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J11.01    Two Truths in Buddhism - Theravada Buddhism had described two Truths; Absolute Truth and Conventional Truth.

J11.02   Am I smarter than you ? Yes, if you are a meat eater - The British Medical Journal has reported a study...

J11.03    Living stress free - The other day I met a friend of mine. He said...

J11.04    The actual meaning of refuge in the Triple Gems and the Precepts - For the lay person...

J11.05   Vesak Reflection on the Medical Profession - ‘Physicians’ as the very term implies deal with the body...

J11.06    Full moon Poya day of Vesak 2552 - A noble prince who was destined to be the greatest ...

J11.07    Insight (Vipassana) Meditation in Sri Lanka - Progress made during the last Fifty years

J11.08    Buddhism and Science - Sometime ago, I was invited to the West Perth Observatory...

J11.09    Hypnosis, Re-birth and Kamma - In recent time, hypnosis has become an absorbing study...

J11.10    Stressed Americans turn to meditation - Tension and stress in their lives have led some Americans...

J11.11    Glorious path to mind and soul conditioning - As experienced our mind always seek freedom from pain and sorrow.

J11.12    Sublime virtues to happiness and peace - The first event in the life of the Buddha commemorated by Vesak...

J11.13    Fundamentals of Buddhism - Buddhism (the Dhamma) as enshrined in the Tripitaka runs into...

J11.14    Buddha Charitha or life of the Buddha - Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born as the son of King Suddhodana...

J11.15    Samana Gotama to Buddha: A canonical based reconstruction - Leaving the palace in search of the spiritual life

J11.16    The seat of enlightenment - As the Ganges flows through Varanasi (Benares), one sees the spirit of ...

J11.17    Truth is unpleasant - While browsing through the Pali text of the Samyutta Nikaya…

J11.18    Thanatophobia - the fear of death - Humans, animals as well as all born into this world fear death...

J11.19    Time and space: The Abhidhamma perspective - Lecture with a brief introduction to the Abhidhamma...

J11.20    Some vital corrections needed in the presentation of the 'Angulimala Paritta' - And its use in the lives...








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J11.01   Two Truths in Buddhism

Professor N. A. de S. Amaratunga

Theravada Buddhism had described two Truths; Absolute Truth (Paramatha Sathya) and Conventional Truth (Sammuti Sathya). Nagarjuna Thera of the Mahayana Tradition also identified two truths, but his theory was different from that of Theravada Buddhism.

Are there, in fact, two types of Truth in Theravada Buddhism? Do these two Truths vary in degree? Is Absolute Truth superior in anyway to the Conventional Truth? Some Buddhists commit the mistake that Absolute Truth is superior to the Conventional Truth and some go to the extent of saying that Nirvana is the Absolute Truth.

On the basis of this premise, they arrive at new interpretations of Nirvana, which could be misleading. In fact, there is only one Truth in Buddhism, but there are two ways of presenting it. This will be explained briefly.

Buddha and also the Abhidhamic theorists who based their discussions on the Buddha’s preaching have categorically said that the Absolute Truth is not superior to the Conventional Truth and that there is no difference in degree between the two. More importantly, either of these two Truths could be made use of to gain insight and follow the path to Enlightenment. Buddha had used both in his preaching depending on the intellectual ability of the listener.

What then was the reason for identifying two Truths? In early Buddhist preaching, all phenomena of human existence, both mental and physical, had been analyzed according to five methods.

In the first method, they were analyzed into "nama" and "rupa", in the second into five aggregates (rupa, vedana, sangna, sankara and vingnana), in the third into six elements (earth, water, temperature, air, space, and consciousness), in the fourth into twelve avenues of sense perception and mental formation and in the fifth into eighteen "dhatus".

These derivatives were considered as the elements of all phenomena of human existence. When a particular phenomenon was explained in terms of these elements, the explanation was considered as the Absolute Truth. When the same phenomenon was explained in terms of general agreement it was considered as the Conventional Truth.

Later Abhidhamic theorists had recognized the need to analyze further the above mentioned elements and they arrived at irreducible ultimate factors, which were called Dhammas, a comprehensive list of which appears in the Abhidhamma Pitakaya. These Dhammas it is said, participate in the process of dependent co-origination. Though they are recognized as ultimate elements for purposes of understanding, they are not separate entities and each occurs in conjunction with several other Dhammas. Their occurrence is dependent on conditions and once created they too can act as conditions for the occurrence of others. All mental experiences and physical phenomena occur in this manner. An explanation of a phenomenon, mental or material, in terms of these Dhammas is said to be the Absolute Truth. When the same phenomenon is explained in terms of general agreement, that explanation is said to be the Conventional Truth. If for example, a human being is explained in terms of the five "skandhas", it is considered an Absolute Truth. On the other hand, if a human being is explained as a person who will goes through life and suffer and finally die in a process of endless "samsara", then it will be a Conventional Truth.

These definitions, however, do not mean there are two types of Truth in Theravada Buddhism, but rather two ways of presenting the Truth.

As mentioned earlier either could be made use of, as two ways of arriving at the path to Enlightenment. Thus there is only one Truth in Theravada Buddhism.

08 09 2008 - The Island






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J11.02   Am I smarter than you ? Yes, if you are a meat eater

Maneka Gandhi 

Thousands of the greatest thinkers in recorded history were vegetarians and  advocated vegetarianism

The British Medical Journal has reported a study done by Southampton University of 8,179 people. Researchers found that people who had become vegetarian by the age of 30 had a higher IQ – more than 5 points higher – than meat eaters. Men who were vegetarian had an IQ score of 106, compared with 101 for non-vegetarians; while female vegetarians averaged 104, compared with 99 for non-vegetarians.

The researchers found linkages of intelligence to health as well but the jury was still out on whether people who are more intelligent become vegetarian or people who were vegetarian had so much better health , specially in terms of heart disease and obesity – that their brains could develop more. I agree with the second theory – after all someone who is born into a vegetarian household does not use his brains to make a choice. The fact that he/she turns out more intelligent could be a result of the body having more time to devote to brain development rather than combat the food shoved into it. What else would explain the mental abilities of the Jain and Marwari communities for instance ? Or the Brahmins ? The researchers in the British Medical Journal, say it isn’t clear why veggies are brainier - but admit the fruit and vegetable diet could somehow boost brain power. The study said that vegetarians were also more likely to have gained degrees and hold down high-powered jobs.Dr Gale said: ‘ it does not rule out the possibility that such a diet might have some beneficial effect on subsequent cognitive performance.’Might the nature of the vegetarians’ diet have enhanced their apparently superior brain power? Was this the mechanism that helped them achieve the disproportionate nature of degrees?’

