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30.Dosagati What is the Triple Gem? Explore Turkmenistan
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What is the Triple Gem?

Explore Turkmenistan


What is the Triple Gem?

Explore Turkmenistan


What is the Triple Gem?
Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
translated from the Thai by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Alternate format: [PDF icon]


Parts of this analysis of the Triple Gem were originally used to
teach new monks here at the temple and have been printed twice in book
form. Now that a group of people who feel that the book would be
beneficial to Buddhists at large have pooled their resources and asked
permission to print it a third time, I have decided to expand it into a
handbook for all Buddhist adherents — i.e., for all who have declared
the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha to be their refuge. Once we have made
such a declaration, we are duty-bound to learn exactly what the Buddha,
Dhamma, and Sangha are. Otherwise, we will follow our religion blindly,
without realizing its aims or the benefits — called ‘puñña,’ or merit —
that come from its practice, inasmuch as Buddhism is a religion of

Furthermore, we as Thai people are known throughout the world as
Buddhists, but my feeling is that there are very few of us who know the
standards of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. Although many of us are
‘Buddhist,’ we are Buddhist mostly through custom, not through informed

Altogether, there are two ways of adhering to the religion:
rationally and irrationally. To adhere to the religion irrationally
means to adhere to it blindly, following one’s teachers or companions,
holding to whatever they say is good without showing any interest as to
whether it really is good or not. This is like a person of no
discernment who uses whatever paper money comes his way: If it turns out
to be counterfeit, he’ll be punished and fined in a variety of ways.
This is what it means to adhere to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha

To adhere to the religion rationally means not to follow one’s own
prejudices or those of one’s teachers or companions, but to follow the
principles of the texts; holding to the Dhamma-Vinaya as one’s standard,
like a legal document affixed with the government seal, carrying the
force of law throughout the land, making exceptions for no one. Whoever
then transgresses the law can’t be regarded as a good citizen. So it is
with the religion: If we want to know if a practice is good or bad,
right or wrong, worthy of respect or not, we should check it against the
standards established by the Buddha, which are eight in number: Any
behavior that —

1. leads to passion,
2. leads to the compounding of suffering,
3. leads to the accumulation of defilement,
4. leads to over-weaning ambition,
5. leads to discontent with what one has — i.e., having this, one wants that (greed that goes beyond moderation),
6. leads to socializing (of the wrong sort),
7. leads to laziness,
8. leads one to be burdensome to others:

None of these eight forms of behavior qualify as the doctrine or
discipline of Buddhism. Once we know that these forms of behavior are
not what the Buddha intended, we should abandon them completely.

Thus, all of us who respect the Buddha’s teachings should — instead
of working at cross-purposes — join our hearts to cleanse and correct
the practice of the religion. Monks, novices, lay men, and lay women
should make a point of helping one another in the area of reform.
Whatever is already good, we should maintain with respect. Whatever
isn’t, we should exert pressure to improve. We’ll then meet with what’s
truly good, like rice: If you cook good, clean, husked white rice,
you’ll eat with pleasure. If you cook unhusked rice, or a potful of
husks, they’ll stick in your own throat. If we let any bad factions go
uncorrected, they will burden the hearts of their supporters, who will
become like people who cook rice husks to eat. Are we going to let one
another be so stupid as to eat rice husks?

By and large, though, most lay people don’t see this as their duty.
As for the monks and novices, they throw the responsibility on the lay
people, and so we do nothing but keep throwing it back and forth like
this. When things have a bearing on all of us, we should by all means
unite our hearts and accept joint responsibility. Only things that have
no bearing on us should we leave to others. Unless we act in this way,
what is good — the religion — will fall from our grasp. And when the
religion falls from our grasp, lay men (upasaka) will become obstacles (upasak), i.e., they’ll keep creating obstacles in the way of finding merit. Lay women (upasika) will become the color of crows (sika), i.e., dark and evil in their behavior. Novices will become sham novices, careless, spattered, and filthy; and monks (phra) will become goats (phae),
missing out on the flavor of the Dhamma, like the nanny goat who has to
go hungry because her milk has been taken and drunk by people more
intelligent than she. In India, for instance, there are hardly any monks
left to make merit with.

Monks are the important faction, because they are the front-line
troops or standard-bearers in the fight with the enemy — evil.
Ordinarily, soldiers have to adhere to the code of their army and to be
sincere in performing their duties. As for the duties enjoined by the
religion, they are two:

1 Gantha-dhura: studying the scriptures. Once we know the
scriptures, though, we can’t stop there. We have to put them into
practice, because the level of study is simply knowledge on the level of
plans and blueprints. If we don’t follow the blueprints, we won’t
receive the benefits to be gained from our knowledge. And when we don’t
gain the benefits, we’re apt to discard the texts, like a doctor who
knows the formula for a medicine but doesn’t use it to cure any
patients. The medicine won’t show any benefits, and this will cause him
to go looking for a living in other ways, discarding any interest to
pursue that formula further. Thus, putting the scriptures into practice
is one way of preserving them, for once we have put them into practice
and seen the results arising within us — i.e., our own bad qualities
begin to wane — we will appreciate the value of the scriptures and try
to keep them intact. This is like a doctor who is able to use a medicine
to cure a fever and so will preserve the formula because of its use in
making a living. Thus, the Lord Buddha set out a further duty, in the
area of practice, for those who are ordained:

2 Vipassana-dhura: the practice of tranquillity and
insight meditation. These two practices are our primary duties as monks
and novices. If we don’t devote ourselves to these two lines of
practice, we’ll become a fifth column within the religion, enemies of
the good standards of the Dhamma and Vinaya. Monks will become political
monks, war-making monks, loudspeaker monks — loudspeaker monks are
those who can teach others but can’t teach themselves. They can speak
Dhamma, but their hearts have no Dhamma, and so they become the enemies
of those who practice the Dhamma and Vinaya rightly and well.

Thus I ask all Buddhists not to turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to
these problems. If we hold that it’s none of our business, the
consequences could well flare up and spread to burn us. For this reason,
I ask that we all help one another to look after the religion.

Actually, all human beings born need a set of customs and traditions —
called religion — to which they give special respect. Otherwise, we
will have no principles of good and evil or of moral virtue. Whatever
religion this may be is up to the individual adherents. I ask only that
they respect their religion sincerely and rightly, for the sake of true

If we were to use only worldly knowledge to keep order, it would work
only in public places. In private or secret places, order wouldn’t
last. But as for religion, once people have studied so that they really
know good and evil, they wouldn’t dare do evil, either in public or in
private. Religion is thus one of the important mainstays of the world.
If we human beings had no moral virtue imbedded in our hearts, even the
greatest power on earth would be able to keep us in line only
temporarily, and even then it wouldn’t be able to influence our minds
the way the moral virtue that comes from religion can. For this reason,
the practice of moral virtue is one way of helping the religion and the

Now, I’m not claiming to be a heavenly being or anyone special. I’m
simply a person who wishes the religion well. So if anything in this
book is defective — in terms of the expression or the Pali — I hope that
knowledgeable people will forgive me, for it’s not the case that I’m
expert in a wide range of matters.

Phra Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
Wat Paa Khlawng Kung
(The Shrimp Canal Forest Monastery)
Chanthaburi, Thailand

I. Buddham saranam gacchami: I go to the Buddha for refuge.

Ordinarily, for the world to experience happiness and harmony, there
has to be a teaching or tradition generally respected as good. This
being the case, Bodhisattvas arise — people who develop goodness on the
grand scale for the sake of attaining right self-awakening. Once they
have reached this goal, they are termed ‘Buddhas,’ Awakened Ones. For
Bodhisattvas to succeed in this direction, they have to devote
themselves to perfecting ten virtues —

1 Dana-parami: charity.
2 Sila-parami: morality.
3 Nekkhamma-parami: renunciation of sensuality (and of the household life).
4 Pañña-parami: the search for discernment.
5 Viriya-parami: persistence.
6 Khanti-parami: endurance, patience.
7 Sacca-parami: truthfulness.
8 Adhitthana-parami: determination.
9 Metta-parami: benevolence.
10 Upekkha-parami: equanimity (in proper cases, i.e., in areas that are beyond one’s control).

These ten perfections are the factors that enable a Bodhisattva to
succeed in becoming an arahant, a Pure One. Once he attains this state,
three qualities — called ‘actualized virtues’ — arise in his heart:

Visuddhi-guna: purity.
Pañña-guna: sharp discernment.
Karunadhiguna: compassion for living beings throughout the world.

These qualities enable the Buddha to teach the Dhamma in a beneficial
way. His conduct in this area is of three sorts: Having achieved his
own purposes (attattha-cariya), he acts for the benefit of living beings throughout the world (lokattha-cariya) and teaches the Dhamma to his own circle of relatives (ñatattha-cariya).

There are three aspects to the Buddha:

1) The physical aspect — the body (elements, aggregates (khandha), and sense media), which is the external aspect of the Buddha, called ‘Buddha-nimitta,’ or the symbol of the Buddha. (This is like the bark of a tree.)

2) The good practices he followed — such as virtue,
concentration, and discernment, which are aspects of his activity. These
are called ‘dhamma-nimitta‘ of the Buddha, symbols of his inner quality. (These are the sapwood.)

3) Vimutti — release from ignorance, craving, attachment, and kamma; attaining nibbana, the supreme quality, a quality that does not die (amata-dhamma). (This is the heartwood, or essence of the Buddha.)

A person of little intelligence will use bark to build himself a
home; a person of medium intelligence will use sapwood; while a person
of sharp intelligence will build his home of heartwood. So it is with
those of us who take refuge in the Buddha. But in any case we’re better
off than people without a home. Like rats or lizards who have to live in
the hollows of trees and are in for trouble if people set the trees on
fire: If we place our trust in our life, our bodies, or our worldly
possessions, we’ll have no refuge when the fires of death reach us. Or
as when a boat sinks in the middle of the ocean: A person without a
life-vest is in serious danger. For this reason, we should educate
ourselves so as to find a refuge that will benefit us both in this life
and in lives to come.

Another comparison: The sages of the past used the term ‘Buddha-ratana,’
comparing the Buddha to a jewel. Now, there are three sorts of jewels:
artificial gems; gemstones, such as rubies or sapphires; and diamonds,
which are held to be the highest. The aspects of the Buddha might be
compared to these three sorts of jewels. To place confidence in the
external aspect — the body of the Buddha or images made to represent him
— is like dressing up with artificial gems. To show respect for the
practices followed by the Buddha by giving rise to them within ourselves
is like dressing up with rubies and sapphires. To reach the quality of
deathlessness is like dressing in diamonds from head to toe.

