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June 2024
« Jan    
Lesson 13 -a) E-Social Engineering in Practice-Raising Buddha The Zone for children and other thoughts from Michael Mendizza- b)E-Social Transformation in Practice-INTRODUCTION TO THE SONADANDA SUTTA.-c) E-Economic Emancipation in Practice- Economic Principles in Early Buddhism- d) E-Sutta Pitaka in Practice -Iccha Sutta Desire-e) E-Vinaya Pitaka in Practice -Contentedness-f) The Abhidhamma in Practice-Rebirth Consciousness-g) Eightfold Path in Practice-The Noble Eightfold Path The Way to the End of Suffering-h) Jhanas in Practice The Jhanas In Theravada Buddhist Meditation by Henepola Gunaratana
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a) E-Social Engineering in Practice

Raising Buddha

Zone for children and other thoughts from Michael Mendizza

The following article is reprinted in
its entirety from Michael Mendizza.

The American educational system was
modeled after the Prussian Army, an organization skilled in transforming
ordinary citizens into soldiers who follow orders without hesitation. Factory
forms of education were needed to feed the emerging industrial society and
children were the raw materials of these factories. Social engineers,
anticipating the needs of the emerging factory society, took their cues from
the military and fashioned our present system using simple Pavlovian
conditioning, behavior modification, external rewards and punishments. Like
bottles in an assembly line parenting styles followed the model set by these
institutions. Soon what had never been before became commonplace, expected. The
social engineering goal implicit in the original design became transparent. You
can see it today. Each morning millions of parents obediently place their
children on the conveyor belts of these institutions with the best of

The social engineering goals of
American education may have served a specific need at a specific time and in
this light may have been “well-intended.” The industrial society is gone,
however, and so is the need for the kind of human being this system was
designed to produce. But the intent imbedded in the original design remains,
and like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice keeps grinding out the same kind of human
being year after year.

Referring to a Carnegie study, Joseph
Chilton Pearce points out that only five percent of everything we learn in our
lives we learn in school. The remaining ninety-five percent is the result of
direct experience. And of this five percent we learn in school most remember
only three to five percent for any length of time. Bottom line productivity of
three to five percent of five percent may have been adequate to meet the social
engineering needs of our emerging industrial society. But not today, not in our
brave new future-shocked world.

Gordon Moore, an inventor of the
integrated circuit, who later went on to run Intel, noted years ago that the
surfaces of transistors are shrinking approximately fifty percent every two
years. Every two years we get twice the circuitry running at twice the speed for
the same price. In human terms the adult brain possesses 100 billion neurons.
By most calculations 100 billion bits of RAM will be standard equipment in
computers in the next five years. This exponential growth is known as Moore’s Law of
Accelerating Returns. Merrill-Lynch, feeling the impact of Moore’s Law,
estimates that “fifty percent of the average employee’s skills will be outdated
in three to five years.” The faster information and technology grow the faster
basic assumptions underlying our approach to parenting and education become

Traditional parenting and educational
models assume that children must be trained in certain skills, embody certain
information in order to become productive citizens, which is a nice way of
saying, “to get a good job.” This translates into curriculum, standards, tests
and grades, measurements to insure that the assembly line is producing

Standardized curriculum and “teaching
to the tests” create industrialized human beings, which are increasingly out of
date in today’s fast changing world. Reformers tinker with the conveyor belt,
starting children earlier each year. Recess, physical education, art and music
have been eliminated, making room for more tests and drills. Despite these
efforts the assembly line falls further behind. Large scale social institutions
cannot meet the demand. They can’t adapt fast enough.

Visionaries have long proclaimed that
the system can’t be fixed. Educational reform, like recycling, is a bad idea
that looks good. Recycling is a bad idea because it promotes the manufacture,
use and disposal of wasteful toxic products. A deeper response would be to
create products that are not toxic or wasteful. Reform is not the answer. The
time has come for a deeper response to parenting and to education.

Responding deeply calls into question
basic assumptions. Educating children, for example, is not the next frontier.
Children aren’t the problem, never have been. Children are natural learners.
The last decade of brain research confirms that human development is experience
dependent. The outer environment and the inner world of brain development are
two sides of a single complex system. Experience with the environment alters
the brain’s structure, chemistry, and genetic expression, often profoundly
throughout life. Children aren’t the problem. We can’t fix the system.

The environment sculpts the
developing brain. This points to what Joseph Chilton Pearce refers to as the
“model imperative.” Reaching and engaging individual adults, moms and dads, families,
coaches, their personal networks and communities, now supported by information
technologies, is the next great challenge in education.

With the speed, passion and
whole systems approach that took us to the Moon we are now challenged to awaken
and develop a new and fundamentally different adult model, one that sees
through the false hopes and false fears imposed by our current forms of
parenting and education. Only such a model can mentor a new generation of
children and through them a new intelligent, creative, sustainable culture.

The typical adult mind, however,
having been so deeply conditioned by its parenting and educational experiences,
has lost the capacity to see beyond the limitations imposed by this
conditioning. David Bohm, a world-class physicist, put it this way:

We are faced with a breakdown of
general social order and human values that threatens stability throughout the
world. Existing knowledge cannot meet this challenge. Something much deeper is
needed, a completely new approach. I am suggesting that the very means by which
we try to solve our problems is the problem. The source of our problems is
within the structure of thought itself.

Bohm describes how the natural
intelligence of the mind becomes distorted by its conditioning. Conditioning of
past experiences resonates throughout the body and mind as thoughts, images and

Bohm understood that ideas and
theories are not the “absolute truth,” but rather, provisional proposals to be
explored and adapted through examination and play.

The brain loses track of the fleeting
nature of its own processes. It tends to treat almost everything it “knows” as
though it were permanent and “true.” In other words, we form beliefs. We don’t
treat beliefs as proposals. We treat them as facts. Beliefs involve assumptions
that operate beneath our awareness. These tacit assumptions build up over time,
creating a set of predetermined “kneejerk” reflexes. Much of what we call
thought, parenting and education is based on what Bohm calls the “reflex system.”
Conditioned reflexes are great for finding our socks or driving the L.A. freeways. There is a
catch. Reflexes involve little or no intelligence.

A unique characteristic that
distinguishes a brain from other organs is the capacity to create images. Thoughts
are mental images. Beliefs are even stronger mental images. The beliefs we have
about ourselves, our self-image, predispose us to relate to the world in
predictable ways. Compounding our confusion, the brain tends to merge beliefs
with our self-image. If someone challenges a deeply held belief about God or
contrary, for example, we feel as though our very essence is attacked. We
defend our beliefs as if we are attacked physically. The more deeply the brain
is conditioned by beliefs, the more the reflex system is activated. We don’t
choose our reflexes. They happen mechanically. All of this creates a general
state of confusion in the mind. Like a dog chasing its own tail

dog chasing his tail

we try to solve
the confusion in our lives by using the confused mind that created our
confusion. Expecting such a mind to raise healthy, sane and creative children
is crazy. We must bring our own house to order before we can model and mentor
order for our children.

Law of Accelerating Returns compounds this challenge. Historically information
and beliefs had a long shelf life, hundreds or even thousands of years.
Knowledge was power. Not any more. Our beliefs are challenged as the world
speeds up, becomes more abstract, smaller and more complex. The exponential
rate of change is challenging not just particular beliefs but the entire belief
system. The inflation of information devalues its meaning. We are pushed closer
and closer to Bohm’s position of treating what we know as temporary tools, to
be used when appropriate, rather than as absolute truths. Our identification
with knowledge and belief, with its implicit defensiveness, is eroding. The
good news is that this frees energy and attention to access and express other
states, creative intelligence for example.

Joseph Chilton Pearce tackles this in
his latest book, The Biology of Transcendence. Transcendence is defined as
moving beyond limitation and constraint. And what is it that must be

First it is the limitations of one’s
present and earlier stages of development as new stages open and unfold,
physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Second and intimately
interwoven with the first, we must transcend the limitations imposed by
culture. Culture is the particular set of beliefs, customs, and expectations,
the accepted self-world view of the group we develop in how every good little
girl and boy, and later every good parent “should” behave.

Implied in Bohm’s work and that of
Pearce are two fundamentally different “states of mind,” the conditioned mind,
educated, filled with content and reflexive, and the unconditioned, natural or
original mind, pure potential, the innate capacity to learn and therefore to
transcend the limitations and constraints imposed by our conditioning,
self-image and beliefs. The conditioned state focuses on content, the past,
what has been learned. The unconditioned state gives attention to the present,
to capacity, possibility, what new discovery might be made now and the
excitement this possibility brings.

Ashley Montagu, in his book Growing
Young, refers to this original unconditioned state of mind as the “genius of
childhood,” bursting with curiosity, imaginativeness, playfulness,
open-mindedness, willingness to experiment, flexibility, humor, energy,
receptiveness to new ideas, honesty, eagerness to learn and love. None of these
qualities refer to specific content, knowledge or experience. They describe the
natural and therefore optimum state of mind to meet, explore and be transformed
by its interaction with a dynamic changing world.

Our traditional factory-conditioning
model of education values content and asks: “Did we get it right? What is our
score?” Every evaluation implies a degree of failure. This potential failure is
implicit in every learning experience.