I am not surprised at this finding. In India , seventy five percent of the true achievers are vegetarian. The top businessmen , the top business classes , most of the top politicians and filmstars, models, athletes… Having grown up in a meat- eating environment ( the army) I am happy that my husband Sanjay made me vegetarian at the age of 18. My favourite vegetarian , my son, Varun , has been vegetarian since he was born and has an IQ of 161 ( proving this theory). All the vegetarian people whom I know are all significantly more intelligent than the average. I have a list of my favourite vegetarians and , thank God for India, I have a huge long list to choose from. I am only choosing the most intelligent in this list – the handsomest, most beautiful,sexiest etc – we will leave for another day.

Let me start with the Great Khali – the WWF wrestler who is the largest man I have ever seen on television. He is not just a vegetarian but is a gentle giant who feeds homeless people wherever he is. One of my firmest beliefs is that it takes intelligence to have compassion.

Pritish Nandy, poet, writer, filmmaker, painter, designer, thinker, the editor of the ‘Illustrated Weekly of India’, when it was the single largest magazine in India and  Member of Parliament much before it became mandatory to reward loyalty in journalists and industrialists with Rajya sabha memberships.

The Ambani brothers, their wives and their father and mother. Imagine creating and managing so much wealth that it becomes inspirational. Group them with Aditya Birla and his family and Narayanamurthy , the founder of  Infosys and the IT movement in India which has given jobs to lakhs of people . The list of vegetarian creators of wealth runs into thousands of pages. Is a vegetarian diet the key to success as well as well-being?

Dr Abdul Kalam has been the finest President we have ever had and certainly a role model for many people – including my son. He is not just very bright , he is humane , graceful and disciplined. I wish he had had a second term – especially when I look at his successor who will come and go unnoticed – even though she is also a vegetarian.

LK Advani , the skilful and undisputed head of the largest party in India and a proud vegetarian.

Hema Malini , actress and dancer is not just beautiful and generous but a smart and hardworking politician. Her daughters Esha and Ahana are equally bright and motivated.

Amitabh Bachchan , who at his age and with his health , manages his and his family members’ careers with such intelligence and sophistication.

Mandira Bedi, who became the first woman commentator in the male preserve of cricket and with a joyful combination of intelligence and charm managed to make millions of new cricket fans.

Milind Soman who has made his career as a model last forever, remaining numero uno  in his forties and now branching out into rejuvenating Indian textiles.

Chinny and Nanditha Krishna: Chinny heads a company that specialises in solving machinery problems for companies internationally. He also runs India’s first animal shelter. Nanditha is one of the country’s leading experts on mythology and culture. She heads a major educational foundation and is one of Penguin’s most prolific and best selling authors.

While I am conscious that all Indian spiritual teachers and Gurus are vegetarian , Sri Sri Ravi Shankar stands out because he has created an empire of intelligent people who embrace the modern while attempting to follow the refinement of a gentler India.

Dr Bindeshwar Pathak who runs the largest NGO in India and has devoted his life to provide sanitation  and who has discovered the most ecological way to get rural energy.

Dr Mukesh Batra, who has made homoeopathy a mainstream medicine and runs an empire as large as Ranbaxy’s.

This is about 1%  of my favourite veggies- I am giving you the names of people you may have heard about. There are thousands of people who are as bright but I will have to put them into another grouping. My mother for one – her keen intelligence, warmth and zest for life has taken all of us through crises that would have destroyed most mortals. Ozair Husain , my co author in several books and the Nawab of Lorpur, who has given up a kingdom to make People for Animals into the power it is today.

Noting famous vegetarian intellectuals proves nothing, but is food for thought nonetheless: thousands of the greatest thinkers in recorded history were vegetarians and  advocated vegetarianism, including Pythagoras, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Leo Tolstoy, Plato, Voltaire, Mahatma Gandhi, Charles Darwin, Albert Schweitzer, Dr Benjamin Spock. Franz Kafka, H.G.Wells,Henry  David Thoreau,  Isaac Bashevis Singer, Jeremy Bentham, Leonardo da Vinci, Milton,  NikolaTesla,  Percy Shelley, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Socrates, William Wordsworth, William Blake,  Dr C.V.Raman, Annie Besant,  the Bronte sisters,  Rupert Brooke,  Isaac Pitman, Ovid,  Henry Salt,  Schopenhauer , Seneca ,  Henry David Thoreau …..  If meat eating were required for a person to be intelligent, then we would expect to see few intelligent people supporting vegetarianism. George Bernard Shaw said, ‘A mind of the calibre of mine cannot derive its nutriment from cows’, while Benjamin Franklin stated that a vegetarian diet resulted in ‘greater clearness of head and quicker comprehension’.

BBC One has a hugely popular show every Saturday called the National IQ Contest. 80,000 people took part. The winners ,the brainiest Brits of the UK, were a 40 strong team of vegetarians with an average IQ score of 113 . The individual contestant with the highest IQ was a vegetarian too.Winner Marie Bidmead, 68, a mother-of-five from Gloucester said: " I was in absolute shock when I got the top score! I’ve never considered myself to be a brain-box. I think it shows that we veggies are good ‘thinkers’ – we think about what we eat with intelligence for a start!"

  If there is anything that proves that humans are meant to be vegetarian , it is this study. In today’s world , you need all the intelligence you can to survive. Parents – give your children the extra leg up , make them vegetarian today.

To join the animal welfare movement contact

19 06 2008 - The Island






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J11.03   Living stress free

Dr. Wasantha Gunathunga

Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo

The other day I met a friend of mine. He said "I decided to migrate to a better country." I asked why he wanted to migrate. "There are lots of problems in the country. I want to give the best education to my children. I asked "what do you want them to be in the future"? He was not sure. "After all I want to live in peace" was his answer. My friend is not the only person who decided to migrate for peace of mind. There were so many, there will be too.

This conversation provided me some insight as to how some people take serious decisions in their lives in search of peace and 'contentment.

People migrate to greener pastures citing various aim to do so. Some people within the country mostly towards cities. Those who live in cities go to villages to get away from the busy life. People seem to run here and there in search of comfort and happiness. Where is this comfort and happiness they are restlessly looking for? Has migration solved their problems? Is everybody who migrates happy? In which country or place can one live in absolute peace? Is there a country that can give someone complete, contentment? What should you give your children as education? These are unsolved problem to many.