But no matter what sort of jewels we use to dress up in, we’re better
off than savages who go around hanging bones from their necks, who look
unkempt and — what’s more — are bound to be haunted by the bones they
wear. The bones, here, stand for the body, i.e., our attachment to the
body as really being ours. Actually, our body comes for the most part
from the bodies of other animals — the food we’ve eaten — so how can we
seriously take it to be our own? Whoever insists on regarding the body
as his or her own is like a savage or a swindler — and, as a swindler,
is bound to receive punishment in proportion to the crime. Thus, we
should regard the body as money borrowed for the span of a lifetime, to
be used as capital. And we should search for profits so as to release
ourselves from our debts, by searching for another, better form of
goodness: the qualities of the Buddha that he left as teachings for all of his followers. These qualities, briefly put, are —

1 Sati: the continual mindfulness (wakefulness) found in the factors of jhana.

2 Pañña: the intuitive discernment that comes from developing mental concentration.

3 Vimutti: release from defilement

These are qualities that all Buddhists should develop within
themselves so as to gain Awakening, following the example of the Buddha,
becoming Savaka Buddhas (Disciple Buddhas), an opportunity open —
without exception and with no restrictions of time or place — to all who
follow his teachings.

Buddhists who revere the Buddha in the full sense of the word should
have two sorts of symbols with them, to serve as reminders of their
tradition —

1 Buddha-nimitta: representatives of the Buddha, such as
Buddha images or stupas in which relics of the Buddha are placed. This
sort of reminder is like a nation’s flag.

2 Buddha-guna: the qualities that form the inner symbol
of the Buddha, i.e., the proper practice of his teachings. Whoever
takes a stand in this manner is bound to be victorious both within and
without, safe from such enemies as temptation and mortality.

Our nation’s flag and the people of our nation are two different
things. Just as our flag will have value only if the people of our
nation are good and preserve the fullness of the nation’s qualities; so
too, we Buddhists have to respect both our flag — images of the Buddha —
and the qualities of the Buddha if we are to be good Buddhists.
Otherwise, we will suffer from not having fulfilled our

To take an example, we Thai people, in order to be Thai in the full
sense, have to possess a number of qualifications: the ability to speak
and to read Thai, acquaintance with Thai customs and traditions, the
ability to benefit ourselves (attattha-cariya) and to spread those benefits to help care for the needs of our parents, spouses, and children (ñatatthacariya).
And not only that: If we have the ability and the energy — physical,
mental, financial, or the energy of our virtues — we should expand those
benefits to help our fellow human beings in general throughout the
nation (lokatthacariya). This is what it means to be Thai in the
full sense of the word. In the same way, we who revere the image of the
Buddha and the Buddha’s good qualities should have them with us at all
times if we are to receive the full benefits that come from being
Buddhist and to maintain the peace and well-being of Buddhists at large.

II. Dhammam saranam gacchami: I go to the Dhamma for refuge.

There are three levels to the Dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha —

A. Pariyatti: studying the words of the Buddha as recorded in the Canon — the Discipline, the Discourses, and the Abhidhamma.

B. Patipatti: following the practice of moral virtue, concentration, and discernment as derived from one’s study of the Canon.

C. Pativedha: Liberation.

A. The study of the Dhamma can be done in any of three ways —

1 Alagaddupama-pariyatti: studying like a water viper.

2 Nissaranattha-pariyatti: studying for the sake of emancipation.

3 Bhandagarika-pariyatti: studying to be a storehouse keeper.

Studying like a water viper means to study the words of the Buddha
without then putting them into practice, having no sense of shame at
doing evil, disobeying the monastic code, making oneself like a
poisonous snake-head, full of the fires of greed, anger, and delusion.

Studying for the sake of emancipation means to study the Buddha’s
teachings out of a desire for merit and wisdom, with a sense of
conviction and high regard for their worth — and then, once we have
reached an understanding, bringing our thoughts, words, and deeds into
line with those teachings with a high sense of reverence and respect. To
try to bring the Buddha’s teachings into line with ourselves is the
wrong approach — because, for the most part, we are full of defilements,
cravings, views, and conceits. If we act in this way we are bound to be
more at fault than those who try to bring themselves into line with the
teachings: Such people are very hard to find fault with.

Studying to be a storehouse keeper refers to the education of people
who no longer have to be trained, i.e., of arahants, the highest level
of the Noble Ones. Some arahants, when they were still ordinary,
run-of-the-mill people, heard the Dhamma directly from the Buddha once
or twice and were able immediately to reach the highest attainment. This
being the case, they lacked a wide-ranging knowledge of worldly
conventions and traditions; and so, with an eye to the benefit of other
Buddhists, they were willing to undergo a certain amount of further
education. This way of studying the Dhamma is called ’sikkha-garavata’: respect for the training.

B. The practice of the Dhamma means to conduct oneself in line with the words of the Buddha as gathered under three headings:

— Virtue: proper behavior, free from vice and harm, in terms of one’s words and deeds.

— Concentration: intentness of mind, centered on one of the themes of meditation, such as the breath.

— Discernment: insight and circumspection with regard to all
fashioned things, i.e., physical properties, aggregates, and sense

To conduct oneself in this manner is termed practicing the Dhamma. By
and large, though, Buddhists tend to practice the Dhamma in a variety
of ways that aren’t in line with the true path of practice. If we were
to classify their ways of practice, there would be three:

1 Lokadhipateyya — putting the world first.
2 Attadhipateyya — putting the self first.
3 Dhammadhipateyya — putting the Dhamma first.

To put the world first means to practice for the sake of such worldly
rewards as prestige, material gains, praise, and sensual pleasures.
When we practice this way, we are actually torturing ourselves, because
undesirable things are bound to occur: Having attained prestige, we can
lose it. Having acquired material gains, we can lose them. Having
received praise, we can receive censure. Having experienced pleasure, we
can see it disintegrate. Far from the paths, fruitions, and nibbana, we
torture ourselves by clinging to these things as our own.

To put the self first means to practice in accordance with our own
opinions, acting in line with whatever those opinions may be. Most of us
tend to side with ourselves, getting stuck on our own views and
conceits because our study of the Dhamma hasn’t reached the truth of the
Dhamma, and so we take as our standard our own notions, composed of
four forms of personal bias —

a Chandagati: doing whatever we feel like doing.

b Bhayagati: fearing certain forms of power or
authority, and thus not daring to practice the Dhamma as we truly
should. (We put certain individuals first.)

c Dosagati: acting under the power of anger, defilement, craving, conceits, and views.

d Mohagati: practicing misguidedly, not studying or
searching for what is truly good; assuming that we’re already smart
enough, or else that we’re too stupid to learn; staying buried in our
habits with no thought of extracting ourselves from our sensual

All of these ways of practice are called ‘putting the self first.’

To put the Dhamma first means to follow the Noble Eightfold Path —

a. Right View: seeing that there really is good, there really is
evil, there really is stress, that stress has a cause, that it disbands,
and that there is a cause for its disbanding.

b. Right Resolve: thinking of how to rid ourselves of whatever
qualities we know to be wrong and immoral, i.e., seeing the harm in
sensual desires in that they bring on suffering and stress.

c. Right Speech: speaking the truth; not saying anything
divisive or inciteful; not saying anything coarse or vulgar in
situations where such words would not be proper; not saying anything
useless. Even though what we say may be worthwhile, if our listener
isn’t interested then our words would still count as useless.

d. Right Action: being true to our duties, not acting in ways that would be corrupt or bring harm to ourselves or others.

e. Right Livelihood: obtaining wealth in ways that are honest, searching for it in a moral way and using it in a moral way.

f. Right Effort: persisting in ridding ourselves of all that
is wrong and harmful in our thoughts, words, and deeds; persisting in
giving rise to what would be good and useful to ourselves and others in
our thoughts, words, and deeds, without a thought for the difficulty or
weariness involved; acting persistently so as to be a mainstay to others
(except in cases that are beyond our control).

g. Right Mindfulness: being mindful and deliberate, making
sure not to act or speak through the power of inattention or
forgetfulness, making sure to be constantly mindful in our thoughts
(being mindful of the four frames of reference).

h. Right Concentration: keeping the mind centered and
resilient. No matter what we do or say, no matter what moods may strike
the heart, the heart keeps its poise, firm and unflinching in the four
levels of jhana.

These eight factors can be reduced to three — virtue, concentration,
and discernment — called the middle way, the heart of the Buddha’s
teachings. The ‘middleness’ of virtue means to be pure in thought, word,
and deed, acting out of compassion, seeing that the life of others is
like your own, that their possessions are like your own, feeling
benevolence, loving others as much as yourself. When ‘you’ and ‘they’
are equal in this way, you are bound to be upright in your behavior,
like a well-balanced burden that, when placed on your shoulders, doesn’t
cause you to tip to one side or the other. But even then you are still
in a position of having to shoulder a burden. So you are taught to focus
the mind on a single preoccupation: This can be called ‘holding in your
hands’ — i.e., holding the mind in the middle — or concentration.

The middleness of concentration means focusing on the present, not
sending your thoughts into the past or future, holding fast to a single
preoccupation (anapanaka-jhana, absorption in the breath).

As for the middleness of discernment: No matter what preoccupations
may come passing by, you are able to rid yourself of all feelings of
liking or disliking, approval or rejection. You don’t cling, even to the
one preoccupation that has arisen as a result of your own actions. You
put down what you have been holding in your hands; you don’t fasten onto
the past, present or future. This is release.

When our virtue, concentration, and discernment are all in the middle
this way, we’re safe. Just as a boat going down the middle of a
channel, or a car that doesn’t run off the side of the road, can reach
its destination without beaching or running into a tree; so too, people
who practice in this way are bound to reach the qualities they aspire
to, culminating in the paths and fruitions leading to nibbana, which is
the main point of the Buddha’s teachings.

So in short, putting the Dhamma first means to search solely for purity of heart.

C. The attainment of the Dhamma refers
to the attainment of the highest quality, nibbana. If we refer to the
people who reach this attainment, there are four sorts —

1 Sukha-vipassako: those who develop just enough
tranquillity and discernment to act as a basis for advancing to
liberating insight and who thus attain nibbana having mastered only asavakkhaya-ñana, the knowledge that does away with the fermentation of defilement.

2 Tevijjo: those who attain the three skills.

3 Chalabhiñño: those who attain the six intuitive powers.

4 Catuppatisambhidappatto: those who attain the four forms of acumen.

To explain sukha-vipassako (those who develop insight more than tranquillity): Vipassana (liberating insight) and asavakkhaya-ñana
(the awareness that does away with the fermentation of defilement)
differ only in name. In actuality they refer to the same thing, the only
difference being that vipassana refers to the beginning stage of insight, and asavakkhaya-ñana to the final stage: clear and true comprehension of the four Noble Truths.