The very structure of factory model
implies anxiety, a relative degree of defensiveness as we approach each new
challenge. Failure is built into the system, which cripples learning and

The next frontier in education and
parenting shifts attention from “what is” to what “may be,” to the natural
unconditioned state of the mind and its limitless capacity to learn. From this
perspective we would never ask: “Did you win?”

Our only concern would be: “What did
you learn and did you enjoy the experience?” No failure is implied in these
questions. There is no anxiety. The new frontier is called “state specific
learning and performance.” Pearce summarized this emerging model years ago in
his book Magical Child. “Play on the surface and the work takes place beneath
our conscious awareness.”

State specific learning means that
the “state” of our body and mind as it meets a challenge shapes our response to
that challenge, it shapes our performance. Performance and learning are “state
specific.” Specific skills and content emerge from specific learning states.
Optimum states express as optimum performance, optimum learning.

In optimum states we access the
genius of childhood, the full spectrum of our potential is active, alert, ready
to meet any challenge fully and completely. Athletes call optimum states the
Zone, researchers call it Flow, and children call it Play.

Children are not the problem. The
system was flawed from the beginning and can’t be fixed. Current brain research
and Moore’s Law
of Accelerating Returns points to the environment, what Joseph Chilton Pearce
calls the “model imperative,” as the dominant force that shapes the future of
humanity. The next frontier in parenting and education challenges individual
adults to become adaptive agile learners just like the children they are

We are at the threshold. Attention is
shifting from child development to adult development. Education and parenting
strategies are shifting from content-driven conditioning to the cultivation and
development of optimum learning states.

Only by following intelligent,
adaptive, creative, learning adults, something our present systems discourages,
will our children develop the capacity to lead humanity into a sustainable
future. Developing competent adult learners, passionate individuals who are
learning explosively right alongside the children they love, this is the next

b)E-Social Transformation in




   THIS Dialogue comes
very appropriately immediately after the Ambattha. That dealt with the
general question of pride of birth, or social position. This deals with the special
question of what is the essential quality which makes a man a Brahman. The
conclusion is, no doubt, substantially the same. But there is a difference, and
the difference is instructive.

   In trying to gain
over Ambattha to his (the Buddha’s) view of the essential
distinction–rather than birth or social position–between man and man, Gotama
includes the whole list as set out above in the thirteen divisions of the Sâmañña-phala{1}.
In trying to gain over Sonadanda to his (the Buddha’s) view of
what is the essential quality that makes a man a Brahman, he gives the same
details, but puts the Ghânas (the states of Ecstasy) not under Conduct,
but under Paññâ (Intelligence).

   The reason seems to
be simply that the verse, on which the exposition in the Ambattha turns,
mentions only Wisdom and Conduct (containing no word for Intelligence), and
that it is not thought accurate to put the states of Ecstasy (which are Indian,
not specially Buddhist) under Wisdom. It is true that the Buddhist position is
that ‘goodness is a function of intelligence, as beauty is of health’ (to quote
the words of Matthew Bassendine). But under Intelligence they always
distinguish two phases–the enquiring, and necessarily therefore doubting,
activity, of the mind; and the final stage of emancipation and peace when the
laws of the universe are clearly seen, and firmly grasped, and cheerfully
acquiesced in.

See the summary above, pp. 57-59,
in the Introduction to the Sâmañña-phala.}

{p. 138}

It is this latter phase which they
call Wisdom (Viggâ){1}–the contrary of the Aviggâ, which is
ignorance of the action of Karma, of the Four Noble Truths, and of the doctrine
of the Âsavas or Intoxications. The man who knows these; who, finally and
permanently out of the jungle and in the open, quite beyond the stage of
‘wasting his wonder on the fabulous soul,’ has attained to, and remains in this
state of Nibbâna in Arahatship, is not only, in Buddhist terminology,
called a Brahman, but is, in fact, declared to be the only true Brahman.

   It is amazing that
Sonadanda, as learned as he is wealthy, does not see that this,
the logical outcome of the Buddha’s argument, and carefully led up to in the
final paragraph of the exposition{2}, is really incompatible with the supremacy
of the Brahmans in the ordinary sense of that word. He is baffled by the skill
with which he is gradually led on, by the usual Socratic method adopted in so
many of the Dialogues, to accept one self-evident truth after another. There is
indeed nothing, till we come to that last paragraph, which any intelligent
Brahman could not, with safety, and with due regard to his own doctrine, fully
accept. In other words, the doctrine of Brahman supremacy was intellectually
indefensible. It was really quite inconsistent with the ethical standard of the
times, which the Brahmans, in common with the rest of the people, fully

   Our Sutta is by no
means the only one in which the same, or a similar, argument leads up to the
same, or a similar, conclusion. It will aid us in understanding the real gist
of our Sutta to mention one or two of these.

   In the Tikanna
and Gânussoni Suttas of the Anguttara{3} the
question put by the Buddha is: ‘What sort of person do you Brahmans acknowledge
to be a Tevigga Brahman (a Brahman with threefold lore)?’

   The answer of each
of the Brahmans is, in the words of our Sutta, § 4: ‘A Brahman well born on
both sides, of pure descent, through the father and through the mother, back
through seven generations, with no slur put upon him, and no reproach, in
respect of birth–a repeater (of the sacred words) knowing the mystic verses by
heart, one who has mastered the Three Vedas, with the indices, the ritual, the
phonology, and the exegesis (as a fourth), and with the

The English equivalents do not exactly cover the corresponding Pâli terms,
which are not, in the texts, used always with scrupulous distinctiveness.

2. §
23 of the text, and of the translation below.

Vol. i, pp. 163-168.}

{p. 139}

legends as a fifth–a man learned in
the (etymologies of the) words and in the grammar, versed in Lokâyata
(Nature-Lore){1} and in the theory of the signs on the body of a great man.’

   Whereupon the
Buddha rejoins that in the teaching of the Arahats the ‘threefold lore’ is
different; and on being asked what it is, answers in the words of sections 93,
95, and 97 of the Sâmañña-phala Sutta, which are quoted as the last
three paragraphs of his exposition in our Sutta, that is to say,

   a. The
knowledge of one’s own previous births.

   b. The
knowledge of other people’s previous births.

   c. The
knowledge of the Four Truths, and of the Four Intoxications (Âsavas), leading
on to the emancipation of Arahatship.

   The only difference
is that at the end of each section, and after the words setting forth the
emancipation, the following sentence is added:

   ’This first (or
second, or third) lore hath he required. Ignorance is dispelled within him, and
wisdom has been born. The darkness has been dissipated, the light has appeared.
(And all this) inasmuch as he has continued in earnestness, in zeal, in mastery
of himself.’

   And at the end of
the whole the following verses are also added:

   ’Him do they honour
whose heart,–unswerving in goodness, and wise,
   Given to earnest thought,–rests in his own control,
   Pacified, stedfast. And him resolute, able in method,
   Threefold in knowledge, dispelling the darkness, the
conqueror of Death, who
   Lived for the weal of gods and of men delivered from folly,
   Him of the threefold lore, mindful and self-possessed,
   Him do they honour, the Buddha, our Gotama, wearing now,
   Conqueror, too, of Birth, the last of his mortal frames!

   '’Tis he who is a
Brâhmana indeed
   Who knows the births that he has lived before;
   And sees (with Heavenly Eye) the states of bliss,
   And states of woe, that other men pass through;
   Has reached the end of all rebirths, become
   A sage, perfect in insight, Arahat,
   In these three modes of knowledge threefold wise.

See below in the Introduction
to the next Sutta.}

{p. 140}

   Him do I call a
Brahman, threefold wise,
   And not the man who mutters o’er again
      The mystic verse so often muttered through

   How important a
place this doctrine occupied in early Buddhism is made evident by the fact that
this latter stanza, with variations at the close, is so constantly repeated. We
find it in the 99th Sutta of the Iti-vuttaka (p. 100) and in the 91st Sutta of
the Magghima (the Brahmâyu Sutta). And it is quoted also, not only in
this Sutta in the Anguttara, and in another Sutta in the Samyutta
(I, 167), but also in the collection of verses from the Pitakas called
the Dhammapada (verse 423); and also in the other collection of such verses
(probably belonging to some other school of Buddhists), now preserved in the
oldest MS. yet discovered in India, the so-called Kharoshthi MS.,
portions of which have simultaneously found their way, last year, to both St.
Petersburg and Paris.

   The whole section
of the Dhammapada, which contains this quotation, consists of no less than
forty verses, each of which, from one point of view or another, emphasise this
point of the identification, by the Buddhists, of the Arahat with the Brahman.
Twenty-seven of them are taken from the Vâsettha Sutta of the Sutta
Nipâta, in which the question raised is precisely the same as that raised in
our Sutta, and in which the reply, though different in details, amounts to much
the same as the reply given here.

   Two conclusions
force themselves upon us. It is, in the first place, a striking proof of the
high social esteem in which the Brahmans, as such, and quite irrespective of
character, were held by the masses of the people. We have hitherto only had the
views which the Brahmans held about themselves. And very absurd they seem to
readers whose own vivid sense of superiority rests on a self-complacency quite
as inexpugnable as that of the Brahmans. Here we have evidence from an
independent source,–evidence all the stronger because it is found in Suttas in
which the exclusive claims of the Brahmans by birth are vigorously contested.
When the Buddhists, in selecting a title of honour for those they valued so highly,
for the best of men, for the Arahats, selected the name of Brahman, it is clear
that that word, in the opinion of the early Buddhists, conveyed to the minds of
the people an exalted meaning, a connotation of real veneration and respect.
And it is not likely that this would have been the case unless the Brahmans
had, at least as

{p. 141}

a general rule, deserved it–and on
other grounds than the mere prerogative of birth.