This article describes how one can transform several important problematic life issues into comfortable healthy and stress free ones. Children's education, driving in busy unruly streets are the issues addressed. One method to bring about this transformation is also presented.

Body mind and memories

People dope themselves with various substances, enjoy spa's saunas and a dip in the pool, and spend money on picnics, dances, parties, etcetera to get happiness. They fantasize, keep sweet memories in photographs, some times computers full of such photos of picnics weddings and birthday parties and so on. The attachment to this bank of good memories may make them temporarily happy. They have something in these to talk about They are in search of happiness and comfort revisiting these memories However, all these cause stress and sense of loss after that moment of enjoyment This attachment to physical body and finding happiness in it make them unhappy after each effort. This is not a viable method of being happy.

Children's education

"We going abroad to educate our children better" is the frequent answer given by many to migrate.

What should really be given to children as education?

Children show wide variation in their Preference to different subjects in schools.

They show talents of varying nature and magnitude. If given appropriate opportunity they excel in thew areas and become economically productive adults. However, what ever the position they hold as adults ultimate purpose of many of them is to enjoy life through five sense organs eye, ear, nose, tongue and body. This enjoyment is sought in money, big houses, vehicles are being members of clubs and associations etcetera. Attachment to pleasures of five sense does makes them stressed, dissatisfied and unhappy when they cannot continue the as long as they want.

This degree of attachment to sense pleasure and resultant consequences are not influenced significantly by modern education. They are rather influenced by the conditioning in the consciousness due to previously collected information from five sense doors. Its conditioning is what determines the difference between individuals and is not identical. Some educated professionals such as doctors, engineers, accountants and scientists need more and more qualifications, recognition, new cars and better positions and the politicians power, wealth and supporters etc. Who ever accrue these things is destined to be troubled in protecting and perpetuating these, things and finally becomes worried when they lose those.

Hence educated or not they we were vulnerable to attachment and associated suffering.

Where, ever one is educated and where ever the life is spent these people show signs of stress, dissatisfaction and

The answer is not changing the country of education or residence. It's how much they are able to detach themselves from sensual pleasures. Degree of detachment determines how much health and happiness is generated. So is conflict (or aversion). If one is in mental conflict with some one or some thing, that person is suffering because of it. One has to avoid conflict or get out of it as soon as possible to avoid mental discomfort Freedom form attachment and conflict can create permanent happiness and contentment within oneself.

This paradise within has to be achieved through diligent training. The method of training has been described by Lord Buddha 2500 years ago.. It is called The Noble Eight-Fold. One has to follow the conventional education to earn a living. But one has to get the skill of living with confidence, happiness and health with minimal stress and dissatisfaction. Such skills of permanent health can only be achieved in this method of training. The Noble Eightfold Path is unique in that it de-conditions a person from attachments and conflicts resulting in relief from stress and discontentment gradually. Amount of relief depends on the consistency and the accuracy of the practice. In this Path one should have courage and determination (Suseema sum, Samyutta Nikaya). This method does not involve praying or worshipping. Praying or worshipping is based on a superstition or belief that some one is there to give relief from pain, dissatisfaction and stress.

Hence education should be in line with, what the child is talented in. Accordingly, various children may receive different educations. However, all of them deserve a training to be at peace and healthy by giving them the opportunity of practising the Eight Fold Path, Once on the Path no other person can reverse the skills by the practitioner and hence attains a, secure and permanent (Dhamsak pavathum sutta). This method of practice is not confined to a religion. It can be practiced by people from any religion without losing identity. This is the most transferable method of mind ever to have been discovered.

Life on the road

Driving in unruly highways needs specialist skills. Very often, drivers get angry and disturbed when another vehicle robs them of their lane, when someone crosses the road unexpectedly and in short range, and when another vehicle knocks theirs from behind. These incidents often spoil the day, at least few hours of the day. Whose fault is that when you are disturbed by such an incident?

These things are day to day incidents. Even if we are not there these things happen. Fault is we have a feeling that, as we are obeying road rules, these should not happen to us. This thinking is fair though not realistic. We should develop ourselves so that we are not disturbed by these occurrences, we can take action with emotional disturbances. We are often angered or disturbed as we are attached to a set of values attitudes and expectations, we are conditioned by these superstitions and this conditioning is registered in the consciousness. If we really count, such disturbing incidents are actually few. If we take them in the light that these things are the regular happening out there we can negotiate with them with out much conflict. If one is able to allow lane to an indecent fellow driver, and avoid a mental conflict with unruly pedestrians he is at peace while driving on busy roads. Such a mental condition will not come automatically. This is just one benefit in the Eight Fold Path in modern times.

Stress at work

High level of stress at work is a frequent problem encountered by people. This is partly through fear of losing position or promotion. It can also be as a result of a failure to complete the planned work within the stipulated time. This causes unhappiness, fear -A dissatisfaction as psychological problems. As physical problems of long term stress one can suffer from gastritis, gastric ulcers, diabetes mellitus, heart disease and paralysis to name a few.

If all these problems can be prevented and exceptional amount of work can be accomplished within a unit time without stress, that skill will be very comforting.

Theory in Happiness

However, there is no one who could keep their happy moments as long as they want. Some people change the country, car for a new car, spouse, and job. But there are very, few who could keep this happiness for as long as they wanted.

Happiness and contentment is strongly linked to ones purpose of life. Some people have never thought of what to accomplish in their lives. Best treasures they have are in their body, material possessions, enjoying, seeing, listening, smelling, tasting, and touching. They treasure the memories of the happy moments of these sense pleasures.

They strive to acquire similar things perpetuate this happiness. Everything-they do is for this purpose. Is enjoying sense pleasures and revisiting these memories are the only purpose of life? The wise should have an answer to this. Others will not bother.

However, there is no one who could keep their happy moments as long as they want. Some people change the country, car for a new car, spouse, and job. But there are very, few who could keep this happiness for as long as they wanted.