To explain tevijjo: The three skills are —

a Pubbenivasanussati-ñana: the ability to remember past
lives — one, two, three, four, five, ten, one hundred, one thousand,
depending on one’s powers of intuition. (This is a basis for proving
whether death is followed by rebirth or annihilation.)

b Cutupapata-ñana: knowledge of where living beings are reborn — on refined levels or base — after they die.

c Asavakkhaya-ñana: the awareness that enables one to do away with the fermentations in one’s character (sensuality, states of being, ignorance).

To explain chalabhiñño: The six intuitive powers are —

a Iddhividhi: the ability to display miracles — becoming
invisible, walking on a dry path through a body of water, levitating,
going through rain without getting wet, going through fire without
getting hot, making a crowd of people appear to be only a few, making a
few to appear many, making oneself appear young or old as one likes,
being able to use the power of the mind to influence events in various

b Dibbasota: clairaudience; the ability to hear far distant sounds, beyond ordinary human powers.

c Cetopariya-ñana: the ability to know the thoughts of others.

d Pubbenivasanussati-ñana: the ability to remember previous lives.

e Dibba-cakkhu: clairvoyance; the ability to see far
distant objects, beyond ordinary human powers. Some people can even see
other levels of being with their clairvoyant powers (one way of proving
whether death is followed by rebirth or annihilation, and whether or not
there really are other levels of being).

f Asavakkhaya-ñana: the awareness that does away with the fermentation of defilement.

To explain catuppatisambhidappatto: The four forms of acumen are —

a Attha-patisambhida: acumen with regard to the sense of
the Doctrine and of matters in general, knowing how to explain various
points in line with their proper meaning.

b Dhamma-patisambhida: acumen with regard to all mental qualities.

c Nirutti-patisambhida: acumen with regard to linguistic conventions. (This can include the ability to know the languages of living beings in general.)

d Patibhana-patisambhida: acumen in speaking on the
spur of the moment, knowing how to answer any question so as to clear up
the doubts of the person asking (like the Venerable Nagasena).

This ends the discussion of the virtues of the four classes of people
— called arahants — who have reached the ultimate quality, nibbana. As
for the essence of what it means to be an arahant, though, there is only
one point — freedom from defilement: This is what it means to attain
the Dhamma, the other virtues being simply adornment.

The three levels of Dhamma we have discussed are, like the Buddha,
compared to jewels: There are many kinds of jewels to choose from,
depending on how much wealth — discernment — we have.

All of the qualities we have mentioned so far, to put them briefly so
as to be of use, come down to this: Practice so as to give rise to
virtue, concentration, and discernment within yourself. Otherwise, you
won’t have a refuge or shelter. A person without the qualities that
provide refuge and shelter is like a person without a home — a
delinquent or a vagrant — who is bound to wander shiftlessly about. Such
people are hollow inside, like a clock without any workings: Even
though it has a face and hands, it can’t tell anyone where it is, what
time it is, or whether it’s morning, noon, or night (i.e., such people
forget that they are going to die).

People who aren’t acquainted with the Dhamma within themselves are
like people blind from birth: Even though they are born in the world of
human beings, they don’t know the light of the sun and moon that enables
human beings to see. They get no benefit from the light of the sun and
moon or the light of fire; and being blind, they then go about
proclaiming to those who can see, that there is no sun, no moon, and no
brightness to the world. As a result, they mislead those whose eyes are
already a little bleary. In other words, some groups say that the
Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha don’t exist, that they were invented to fool
the gullible.

Now, the Dhamma is something subtle and fine, like the fire-potential (tejas)
that exists in the air or in various elements and that, if we have
enough common sense, can be drawn out and put to use. But if we’re
fools, we can sit staring at a bamboo tube [a device for starting fire
that works on the same principle as the diesel engine] from dawn to dusk
without ever seeing fire at all. Anyone who believes that there is no
Buddha, Dhamma, or Sangha, no series of paths or fruitions leading to
nibbana, no consciousness that experiences death and rebirth, is like
the fool sitting and staring at the bamboo tube.

Here I would like to tell a story as an allegory of those who aren’t
acquainted with the Dhamma. There once was a man living in the woods
who, with his five sons, started growing crops in a clearing about a
mile from their home village. He built a small shack at the clearing and
would often take his sons to stay there. One morning he started a fire
in the shack and told his sons to look after the fire, for he was going
out to hunt for food in the forest. ‘If the fire goes out,’ he told
them, ‘get some fire from my bamboo tube and start it up again.’ Then he
set out to search for food for his sons.

After he had left, his sons got so wrapped up in their play that when
they finally took a look at the fire, they found that it was completely
out. So they had the first son go get some fire to start it up again.
The first son walked over and tried knocking on the bamboo tube but
didn’t see any fire. So they had the second son get some fire from the
tube: He opened it up but didn’t see any fire inside. All he saw were
two bamboo chips but he didn’t know what to do with them. So the third
son came over for a look and, since he didn’t see any fire, he took a
knife to cut the tube in half but still didn’t see any fire. The fourth
son went over and, seeing the two halves lying there, shaved them down
into thin strips to find the fire in them but didn’t see any fire at

Finally the fifth son went over to look for fire, but before he went
he said to his brothers, ‘What’s the matter with you guys that you can’t
get any fire from the bamboo tube? What a bunch of fools you are! I’ll
go get it myself.’ With that, he went to look at the bamboo tube and
found it split into strips lying in pile. Realizing what his brothers
had done, and thinking, ‘What a bunch of hare-brains,’ he reached for a
mortar and pestle and ground up the bamboo strips to find the fire in
them. By the time he ran out of strength, he had ground them into a
powder, but he still hadn’t found any fire. So he snuck off to play by

Eventually, toward noon, the father returned from the forest and
found that the fire had gone out. So he asked his sons about it, and
they told him how they had looked for fire in the bamboo tube without
finding any. ‘Idiots,’ he thought, ‘they’ve taken my fire-starter and
pounded it to bits. For that, I won’t fix them any food. Let ‘em
starve!’ As a result, the boys didn’t get anything to eat the entire

Those of us who aren’t acquainted with the brightness of the Dhamma — ‘Dhammo padipo’
— lying within us, who don’t believe that the Dhamma has value for
ourselves and others, are lacking in discernment, like the boys looking
for fire in the bamboo tube. Thus we bring about our own ruin in various
ways, wasting our lives: born in darkness, living in darkness, dying in
darkness, and then reborn in more darkness all over again. Even though
the Dhamma lies within us, we can’t get any use from it and thus will
suffer for a long time to come, like the boys who ruined their father’s
fire-starter and so had to go without food.

The Dhamma lies within us, but we don’t look for it. If we hope for
goodness, whether on a low or a high level, we’ll have to look here,
inside, if we are to find what is truly good. But before we can know
ourselves in this way, we first have to know — through study and
practice — the principles taught by the Buddha.

Recorded Dhamma (pariyatti dhamma) is simply one of the
symbols of the Buddha’s teachings. The important point is to actualize
the Dhamma through the complete practice of virtue, concentration, and
discernment. This is an essential part of the religion, the part that
forms the inner symbol of all those who practice rightly and well.
Whether the religion will be good or bad, whether it will prosper or
decline, depends on our practice, not on the recorded doctrine, because
the recorded doctrine is merely a symbol. So if we aim at goodness, we
should focus on developing our inner quality through the Dhamma of
practice (patipatti dhamma). As for the main point of Buddhism, that’s the Dhamma of attainment (pativedha dhamma), the transcendent quality: nibbana.

III. Sangham saranam gacchami: I go to the Sangha for refuge.

The word Sangha, if translated as a substantive, refers to
those who have ordained and are wearing the yellow robe. Translated as a
quality, it refers to all people in general who have practiced
correctly in line with the Buddha’s teachings. Members of the monastic
order, however, are of all sorts, and so we have two groups —

A. Sammuti-sangha: the conventional Sangha.
B. Ariya-sangha: the Noble Sangha.

Membership in the conventional Sangha is attained through consent of
the Order, in a formal ceremony with witnesses, following the procedures
set out in the Vinaya. Membership in the Noble Sangha is attained when
the quality of transcendence (lokuttara dhamma) appears in one’s
heart as a result of one’s own behavior and practice, with no
formalities of any sort whatsoever. All Buddhists — whether formally
ordained or not, no matter what their sex, color, or social position —
can become members of this Sangha. This is termed being ordained by the
Dhamma, or being self-ordained in a way that cannot be faulted.

To speak in abstract terms, the qualities of transcendence, stable
and sure, that appear in the hearts of those who practice — leading them
solely to the higher realms and closing off the four states of
destitution (apaya) — are, taken together, called the Noble Sangha.

A. Members of the conventional Sangha, with regard to the way they conduct themselves, fall into four groups —

1 Upajivika: those who are looking simply for ways to make
a living, without looking for any higher virtues to develop within
themselves. They use the yellow robe as a means of livelihood, without
any thought of following the threefold training of virtue,
concentration, and discernment.

2 Upakilika: those who become ordained without any
respect for the training, looking simply for pastimes for their own
enjoyment — collecting plants, playing chess, gambling, buying lottery
tickets, betting on horses — looking for gain in ways forbidden by the
Vinaya, disobeying the words of the Buddha, disregarding the virtues set
out in the scriptures, undermining the religion.

3 Upamuyuhika: those who are close-minded and
misguided, unwilling to train themselves in heightened virtue,
concentration, or discernment. Even though they may have some education
and knowledge, they still keep themselves closed-minded, making excuses
based on their teachers, the time, the place, and their accustomed
beliefs and practices. Stuck where they are, such people are unwilling
to change their ways so as to accord with the principles of the

4 Upanissarana: those who desire merit and wisdom; who
search for the true principles of the Dhamma and Vinaya; who set their
hearts on studying with reverence and respect, and conduct themselves in
line with what they have learned; who aim for the merit and wisdom
offered by Buddhism, for the path leading to release from suffering; who
rightly follow the Lord Buddha’s teachings, i.e., —

a Anupavado: They don’t berate others in inappropriate ways.

b Anupaghato: They aren’t vindictive.

c Patimokkhe ca samvaro: They stay well within the
precepts of the Patimokkha and don’t disobey the injunctions of the
Vinaya — like good citizens, desired by the nation, who stay within the
bounds of the government’s laws. (If people don’t keep within the laws
of the land, it will lead only to turmoil, because people who have no
bounds are like farmers who have no boundary markers and who will thus
infringe on one another’s property, giving rise to needless disputes and
ill-feeling, serving no purpose whatsoever.)

d Mattaññuta ca bhattasmim: They have a sense of
moderation in searching for and using the four necessities of life. They
understand how to make the best use of things — knowing what’s
beneficial and what’s harmful, what is and what isn’t of use to the
body, considering things carefully before making use of them (in line
with the principles of morality and the Buddha’s teachings).

e Pantañca sayanasanam: They favor quiet, secluded places to stay. To quote from the Canon, these include:

— Araññagato va: going to a forest wilderness, far from human society, free from social interaction

— Suññagaragato va: or to uninhabited dwellings, in places far off the beaten track.