   In the second
place, if the contention of the Buddhists had been universally accepted–if the
word Brahman had come to mean, not only a man of a certain descent, but
exclusively a man of a certain character and insight–then the present caste
system of India
could never have grown up. But it was obviously impossible that the contention
should succeed.

   The method, adopted
by all reformers, of pouring new wine into old bottles, putting new meanings
into ancient words, can only succeed under conditions, that, in this case, were
non-existent. And it is always open to the danger that, with the old and
hallowed word, the old superstition associated with it will also survive. It
was a method largely adopted by the Buddhists; and in numerous other cases, to
which I have elsewhere called attention, adopted with success. The subsequent
language of India
is full of phrases and words which bear, not the meaning which they previously
bore, but the new and higher meaning put into them by Buddhists. But in this
case the two ideas were too widely apart, too contradictory. A physical meaning
cannot be replaced by an ethical one. The actual facts of life, which they
could not alter,–Could not, indeed, attempt to alter,–were a constant
influence, against their view, too strong to be overcome. Brahmans by birth,
many of them, perhaps most of them, engaged in various worldly trades and
occupations, and therefore Brahmans only by birth, were so constant and
so important a factor in the daily and hourly life of the people, that the idea
of birth could not be dissociated from the word. The Buddhists failed. And they
not only failed, their very choice of the word as a title of honour, must
(through the wide influence they exercised for so many centuries throughout and
beyond the valley of the Ganges) have actually
afforded a fresh strength to the veneration which the word inspired. The very
means they adopted to lend weight to their doctrine of emancipation became a
weapon to be turned against themselves.

   It is unlikely that
this really mattered much. The point was only one detail in a broad scheme
which was doomed from the outset to failure–that is if failure to attain
immediate and lasting acceptance can rightly be called the failure of a theory
of life.

   A theory which
placed the ideal in Self-conquest, regarded final salvation as obtainable in
this world, and in this world

{p. 142}

only, and only by self-conquest–a
view of life that ignored the ’soul’ and brought the very gods themselves under
the domain of law–a religious movement which aimed its keenest shafts against
all those forms of belief in the supernatural and mysterious, appealing most
strongly alike to the hopes and to the fears of the people–a philosophy that
confined itself to going back, step by step, from effect to cause, and poured
scorn on speculations as to the ultimate origin and end of all things–might
gain, by the powerful personality of its founder and the enthusiasm and zeal of
his early followers, a certain measure of temporary success. But it fought
against too many vested interests at once, it raised up too many enemies, it tried
in ‘pouring new wine into the old bottles’ to retain too much of the ancient
phraseology, for lasting victory–at least at that time, and in an advancing
country then assimilating to itself surrounding peoples at a lower grade of
culture. The end was inevitable. And it was actually brought about, not by
persecution, but by the gradual weakening of the theory itself, the gradual
creeping back, under new forms and new names, of the more popular beliefs.

   The very event
which seemed, in the eyes of the world, to be the most striking proof of the
success of the new movement, the conversion and strenuous support of Asoka, the
most powerful ruler India had had–indeed the first real overlord over
practically the whole of India–only hastened the decline. The adhesion of
large numbers of nominal converts, more especially from the newly incorporated
and less advanced provinces, produced weakness, rather than strength, in the
movement for reform. The day of compromise had come. Every relaxation of the
old thoroughgoing position was widely supported by converts only half
converted. And the margin of difference between the Buddhists and their
opponents gradually faded almost entirely away. The soul theory, step by step,
gained again the upper hand. The caste system was gradually built up into a
completely organised system. The social supremacy of the Brahmans by birth
became accepted as an incontrovertible fact. And the in flood of popular
superstition which overwhelmed the Buddhist movement, overwhelmed also the whole
pantheon of the Vedic gods. Buddhism and Brahmanism alike passed practically
away, and modern Hinduism arose on the ruins of both.

   The struggle is now
being renewed under conditions perhaps, on the whole, more favourable. The tone
of worldliness and love of material comfort, the eager restlessness

{p. 143}

of modern social, and economic
competition, the degradation of learning to a mere means of getting on and
making money, are no doubt all unfavourable to any movement for the social and
religious elevation of a people. But history shows, notably in the case of the
Reformation in Europe, how powerfully the contact of two diverse views of life
tends to widen the thoughts of men. Both India and Europe in the twentieth
century may be fairly expected to afford fresh examples of the same influence.
And in India the powerful aid of the new methods of science and of historical
criticism will lend their invaluable aid to the party endeavouring, now once
again, to place the ideal, not in birth, but in character and wisdom.

c) E-Economic Emancipation in Practice

Economic Principles in Early Buddhism

In the Samyutta Nikaya we find this famous saying by King Pasenadi who - being physically in a bad shape - is surprised as to how much the Buddha was able to help in his wordly affairs:

Indeed the Buddha has shown me
Compassion in two different ways:
For my welfare right here and now,
and also for in the future. (SN, en)

Besides the fact that Siddhartha Gotama as the heir to a royal clan
enjoyed proper education, culture and prosperity one other very
important event in his life shaped his understanding of Samsara more
than anything else: The first watch of meditation during that night of awakenment, when he - by the power of the 4th jhana and his gift of
recollection - started to remember innumerable previous lifetimes:

“With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright,
unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained
to imperturbability, he directs and inclines it to knowledge of the
recollection of past lives.3
He recollects his manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two births,
three births, four, five, ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, one
hundred, one thousand, one hundred thousand, many aeons of cosmic
contraction, many aeons of cosmic expansion, many aeons of cosmic
contraction and expansion, [recollecting,] ‘There I had such a name,
belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such
my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing
away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name,
belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such
my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing
away from that state, I re-arose here.’ Thus he recollects his manifold
past lives in their modes and details. (MN 27 et al., en)

sounds like the most profound in-depth (and at the same time pragmatic,
real life based) education anyone could dream of. It would give you all
worldly wisdom condensed in a nutshell. You must feel like the oldest
human being around.

Now, especially in the current economic and financial turmoil
inflicted upon our samsaric world, it may be of some interest to look
at some of the timeless principles the Buddha shared with his friends
and followers. Below you will find a few suggestions drawn from the

What advice did he give?

For one, he was definitely not in favor of anyone leveraging 80:1
:-), which in other words, could be called a form of deception. But, at
the same time, and probably to the astonishment of many mainstream
Buddhists, there are a lot of principles which today would be
identified as favoring a free / open market system with minimal
governmental oversight. Lets have a closer look at a couple of these

1. Step ladder to wealth.

In the famous Jataka story of the mouse merchant,
the Bodhisatta in his rebirth as the minister of the royal treasury
inspires a young man to pick up a dead mouse and selling it to a tavern
using the profit in turn to build a fortune. One step after the other.

Lets look at this story of careful wealth building  (abbrev. with comments):

upon a time, an important adviser to a certain king was on his way to a
meeting with the king and other advisers. Out of the corner of his eye,
he saw a dead mouse by the roadside. He said to those who were with
him. “Even from such small beginnings as this dead mouse, an energetic young fellow could build a fortune.
If he worked hard and used his intelligence, he could start a business
and support a wife and family.”

A passerby
heard the remark. He knew this was a famous adviser to the king, so he
decided to follow his words. He picked up the dead mouse by the tail
and went off with it. As luck would have it, before he had gone even a
block, a shopkeeper stopped him. He said, “My cat has been pestering me
all morning. I’ll give you two copper coins for that mouse.” So it was

This is a
very humble start indeed. Now, taking each step on the ladder one by
one this young man utilizes the gains of one (business) operation to
launch the next bigger one.

the two copper coins, he bought sweet cakes, and waited by the side of
the road with them and some water. As he expected, some people who
picked flowers for making garlands were returning from work. Since they
were all hungry and thirsty, they agreed to buy sweet cakes and water
for the price of a bunch of flowers from each of them. In the evening,
the man sold the flowers in the city. With some of the money he bought
more sweet cakes and returned the next day to sell to the flower

It is
interesting to note, that he just utilizes the gains of his one
activity to build on that success. He is not getting into debt to
finance his business, so to speak, but uses his gains as thoroughly as
possible. Another trait is his knowledge of processes. He knows what
others are in need of. Making money by generating a win-win situation
for both parties. But again, his beginnings are painstakingly slow. His
success grows exponentially though (the power of compounding, :-)

went on for a while, until one day there was a terrible storm, with
heavy rains and high winds. While walking by the king’s pleasure
garden, he saw that many branches had been blown off the trees and were
lying all around. So he offered to the king’s gardener that he would
clear it all away for him, if he could keep the branches. The lazy
gardener quickly agreed. The man found some children playing in a park
across the street. They were glad to collect all the branches and brush
at the entrance to the pleasure garden, for the price of just one sweet
cake for each child.Along came the king’s potter, who was always on the
lookout for firewood for his glazing oven. When he saw the piles of
wood the children had just collected, he paid the man a handsome price
for it. He even threw into the bargain some of his pots.