These sense Pleasures may give temporary comfort with regretful consequences particularly when the pleasure ends. In this never ending search of the sense pleasure people get angry, get in to competitions, bother themselves and subsequently become stressed, tired and fed up still refusing to stop the search. This situation is not largely dependant on the place they live. But it depends on how much one is attached to the sense pleasures and how much effort is put into acquire and Happiness, contentment or mental health does not depend on where one lives physically. In the third stanza of Maha Mangala Sutta Lord Budda described where one should live. The true ,"of the stanza "Pathirupa desa vasocha" is living in a world in which an individual is not attached to the physical body inputs from the five sense doors and the consciousness (desa without rupa). This describes the state of Nirodha where one is in complete mental health.

In this, the word desa (meaning land) is a state without attachment, One enjoys this in the practical Eight- fold path, the way of life discovered by the Lord Buddha in 500 BC. One who practices this Path is able to get into a state of total detachment from body, sense pleasures and consciousness. One who achieves this final goal is called an Arahant and he has his mind in Nibbana a state of unconditioned happiness, contentment and permanence. This non attachment is the permanent answer to many social problems faced by people. However to achieve this status one does not need to change the country or the area of residence. Hence "right land to live" is not really in geographical sense, But it is a state of mind.

This happiness is independent of sense pleasures and, when acquired stops a person bothering to search for sense pleasures. This situation is called Nibbana or Nirobha. A person gets in to this situation is called Arahant. He doesn't get angry, he is not bothered to find external happiness, and he won't die (Dying is minds transfer from the previous body to a new one. Mind of an Arahant will not grasp a new body at the end of present life, but remains in Nirodha, hence, is not a death.) He will not get a physical body at parinibbana (passing away of an arahant) hence, he will not be decayed, aged or sick.

This person has no particular place to live; everywhere is the same for him. This is a living reality. It is a realistic target that any one can try to achieve. One who enters the Noble Eight-fold path gradually develops these skills.

Actual practice

The practice described below is not the conventional descriptions in the texts but a true practice that leads to a unique realization. Without sitting down to practice, reading and discussions have no meaning.

The eight components in The Path should be practiced together, the Middle Path. First component is the vision that I should attain the perfection, complete health or the ultimate happiness. This is called the Right Vision, also meaning vision for detachment from defilements. This should become the attitude, driven in to the person and remaining with him or her. This is called Right Attitude or attitude of detachment.

With this vision and attitude the practitioner sits on the ground preferably in the lotus position or semi lotus position. He has to sit for a predetermined time period. He practices the third component of the Eight-Fold path by not using any language 1 primarily I by closing mouth with the two lips. This completes right speech or language of non attachment (Aryathushnimbutha).

The Practitioner does not move his body or part of it, thereby not doing any action, stopping any wrong doing by the physical body, Right Action or action of non attachment Right Speech and right action will automatically lead to Right Livelihood or livelihood of non-attachment

Sitting down in this manner with mouth shut and body still with the Right Vision and attitude will complete five components of the Eight-Fold Path. To sit and to stay in this position it needs an enormous amount of courage and effort without which the completion of journey in the Path is not possible. This effort of non attachment is called Right- Effort. With this the practitioner starts contemplation of the body (kayanupassana), pain (vedananupassana), the behaviour of mind (Cittanupassana) and practices for a state of non-attachment (Dhammanupassana) through wisdom. When contemplation of body and pain is done the other two will follow.

Contemplation of the body (kayanupassana): The practitioner is asked to consider 25 parts of the body, head, forehead, right eye, nose, left eye, right check, left cheek, mouth, chin, neck, upper chest, lower chest, upper abdomen, middle abdomen, lower abdomen, right thigh, right knee, right lower leg, right foot, right toes, left thigh, left knee, left lower leg, left foot and left toes. The practitioner takes his mind to one part at a time and contemplates "may all be well, happy and peaceful" and goes on to the next part and contemplates the same thing. He does this for all twenty five parts from head to the toes of the left leg, and restarts from head. This method trains the mind to give up those body parts with loving kindness.

Contemplation of pain (vedananupassana): When the parts of the body are given up like this with loving kindness without changing the posture, the practitioner starts feeling pain in various parts of the body. To the maximum point of pain the practitioner contemplates "may all be well, happy and peaceful" three times. If he feels pain elsewhere he wishes the same to that pan. The Practitioner goes on like this. Whether the pain subsides, or not he gets back to the contemplation of the body. When this is being practiced, sounds from the environment are heard. They are recognised as sounds and refrained from tying to identify these further (stopping at Vedana Sanna and not going to Sankara).

Thoughts that are generated from the consciousness are also identified only as thoughts and not tried to identify these further thereby preventing a thought process being generated.

The practice of non-attachment is called in Magadha language "Samatha". This is mistakenly by many as tranquilly achieved by fixing mind to a focus of meditation conventional understanding of Buddhism The practice of non-attachment is"Samatha" and the swing the detachment is "Vidharshana" as taught by the Lord Buddha. One who practices this regularly and with vigour will attain the fruitions of the Path and finally the permanent detachment from all defilements, which is Nibbana, Perfection, the complete mental health. During this exercise, the practitioner realizes the four Noble Truths (ill health and dissatisfaction Dukkha, reason for ill health and dim dissatisfaction Samudaya, state of complete health Nirodha and the path to achieve it, Margo). A person who has achieved complete mental health will subsequently achieve complete physical health too once the mind gives up the body That is when he goes into Parinibbana where only the mind remains in a state of happiness associated with non attachment.

Purpose of the life of all, expressed overtly or correctly, is to be happy, stress free and make others near and dear also be so. However, where they -look for this comfort is almost invariably is with the outside rather within. The day they realize that this paradise is within they will look for it there. The day they find Noble Eight Fold Path they discover the most precious thing in their lives. The day they enter the Path will make the beginning of the no- return Journey to permanent health happiness and contentment: The Nibbana - the Paradise within.

19 05 2008 - The Island






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J11.04   The actual meaning of refuge in the Triple Gems and the Precepts

For the lay person

R. L. Ihalamulla
Department of Parasitology, Faculty of Medicine, Kynsey Rd, Colombo 8


The Lord Buddha showed us the Eightfold Path as the only way for the eternal ending of suffering - the attainment of Nirvana. This is something that the Buddha realized by himself and preached to the world. Eventhough he was knowledgeable in everything in the whole universe in and out, the Great Teacher taught primarily as to how to end suffering. Therefore, the teachings mainly revolve round and incorporate the essence of His Declaration that 'the cause of suffering is attachment and the only way to end suffering 'is non-attachment'. As such, the recitals -in Pali - the language in which the Buddha preached - for daily chanting for the lay person pertaining to 'taking in refuge' and the Precepts also were meant to go along with this concept.