— Rukkhamulagato va: or living under the shade of a tree, in a
cave, or under an overhanging cliff face, so as to aid the heart in
attaining concentration.

f Adhicitte ca ayogo: They make a persistent effort,
through the practice of concentration, to cleanse the heart, freeing it
from such Hindrances as sensual desire.

Etam buddhana sasanam: All of these factors are the teachings of the Buddhas.

Na hi pabbajito parupaghati
Samano hoti param vihethayanto.

How can a person who harms himself and others be a good monk?

These, then are the attributes of the Sangha. In broad terms, they come down to two sorts:

1. Sangha-nimitta: the symbol of having been ordained (the mode of dress, etc.).

2. Guna-sampatti: the inner qualifications — virtue and truth — of those worthy meditators who are held to be the field of merit for the world.

Those with the necessary resources — i.e., discernment — will obtain a
good field. Whatever seed they plant will give a yield well worth the
effort involved, just as an intelligent person who puts his savings in a
safe national bank will protect his capital from loss and even earn a

Just as a good rice field has four characteristics — the ground is
level and even, the dike has a water gate that is easy to open and
close, the soil is rich in nutrients, the rainfall comes at the proper
season — in the same way, members of the Sangha who are to be a field of
merit for the world have to be endowed with the four following

1. The analogy of level, even ground refers to those monks who
are free from the four forms of personal bias. Whatever they do in
thought, word and deed, they are free from:

a Chandagati — i.e., they don’t act solely under the power of their own likes and inclinations;

b Dosagati — or under the power of ill will or anger towards others;

c Mohagati — or under the power of delusion;

d Bhayagati — or under the power of fear or
apprehension of any sort whatsoever. They aim at what is right and true
as their major concern, both in the presence of others and in private,
keeping themselves always on a par with their principles.

2. As for the analogy of a water gate that is easy to open and
close, ‘closing’ refers to exercising restraint so that evil doesn’t
arise within us. Restraint has four aspects —

a Patimokkha-samvara-sila: staying within the bounds of the Monastic Code.

b Indriya-samvara-sila: exercising restraint over our
senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, feeling, and ideation so as to
keep the mind quiet, unagitated, and in good order.

c Ajiva-parisuddhi-sila: searching for the necessities of life — food, clothing, shelter, and medicine — only in ways that are proper.

d Paccaya-paccavekkhana-parisuddhi-sila: considering the necessities of life before using them so as not to use them out of desire or craving.

To exercise restraint in these ways is called ‘closing.’ ‘Closing,’
however, can be understood in another way, i.e., exercising restraint so
that corruption doesn’t arise in the three areas of our thoughts,
words, and deeds.

a. To close or control our deeds means, in broad terms, not to
kill living beings or to oppress or torment them in any way; not to
steal the belongings of others; and not to engage in sexual misconduct
(or in the sexual act) or to give rein to any sensual desires. Even
though such desires may arise in the heart, we keep them under control.
This is what it means to close our deeds.

b. To close our words means not to tell lies, either to others
people’s faces or behind their backs; not to speak divisively, i.e., in
a way that would lead to a needless falling-out between people; not to
speak coarsely or abusively, not cursing, swearing or being vulgar; and
not to engage in useless chatter, saying things that are of no real use
to ourselves or our listeners. To be intent on restraining ourselves in
this way is called closing off evil words so that they don’t have a
chance to arise.

c. To close off evil thoughts means:

— Anabhijjha-visama-lobha: refraining from the greed that goes above and beyond our sphere and powers to the point where dissatisfaction defiles the mind.

— Abyapada: not storing up feelings of ill will to the point where anger takes over and we let jealousy and displeasure show,

— Sammaditthi: keeping our views correct in line with right
principles, eliminating views that arise from the mind’s being clouded
and untrained — i.e., overpowered by ignorance and delusion — to the
point of believing that there is no good or evil, and from there to
deeply ingrained unwise mental states. If we take care to ward off these
unwise mental qualities so that they can’t arise in our hearts, they
will give way to Right View: seeing that there really is good, there
really is evil; that virtue, generosity, and meditation really give
results; that the paths and fruitions leading to nibbana really exist.
When we see things in this way, we have in effect closed off evil,
preventing it from penetrating our hearts, just as rice farmers close
their dykes to prevent salt water from flowing into their fields.

As for ‘opening,’ it refers to practicing the five forms of unselfishness —

a Avasamacchariya: not being possessive of the place over
which we have control, such as our temple or monastery; not preventing
good people from coming to stay. If people are pure in their behavior
and able to impart what is good to us, we should make room for them so
that they can stay in comfort. Evil people, however, shouldn’t be
allowed to infiltrate our group; and bad people who are already in the
group should be expelled. This is how to behave with discernment in this

b Kulamacchariya: not being possessive of our families.
On the external level, this refers to the families who support us. We
don’t prevent them from making offerings to other individuals and we
don’t prevent capable individuals from teaching and advising them. Some
monks stand in the way of such interchanges, creating barriers with
their thoughts, words, and deeds. Sometimes if their supporters make
merit with other individuals, they even make reprisals, such as refusing
to allow that family to make merit with their own groups or factions.
These worthless attitudes shouldn’t be allowed to arise in our hearts.

On the internal level, being possessive of our ‘family’ refers to the
heart’s attachment to sensations and mental acts, which form the family
line of unawakened people. We should abandon this attachment so that we
can enter the lineage of the Noble Ones.

c Labhamacchariya: not being possessive of the material
gains we have attained through proper means, not regarding them as
being our own. Material gains, as classified by the Vinaya, are of four
sorts: food, clothing, shelter (lodgings and the items used in them,
such as furniture, matting, etc.), and medicine. We should see that when
people present us with offerings of this sort, they have abandoned an
enemy — their own stinginess and selfishness — and have gained in worth
and wisdom through the power of their sacrifice. Anyone who receives
such an offering and clings to it as really being his own is like a
person who collects coconut pulp or sugar cane pulp from which others
have already squeezed and drunk the juice. For this reason, people of
wisdom and discernment aren’t possessive of their belongings. They are
always willing to relinquish and share their gains — in proportion to
the amount they have received — so that others can make use of them.

This is external relinquishment. As for internal relinquishment:
Whereas we once ate as we liked, many times a day, we now eat less, only
one meal a day. We use only one set of robes. We relinquish our
comfortable lodgings and undertake the ascetic practice of living in the
forest or under the shade of a tree. If we become ill, we search for
medicine and treat our disease with moderation, in a way that doesn’t
create burdens for others. In other words, we relinquish ourselves as an
offering to the religion by putting it into practice. This is classed
as the internal relinquishment of material gain through the power of our
practice and conduct.

d Vannamacchariya: not being possessive of our ‘color’ (vanna).
‘Vanna,’ here, can be interpreted in two ways. In one sense, it refers
to social caste or class. For example, the ruling class, the religious
elite, property owners, and laborers are held to be unequal in status,
and the members of one group are unwilling to let other groups mix with
theirs. If such mixing occurs, they regard it as something base and
disgraceful and so they continually put up barriers to prevent it from
happening. In this case, we can infer that we shouldn’t make
distinctions based on faction, nationality, color, or race, because the
Buddha taught that a person’s worth comes not from his or her birth, but
from the goodness of his or her own actions; or, as we say, ‘Those who
do good will meet with good, those who do evil will meet with evil.’ For
example, we worship and respect the Buddha even though he wasn’t Thai
as we are. We respect him through the power of his goodness. If we were
to be close-minded and nationalistic, we Thai’s wouldn’t have any
religion to worship at all aside from the religion of spirits and

The second sense of ‘vanna’ refers to the complexion of our skin.
This, too, we cling to, unwilling to sacrifice it for what is worthy and
good. We hesitate to observe the precepts, to meditate, or to undertake
the ascetic practices for fear that we’ll spoil our looks and

e Dhammamacchariya: not being possessive of the
Buddha’s teachings we have learned. Possessiveness in this case can mean
not wanting to teach unless we are reimbursed, not wanting to preach
unless there is an offering, or complaining if the offering is small.

On another level, being possessive of the dhamma can refer to holding on to the unskillful qualities (akusala-dhamma)
within us; being unwilling to rid ourselves of such evils as greed,
anger, delusion, pride, conceit, or any of the other fermentations of
defilement; clinging to these things without searching for the
techniques, called the Path, for relinquishing them, i.e.:

— the precepts of the Monastic Code that, if we observe them carefully,
can eliminate the common defilements arising through our words and

— the practice of concentration that, when it is developed in our
hearts, can eliminate intermediate defilements, i.e., such Hindrances as
sensual desire;

— the discernment that, when it arises within us, can eliminate such subtle defilements from our hearts as avijja — mental murkiness; tanha — craving; and upadana — attachment to false assumptions.

When we develop these five forms of unselfishness, we can be classed
as open — and our eyes will be open to perceiving the highest quality,
the transcendent.

3. The analogy of soil rich in nutrients refers to our putting four qualities into practice —

a Metta: good will, friendliness, hoping for our own well-being and that of all other living beings.

b Karuna: compassion for ourselves and others, which induces us to be helpful in various ways.

c Mudita: appreciation for ourselves for having
cultivated goodness; appreciation (not feeling jealousy) for the
goodness cultivated by others.

d Upekkha: equanimity in cases beyond our control. For
instance, when death has come to a person we know, we see that it is
beyond our help and so we keep our hearts neutral, not allowing feelings
of sadness or gladness to arise.

For these four qualities to arise in fully mature form, they have to
appear in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Whatever we may do in thought,
word, or deed should not be done through the power of anger. We should
regard anger as an ogre — and when anger takes over, our body becomes an
ogre’s tool: his bludgeon. To see the drawbacks of anger in this way
can give rise to good will in thought, word, and deed, extending without
partiality to all people and living beings throughout the world. Even
with our enemies we should try to develop these same thoughts of good
will, by looking for their good side, in one way or another, instead of
looking just at their bad side, which can cause hatred to invade and
consume our hearts. Anger is a fire that can’t burn other people; it
burns only ourselves. This is why we should develop good will within our
hearts. The power of good will brings good to everyone — just as food
that contains the nutrients needed by people brings health and
contentment to all who eat it; or as fertilizer with the proper
nutrients can cause plants and trees to grow, give fruit, and so be of
use to people and other living beings. Good will is thus a form of
goodness that can be classed as nourishment. (Good will is what cools
the fevers of the world.)