With his
profits from selling the flowers and the firewood, the man opened up a
refreshment shop. One day all the local grass mowers, who were on their
way into town, stopped in his shop. He gave them free sweet cakes and
drinks. They were surprised at his generosity and asked, “What can we
do for you?” He said there was nothing for them to do now, but he would
let them know in the future.

He seems to
like the beverage industry (inspired by the tavern?)…and he is
networking and showing generosity. Quite a bit actually.

A week later, he heard that a horse dealer was coming to the city with
500 horses to sell. So he got in touch with the grass mowers and told
each of them to give him a bundle of grass. He told them not to sell
any grass to the horse dealer until he had sold his. In this way he got
a very good price.

This is
funny. He is creating a shortage on the market to profit from it. Good
for him that they did not have price gouging laws back then :-)

passed until one day, in his refreshment shop, some customers told him
that a new ship from a foreign country had just anchored in the port.
He saw this to be the opportunity he had been waiting for. He thought
and thought until he came up with a good business plan.First, he went
to a jeweler friend of his and paid a low price for a very valuable
gold ring, with a beautiful red ruby in it. He knew that the foreign
ship was from a country that had no rubies of its own, where gold too
was expensive. So he gave the wonderful ring to the captain of the ship
as an advance on his commission. To earn this commission, the captain
agreed to send all his passengers to him as a broker. He would then
lead them to the best shops in the city. In turn, the man got the
merchants to pay him a commission for sending customers to them.

Now his
networking and all the money earned so far come in handy. He sees and
seizes this opportunity becoming quite wealthy as a customs broker :-)

as a middle man in this way, after several ships came into port, the
man became very rich. Being pleased with his success, he also
remembered that it had all started with the words of the king’s wise
adviser. So he decided to give him a gift of 100,000 gold coins. This
was half his entire wealth. After making the proper arrangements, he
met with the king’s adviser and gave him the gift, along with his
humble thanks.

The adviser
was amazed, and he asked, “How did you earn so much wealth to afford
such a generous gift?” The man told him it had all started with the
adviser’s own words not so long ago. They had led him to a dead mouse,
a hungry cat, sweet cakes, bunches of flowers, storm damaged tree
branches, children in the park, the king’s potter, a refreshment shop,
grass for 500 horses, a golden ruby ring, good business contacts, and
finally a large fortune.

Hearing all
this, the royal adviser thought to himself, “It would not be good to
lose the talents of such an energetic man. I too have much wealth, as
well as my beloved only daughter. As this man is single, he deserves to
marry her. Then he can inherit my wealth in addition to his own, and my
daughter will be well cared for.”

This all came
to pass, and after the wise adviser died, the one who had followed his
advice became the richest man in the city. The king appointed him to
the adviser’s position. Throughout his remaining life, he
generously gave his money for the happiness and well being of many

2. Financial Freedom and debtlessness.

In a few instances the Buddha discusses debt explicitely and although noting that debt may not always be avoided,
one should make up one’s mind and always remember the peace of mind
which goes along with debtlessness. Hence Buddhist lay people were
incouraged to “earn more than you spend“.
A life based on credit ratings is for those who may believe that this
one life is their one and only. Those who do belief in a future and
past beyond this particular life may show more patience and equanimity
when it comes to material necessities and - at times - frugality. Which
does not mean that they won’t enjoy riches (think of Anathapindika and
other rich Buddhist devotees in the days of the Buddha) or strive for
them (but for different reasons, see below) and who will probably know
that their wealth is a result of giving and turn their life to
philanthropic goals. Through their own intention, that is, not forced.

ThenAnathapindika the
householder went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down
to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there the Blessed One said
to him: “There are these four kinds of bliss that can be attained in
the proper season, on the proper occasions, by a householder partaking
of sensuality. Which four? The bliss of having, the bliss of [making
use of] wealth, the bliss of debtlessness, the bliss of blamelessness.

“And what is the bliss of having? There is the case where the son of
a good family has wealth earned through his efforts & enterprise,
amassed through the strength of his arm, and piled up through the sweat
of his brow, righteous wealth righteously gained. When he thinks, ‘I
have wealth earned through my efforts & enterprise, amassed through
the strength of my arm, and piled up through the sweat of my brow,
righteous wealth righteously gained,’ he experiences bliss, he
experiences joy. This is called the bliss of having.

“And what is the bliss of wealth? There is the case where the son of
a good family, using the wealth earned through his efforts &
enterprise, amassed through the strength of his arm, and piled up
through the sweat of his brow, righteous wealth righteously gained,
partakes of his wealth and makes merit. When he thinks, ‘Using the
wealth earned through my efforts & enterprise, amassed through the
strength of my arm, and piled up through the sweat of my brow,
righteous wealth righteously gained, I partake of wealth and make merit,’ he experiences bliss, he experiences joy. This is called the bliss of wealth.

“And what is the bliss of debtlessness? There is the case where the
son of a good family owes no debt, great or small, to anyone at all.
When he thinks, ‘I owe no debt, great or small, to anyone at all,’ he
experiences bliss, he experiences joy. This is called the bliss of

“And what is the bliss of blamelessness? There is the case where a
disciple of the noble ones is endowed with blameless bodily kamma,
blameless verbal kamma, blameless mental kamma. When he thinks, ‘I am
endowed with blameless bodily kamma, blameless verbal kamma, blameless
mental kamma,’ he experiences bliss, he experiences joy. This is called
the bliss of blamelessness.

3. Taxes and the reason not to rely on government

In the AN of the Suttanipata are a couple of suttas in which the
Buddha specifically outlines how Buddhist lay people could best utilize
their money. The Buddha splits the income into 4 parts.

The first part is supposed to be reserved for taxes and insurance. The first quarter is used as a buffer to protect ones wealth against the king / government or
anyone else trying to get a hold on ones money backed by laws. A 25%
tax rate is something most people can only dream of. Anyway, the
remainder of the money should be equally divided between saving for
your business (re-investment), enjoying life (making friends and family
happy), and finally enough money to contribute it to donation or higher
purposes, like supporting poor people or those who forsake an amenable
life for the purpose of gaining enlightenment, i.e. the Sangha.

about the 25% overall taxation rate. In another very interesting Jataka
story the Buddha outlines to King Pasenadi why a “nanny-state” type
government, even if it intents to do good, will produce inferior
results than individual (private) effort. Here is the funny Jataka
story debunking Socialism 2550 B.C:

“Thou that of late,” etc. — This story the Master while at Jetavana told concerning the Feast of Friendship.

In the house of Anathapindika, they say, five hundred Brethren were
constantly fed. The house was continually like a place of refreshment
for the assembly of the Brethren, bright with the sheen of their yellow
robes and blown upon with saintly odours. So one day the king in making
a solemn procession around the city caught sight of the assembly of the
Brethren in the Treasurer’s house, and thinking, “I too will grant a
perpetual alms to the assembly of saints,” he went to the monastery and
after greeting the Master he instituted perpetual alms for five hundred Brethren.

Thenceforth there is a perpetual giving of alms in the king’s house,
even choice food of rice with the perfume of the rain upon it, but there are none to give it with their own hands, with marks of affection and love, but the king’s ministers dispense the food,
and the Brethren do not care to sit down and eat it, but taking the
various dainty foods, they go each to the house of his own retainers,
and giving them the food, themselves eat whatever is set before them,
whether coarse or dainty.

Now one day much wild fruit was brought to the king. The king said, “Give it to the Order of the Brethren.”
They went to the refectory and came and told the king, “There is not a single Brother there.”
“What, is it not time yet?” said the king.
“Yes it is time,” they said, “but the Brethren take the food in your
house, and then go to the abode of their trusty servitors, and give the
food to theiu, and themselves eat whatsoever is served up to them,
whether it be coarse or dainty.”

The king said, “Our food is dainty. Why in the world do they abstain
from ours and eat some other food ? ” And thinking, “I will inquire of
the Master,” he went to the monastery and asked him.

The Master said, “The best food is that which is given in love.
Owing to the absence of those who by giving in love establish friendly
feeling, the Brethren take the food and eat it in some friendly place
of their own. There is no flavour, Sire, equal to that of love. That
which is given without love, though it be composed of the four sweet
things, is not worth so much as wild rice given with love
. Wise
men of old, when sickness arose amongst them, though the king with his
five families of leeches provided remedies, if the sickness were not
thus assuaged, repaired to their intimate friends and by eating broth
of wild rice and millet, without salt, or even leaves without salt,
sprinkled with water only, were healed of their sickness.” And with
these words at their request he told them a story of the past… (Kesava Jataka, IV.346)

4. Proper Insurance

“And what does it mean to be consummate in vigilance?
There is the case when a lay person has righteous wealth — righteously
gained, coming from his initiative, his striving, his making an effort,
gathered by the strength of his arm, earned by his sweat — he manages
to protect his wealth through vigilance thinking, ‘How shall
neither kings (i.e. government) nor thieves make off with this property
of mine, nor fire burn it, nor water sweep it away, nor hateful heirs
make off with it
?’ This is called being consummate in vigilance. (Probably the best sutta on this topic by far: AN 8.54)

There are many more texts focusing on economic/financial advice in
the suttas. Please take these few passages as a (first) glimpse.

is evident from these passages the ideal of self-emancipation which
reverbarates in early Buddhism (and partially in Theravada today) is
closer in its nature to a lean government which does not interfere too
much with its citizens. However, the importance of personal
responsibility based on virtue and understanding the vast implications
of the law of karma are all pervasive. The lay follower of the Buddha
depicted in the suttas cited above seems to be best reflected as a very
hard working individual trying to gain wealth for the sole benefit of
all around him (the poor and needy, friends and family, his spiritual
community) using it in the form of right livelihood and as a part of
his practice.