These teachings of the Buddha can be correctly interpreted only by a person who is enlightened upon them i.e. by an Arahant. But down the years many of those who had translated the Teachings from Pali to other languages, had not been Arhants and had not even being the achievers of the lower ranking Super Mental Status and as such they had mis-interpreted the right meaning. Some of these authors were Indian and they have even incorporated ritualistic aspects of Hinduism into Buddhist teachings. Because of this what Buddha really meant in His Teachings has become clouded, buried under, with the result that an intelligent learner often gets confused and the follower misled. Thus it is understood that there are a number of misinterpretations to Buddha's Teachings but only one actual meaning. This actual meaning is the one which is in relevance to the Eightfold Path and the one which the Buddha really meant. Therefore, it fits right into the Eightfold Path. The actual meaning is quite intriguing. and interesting to the learner. It is useful to know the actual meaning of the verses so that the chanting becomes understandable and meaningful. This however does not mean that the conventional meaning of these disciplines is not significant because a careful study of the actual meaning of these shows that the former is already incorporated in the latter. The actual and conventional meanings of the reverence, the refuge and the precepts are shown in comparison here for the reader to have a right understanding of these.

19 05 2008 - The Island






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J11.05   Vesak Reflection on the Medical Profession

Nalin Swaris

‘Physicians’ as the very term implies deal with the body, which is subject to sickness, decay and death. As such physicians seem to be engaged in a Sisyphean task – an absurd, but for many lucrative, preoccupation devoted to propping up what Shakespeare called "this muddy vesture of decay". But if we shed the devaluation of the body on the basis of an assumed dichotomy of body and soul or the body and a rebirthing identity consciousness in mainstream Buddhism, we will have an exhilarating perspective on human existence. It helps us to cultivate a holistic view of the human person as a totality of vital processes or synergies. Whatever our religion, ethnicity or social status all human beings are subjected to the paradoxical character of the human condition. We must all die. What ethics has the science of medicine to teach us?

In Genealogy of Morals German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche inquired into the historical origins of our moral concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’. Nietzsche’ writings are remarkable for the absence of footnotes. But there is one rare footnote in Genealogy of Morals..In it he questions the value of rational or intellectual philosophical constructs of ethical imperatives and speaks of the need "to reconfigure the relationship between philosophy and physiology and medicine". All our moral tablets of "dont’s", he adds, "wait upon a critique on the part of medicine". His meaning is clear; the critique on the part of medicine will make us ‘physio-logical’.

This means that every physician critically reflecting on the object of his profession could become the noblest of moral philosophers. This is because a physician in his surgery must keep his mind well earthed to tangible facts not fancies.

Physicians and health-carers are situated at the cutting edge of life and death and are everyday and night experiencing anicca and anatta. Therefore they, more than any other professional, including religious professionals, are in a privileged position to grasp the finiteness, the fragility and the perishability of human life. This is what makes life precious and sacred, not because it is an earnest of another more sublime life but because it is ephemeral and fraught with fragility. To live for another life, as Nietzsche pointed out, is to devalue this life on behalf of another. Physicians should be in the forefront of those who stand up for this life and speak up on issues which diminish and destroy life through war, reckless road use, unhygienic social conditions and medical malpractices because they are confronted with the tragic victims of these atrocities day in and day out.

Physicians follow the life process from the moment of conception to death. From the womb to the tomb; they follow the process of growth, the occurrence of illnesses, onset of the process of decay and physical infirmity and the final breakdown we call death. The physician perhaps more than any other professional is an intimate and daily witness of the ravages of disease and decay. They smell the stench of putrefying flesh while life still lingers, they see the way beauty withers, strength fades and how life ceases. This is also really his/her condition. The physician more than any other can see the relativity of things we cling to, pride of caste, family or class, social status and wealth. The physician has by his/her very profession the possibility of becoming a sage and a saint. In fact one of the pledges undertaken by the Hippocratic Oath is, "With purity and with holiness I will pass my life and practice my Art". If life is sacred, a physician treating a sick person is standing on holy ground.

It is customary to refer to people who come to be ministered by physicians as ‘patients’ A ‘patient’ is one who suffers illness and is a passive object subjected to the supervision and judgement of physicians – who are regarded as the competent speakers on the condition of the suffering ’other’. This perception of the doctor ‘patient’ relationship is reinforced by the ideological paradigm of Western medicine, which is the dominant form of medical practice in Sri Lanka. Western medicine is very strongly influenced by Cartesian and Newtonian asumptions of the mind as the sovereign subject (res cogitans – thinking substance) of thought and external reality as the object of thought and action (res extensa – material substance)

The body of the ‘patient’ is seen as ‘the other’ – the passive object of a physician’s invasive intervention. Physicians tend to forget that the seriously ill ‘object’ is a human person of flesh and blood in an acute state of distress – or dukkha – that he/she has equally distressed loved one’s like the physician and his/her similarly afflicted loved ones.

The Newtonian- Cartesian model of the world on which Western medicine developed has been superseded at the sub atomic level by quantum physics. Professor Carl von Weizsacker, German atomic physicist and philosopher, was interviewed in a Dutch TV programme on the challenge posed by the New Physics to religion and philosophy. The New Physics, the professor commented, calls for a new understanding of our world and a new ethical attitude to life and the world we live in. I quote from the transcript:

Consider the implications of quantum theory. In quantum theory we are describing the behaviour of stars and atoms and produce tables and figures as if we are spectators. But at the same time we realize, and we are reminded so profoundly of that old truth already understood by the Buddha that we are in fact telling our own story. Our own bodies consist of atoms; our own lives are part of that nature we are analyzing. We cannot separate it. We cannot speak of nature as if we did not belong to it. That is more or less the message of quantum theory. Now look at all the immense number of beings who are born, who live and die, who suffer because all life is suffering according to Buddha. But you cannot speak of this truth as something outside yourself, you yourself are born and you will die and you are going through a life of suffering because you build your life on false expectations which are frustrated, And in this situation you cannot distinguish between the onlooker - the one who looks and the one who is looked. You are one and the same you are in both roles at the same time.

It must become evident to mindful physicians that they are in the patient-healer roles at the same time. The microbes, the viruses, the bacteria in the patient, may be in the doctor himself. The blood pressure, the blood and urine samples studied are no different to what are measured in physician’s own body. The carcinoma, the weakened heart muscle or affected kidney or liver is no different to potential ailments in the organisms of physicians..Physicians heal bodies but do not have extra corporeal immunity.