4. The analogy of seasonable rain refers to our establishing ourselves in the four bases of success (iddhipada)

a Chanda: feeling a love and an affinity for goodness and virtue as much as for life, or more.

b Viriya: being persistent, audacious, and persevering in cultivating goodness within ourselves.

c Citta: being intent on whatever we set about to do.

d Vimansa: being discriminating and circumspect at all times in whatever we set about to do.

These four qualities can lead to two kinds of success: iddhiriddhi — success through the power of thought; and puññariddhi
— success that comes on its own. Both of these forms of success, on the
level of the world or the Dhamma, have to be based on the four
qualities mentioned above. These four qualities are like preservatives:
Whoever is saturated with them won’t go sour or stale. And when we’re
free from going stale, our work is bound not to stagnate and so is sure
to succeed.

Another comparison: These four qualities are ’sacca-kamma’
actions that give rise to truth, achieving our purposes. Those who bring
these qualities into themselves will become true people. Truth can be
compared to salt: If we try to keep food, like vegetables or fish,
without salting it, it soon turns rotten and wormy, making it unfit for
human consumption. But if we salt it, it can keep for a long time. A
good example of this is our Lord Buddha, whose actions gave rise to
truth and who thus was able to establish the religion so as to benefit
people at large. Even the body he left behind still serves a purpose for
human and divine beings. For instance, his bones, which have become
relics, are still with us even though he gained total liberation a long
time ago. As for his teachings, they have lasted for more than 2,500
years. And he himself is deathless, i.e., he has entered total nibbana.
All of this was achieved by means of truth, i.e., the four bases of

Those of us who have no truth, though, are like unsalted fish or
meat, and are bound to go wormy. The worms, here, refer to our various
defilements and are of three main species: The first species is composed
of affection, anger, and delusion; these feed on us from our feet to
our waists. The second species — sensual desire, ill-will, torpor,
restlessness, and uncertainty — latch on and bore into us from our
waists to our necks. And the third species — the fermentation of
sensuality, states of being, views, and ignorance (cloudy, unclear
knowledge) — eats us up whole: ears, eyes, nose, mouth, body, and mind.
Whoever is all wormy like this is classed as a person gone rotten and
stale, who hasn’t reached any qualities of substance. And for this
reason, the bones of such a person after death are no match for the
bones of chickens and pigs, for no one wants them. If the bones and meat
of such a person were put up for sale, no one would buy. And
furthermore, such a person will have to come back as an angry ghost,
lolling its tongue and rolling its eyes, to frighten its children and

Thus, whoever develops the four qualities mentioned above will reach deathlessness — amata dhamma
— which is like a crystalline shower that comes from distilling away
all impurities, just as rain water, which is distilled from the sea,
rises into the air and returns to the earth, nourishing the grasses,
crops, and trees, giving refreshment to people and other living beings.

These, then, are some of the characteristics of those who form the
field of merit for the world both on the mundane and on the transcendent
levels, who conduct themselves in keeping with the phrase in the chant
of the virtues of the Sangha:

Puññakkhettam lokassati

‘The field of merit for the world.’

Now we will discuss the chant of the virtues of the Sangha further as
a path to practice, because the virtues of the Sangha are open to all
Buddhists in general, without excluding any individual, race, or social
class at all. Whoever puts these principles into practice is capable of
becoming a member of the Noble Sangha without having to go through the
formalities of the Vinaya. In other words, this is a community and a
state of worthiness open to all who put the following principles into
practice —

1 Supatipanno: being a person whose conduct is good. ‘Good conduct’ refers to seven principles —

a. We should gather frequently — for the daily chanting services,
to hear the Dhamma explained, to seek out wise people, and to join
whole-heartedly in the work of the group. This is external gathering.
What is really important, though, is internal gathering, i.e.,
collecting the mind in concentration, which is the gathering point of
all that is good and forms the basic skill for bringing the factors of
the Path together (magga-samangi).

b. When a meeting of the group disperses, we should all
disperse at the same time and not act at variance with the group. On the
internal level, we should all as a group disperse shoddiness from our
thoughts, words, and deeds.

c. We should neither establish new rules that were not
established by the Buddha nor abandon those that were. For example,
don’t make a practice of doing things the Buddha declared to be
worthless, evil, or wrong; develop within yourself the things he taught
to be good, right, and worthwhile.

d. Be respectful of your elders, teachers, parents, etc.

e. Whatever you do in thought, word, or deed, don’t act under the influence of craving, anger, or delusion.

f. Make a point of searching out virtuous people.

g. Take pleasure in solitude.

This is what is meant by good conduct.

2 Uju-patipanno: being a person whose conduct is
straightforward, firmly established in the threefold training — virtue,
concentration, and discernment — which leads straight to nibbana; being
fair and just, unswayed by any of the four forms of personal bias. This
is what is meant by straightforward conduct.

3 Ñaya-patipanno: being a person whose conduct leads to higher knowledge. This refers to following fifteen procedures (carana-dhamma)

a Patimokkha-samvara: keeping within the precepts of the
Monastic Code, respecting the training rules of the Vinaya. (For
laypeople, this means observing the five or eight precepts.)

b Indriya-samvara: keeping watch over your senses of
sight, hearing, smell, taste, feeling, and ideation so as to keep the
mind collected and at peace.

c Bhojane mattaññuta: knowing moderation in the requisites of life, i.e., eating only just enough food.

d Jagariyanuyoga: being persistent in cleansing the mind so that it is pure and bright, not allowing lapses in mindfulness or alertness to occur.

e Saddha: conviction, i.e., being convinced of the
truth of good and evil, of the paths and their fruitions; having
conviction in people who merit it.

f Hiri: feeling shame at the thought of doing evil, not doing evil either in public or in private.

g Ottappa: having a sense of dread at the thought of doing evil.

h Bahusacca: being well-educated and always willing to learn.

i Viriya: being persistent, unflagging, and courageous in performing your duties.

j Sati: being mindful before doing anything in thought, word, or deed.

k Pañña: developing discernment as to what should and should not be done, as to what is and isn’t beneficial.

l Pathama-jhana: the first jhana, composed of five
factors — directed thought, evaluation, rapture, pleasure, and
singleness of preoccupation. (Jhana means to be absorbed in or focused
on a single object or preoccupation, as when we deal with the breath.)

m Dutiya-jhana: the second jhana, composed of three factors — rapture, pleasure, and singleness of preoccupation.

n Tatiya-jhana: the third jhana, composed of two factors — pleasure and singleness of preoccupation.

o Catuttha-jhana: the fourth jhana, composed of two
factors — equanimity and pure mindfulness, which is the single
preoccupation of your concentration.

This is what is meant by conduct leading to higher knowledge.

Here we will discuss how to give rise to the first jhana.

Directed thought: Think of the breath until you can recognize it both as it comes in and as it goes out.

Singleness of preoccupation: Let the mind become one, at rest with
the breath, not straying away to other objects. Watch over your thoughts
so that they deal only with the breath until the breath becomes

Evaluation: Focus exclusively on issues connected with the breath and
acquaint yourself with how to let this comfortable breath-sensation
spread and co-ordinate with the other breath-sensations in the body. Let
these breath-sensations spread until they all merge. Once the body has
been soothed by the breath, feelings of pain will grow calm. The body
will be filled with good breath energy.

For jhana to arise, these three factors have to be brought to bear on
the same breath sensation. This breath sensation can lead all the way
to the fourth jhana, the level of refinement depending on the act of
focusing through the power of mindfulness: Sometimes the focus is broad,
sometimes narrow, in accordance with the different factors on the
different levels. But to be really beneficial, you should let the breath
spread as broadly as possible, being constantly aware throughout the
body of the various aspects of the breath. You will then get excellent
results from your practice of jhana. You might even gain liberating
insight on this level, because the first jhana is what constitutes
threshold concentration (upacara samadhi).

If you want to go on to fixed penetration (appana samadhi),
you should keep practicing this level until you are skilled, i.e.,
skilled at fixing the mind on a single object, at adjusting and
expanding the object, and at staying in place. When you want your
concentration to have energy, make the breath light and refined — but
keep your mindfulness broad. Otherwise, the mind might go into arupa jhana,
where it has no sense of the form of the body; or you might sit
absolutely still, without any awareness of the body at all, while the
mind pays attention to another area, such as simple awareness,
completely disregarding the body or sitting unconscious, like a log.
This is bahira-jhana, concentration outside of the Buddha’s teachings, incapable of giving rise to liberating insight.

So when you begin, you should develop the three above-mentioned
factors as much as possible, and the mind will then be able to go on to
the second jhana. When you fix the mind on the breath repeatedly using
these three beginning factors, they give rise to two more factors:

Rapture: a sense of fullness and refreshment of body and mind, going straight to the heart, independent of all else.

Pleasure: a sense of ease arising from the body’s being still and undisturbed (kaya-passaddhi), and from the mind’s being at rest on its own, placid and serene (citta-passaddhi).

The factors of the first jhana, then, are of two sorts: cause and
result. The causes are directed thought, evaluation, and singleness of
preoccupation; the results, rapture and pleasure, .

As for the second jhana, with its three factors of rapture, pleasure,
and singleness of preoccupation: This refers to the state of mind that
has tasted the results coming from the first jhana. The sense of
fullness becomes more powerful, as does the sense of pleasure, allowing
the mind to abandon its thinking and evaluating, so that the singleness
of the preoccupation takes the lead from here on in. Make the mind still
in the refined sense of the breath. Body and mind are full and at ease;
the mind is more firmly implanted in its object than before. After a
while, as you keep focusing in, the sense of fullness and pleasure
begins to move. Focus the mind down to a more refined level and you will
enter the third jhana.

The third jhana has two factors — pleasure and singleness of
preoccupation: The mind is solitary; the body, solitary and still. The
breath is refined and broad, with a white glow like cotton-wool
throughout the body, stilling all painful feelings in body and mind. Not
a single Hindrance (nivarana) arises to interfere. The four
properties — earth, water, fire, and wind — are at peace with one
another in every part: You could almost say that they’re pure throughout
the entire body. The mind is completely still — steady, solid, and sure
— reaching oneness in a solitary sense of ease. Body and mind are in
solitude. Even if you’re with a group of people, you feel as if you were
alone. The mind is strong, ardent, and expansive. Mindfulness is broad —
spreading throughout the body, focused exclusively on the present, not
affected by any allusions to past or future. The breath gives rise to an
energy that is pure white. The mind has power. The focus is strong, and
the light brilliant. Energy is unwavering, so that you are no longer
concerned with your sense of pleasure, which dilates somewhat. This
causes the mind to focus on into the fourth jhana.