“Tumhehi kiccaṃ ātappaṃ akkhātāro tathāgatā,
Paṭipannā vimuccanti jhāyino mārabandhanā”ti. Dhp 276

 d) E-Sutta Pitaka in Practice

Iccha Sutta

[A deva:]

With what is the world tied down?With the subduingof what is it freed?With the abandoningof what are all bondscut through?

[The Buddha:]

With desire the world is tied down.
With the subduing
of desire it’s freed.
With the abandoning

of desire all bonds
are cut through.

e) E-Vinaya Pitaka in Practice


“And how is a monk content? Just as a bird, wherever it goes, flies with its wings as its
only burden; so too is he content with a set of robes to provide for his body
and almsfood to provide for his hunger. Wherever he goes, he takes only his
barest necessities along. This is how a monk is content.

f) The
Abhidhamma in Practice

Rebirth Consciousness

This is called pa.tisandhi citta, literally “relinking
consciousness.” The pa.tisandhi citta is the act of consciousness which
arises at the first moment of life, the moment of conception. It is
determined by the last kammic citta of the preceding life.

This kammic factor for the arising of a being operates through the
pa.tisandhi. The accumulated tendencies of past lives are carried on to
the pa.tisandhi and so the process of being born, dying and being born
again goes on. Each pa.tisandhi citta is a new one, not the
continuation of the old one in the previous life. Thus there is no
place for a soul concept in rebirth. In the course of one particular
life there is only one pa.tisandhi citta. Once the function of linking
two existences has been performed by the pa.tisandhi, consciousness in
the newly formed embryo immediately goes into the bhava”nga state. This
flows along in the new existence with infinite interruptions by various
stimuli and ends as the cuti citta of that particular existence.

The practice of chanting Buddhist scriptures in the presence of a
dying person is intended to evoke kusala kamma cittas in him so that
the last thought process will be a wholesome one and lead to a
favorable rebirth.

Regardless of the conditions into which humans are born, be they
handicapped or favored in various ways, birth in the human plane is the
result of kusala kamma. It is only in the human plane that one can make
a start to end all suffering. The Buddha has told us that, having left
this human existence, not many will return to it for a long, long time.
Therefore, it is up to us to make the most of this opportunity we have
as human beings.

g) Eightfold Path in Practice

The Noble Eightfold Path
The Way to the End of Suffering

Bhikkhu Bodhi

Contents [go up]


The essence of the Buddha’s teaching can be summed up in two
principles: the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. The
first covers the side of doctrine, and the primary response it elicits
is understanding; the second covers the side of discipline, in the
broadest sense of that word, and the primary response it calls for is
practice. In the structure of the teaching these two principles lock
together into an indivisible unity called the dhamma-vinaya,
the doctrine-and-discipline, or, in brief, the Dhamma. The internal
unity of the Dhamma is guaranteed by the fact that the last of the Four
Noble Truths, the truth of the way, is the Noble Eightfold Path, while
the first factor of the Noble Eightfold Path, right view, is the
understanding of the Four Noble Truths. Thus the two principles
penetrate and include one another, the formula of the Four Noble Truths
containing the Eightfold Path and the Noble Eightfold Path containing
the Four Truths.

Given this integral unity, it would be pointless to pose the
question which of the two aspects of the Dhamma has greater value, the
doctrine or the path. But if we did risk the pointless by asking that
question, the answer would have to be the path. The path claims primacy
because it is precisely this that brings the teaching to life. The path
translates the Dhamma from a collection of abstract formulas into a
continually unfolding disclosure of truth. It gives an outlet from the
problem of suffering with which the teaching starts. And it makes the
teaching’s goal, liberation from suffering, accessible to us in our own
experience, where alone it takes on authentic meaning.

To follow the Noble Eightfold Path is a matter of practice rather
than intellectual knowledge, but to apply the path correctly it has to
be properly understood. In fact, right understanding of the path is
itself a part of the practice. It is a facet of right view, the first
path factor, the forerunner and guide for the rest of the path. Thus,
though initial enthusiasm might suggest that the task of intellectual
comprehension may be shelved as a bothersome distraction, mature
consideration reveals it to be quite essential to ultimate success in
the practice.

The present book aims at contributing towards a proper understanding
of the Noble Eightfold Path by investigating its eight factors and
their components to determine exactly what they involve. I have
attempted to be concise, using as the framework for exposition the
Buddha’s own words in explanation of the path factors, as found in the
Sutta Pitaka of the Pali canon. To assist the reader with limited
access to primary sources even in translation, I have tried to confine
my selection of quotations as much as possible (but not completely) to
those found in Venerable Nyanatiloka’s classic anthology, The Word of the Buddha.
In some cases passages taken from that work have been slightly
modified, to accord with my own preferred renderings. For further
amplification of meaning I have sometimes drawn upon the commentaries;
especially in my accounts of concentration and wisdom (Chapters VII and
VIII) I have relied heavily on the Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification),
a vast encyclopedic work which systematizes the practice of the path in
a detailed and comprehensive manner. Limitations of space prevent an
exhaustive treatment of each factor. To compensate for this deficiency
I have included a list of recommended readings at the end, which the
reader may consult for more detailed explanations of individual path
factors. For full commitment to the practice of the path, however,
especially in its advanced stages of concentration and insight, it will
be extremely helpful to have contact with a properly qualified teacher.

— Bhikkhu Bodhi

Abbreviations [go up]

Textual references have been abbreviated as follows:

DN …. Digha Nikaya (number of sutta)
MN …. Majjhima Nikaya (number of sutta)
SN …. Samyutta Nikaya (chapter and number of sutta)
AN …. Anguttara Nikaya (numerical collection and number of sutta)
Dhp …. Dhammapada (verse)
Vism …. Visuddhimagga

References to Vism. are to the chapter and section number of the translation by Bhikkhu Ñanamoli, The Path of Purification (BPS ed. 1975, 1991)

Chapter I [go up]
The Way to the End of Suffering

The search for a spiritual path is born out of suffering. It does
not start with lights and ecstasy, but with the hard tacks of pain,
disappointment, and confusion. However, for suffering to give birth to
a genuine spiritual search, it must amount to more than something
passively received from without. It has to trigger an inner
realization, a perception which pierces through the facile complacency
of our usual encounter with the world to glimpse the insecurity
perpetually gaping underfoot. When this insight dawns, even if only
momentarily, it can precipitate a profound personal crisis. It
overturns accustomed goals and values, mocks our routine
preoccupations, leaves old enjoyments stubbornly unsatisfying.

At first such changes generally are not welcome. We try to deny our
vision and to smother our doubts; we struggle to drive away the
discontent with new pursuits. But the flame of inquiry, once lit,
continues to burn, and if we do not let ourselves be swept away by
superficial readjustments or slouch back into a patched up version of
our natural optimism, eventually the original glimmering of insight
will again flare up, again confront us with our essential plight. It is
precisely at that point, with all escape routes blocked, that we are
ready to seek a way to bring our disquietude to an end. No longer can
we continue to drift complacently through life, driven blindly by our
hunger for sense pleasures and by the pressure of prevailing social
norms. A deeper reality beckons us; we have heard the call of a more
stable, more authentic happiness, and until we arrive at our
destination we cannot rest content.

But it is just then that we find ourselves facing a new difficulty.
Once we come to recognize the need for a spiritual path we discover
that spiritual teachings are by no means homogeneous and mutually
compatible. When we browse through the shelves of humanity’s spiritual
heritage, both ancient and contemporary, we do not find a single tidy
volume but a veritable bazaar of spiritual systems and disciplines each
offering themselves to us as the highest, the fastest, the most
powerful, or the most profound solution to our quest for the Ultimate.
Confronted with this melange, we fall into confusion trying to size
them up — to decide which is truly liberative, a real solution to our
needs, and which is a sidetrack beset with hidden flaws.

One approach to resolving this problem that is popular today is the
eclectic one: to pick and choose from the various traditions whatever
seems amenable to our needs, welding together different practices and
techniques into a synthetic whole that is personally satisfying. Thus
one may combine Buddhist mindfulness meditation with sessions of Hindu
mantra recitation, Christian prayer with Sufi dancing, Jewish Kabbala
with Tibetan visualization exercises. Eclecticism, however, though
sometimes helpful in making a transition from a predominantly worldly
and materialistic way of life to one that takes on a spiritual hue,
eventually wears thin. While it makes a comfortable halfway house, it
is not comfortable as a final vehicle.