Instead of the ‘object-other’, suffering patients who passively ‘suffer’ the all powerful gaze and determinations of physicians should evoke anukampa and karuna because the patient’s story of his-her ailment is also the physicians story. The patient is morphologically and physiologically no different to the physician. The form is the same, the heart is the same, the lungs ,the digestive processes, the genitals, the reproductive act, – conception and the birth processes are the same as that of the physician and his/her spouse, their children and parents. The orifices of the body and what ‘enters’ and ‘exits’ are similar. The difference of para /apara – ‘other’ and ‘not other’ should dissolve and with it the Buddha’s norm should come to mind "In protecting myself I protect others. In protecting others I protect myself".

Physicans and physiologists can come to a realisation of the fundamental equality of all humans beings, better than any bookish professor of law. The birth process is the same even if it takes place in the luxury of an air-conditioned delivery room with the best of gynecologists in attendance or in a wretched refugee camp. The little new born baby of affluent parents is as much a human as the child of impoverished parents. A virus can afflict the rich as well as the poor, even though the poor are more prone to sickness because of their weak physical condition as well as unhygienic environments.

It must become evident to mindful physicians that they are in the patient-healer roles at the same time.

We need body wisdom. It is the head which attaches ethnic labels and speaks of Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim. The profane stomach is innocent of such discrimination. The concepts of the womb are far less discriminating than the ‘concepts’ of the head. The womb can take the seed of a man of any race, caste or ethnicity and deliver a human child. What divides us is not our physiology but the conceits in our heads. If the doctor is not an ethnocentric or a class conscious prig, he must know that there is no such thing as a distinctive Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim features on the human body. "Not in the head the mouth, the eyes, the ears, the breast, etc., and not even in the genitals, which could divide humans into different species", as the Buddha pointed out in the Vasettha Sutra. If there were, there could be no universally effective medicine or surgery. The same course of medicine prescribed will heal irrespective of whether a physician is a Sinhala Tamil or Muslim and the patient Sinhala, Tamil, or Muslim. This is not some abstruse theory. It is happening everyday in real life in every clinic in every hospital. When a blood transfusion is needed only a bigot will ask who whether the patient and donor is Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim, There are no such blood types. We strip to be examined or are stripped for a major operation. The white cassock or the saffron robe, the skull cap and the pottu and burkah are of no consequence. We ‘dress ourselves up’ to demarcate differences. Naked and under the skin we are the same. Every doctor knows this.

Perhaps the best place to start a movement for radical democracy is not the temple or the parliament, but the hospital ward and the clinic. But this is where doctors and health workers hold poor patients to ransom by going on strike at the drop of a medical cap. Sickness does not discriminate. Therapists often do, though their very profession should compel democracy – the democracy of the body – not the proud sectarian ‘spirit’. Physicians must be in the forefront of those who are struggling to defend the sanctity of life and the right to the fullness of life.

Given this inexorable subjection to a common condition, the attitude of haughty and uncaring physicians and of uncaring health workers is incomprehensible. Doctors infected by the curse of commercialism seem to think that a ‘bill of health’ depends on the size of a purse. It is this cupidity and callousness which is paradoxical because: Each day doctors see fellow humans die, yet, many live and behave like immortal gods!

All life is passing passage. What nobler vocation can there be than to be called to ease the suffering of one's fellow human beings and help them live in good health and in wholesome and secure conditions? What greater joy can there be than this? The lure of pecuniary benefits and the luxuries they bring can hardly compare with the satisfaction that comes from serving one's suffering fellows - especially the poor and the powerless. Physicians have the potential to become noble men and women whose outlook on life is inspired by the compassionate prayer: sakale sathveyan niduk vethwa; sakala sathavyan nirogi vethw;, sakala sathavyan suvapath vethwa – May all beings be free of sorrow, may all beings be free of disease, may all being be well..

(This is the text of a lecture on Buddhism and Medical Ethics delivered at the SLMA auditorium in 2003. A summary was published in the February 2008 Bulletin of the College of General Practitioners of Sri Lanka.)

19 05 2008 - The Island





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J11.06  Full moon Poya day of Vesak – 2552

Walter Wijenayake

Today is the full moon Poya day of Vesak in the Buddhist year 2552, as well as the 19th day of May 2008 as per the Gregorian calendar – the day on which the birth, the englightenment and the final passing away of the Buddha occurred within a span of 80 years over two and half millennia ago, exactly 2632 years ago today.

A noble prince who was destined to be the greatest religious teacher of the world was born on the full moon Poya day of Vesak in the year 623 BC at Lumbini Park at Kapilavattu on the Indian borders, to the King Suddhodana of the aristocratic Sakya clan, the ruler of the sakyas (in the modern Nepal) and the queen Maha Maya of the Koliya clan.

On the fifth day after the birth of the prince he was named Siddhartha which means ‘wish fulfilled’. On the seventh day Queen Maha Maya breathed her last. Then the Queen Maha Prajapathi Gothami, the other consort of the King as well as the younger sister of the queen Maha Maya gave her own son Nanda to a nurse and brought up Prince Siddhartha as her own son.

He was given a very good education. His teacher was Sarva Mitra. As a scion of the warrior class he received special training in the art of warfare too.

According to the customs of the time, he married at the young age of 16, Princess Yasodara. She was his cousin of the same age. They spent a very luxurious life. But all of a sudden, confronted with the reality of life and the suffering of mankind he murmered to himself: "Why do I, being subject to birth, decay, death, sorrow and impurities, thus search after things of like nature?"

So he decided to find the solution – the way out of this universal suffering.

Soon after the birth of his only son Rahula, he left his Kingdom and became an ascetic in search of this solution at the age of 29.

He wandered about the valley of Ganges for six years meeting famous religious teachers such as Alara Kalam and Uddaka Ramaputta, studying and following their systems and methods and submitting himself to rigorous ascetic practices. Any of them did not satisfy him. He abandoned all those traditional religious practices and methods and went his own way.

He felt that his quest for highest truth was not achieved. He had gained complete mastery of his mind, but his ultimate goal was not far ahead. He was seeking for the highest, the Nibbana, the complete cessation of suffering, the total eradication of all forms of craving.

He understood that his spiritual aspirations were far higher than those under whom he was studying. Further he understood that there was none capable enough to teach him what he yearned for – the highest truth. Ultimately he realized that the highest truth is to be found within oneself and ceased to seek external aid.