The fourth jhana has two factors — equanimity and singleness of
preoccupation (or mindfulness). The breath energy is still, with no
ripples or gaps. The properties of the body are undisturbed. As for the
mind, it is undisturbed with regard to all three time periods:
uninvolved with the past, uninvolved with the future, undisturbed by the
present. When the mind stays with this undisturbed sense of equanimity,
this is the true meaning of ’singleness of preoccupation.’ The breath
is at peace, the body at peace in every part. There is no need to use
the in-and-out breath. The breath energy has reached saturation point.

The four properties (dhatu) are equal, all with the same
characteristics. The mind is completely at peace, with a brilliance
streaming in all directions. The brilliance of the breath at peace
reaches full strength. The brilliance of the mind arises from the power
of mindfulness focused on all four of the great frames of reference:
body, feelings, mind, and mental qualities. The question of their being
four doesn’t arise, for in this mental moment they coalesce in perfect
unity. The brilliance of the mind and of the body, which arises from the
power of their solitary stillness, shines as jagariyanuyoga, the purifying inner fire (tapas)
that can dispel darkness thoroughly. The bright light of the mind
reaches full strength. The purity of the different parts of the breath
energy keeps the other properties in good order. The body is completely
at peace, like a factory at rest. In other words, you don’t have to use
the in-and-out breath. The body develops potency; the mind, resilient
power. When these reach saturation point, if you then want to give rise
to knowledge, shift your awareness so that it dilates slightly, and the
important skills that arise from the power of the mind — such as the
Eight Skills — will appear, i.e.,:

1 Vipassana-ñana: clear insight into the elements, aggregates, and sense media.

2 Manomayiddhi: the ability to achieve one’s aims through the power of thought.

3 Iddhividhi: the ability to display a variety of supra-normal powers.

4 Dibba-sota: clairaudience, the ability to hear far distant sounds.

5 Cetopariya-ñana: the ability to know the mental states of other people.

6 Pubbe-nivasanussati-ñana: the ability to remember
past lives. (This is a basis for proving whether death is followed by
annihilation or rebirth, and whether or not there really are other
levels of existence.)

7 Dibba-cakkhu: clairvoyance, the inner eye that arises from the power of the mind, relying to some extent on the optic nerves.

8 Asavakkhaya-ñana: knowing how to eliminate the fermentations of defilement as they relate to your various forms of knowledge.

If you want to give rise to supernormal powers, formulate an
intention at that point, and it will appear openly, so that ordinary
people will be able to see it.

Both of these aspects — knowledge and power — can lead to mastery on
the level of the world and of the Dhamma. The properties in the body
acquire potency; the mind becomes a potent center of consciousness. This
is the science of the mind on an advanced level, giving rise to an
advanced form of Buddhist learning: lokavidu, wide-ranging knowledge of the cosmos.

To develop the factors discussed here is to warrant the name, ñaya-patipanno, one whose conduct leads to higher knowledge.

(The moment in which the enemies of the body — impure properties — disband and disappear is termed ’sankhata-lakkhana-nirodha,’
conditioned disbanding. When the enemies of the mind — i.e., the five
Hindrances — disappear completely, leaving the mind radiant and clear,
that is termed ‘bhujissaka-nirodha,’ disbanding in a state of dependency.)

4 Samici-patipanno: being a person whose conduct is masterful. This refers to our conduct in developing two qualities: tranquillity and insight.

a. The practice of tranquillity means stilling the mind in a
single preoccupation, free from the five Hindrances, so as to attain the
four levels of rupa-jhana.

b. The practice of insight means seeing clearly and truly into the nature of all conditioned things (sankhara),
e.g., seeing that they are inconstant, stressful, and not-self; gaining
discernment that sees distinctly in terms of the four Noble Truths;
seeing conditioned things from both sides, i.e., the side that is
inconstant, stressful, and not-self, and the side that is constant,
pleasant, and self; giving rise to the state of pure knowledge and
vision termed ‘gotarabhu-ñana,’ escaping from the assumption that
things are either constant or inconstant; knowing both the side that
arises and disbands, as well as the side that doesn’t arise and doesn’t
disband, without making assumptions about or being attached to either
side. Theories, views, and conceits disappear. The mind doesn’t fasten
onto anything, past, present, or future. This is termed ‘asesa-viraga-nirodha,’ utter disbanding and dispassion. This is the way of insight.

Insight, analyzed in detail in terms of the Doctrine in line with the
conventions of the sages of the past, means knowledge of the four Noble

— Dukkha: mental and physical stress, the result of being overcome by the power of birth, aging, illness, death, and defilement.

— Samudaya: the cause of stress — i.e., tanha, craving or thirst — which includes kama-tanha, insatiable craving for sensual pleasures; bhava-tanha, the desire to be or have certain states of being; and vibhava-tanha, the desire not to be or have certain states of being.

— Nirodha: the disbanding of stress; the extinguishing of the fires of defilement.

— Magga: the path of practice that puts an end to craving, the cause of stress.

All four of these Noble Truths already exist in the world, but
ordinarily are hard to perceive because they show us only their images
or reflections. On this level, we can’t yet see them for what they
really are. But for the Buddha to know them, he had to start out with
the reflections that appear, before he was able to trace them back to
the real thing. This is why they are termed Noble Truths: They are the
possessions of noble people; only those who search and explore can know
them. Thus, the Noble Truths have two aspects: their first aspect, which
is the way they are found in the experience of ordinary people in
general; and their second aspect, which is more subtle and can be known
only by people of wisdom who explore in the area of the heart and mind.

An example of the four Truths on the ordinary level, as experienced
by ordinary people: Physical discomfort, such as illness or disease, can
be called the truth of stress. Knowing enough to buy the right
medicine, or being a doctor who knows the medicine for curing that
particular kind of disease, is the truth of the path. As the symptoms of
the disease disappear, that is termed conditional disbanding. When the
disease is cured, that is the truth of disbanding. If, however, we
suffer from a disease, such as a wound, but don’t know how to treat it —
simply wanting it to heal and using whatever medicine we can lay our
hands on, without knowing whether it’s right or wrong (this is termed
craving and ignorance) — the wound will only worsen, for the medicine we
take isn’t right for the disease. This is the truth of the cause of

If we want to go deeper than the ordinary level, we have to practice
correctly in line with the way of the Path, developing our virtue,
concentration, and discernment, before we will be able to perceive the
four Truths on the noble level.

The essence of the Dhamma, by its nature, lies mixed with its outer
accretions. If we don’t have the right knowledge and skill, we won’t get
very much use from the Dhamma. Whatever benefits we do get will be only
on the mundane level. We can make a comparison with diamond or gold ore
buried in the ground: If a person doesn’t have enough knowledge to
extract the ore, he will get only the traces that come flowing out in
spring water or that adhere to rocks along the surface of the ground.
These will earn him only a meager profit, which won’t be enough for a
living. A person with knowledge and skill, though, can use the gold to
make a living without having to search for any other occupations, but
he’ll have to follow the traces down into the earth until he meets with
the real thing, i.e., the genuine ore. Even just a single hunk — if it’s
large and of high quality, weighing a ton — will enable him to rest
secure for the rest of his life. In the same way, those who are wise in
Buddhism see stress as a noble treasure and so go digging down into
stress; they see the cause of stress as a noble treasure and so dig down
into it; they see the Path as a noble treasure; they see disbanding and
liberation as noble treasures and so dig on down until they meet with
the genuine ore. Only then can they be called noble sages.

Those of us who are dauntless enough to unearth our inner resources
in this way will be able to use those resources to protect ourselves
throughout time, gaining release from the cycle of rebirth, the jail for
imprisoning foolish and ignorant people. We who like to explore in
general should be glad that we’ve come across a good mine with genuine
ore whose traces lie scattered about for us to see. If we don’t
disregard the things we see, we’ll meet the four Truths mentioned above.

If we were to summarize the four Noble Truths briefly, we could do so
as follows: The objects or preoccupations of the mind that arise and
disappear are the truth of stress. The mental act that enters into and
takes possession of those objects is the truth of the cause of stress.
The mental act that focuses in on those objects and examines them as
they arise and disappear is the truth of the Path; and the mental act
that lets go of those objects as they arise and disappear is the truth
of disbanding, or release — i.e., that which knows the reality that
doesn’t arise and doesn’t disappear.

These, then, are the four Noble Truths. Those who see these four
Truths directly for themselves will give rise to the noble path and
fruition termed ’stream-entry.’ Such people are a field of merit for the
world: worthy of respect, worthy of welcome, worthy of offerings and

Whoever possesses the qualities mentioned here qualifies rightly as a
member of the Sangha in line with the Doctrine and Discipline taught by
the Buddha, and may be called, samici-patipanno, one whose conduct is masterful, reaching the apex of the mundane level and becoming transcendent.

B. Now we will discuss the second main
heading, the Noble Sangha, the family of the Noble Ones, which may be
joined by virtue of having developed one’s inner qualities, with no need
to go through the formalities of the Vinaya. The Noble Sangha, like the
conventional Sangha, is composed of four groups:

1 Stream-winners: those who have reached the beginning
stage of the flow to nibbana. At most they will have to be reborn only
seven more times. They have developed enough tranquillity and insight
for the Path to converge in a single mental instant, enabling them to
gain true insight into all phenomena — mundane and transcendent — as
they really are. When they see in this way, they have cut three of the
Fetters (sanyojana) that keep living beings under the spell of the world. The Fetters they have cut absolutely are —

a Sakkaya-ditthi: the view that the body — together with
its properties, aggregates, and sense media — belongs to the self.
Stream-winners, unlike ordinary run-of-the-mill people, don’t hold that
these things are the self or belong to the self. They see them simply as
common property — that we didn’t bring them when we came and won’t take
them when we go — and that they arise simply through kamma.

b Vicikiccha: doubt and uncertainty about the practices
one is following. Stream-winners have no such doubts, because they have
reached the quality attained by the Buddha.

c Silabbata-paramasa: attachment to customs or
traditions that are held to be good in this way or that. Stream-winners
are not attached to any external practices dealing with actions or

These three Fetters, stream-winners have cut absolutely, once and for
all. They have attained the noble quality of having closed off
completely the four states of deprivation. In other words, they are
destined never again to be born in hell, on the level of the angry
demons, the level of the hungry ghosts, or the level of common animals.
This is what it means to close off all four states of deprivation.