There are two interrelated flaws in eclecticism that account for its
ultimate inadequacy. One is that eclecticism compromises the very
traditions it draws upon. The great spiritual traditions themselves do
not propose their disciplines as independent techniques that may be
excised from their setting and freely recombined to enhance the felt
quality of our lives. They present them, rather, as parts of an
integral whole, of a coherent vision regarding the fundamental nature
of reality and the final goal of the spiritual quest. A spiritual
tradition is not a shallow stream in which one can wet one’s feet and
then beat a quick retreat to the shore. It is a mighty, tumultuous
river which would rush through the entire landscape of one’s life, and
if one truly wishes to travel on it, one must be courageous enough to
launch one’s boat and head out for the depths.

The second defect in eclecticism follows from the first. As
spiritual practices are built upon visions regarding the nature of
reality and the final good, these visions are not mutually compatible.
When we honestly examine the teachings of these traditions, we will
find that major differences in perspective reveal themselves to our
sight, differences which cannot be easily dismissed as alternative ways
of saying the same thing. Rather, they point to very different
experiences constituting the supreme goal and the path that must be
trodden to reach that goal.

Hence, because of the differences in perspectives and practices that
the different spiritual traditions propose, once we decide that we have
outgrown eclecticism and feel that we are ready to make a serious
commitment to one particular path, we find ourselves confronted with
the challenge of choosing a path that will lead us to true
enlightenment and liberation. One cue to resolving this dilemma is to
clarify to ourselves our fundamental aim, to determine what we seek in
a genuinely liberative path. If we reflect carefully, it will become
clear that the prime requirement is a way to the end of suffering. All
problems ultimately can be reduced to the problem of suffering; thus
what we need is a way that will end this problem finally and
completely. Both these qualifying words are important. The path has to
lead to a complete end of suffering, to an end of suffering in all its forms, and to a final end of suffering, to bring suffering to an irreversible stop.

But here we run up against another question. How are we to find such
a path — a path which has the capacity to lead us to the full and final
end of suffering? Until we actually follow a path to its goal we cannot
know with certainty where it leads, and in order to follow a path to
its goal we must place complete trust in the efficacy of the path. The
pursuit of a spiritual path is not like selecting a new suit of
clothes. To select a new suit one need only try on a number of suits,
inspect oneself in the mirror, and select the suit in which one appears
most attractive. The choice of a spiritual path is closer to marriage:
one wants a partner for life, one whose companionship will prove as
trustworthy and durable as the pole star in the night sky.

Faced with this new dilemma, we may think that we have reached a
dead end and conclude that we have nothing to guide us but personal
inclination, if not a flip of the coin. However, our selection need not
be as blind and uninformed as we imagine, for we do have a guideline to
help us. Since spiritual paths are generally presented in the framework
of a total teaching, we can evaluate the effectiveness of any
particular path by investigating the teaching which expounds it.

In making this investigation we can look to three criteria as standards for evaluation:

(1) First, the teaching has to give a full and accurate
picture of the range of suffering. If the picture of suffering it gives
is incomplete or defective, then the path it sets forth will most
likely be flawed, unable to yield a satisfactory solution. Just as an
ailing patient needs a doctor who can make a full and correct diagnosis
of his illness, so in seeking release from suffering we need a teaching
that presents a reliable account of our condition.

(2) The second criterion calls for a correct analysis of the
causes giving rise to suffering. The teaching cannot stop with a survey
of the outward symptoms. It has to penetrate beneath the symptoms to
the level of causes, and to describe those causes accurately. If a
teaching makes a faulty causal analysis, there is little likelihood
that its treatment will succeed.

(3) The third criterion pertains directly to the path itself.
It stipulates that the path which the teaching offers has to remove
suffering at its source. This means it must provide a method to cut off
suffering by eradicating its causes. If it fails to bring about this
root-level solution, its value is ultimately nil. The path it
prescribes might help to remove symptoms and make us feel that all is
well; but one afflicted with a fatal disease cannot afford to settle
for cosmetic surgery when below the surface the cause of his malady
continues to thrive.

To sum up, we find three requirements for a teaching proposing to
offer a true path to the end of suffering: first, it has to set forth a
full and accurate picture of the range of suffering; second, it must
present a correct analysis of the causes of suffering; and third, it
must give us the means to eradicate the causes of suffering.

This is not the place to evaluate the various spiritual disciplines
in terms of these criteria. Our concern is only with the Dhamma, the
teaching of the Buddha, and with the solution this teaching offers to
the problem of suffering. That the teaching should be relevant to this
problem is evident from its very nature; for it is formulated, not as a
set of doctrines about the origin and end of things commanding belief,
but as a message of deliverance from suffering claiming to be
verifiable in our own experience. Along with that message there comes a
method of practice, a way leading to the end of suffering. This way is
the Noble Eightfold Path (ariya atthangika magga). The
Eightfold Path stands at the very heart of the Buddha’s teaching. It
was the discovery of the path that gave the Buddha’s own enlightenment
a universal significance and elevated him from the status of a wise and
benevolent sage to that of a world teacher. To his own disciples he was
pre-eminently “the arouser of the path unarisen before, the producer of
the path not produced before, the declarer of the path not declared
before, the knower of the path, the seer of the path, the guide along
the path” (MN 108). And he himself invites the seeker with the promise
and challenge: “You yourselves must strive. The Buddhas are only
teachers. The meditative ones who practice the path are released from
the bonds of evil” (Dhp. v. 276).

To see the Noble Eightfold Path as a viable vehicle to liberation,
we have to check it out against our three criteria: to look at the
Buddha’s account of the range of suffering, his analysis of its causes,
and the programme he offers as a remedy.

The Range of Suffering

The Buddha does not merely touch the problem of suffering
tangentially; he makes it, rather, the very cornerstone of his
teaching. He starts the Four Noble Truths that sum up his message with
the announcement that life is inseparably tied to something he calls dukkha.
The Pali word is often translated as suffering, but it means something
deeper than pain and misery. It refers to a basic unsatisfactoriness
running through our lives, the lives of all but the enlightened.
Sometimes this unsatisfactoriness erupts into the open as sorrow,
grief, disappointment, or despair; but usually it hovers at the edge of
our awareness as a vague unlocalized sense that things are never quite
perfect, never fully adequate to our expectations of what they should
be. This fact of dukkha, the Buddha says, is the only real
spiritual problem. The other problems — the theological and
metaphysical questions that have taunted religious thinkers through the
centuries — he gently waves aside as “matters not tending to
liberation.” What he teaches, he says, is just suffering and the ending
of suffering, dukkha and its cessation.

The Buddha does not stop with generalities. He goes on to expose the different forms that dukkha
takes, both the evident and the subtle. He starts with what is close at
hand, with the suffering inherent in the physical process of life
itself. Here dukkha shows up in the events of birth, aging, and
death, in our susceptibility to sickness, accidents, and injuries, even
in hunger and thirst. It appears again in our inner reactions to
disagreeable situations and events: in the sorrow, anger, frustration,
and fear aroused by painful separations, by unpleasant encounters, by
the failure to get what we want. Even our pleasures, the Buddha says,
are not immune from dukkha. They give us happiness while they
last, but they do not last forever; eventually they must pass away, and
when they go the loss leaves us feeling deprived. Our lives, for the
most part, are strung out between the thirst for pleasure and the fear
of pain. We pass our days running after the one and running away from
the other, seldom enjoying the peace of contentment; real satisfaction
seems somehow always out of reach, just beyond the next horizon. Then
in the end we have to die: to give up the identity we spent our whole
life building, to leave behind everything and everyone we love.

But even death, the Buddha teaches, does not bring us to the end of dukkha,
for the life process does not stop with death. When life ends in one
place, with one body, the “mental continuum,” the individual stream of
consciousness, springs up again elsewhere with a new body as its
physical support. Thus the cycle goes on over and over — birth, aging,
and death — driven by the thirst for more existence. The Buddha
declares that this round of rebirths — called samsara, “the
wandering” — has been turning through beginningless time. It is without
a first point, without temporal origin. No matter how far back in time
we go we always find living beings — ourselves in previous lives —
wandering from one state of existence to another. The Buddha describes
various realms where rebirth can take place: realms of torment, the
animal realm, the human realm, realms of celestial bliss. But none of
these realms can offer a final refuge. Life in any plane must come to
an end. It is impermanent and thus marked with that insecurity which is
the deepest meaning of dukkha. For this reason one aspiring to the complete end of dukkha cannot rest content with any mundane achievement, with any status, but must win emancipation from the entire unstable whirl.

The Causes of Suffering

A teaching proposing to lead to the end of suffering must, as we
said, give a reliable account of its causal origination. For if we want
to put a stop to suffering, we have to stop it where it begins, with
its causes. To stop the causes requires a thorough knowledge of what
they are and how they work; thus the Buddha devotes a sizeable section
of his teaching to laying bare “the truth of the origin of dukkha.”
The origin he locates within ourselves, in a fundamental malady that
permeates our being, causing disorder in our own minds and vitiating
our relationships with others and with the world. The sign of this
malady can be seen in our proclivity to certain unwholesome mental
states called in Pali kilesas, usually translated “defilements.” The most basic defilements are the triad of greed, aversion, and delusion. Greed (lobha)
is self-centered desire: the desire for pleasure and possessions, the
drive for survival, the urge to bolster the sense of ego with power,
status, and prestige. Aversion (dosa) signifies the response of
negation, expressed as rejection, irritation, condemnation, hatred,
enmity, anger, and violence. Delusion (moha) means mental darkness: the thick coat of insensitivity which blocks out clear understanding.