He, the ascetic Gothama, wandered through the district of Magadha and arrived at Uruwela, the market town of Senani. There he resolved to settle down to achieve his desired object.

The five ascetics – Kondanna, Baddiya, vappa, Mahanama, and Assaji – having heard the renunciation of the Prince Siddhartha, renounced the world and joined his company. Ascetic Siddhartha Gothama made a superhuman struggle practising all forms of severest austerity. His delicate body was reduced to almost a skeleton.

The more he tormented his body the farther his goal receded from him. The colour of his skin impaired owing to lack of food.

After all that he understood that prolonged painful austerities proved utterly futile. One day he fainted. Then a shepherd came and gave him some milk and that made him better. Then he realied that enlightenment could not be gained with such an utterly exhausted body. Physical fitness was essential for spiritual progress. So he decided to nourish the body sparingly and began to take more milk and food both hard and soft.

At this juncture his favourite five ascetic friends who were attending on him with great hopes thinking that whatever truth the ascetic Gothama would comprehend, that would he impart to them, felt disappointed at this unexpected change of method and leaving him and place too, went to Isipathana, saying that the ascetic Gothama had become luxurious, had ceased from striving, and had returned to a life of comfort. The ascetic Gothama was not discouraged when his companions deserted him at a time their assistance was most welcome.

After giving up austerities, eating moderately to maintain his body strength, he sat under an "Asatu" tree, later which came to be known as "Bodhi" tree, with the firm resolution "let my skin and sinews become dry, let all the flesh and blood dry up, but never will I stir from this seat until I attain the supreme status of Buddhahood."

At the age of 35, after a stupendous struggle of six strenuous years he, unaided and unguided by any supernatural agency and solely relying on his own efforts and wisdom, eradicated all defilements, ended the process of grasping and realising things as they truly are, by his own intuitive knowledge, became a Buddha – an enlightened or awakened one under the Bodhi tree at Buddha Gaya, exactly 2597 years ago, today. Thereafter he was known as Gauthama Buddha, one of a long series of Buddhas who appeared in the past and will appear in the future. He was not born a Buddha, but became a Buddha by his own efforts. Prior to his enlightenment, he was known as Bodhisatta which means one who is aspiring to attain Buddhahood.

The Buddha had no teacher for his enlightenment. "Na me achariyo atthi" – A teacher have I not – are his own words. He did receive his mundane knowledge from his lay teachers, but teachers he had none for his supramundane knowledge which he himself realised by his own intuitive wisdom.

The Buddha was neither a god, nor a son of a god, not an incarnation of a god, not a prophet sent by such an agency. He was a human being, a Prince of Skaya clan.

He spent seven weeks under the Bodhi tree and its neighbourhood after his enlightenment. Thereafter he proceeded to deer park in Benares where he met the five ascetics who were his former companions during the period he was struggling to attain Buddhahood. There the Buddha preached them the Dhammackkappawattana sutta which deals with the Four Noble Truths. It was the first discourse he delivered. Hearing it Kondanna, the eldest ascetic attained the first stage of sainthood. On hearing the Anattalakkana sutta which deals with soullessness all the five ascetics attained arahatship, the final stage of sainthood. The five monks who thus attained Arahanttship and became Buddha’s five disciples were Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa, Mahanama and Assaji. Of the Brahmana clan they were also known as Pasvaga Mahanun. This noble order of Bhikkus, which stands to this day is the oldest historic body of celibates in the world.

The number of Bhikkus became 60 when Yasa and his 54 friends came to Isipathana and became the disciples and attained Arahantship after hearing the Dhamma of the englightened one.

The Buddha after spending three months of training at Isipathana deicded to propagate his sublime Dhamma to those who wish to hear.

The Buddha decided to send his 60 monks as messengers of truth to teach his Dhamma to all without any distinction. Before sending them to preach the Dhamma he exhorted them as follows; "Free am I, O Bhikkus, from all bonds, whether divine or human.

'Go forth, O Bhikkus, for the good of the many, for the happiness of many, out of compassion for the world, for the good, benefit, and happiness of gods and men. Let not two go by one way. Preach, O Bhikkus the Dhamma, excellent in the beginning, excellent in the middle, excellent in the end, both in the spirit and in the letter. Proclaim the holy life, altogether perfect and pure."

After sending them as messengers of truth he too proceeded to Uruwela in Senanigama, in order to preach Dhamma.

Thus the Budhha was the first religious teacher to send his disciples to propagate the Dhamma, out of compassion for others.

On the way to Uruwela, the Buddha met 30 young men with their wives who were there to amuse themselves. When they saw the Buddha, they all forgot their objective and answered the questions posed by him and attentively listened to the Dhamma and entered the Sangha.

At Uruwela three Jatila ascetics known as Uruwela Kassapa, Nadi Kassapa and Gaya Kassapa, all brothers living separately with 500, 300 and 200 disciples respectively, came across the Budhha who preached them the Aditttapriaya sutta. There all the Jatilas attained Arahantship,eradicating all defilements.

It was at that time that Upatissa and Kolitha entered the Sangha. They were Reverent Sariuth and Mugallan respectively who rose to positions of the first and the second disciples in the Sangha.

The Buddha’s ministry lasted 45 years from his age of 35, the year of his enlightenment till his final passing away in Kusinara in 543 BC on the full moon Poya daya of Vesak. Exactly 2552 years ago today.

19 05 2008 - The Island





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J11.07   Insight (Vipassana) Meditation in Sri Lanka

Progress made during the last Fifty years

Das Miriyagalla

Period Before the Buddha Jayanthi in 1956

The practice of meditation is considered by followers of several religions as a meritorious activity. Even among such religious activities it is generally considered that meditation is more virtuous than other practices such as donations, alms- givings, adherence to moral precepts and rituals. However the practice of meditation in Sri Lanka until the mid-twentieth century was generally based on traditions followed mainly within the country and the practitioners did not consider it necessary to look for developments outside the country or internationally recognized practices.

It is noteworthy that religious practices in Sri Lanka had been affected by social upheavals during 16th-19th centuries particularly after changes in Kandy, Kotte and Seetawaka kingdoms. But a period of resurgence commenced in 1753 when Upasampada was established from Thailand or Siam Deshaya. Several periods of uncertain developments reached a point in mid 20th century when along with the dawn of Buddha Jayanthi, senior monks residing in forest hermitages considered it necessary to create an atmosphere for a revival of meditation. In his book ‘Vidhashana Parapura’ the former Chief Kammatthanacharya of Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya, Most Ven Matara Sri Nyanarama Thero states that along with the dawn of Buddha Jayanthi selfless services and sacrifices made by a group of monks from forest hermitages helped in creating an atmosphere for a revival of meditation.