2 Once-returners: those who have gained the second
level of Awakening, who will attain nibbana after being born once more
in the world. Once-returners have cut three Fetters, like
stream-winners, but have also reduced the amount of desire, anger, and
delusion in their hearts. (They know how to keep the mind within

3. Non-returners: those who have awakened to the third
level and who will never again return to the human world. After they die
they will be born in the Brahma worlds on the levels of the Pure
Abodes, there to attain nibbana. They have absolutely abandoned five of
the Fetters —

a Sakkaya-ditthi.

b Vicikiccha.

c Silabbata-paramasa.

d Kamaraga: passion and delight caused by the power of sensual desires and sensual objects.

e Patigha: irritation and displeasure caused by the power of anger.

4 Arahants: those who have awakened to the ultimate
level of the four Noble Truths and have reached the quality of
deathlessness, free from all the fermentations of defilement; whose
ignorance, craving, attachments, and kamma have ended. Arahants have
abandoned their Fetters by means of the factors of the highest of the
noble paths. The Fetters they have abandoned are ten:

a Sakkaya-ditthi.

b Vicikiccha.

c Silabbata-paramasa.

d Kamaraga.

e Patigha.

f Ruparaga: passion for the sense of form that can act as the object of rupa jhana.

g Aruparaga: passion for formless phenomena, such as the feeling of pleasure that comes from seclusion.

h Mana: conceiving or construing oneself to be like this or that.

i Uddhacca: restlessness and distraction, being carried
away with one’s thoughts. The thoughts on this level deal with the
activity of discernment, which is something good, but they go out of

j Avijja: ignorance, i.e., not recognizing stress, its
cause, its disbanding, and the path to its disbanding — in short, not
being acquainted with the conditioned phenomena (sankhata dhamma) that exist within each of us; not being acquainted with the unconditioned (asankhata dhamma), which is a genuine property, existing naturally. This, briefly, is what avijja means.

Another meaning for avijja is not being acquainted with the way we
are — e.g., not recognizing our concepts of the past and thus becoming
immersed in them; not recognizing our concepts of the future; not
recognizing the present, which is the important aspect of all physical
and mental phenomena. Thus, delusion with regard to all three time
periods is called avijja: counterfeit knowledge, falling short of the
four genuine Truths.

These ten Fetters, arahants — both men and women — have cut
absolutely, freeing themselves from every sort of bond or domination, so
that their hearts are brilliant and dazzling, like the full moon in a
cloudless sky. This is samici-patipanno — one whose conduct is masterful — on the transcendent level.

The four groups mentioned here are termed the Ariya Sangha, the Noble
Community, which can be found only in Buddhism. Therefore, all
Buddhists who daily pay homage to the Sangha should make themselves
aware of what the Sangha is, of how genuine or counterfeit the members
of the Sangha are. Otherwise, our respect will be blind and misguided,
ignorant of the true nature of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. We should
use our judgment and reason to be selective so that we can help one
another look after the state of the religion, bringing it into proper
line with the principles of the Buddha’s teachings.

The Sangha can be compared to a tree: Some members are like the
heartwood, others are like the sapwood, others are like the outer bark,
and still others are like parasitic creepers. Another popular analogy is
to compare the Sangha to a jewel. Now, there are many kinds of jewels,
just as there are many parts to a tree: artificial gems, zircons,
rubies, amethysts, sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds. Just as all of
these are called jewels, and are all of differing value, so it is with
the members of the Sangha. Whoever is rich in discernment will obtain a
valuable jewel as an adornment. Whoever is poor in discernment will end
up with nothing but artificial gems or bits of gravel: Some people
believe that all who wear the yellow robe are alike. They ‘make
donations to the yellow robe,’ or ‘pay respect to the yellow robe,’ or
‘make donations to the virtuous’… Thus I ask that all Buddhists make a
point of learning where the gems of the religion that we as a nation
revere may be found.

A person who doesn’t know what the Sangha is, is like a child who
doesn’t know his family and relatives — who doesn’t know who his father
is, who his mother is, who his elder brothers and sisters are. When this
is the case, he has no one to rely on. If he tries to rely on others,
he can do so only as long as he has money in his pockets. As soon as he
runs out of money, he’s in for trouble: His friends and companions are
sure to act as if they don’t recognize him; and he can’t turn to his
family and relatives because he doesn’t know who they are. So in the end
he’ll meet with nothing but suffering.

This is why we’re taught that, as long as we still have life, we
shouldn’t rest complacent. We should urgently make the virtues of the
Sangha our guardians — because our friend, the body, can be relied on
only as long as it doesn’t die. And when the time comes, who will care
for us aside from our guardians, the virtues of the Sangha?

We shouldn’t waste our time engrossed simply with the life of the
body for, as far as I can see, there’s nothing to the life of the body
but eating and then sleeping, sleeping and then eating again. If we let
ourselves get stuck simply on the level of sleeping and eating, we’re
headed for trouble. This can be illustrated with a story:

Once in a village by the seaside, there came a time of unbalance in
the natural elements, and large numbers of the livestock — the water
buffaloes — died of the plague. The men of the village, fearing that the
disease would spread, took the buffalo carcasses and threw them into
the sea. As the carcasses floated away from shore, a flock of crows came
to feed on them for many days. Each day, when the crows had eaten their
fill, they would fly back to spend the night in the trees by the shore;
and then would fly out the following dawn to continue eating. As days
passed, and the carcasses floated further and further out to sea, some
of the crows — seeing the hardships in flying back to shore — decided to
spend the night floating on the carcasses; others of the flock, though,
didn’t mind the hardships and continued flying back to shore every

Finally, when the carcasses had floated so far out to sea that flying
back and forth was no longer possible, the flock decided to abandon
that source of food and to search for a new source of food on land. One
of the crows, though, had stayed with the carcasses; when he saw that
his fellows were no longer coming to claim a share of the food, he
became overjoyed, thinking that the food he had would last him a long
time. He became so engrossed in his eating that he never thought of
looking back to shore. As the carcasses went floating further and
further out, swarms of fish came from below to devour them until there
was nothing left to eat. Finally, the remains of the carcasses sank deep
into the sea; and at that point, the crow decided that the time had
come to fly back to shore. With this in mind, he flew to the north, but
didn’t see land. He flew to the south, to the east and west, but didn’t
see land. Finally, he ran out of strength and could fly no further, and
so lowered his wings and dropped into the sea, where he became food for
the fishes.

This is human life. If we let ourselves become engrossed only with
eating and sleeping and physical pleasures, without searching for virtue
— i.e., if we don’t practice the virtues of the Sangha as we’ve been
taught — we’re sure to reap the rewards — suffering — just like the crow
who fell to his death in the sea. This story is about us: The sea
stands for the world, the flood of rebirth; the buffalo carcasses stand
for the body; the trees on the shore stand for the Dhamma, and the crows
stand for the heart — i.e., sometimes we feel like practicing the
Dhamma and sometimes we don’t.

The virtues of the Sangha are subtle, deep, and hard to perceive. If
we don’t have knowledge of ourselves, we won’t be able to see them, just
as a mute person doesn’t know how to speak his native tongue.

Here I would like to tell another story to illustrate what it means
not to know the virtues of the Sangha. Once there was a mute person who
made his living by playing a conch shell trumpet. Now, the way he played
the conch shell was to make it sound like human voices or animal calls.
When he had perfected his skill, he wandered about the cities and
country towns, playing his conch. One day he went to play in a village
deep in the countryside. As he was about to reach the village, he
stopped to rest under the shade of a tree and picked up his conch to
practice for a moment. Within minutes a swarm of people, hearing the
sound of the conch, came bursting from the village to see what it was.
They came across the mute man sitting under the tree and so asked him,
‘What was that beautiful sound we heard a moment ago?’ The mute man
pointed to the conch shell lying nearby. The people, thinking that they
had heard the cry of the conch, ran over to tap on it to make it cry
again, but it didn’t make a sound. Some of them picked it up and tried
shaking it, but still no sound, so they put it back down. Others turned
it over to see exactly where its cry came from, but no matter what they
did, the sound of the conch wouldn’t come out. So they ran back to the
mute person.

The mute person didn’t know what to say, but he could tell from their
actions that they wanted to know what made the sound of the conch come
out in such a variety of calls, so he pointed to his mouth. The
villagers ran to take a look. They had him open his mouth and looked up
and down inside, but didn’t see how it could be made to sound. So the
mute man flickered his tongue for them to see. With this, they realized
that the sound came from the mute man’s tongue; and so they tried
flickering their own tongues, but no beautiful sounds came out. So they
ran back to the mute man, who blew air out of his mouth, meaning that
the sound came from the breath. They tried blowing air from their own
mouths, but still no beautiful sounds. Finally, the mute man reached for
the conch, put it to his lips — and out came the beautiful sounds: the
sounds of people crying, people laughing, people wailing and mourning,
the sounds of birds, mice, and forest beasts.

So it is with us: If we don’t know how to train ourselves so as to
attain the virtues of the Sangha, we won’t know how beneficial to us the
Sangha can be. We’ll become uncivilized savages, not knowing whether
the Sangha is good or bad, and we’ll end up like the villagers who
didn’t know where the sound of the conch came from.

This story doesn’t refer to anything distant: The mute man, producing
various sounds from his conch shell, stands for preaching monks. For
example, sometimes they try to be correct, proper, and principled in
their preaching; sometimes they preach like animals, i.e., using a
song-like voice or cracking jokes that go beyond the bounds of the
Dhamma and Vinaya. In this way, they are like the man blowing the conch.
As for the villagers who came running wide-eyed to hear the sound of
the conch, they stand for Buddhist lay people who don’t understand the
virtues of the Sangha and thus are destined not to find the Sangha, just
as the villagers couldn’t find the sound of the conch. When this is the
case, they will simply shell out money to hear the sound of conch
trumpets, without any thought of the practices taught by the Buddha.
Monks will be deluded into blowing conch shells for their living,
without any thought of the qualities of the Sangha; and so our religion
will degenerate day by day, becoming ultimately a theater or playhouse
for the world.

This has been an extended discussion of the Triple Gem. If we were to
put it briefly, there wouldn’t be a great deal to say. We’ve kept the
discussion drawn-out in this way so as to show the general usefulness of
the Triple Gem for those who revere it. If you want to go for refuge in
the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha in a way that will reach their genuine
benefits, then you should gather their main points into yourself, training yourself so as to give rise to the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha in your heart. This is where the value of the Triple Gem lies.


The gist of our discussion of the Triple Gem comes down simply to this:

A. ‘Buddha’ can be divided into a number of levels. The
‘Buddha’ of his physical representatives refers to Buddha images,
stupas, and places worthy of veneration such as his birthplace, the
place of his Awakening, the place where he delivered his first sermon,
and the place where he entered total nibbana, which at present lie
within the boundaries of India and Nepal. All of these things qualify on
the physical level as symbols of the Buddha for those who revere them,
but they may be disqualified if the people who revere them lack the
necessary inner qualifications. Take Buddha images as an example: You
should understand Buddha images as having three characteristic types —

1. those inhabited by angry demons;
2. those inhabited by divinities;
3. those that people of virtue have invested with the potency of the mind — these can be termed, ‘inhabited by the Dhamma.’