From these three roots emerge the various other defilements —
conceit, jealousy, ambition, lethargy, arrogance, and the rest — and
from all these defilements together, the roots and the branches, comes dukkha
in its diverse forms: as pain and sorrow, as fear and discontent, as
the aimless drifting through the round of birth and death. To gain
freedom from suffering, therefore, we have to eliminate the
defilements. But the work of removing the defilements has to proceed in
a methodical way. It cannot be accomplished simply by an act of will,
by wanting them to go away. The work must be guided by investigation.
We have to find out what the defilements depend upon and then see how
it lies within our power to remove their support.

The Buddha teaches that there is one defilement which gives rise to
all the others, one root which holds them all in place. This root is
ignorance (avijja).1
Ignorance is not mere absence of knowledge, a lack of knowing
particular pieces of information. Ignorance can co-exist with a vast
accumulation of itemized knowledge, and in its own way it can be
tremendously shrewd and resourceful. As the basic root of dukkha,
ignorance is a fundamental darkness shrouding the mind. Sometimes this
ignorance operates in a passive manner, merely obscuring correct
understanding. At other times it takes on an active role: it becomes
the great deceiver, conjuring up a mass of distorted perceptions and
conceptions which the mind grasps as attributes of the world, unaware
that they are its own deluded constructs.

In these erroneous perceptions and ideas we find the soil that
nurtures the defilements. The mind catches sight of some possibility of
pleasure, accepts it at face value, and the result is greed. Our hunger
for gratification is thwarted, obstacles appear, and up spring anger
and aversion. Or we struggle over ambiguities, our sight clouds, and we
become lost in delusion. With this we discover the breeding ground of dukkha:
ignorance issuing in the defilements, the defilements issuing in
suffering. As long as this causal matrix stands we are not yet beyond
danger. We might still find pleasure and enjoyment — sense pleasures,
social pleasures, pleasures of the mind and heart. But no matter how
much pleasure we might experience, no matter how successful we might be
at dodging pain, the basic problem remains at the core of our being and
we continue to move within the bounds of dukkha.

Cutting Off the Causes of Suffering

To free ourselves from suffering fully and finally we have to
eliminate it by the root, and that means to eliminate ignorance. But
how does one go about eliminating ignorance? The answer follows clearly
from the nature of the adversary. Since ignorance is a state of not
knowing things as they really are, what is needed is knowledge of
things as they really are. Not merely conceptual knowledge, knowledge
as idea, but perceptual knowledge, a knowing which is also a seeing.
This kind of knowing is called wisdom (pañña). Wisdom helps to
correct the distorting work of ignorance. It enables us to grasp things
as they are in actuality, directly and immediately, free from the
screen of ideas, views, and assumptions our minds ordinarily set up
between themselves and the real.

To eliminate ignorance we need wisdom, but how is wisdom to be
acquired? As indubitable knowledge of the ultimate nature of things,
wisdom cannot be gained by mere learning, by gathering and accumulating
a battery of facts. However, the Buddha says, wisdom can be cultivated.
It comes into being through a set of conditions, conditions which we
have the power to develop. These conditions are actually mental
factors, components of consciousness, which fit together into a
systematic structure that can be called a path in the word’s essential
meaning: a courseway for movement leading to a goal. The goal here is
the end of suffering, and the path leading to it is the Noble Eightfold
Path with its eight factors: right view, right intention, right speech,
right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and
right concentration.

The Buddha calls this path the middle way (majjhima patipada).
It is the middle way because it steers clear of two extremes, two
misguided attempts to gain release from suffering. One is the extreme
of indulgence in sense pleasures, the attempt to extinguish
dissatisfaction by gratifying desire. This approach gives pleasure, but
the enjoyment won is gross, transitory, and devoid of deep contentment.
The Buddha recognized that sensual desire can exercise a tight grip
over the minds of human beings, and he was keenly aware of how ardently
attached people become to the pleasures of the senses. But he also knew
that this pleasure is far inferior to the happiness that arises from
renunciation, and therefore he repeatedly taught that the way to the
Ultimate eventually requires the relinquishment of sensual desire. Thus
the Buddha describes the indulgence in sense pleasures as “low, common,
worldly, ignoble, not leading to the goal.”

The other extreme is the practice of self-mortification, the attempt
to gain liberation by afflicting the body. This approach may stem from
a genuine aspiration for deliverance, but it works within the compass
of a wrong assumption that renders the energy expended barren of
results. The error is taking the body to be the cause of bondage, when
the real source of trouble lies in the mind — the mind obsessed by
greed, aversion, and delusion. To rid the mind of these defilements the
affliction of the body is not only useless but self-defeating, for it
is the impairment of a necessary instrument. Thus the Buddha describes
this second extreme as “painful, ignoble, not leading to the goal.”2

Aloof from these two extreme approaches is the Noble Eightfold Path,
called the middle way, not in the sense that it effects a compromise
between the extremes, but in the sense that it transcends them both by
avoiding the errors that each involves. The path avoids the extreme of
sense indulgence by its recognition of the futility of desire and its
stress on renunciation. Desire and sensuality, far from being means to
happiness, are springs of suffering to be abandoned as the requisite of
deliverance. But the practice of renunciation does not entail the
tormenting of the body. It consists in mental training, and for this
the body must be fit, a sturdy support for the inward work. Thus the
body is to be looked after well, kept in good health, while the mental
faculties are trained to generate the liberating wisdom. That is the
middle way, the Noble Eightfold Path, which “gives rise to vision,
gives rise to knowledge, and leads to peace, to direct knowledge, to awakenment, to Nibbana.”3

h) Jhanas in Practice

The Jhanas
In Theravada Buddhist Meditation
Henepola Gunaratana


Abbreviations [go up]

PTS = Pali Text Society edition
BBS = Burmese Buddhasasana Samiti edition

A. …. Anguttara Nikaya (PTS)
D. …. Digha Nikaya (PTS)
Dhs. …. Dhammasangani (BBS)
Dhs.A. …. Dhammasangani Atthakatha = Atthasalini (BBS)
M. …. Majjhima Nikaya (PTS)
M.A. …. Majjhima Nikaya Atthakatha (BBS)
Miln. …. Milindapanha (PTS)
PP. …. Path of Purification (translation of Visuddhimagga, by Bhikkhu Ñanamoli; Kandy: BPS, 1975)
S. …. Samyutta Nikaya (PTS)
SA. …. Samyutta Nikaya Atthakatha (BBS)
ST. …. Samyutta Nikaya Tika (BBS)
Vbh. …. Vibhanga (PTS)
Vin.A. …. Vinaya Atthakatha (BBS)
Vism. …. Visuddhimagga (PTS)
Vism.T. …. Visuddhimagga Tika (BBS)

1. Introduction [go up]

The Doctrinal Context of Jhana [go up]

The Buddha says that just as in the great ocean there is but one
taste, the taste of salt, so in his doctrine and discipline there is
but one taste, the taste of freedom. The taste of freedom that pervades
the Buddha’s teaching is the taste of spiritual freedom, which from the
Buddhist perspective means freedom from suffering. In the process
leading to deliverance from suffering, meditation is the means of
generating the inner awakening required for liberation. The methods of
meditation taught in the Theravada Buddhist tradition are based on the
Buddha’s own experience, forged by him in the course of his own quest
for enlightenment. They are designed to re-create in the disciple who
practices them the same essential enlightenment that the Buddha himself
attained when he sat beneath the Bodhi tree, the awakening to the Four
Noble Truths.

The various subjects and methods of meditation expounded in the
Theravada Buddhist scriptures — the Pali canon and its commentaries —
divide into two inter-related systems. One is called the development of
serenity (samathabhavana), the other the development of insight (vipassanabhavana). The former also goes under the name of development of concentration (samadhibhavana), the latter the development of wisdom (paññabhavana).
The practice of serenity meditation aims at developing a calm,
concentrated, unified mind as a means of experiencing inner peace and
as a basis for wisdom. The practice of insight meditation aims at
gaining a direct understanding of the real nature of phenomena. Of the
two, the development of insight is regarded by Buddhism as the
essential key to liberation, the direct antidote to the ignorance
underlying bondage and suffering. Whereas serenity meditation is
recognized as common to both Buddhist and non-Buddhist contemplative
disciplines, insight meditation is held to be the unique discovery of
the Buddha and an unparalleled feature of his path. However, because
the growth of insight presupposes a certain degree of concentration,
and serenity meditation helps to achieve this, the development of
serenity also claims an incontestable place in the Buddhist meditative
process. Together the two types of meditation work to make the mind a
fit instrument for enlightenment. With his mind unified by means of the
development of serenity, made sharp and bright by the development of
insight, the meditator can proceed unobstructed to reach the end of
suffering, Nibbana.

Pivotal to both systems of meditation, though belonging inherently
to the side of serenity, is a set of meditative attainments called the jhanas.
Though translators have offered various renderings of this word,
ranging from the feeble “musing” to the misleading “trance” and the
ambiguous “meditation,” we prefer to leave the word untranslated and to
let its meaning emerge from its contextual usages. From these it is
clear that the jhanas are states of deep mental unification which
result from the centering of the mind upon a single object with such
power of attention that a total immersion in the object takes place.
The early suttas speak of four jhanas, named simply after their
numerical position in the series: the first jhana, the second jhana,
the third jhana and the forth jhana. In the suttas the four repeatedly
appear each described by a standard formula which we will examine later
in detail.

