re simply engaging in more samsara-ing and keeping yourself trapped.
The second point is that nibbana, from the very beginning, was realized through unestablished consciousness — one that doesn’t come or go or stay in place. There’s no way that anything unestablished can get stuck anywhere at all, for it’s not only non-localized but also undefined.
The idea of a religious ideal as lying beyond space and definition is not exclusive to the Buddha’s teachings, but issues of locality and definition, in the Buddha’s eyes, had a specific psychological meaning. This is why the non-locality of nirvana is important to understand.
Just as all phenomena are rooted in desire, consciousness localizes itself through passion. Passion is what creates the “there” on which consciousness can land or get established, whether the “there” is a form, feeling, perception, thought-construct, or a type of consciousness itself. Once consciousness gets established on any of these aggregates, it becomes attached and then proliferates, feeding on everything around it and creating all sorts of havoc. Wherever there’s attachment, that’s where you get defined as a being. You create an identity there, and in so doing you’re limited there. Even if the “there” is an infinite sense of awareness grounding, surrounding, or permeating everything else, it’s still limited, for “grounding” and so forth are aspects of place. Wherever there’s place, no matter how subtle, passion lies latent, looking for more food to feed on.
If, however, the passion can be removed, there’s no more “there” there. One sutta illustrates this with a simile: the sun shining through the eastern wall of a house and landing on the western wall. If the western wall, the ground beneath it, and the waters beneath the ground were all removed, the sunlight wouldn’t land. In the same way, if passion for form, etc., could be removed, consciousness would have no “where” to land, and so would become unestablished. This doesn’t mean that consciousness would be annihilated, simply that — like the sunlight — it would now have no locality. With no locality, it would no longer be defined.
This is why the consciousness of nibbana is said to be “without surface” (anidassanam), for it doesn’t land. Because the consciousness-aggregate covers only consciousness that is near or far, past, present, or future — i.e., in connection with space and time — consciousness without surface is not included in the aggregates. It’s not eternal because eternity is a function of time. And because non-local also means undefined, the Buddha insisted that an awakened person — unlike ordinary people — can’t be located or defined in any relation to the aggregates in this life; after death, he/she can’t be described as existing, not existing, neither, or both, because descriptions can apply only to definable things.
The essential step toward this non-localized, undefined realization is to cut back on the proliferations of consciousness. This first involves contemplating the drawbacks of keeping consciousness trapped in the process of feeding. This contemplation gives urgency to the next steps: bringing the mind to oneness in concentration, gradually refining that oneness, and then dropping it to zero. The drawbacks of feeding are most graphically described in SN 12.63, A Son’s Flesh. The process of gradually refining oneness is probably best described in MN 121, The Lesser Discourse on Emptiness, while the drop to zero is best described in the Buddha’s famous instructions to Bahiya: “‘In reference to the seen, there will be only the seen. In reference to the heard, only the heard. In reference to the sensed, only the sensed. In reference to the cognized, only the cognized.’ That is how you should train yourself. When for you there will be only the seen in reference to the seen, only the heard in reference to the heard, only the sensed in reference to the sensed, only the cognized in reference to the cognized, then, Bahiya, there is no you in connection with that. When there is no you in connection with that, there is no you there. When there is no you there, you are neither here nor yonder nor between the two. This, just this, is the end of stress.”
With no here or there or between the two, you obviously can’t use the verb “enter” or “reach” to describe this realization, even metaphorically. Maybe we should make the word nirvana into a verb itself: “When there is no you in connection with that, you nirvana.” That way we can indicate that unbinding is an action unlike any other, and we can head off any mistaken notion about getting “stuck” in total freedom.