In other words, Buddha images can be beneficial or harmful depending
on how they are used by those who revere them. Even people who use them
as charms in committing robbery, casting spells, or performing black
magic may get results because of the power of their conviction. But if
we can be selective and use these images in ways that are right, the
potency they contain will benefit us, bringing us blessings and
protecting us from danger. Thus, the symbols of the Buddha can function
in various ways. There is much more to this topic, but if we were to
discuss it here, it would draw things out even further. These images can
either qualify or be disqualified as symbols of the Buddha, depending
on the people who revere them, but the images in themselves are neutral.

The important point for people who hope for true welfare, though, is
to invest themselves with the qualities that serve on the inner level as
symbols of reverence for the Buddha. These qualities are three —

1 Sati: wakefulness.

2 Pañña: the intuitive discernment and cognitive skill that come from concentrating the mind.

3 Vimutti: purity and release from mental defilement: This is the essence of ‘Buddha-ratanam,’ the gem of the Buddha.

B. Dhamma: Good Dhamma is of three sorts

1 Pariyatti: This refers to studying and memorizing
passages from the Canon, which qualifies on the physical level as a
symbol of the Dhamma taught by the Buddha. But this, too, can either
qualify or be disqualified as a symbol. Some people, for example, use
passages from the Dhamma in committing robbery or casting spells. For
instance, they repeat the chant of the virtues of the Dhamma or the
phrase, ‘Namo buddhaya,’ three times or seven times, and then
commit thievery or highway robbery, believing that they have made
themselves invincible. Or when casting spells, they repeat the phrase, ‘Na-metta, mo-karuna, da-love me, I won’t go, you come, omasavaha’ — they say that this makes a woman really fall for a man. This sort of thing disqualifies the phrase, even though its original meaning may have been something good.

But if we revere the Dhamma and make use of it through the power of
our conviction, memorizing passages of Pali for the sake of what is good
and pure, and then putting them into use, they will give rise to merit.
For example, if we repeat the phrase, ‘Dhammam saranam gacchami (I go to the Dhamma for refuge),’ or ‘Namo buddhaya
(Homage to the Buddha),’ with heartfelt conviction, giving rise to a
sense of joy, this mental state can then serve to protect us from
certain kinds of accidents and harm. We may reap real benefits from the
phrase we repeat. This is something that people who have respect for the
Dhamma should investigate carefully.

These passages, then, can qualify as symbols of the Dhamma — or be disqualified, if we don’t know their true aims.

2 Patipatti: This refers to behaving sincerely in line with the Buddha’s teachings:

a Sila: putting our thoughts, words, and deeds in order.

b Samadhi: keeping the mind firmly intent in the four levels of jhana, free from the mental Hindrances.

3 Pativedha: This refers to extinguishing defilement
completely, releasing the mind from all suffering and stress. This
qualifies as the essence of the Dhamma.

All three of the levels mentioned here form the inner qualifications of those who truly revere and follow the Dhamma.

C. Sangha: If we translate this as a substantive, it
refers to those who shave their heads and wear the yellow robe as a sign
of having been ordained. These people can qualify on the external level
as symbols of the Sangha or they may be disqualified. To qualify, they
have to meet three criteria:

1 Vatthu-sampatti: The individual to be ordained as a monk has to possess the proper characteristics as stipulated in the Vinaya.

2 Sangha-sampatti: The monks who gather to witness the ordination constitute a legitimate quorum.

3 Sima-sampatti: The place in which the ordination is held has had its boundaries properly defined.

When an individual ordains in line with these criteria, he qualifies
as a symbol of the Sangha. But viewed from another angle, if the
individual has met these criteria and becomes a monk but doesn’t behave
in line with the Dhamma and Vinaya — disobeying the training rules
established by the Buddha, committing major and minor offenses with no
sense of shame — he becomes disqualified on the personal level, just as a
Buddha image that has been properly consecrated but is then put to
improper uses by evil or lowminded people is bound to lead to harm. A
monk with no sense of conscience or shame is like a Buddha image
inhabited by an angry demon. Normally, when an angry demon takes
possession of a person, it reveals itself by its behavior. For example,
when some angry demons take possession, they like to run around naked,
harassing other people. If a person has no sense of conscience or shame,
it’s as if he were possessed by an angry demon. In other words, if he
doesn’t have any moral restraint, it’s as if he lacked the clothing
needed to hide his nakedness. And when this is the case, he is
disqualified as a symbol of the Sangha.

A person who meets the three external qualifications mentioned above
has to behave in line with the inner virtues of the Sangha —

1.a. Caga: relinquishing external and internal enemies (worries and concerns).

b. Sila: keeping one’s words and deeds in proper order.

To have these two qualities is to qualify as a human being (supatipanno).

2.a. Hiri: having a sense of shame at the thought of doing evil; not daring to do evil in public or private.

b. Ottappa: having a sense of dread at the thought of the results of doing evil.

If a monk has these qualities (termed ‘deva-dhamma,’ the principles of heavenly beings), it’s as if he were inhabited by a celestial being (uju-patipanno).

3 Samadhi: steadying the mind so as to reach the first
jhana and then developing it up to the fourth level, making it radiant
and free from the mental Hindrances. If a monk does this, it’s as if he
were inhabited by a Brahma, for he has the inner qualifications of a
Brahma (ñaya-patipanno).

4 Pañña, vijja, vimutti: gaining release from the
mundane level, abandoning the three Fetters beginning with
self-identification, reaching the Dhamma of the Buddha, attaining the
state where we are guaranteed by the Buddha as being upright,
dependable, honest, and sincere toward the Dhamma and Vinaya; gaining
Awakening following his example, becoming a reliable member of the
Sangha. Such people are termed ‘ariya sotapanna’ — Noble Ones who have reached the stream — and deserve to be called ‘visuddhi-deva,’
divinities through purity, whose virtues are higher than those of human
beings, deities, Indra, or Brahma. Even though such people are still
subject to death and rebirth, they are not like other human beings. The
pure aspect of their heart will never again become defiled. Thus they
deserve to be called, in a partial sense, divinities through purity

All four of these qualities form the inner qualifications of the Sangha.

Speaking in terms of these inner qualifications, every person can
become a member of the Sangha. But if we don’t develop these qualities
within ourselves and then take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha
only on the external level, how will we get the full benefits? We’re
taught that if we can’t depend on ourselves, there is no way we can hope
to depend on others. For example, if an evil person breaks the law,
commits robbery, and then asks the government to give him help, you can
rest assured that the only help the government will give him will be to
build a place for him to live in discomfort — a jail. In the same way,
if we don’t behave in line with the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and
Sangha, how can we go around taking refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and
Sangha? The Buddha taught:

Attahi attano natho, ko hi natho paro siya.
‘The self is its own refuge, for who else could be refuge?’

Thus we should develop the inner qualifications of the Buddha,
Dhamma, and Sangha within ourselves. Then we will belong to the company
of the Buddha’s followers. If we belong to the religion as lay women, we
are called ‘upasika.’ If we belong as lay men, we are called ‘upasaka.’ If we observe the ten precepts and are endowed with the virtues of the Sangha, we are termed ’samanera.’ If we take a vow to join the community of those who fully observe the 227 precepts, we are termed ‘bhikkhu.’
When we join the company of the Buddha’s followers in this way, all
people in general who practice and revere the teachings will benefit —
just as when we meet the qualifications of a good citizen as set out by
the government: If we are trained and educated to be good, we are bound
to help the nation progress and prosper. But if we don’t view ourselves
as part of the nation and don’t think of making a living to support
ourselves, and instead simply go around looking for pleasure or for help
from others, the results are bound to be bad.

Therefore, we as Buddhists have to study and practice before we can
be Buddhists of virtue and value. We will then reap rewards in the
visible present. And even if we are no longer able to live in this
world, then when our bodies die and we head for another world, we have a
good bourn awaiting us, as in the verse from the Maha-samaya Sutta:

Ye keci buddham saranam katase
Na te gamissanti apaya-bhumim.
Pahaya manusam deham
Deva-kayam paripuressantiti.

‘Those who reach the refuge of the Buddha (in their own hearts, with
purity) will close off all four of the lower realms (such as hell). When
they leave this life they are bound for a good bourn (heaven), there to
fill the ranks of the gods.’

Buddham dhammam sangham jivitam yava-nibbanam saranam gacchami.

‘I go to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha as my life and refuge till reaching nibbana.’


The third of the three collections forming the Pali canon, composed
of systematic treatises based on lists of categories drawn from the
Buddha’s teachings.
States of deprivation, i.e., the four lower realms of existence:
rebirth in hell, as a hungry ghost, as an angry demon, or as a common
animal. In Buddhism, none of these states are regarded as eternal
Sense media — the six senses (including the intellect as the sixth) and their respective objects.
An inhabitant of the higher heavens of form and formlessness, a
position earned — but not forever — through the cultivation of virtue
and meditative absorption, along with the attitudes of limitless love,
compassion, appreciation, and equanimity.
Change of lineage knowledge — the glimpse of nibbana that changes one from an ordinary, run-of-the-mill person to a Noble One.
Absorption in a single object or preoccupation. Rupa-jhana refers
to absorption in a physical sensation; arupa-jhana, to absorption in a
mental notion or state.
Acts of intention that result in states of being and birth.
Aggregate. The five aggregates are the component parts of sensory
perception; physical and mental phenomena as they are directly
experienced: form (sense data), feeling, perception, thought-formations,
and consciousness.
Liberation; the unbinding of the mind from greed, anger, and
delusion; from sensations and mental acts. As this term is also used to
refer to the extinguishing of a fire, it carries the connotations of
stilling, cooling, and peace. (According to the physics taught at the
time of the Buddha, the property of fire exists in a latent state to a
greater or lesser degree in all objects. When activated, it seizes and
sticks to its fuel. When extinguished, it becomes unbound.)
Hindrance; one of five mental qualities that hinder the mind from
attaining concentration and discernment: sensual desire, ill will, sloth
& torpor, restlessness & anxiety, and uncertainty.
The name of the most ancient recension of the Buddhist scriptures
now extant; and — by extension — of the language in which it was
The first of the three collections forming the Pali canon, dealing
with the disciplinary rules of the monastic order. The Buddha’s own name
for the religion he founded was, ‘this Dhamma-Vinaya’ — this Doctrine
and Discipline.

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