The importance of the jhanas in the Buddhist path can readily be
gauged from the frequency with which they are mentioned throughout the
suttas. The jhanas figure prominently both in the Buddha’s own
experience and in his exhortation to disciples. In his childhood, while
attending an annual plowing festival, the future Buddha spontaneously
entered the first jhana. It was the memory of this childhood incident,
many years later after his futile pursuit of austerities, that revealed
to him the way to enlightenment during his period of deepest
despondency (M.i, 246-47). After taking his seat beneath the Bodhi
tree, the Buddha entered the four jhanas immediately before direction
his mind to the threefold knowledge that issued in his enlightenment
(M.i.247-49). Throughout his active career the four jhanas remained
“his heavenly dwelling” (D.iii,220) to which he resorted in order to
live happily here and now. His understanding of the corruption,
purification and emergence in the jhanas and other meditative
attainments is one of the Tathagata’s ten powers which enable him to
turn the matchless wheel of the Dhamma (M.i,70). Just before his
passing away the Buddha entered the jhanas in direct and reverse order,
and the passing away itself took place directly from the fourth jhana

The Buddha is constantly seen in the suttas encouraging his
disciples to develop jhana. The four jhanas are invariably included in
the complete course of training laid down for disciples.1 They figure in the training as the discipline of higher consciousness (adhicittasikkha), right concentration (sammasamadhi) of the Noble Eightfold Path, and the faculty and power of concentration (samadhindriya, samadhibala).
Though a vehicle of dry insight can be found, indications are that this
path is not an easy one, lacking the aid of the powerful serenity
available to the practitioner of jhana. The way of the jhana attainer
seems by comparison smoother and more pleasurable (A.ii,150-52). The
Buddha even refers to the four jhanas figuratively as a kind of
Nibbana: he calls them immediately visible Nibbana, factorial Nibbana,
Nibbana here and now (A.iv,453-54).

To attain the jhanas, the meditator must begin by eliminating the
unwholesome mental states obstructing inner collectedness, generally
grouped together as the five hindrances (pañcanivarana): sensual desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry and doubt.2
The mind’s absorption on its object is brought about by five opposing
mental states — applied thought, sustained thought, rapture, happiness
and one pointedness3 — called the jhana factors (jhanangani) because they lift the mind to the level of the first jhana and remain there as its defining components.

After reaching the first jhana the ardent meditator can go on to
reach the higher jhanas, which is done by eliminating the coarser
factors in each jhana. Beyond the four jhanas lies another fourfold set
of higher meditative states which deepen still further the element of
serenity. These attainments (aruppa), are the base of boundless
space, the base of boundless consciousness, the base of nothingness,
and the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception.4 In the Pali commentaries these come to be called the four immaterial jhanas (arupajhana), the four preceding states being renamed for the sake of clarity, the four fine-material jhanas (rupajhana). Often the two sets are joined together under the collective title of the eight jhanas or the eight attainments (atthasamapattiyo).

The four jhanas and the four immaterial attainments appear initially
as mundane states of deep serenity pertaining to the preliminary stage
of the Buddhist path, and on this level they help provide the base of
concentration needed for wisdom to arise. But the four jhanas again
reappear in a later stage in the development of the path, in direct
association with liberating wisdom, and they are then designated the supramundane (lokuttara) jhanas.
These supramundane jhanas are the levels of concentration pertaining to
the four degrees of enlightenment experience called the supramundane
paths (magga) and the stages of liberation resulting from them, the four fruits (phala).

Finally, even after full liberation is achieved, the mundane jhanas
can still remain as attainments available to the fully liberated
person, part of his untrammeledcontemplative experience.

Etymology of Jhana [go up]

The great Buddhist commentator Buddhaghosa traces the Pali word “jhana” (Skt. dhyana) to two verbal forms. One, the etymologically correct derivation, is the verb jhayati,
meaning to think or meditate; the other is a more playful derivation,
intended to illuminate its function rather than its verbal source, from
the verb jhapeti meaning to burn up. He explains: “It burns up
opposing states, thus it is jhana” (Vin.A. i, 116), the purport being
that jhana “burns up” or destroys the mental defilements preventing the
developing the development of serenity and insight.

In the same passage Buddhaghosa says that jhana has the characteristic mark of contemplation (upanijjhana).
Contemplation, he states, is twofold: the contemplation of the object
and the contemplation of the characteristics of phenomena. The former
is exercised by the eight attainments of serenity together with their
access, since these contemplate the object used as the basis for
developing concentration; for this reason these attainments are given
the name “jhana” in the mainstream of Pali meditative exposition.
However, Buddhaghosa also allows that the term “jhana” can be extended
loosely to insight (vipassana), the paths and the fruits on the
ground that these perform the work of contemplating the characteristics
of things the three marks of impermanence, suffering and non-self in
the case of insight, Nibbana in the case of the paths and fruits.

In brief the twofold meaning of jhana as “contemplation” and
“burning up” can be brought into connection with the meditative process
as follows. By fixing his mind on the object the meditator reduces and
eliminates the lower mental qualities such as the five hindrances and
promotes the growth of the higher qualities such as the jhana factors,
which lead the mind to complete absorption in the object. Then by
contemplating the characteristics of phenomena with insight, the
meditator eventually reaches the supramundane jhana of the four paths,
and with this jhana he burns up the defilements and attains the
liberating experience of the fruits.

Jhana and Samadhi [go up]

In the vocabulary of Buddhist meditation the word “jhana” is closely connected with another word, “samadhi” generally rendered by “concentration.” Samadhi derives from the prefixed verbal root sam-a-dha, meaning to collect or to bring together, thus suggesting the concentration or unification of the mind. The word “samadhi” is almost interchangeable with the word “samatha,” serenity, though the latter comes from a different root, sam, meaning to become calm.

In the suttas samadhi is defined as mental one-pointedness, (cittass’ekaggata
M.i,301) and this definition is followed through rigorously in the
Abhidhamma. The Abhidhamma treats one-pointedness as a distinct mental
factor present in every state of consciousness, exercising the function
of unifying the mind on its object. From this strict psychological
standpoint samadhi can be present in unwholesome states of
consciousness as well as in wholesome an neutral states. In its
unwholesome forms it is called “wrong concentration” (micchasamadhi), In its wholesome forms “right concentration” (sammasamadhi).

In expositions on the practice of meditation, however, samadhi
is limited to one-pointedness of mind (Vism.84-85; PP.84-85), and even
here we can understand from the context that the word means only the
wholesome one-pointedness involved in the deliberate transmutation of
the mind to a heightened level of calm. Thus Buddhaghosa explains samadhi
etymologically as “the centering of consciousness and consciousness
concomitants evenly and rightly on a single object… the state in
virtue of which consciousness and its concomitants remain evenly and
rightly on a single object, undistracted and unscattered” (Vism.84-85;

However, despite the commentator’s bid for consistency, the word samadhi
is used in the Pali literature on meditation with varying degrees of
specificity of meaning. In the narrowest sense, as defined by
Buddhaghosa, it denotes the particular mental factor responsible for
the concentrating of the mind, namely, one-pointedness. In a wider
sense it can signify the states of unified consciousness that result
from the strengthening of concentration, i.e., the meditative
attainments of serenity and the stages leading up to them. And in a
still wider sense the word samadhi can be applied to the method
of practice used to produce and cultivate these refined states of
concentration, here being equivalent to the development of serenity.

It is in the second sense that samadhi and jhana come closest
in meaning. The Buddha explains right concentration as the four jhanas
(D.ii,313), and in doing so allows concentration to encompass the
meditative attainments signified by the jhanas. However, even though
jhana and samadhi can overlap in denotation, certain
differences in their suggested and contextual meanings prevent
unqualified identification of the two terms. First behind the Buddha’s
use of the jhana formula to explain right concentration lies a more
technical understanding of the terms. According to this understanding samadhi
can be narrowed down in range to signify only one mental factor, the
most prominent in the jhana, namely, one-pointedness, while the word
“jhana” itself must be seen as encompassing the state of consciousness
in its entirety, or at least the whole group of mental factors
individuating that meditative state as a jhana.

In the second place, when samadhi is considered in its
broader meaning it involves a wider range of reference than jhana. The
Pali exegetical tradition recognizes three levels of samadhi: preliminary concentration (parikammasamadhi),
which is produced as a result of the meditator’s initial efforts to
focus his mind on his meditation subject; access concentration (upacarasamadhi),
marked by the suppression of the five hindrances, the manifestation of
the jhana factors, and the appearance of a luminous mental replica of
the meditation object called the counterpart sign (patibhaganimitta); and absorption concentration (appanasamadhi), the complete immersion of the mind in its object effected by the full maturation of the jhana factors.5 Absorption concentration comprises the eight attainments, the four immaterial attainments, and to this extent jhana and samadhi coincide. However, samadhi
still has a broader scope than jhana, since it includes not only the
jhanas themselves but also the two preparatory degrees of concentration
leading up to them. Further, samadhi also covers a still different type of concentration called momentary concentration (khanikasamadhi), the mobile mental stabilization produced in the course of insight contemplation of the passing flow of phenomena.

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