Change After Buddha Jayanthi

In the year 1956, there was a universally acclaimed event which was the 2500th anniversary of the passing away of Buddha. Many different forms of celebrations were held in Sri Lanka as well as other countries. The state sponsored activities included large scale Ata-sil and Dasa-sil programs, ordaining of monks, meditation programs, publication of books and Dharma Sangayanas, meetings, seminars and so on. It was noteworthy that in Sri Lanka significant publicity was received for the systems of meditation in countries such as Myanmar (Burma). In most temples, Dhamma schools, and religious organizations different forms of meditation were given publicity. Interactions with countries such as Myanmar was becoming a regular feature. Gradually increasing numbers of Sri Lankan monks visited Myanmar for training in the Vipassana or Insight form of meditation while Burmese Masters visited Sri Lanka.

The senior meditation masters in countries such as Myanmar and Thailand conducted training sessions in their temples and were considered highly competent in different types of practices. In Sri Lanka the value of Insight form of meditation became a subject of interest and even the Buddhist laymen visited Myanmar to get familiarized with the Insight form of meditation.

A resurgence of religious practices particularly in meditation was visible. One could see that up to the period of Buddha Jayanthi, groups of meditators including monks who lived in temples in non –urban areas, forest hermitages referred to as Aranyas as well as laymen who developed the techniques of meditation, limited the practices mainly to ‘Tranquility’ meditation also referred to as ‘Samatha’ or ‘one-pointed–ness’. Even though there were several hermitages located in the outer regions of the country, important practices of meditation, for a long period, generally did not progress beyond Tranquility meditation. However it is seen that the dawn of Buddha Jayanthi made the members of Sri Lankan society, both the clergy and laity, seriously open their eyes to see where progress was lacking and where developments could be achieved.

Influence of Myanmar and Siamese Traditions

The interactions with Myanmar and Siamese traditions, particularly from Ramanna Desa and Amarapura, became more pronounced and frequent. It was inevitable that meditation guide lines had to be linked to the practices of such regions particularly in Myanmar. After the interactions with Masters - Maha Theras or Sayadows of Myanmar a gradual spread of ‘Vipassana’ or ‘insight meditation’ became a reality. By this process a considerable number of monks and yogis received training in meditation of which the Vipassana form or Insight meditation was considered the more progressive by both the clergy and laity. Several important meditation centers in Sri Lanka such as Kanduboda Vipassana Meditation Center, International Vipassana Center at Wijerama Mawatha followed by Mithirigala Nissarana Vanaya and several others were gradually established.

Developments in the Rest of the World

During the last fifty years the subject of meditation has undergone significant developments in the rest of the world too. With global interactions, the interest shown by several other religious groups in the world including many lay practitioners has resulted in a positive influence on day to day activities.

In his book ‘Tranquility and Insight’, Armando Sole Leris says that during the 20th century the progress of meditation has taken place internationally in two aspects (1) Insight meditation has progressed on its own without combining with tranquility (2) there has been greater involvement of lay persons in Insight not only as yogis and students but also as meditation masters. There has been a need for adaptation to the conditions prevailing in the modern world. There has also been a growing demand for effective methods of mental culture. International acceptance of a mental culture in the form of Insight meditation has even crossed religious barriers in that many religious groups both in the East and West have seriously taken to Insight meditation as stated by Sole Leris.

The development of Insight meditation has special social significance and the subject has been discussed in several important international forums in the recent past. A number of international meditation masters such as Ven.Mahasi Sayadaw, Ven Sayadaw U Pandithabhiwansa, U Ba Khin, S N Goenka and Munindraji have made great contributions and the followers are benefiting from this positive phenomenon.

Spread of Vipassana among European Monks

The German monks Ven. Nyanathiloka and Ven Nyanaponika made significant contributions in Sri Lanka to the monastic practices by their devotion, very high degree of scholarship and attachment to the doctrine. They were followed by many other monks from the western countries who later took part in Insight meditation in Sri Lankan Forest Hermitages. The influx of monks and lay meditators to the Aranyas in Sri Lanka during the period after 1956 was due partly to the teaching of Vipassana system by meditation masters in both East and West. The neighboring countries like India , Myanmar, Thailand too had their meditation activities progress in the direction of Vipassana with several monasteries coming up with the name of the institution shown as a Vipassana center, indicating clearly the progress of Insight meditation. The improvement in communication systems during the last 50 years resulted in travel, particularly air travel as a main form movement making the foreign monks and lay yogis visiting Sri Lanka seeking guidance in meditation. It is not incorrect to state that Sri Lanka became an important center for meditators even though the subject of meditation was developed in Sri Lanka with assistance received from other Buddhist countries. The special position enjoyed by Sri Lanka among the Theravada countries may have helped in this regard.

New Meditation centers and Publications

The present data collected of all forest hermitages, Aranyas and meditation centers throughout Sri Lanka show that there has been a clear trend towards Vipassana and the number of meditation centers kept increasing throughout the country. Publication centres and distribution points for books on Meditation gradually increased in Colombo as well in towns like Kandy and Dehiwala. The authors and publishers too have made a major impact on publicity for important material on Vipassana as a new development.

Tranquility ( Samatha) Meditation and Insight ( Vipassana) Meditation

According to broad divisions the two forms of meditation are ‘Insight’ and ‘Tranquility’. There are several possible ways of seeing the distinction between the two forms of meditation. English Dictionary gives the meaning of ‘insight’ as ‘power of seeing into and understanding things’ or ’imaginative penetration’ whereas tranquility is ‘calmness or peace’. The term Vipassana in Pali or Vidarshana in Sanskrit has the same meaning as ‘Visesha Dharshana' in Sinhala. The special nature of the form of meditation is seen from the meaning conveyed above.

Every event related to human activity can be seen as composed of three factors

(1)Action of a Sense Organ - one out of six organs

eg. the eye ( Base element )

(2)An Object which is to interact with the organ

eg. a picture (Striker element)

(3)The resulting interaction eg. seeing. (Ignition element)

Whatever work we do and whatever situation we are faced with can be interpreted to be composed of a series of events of which each event consists of above three factors. The fixing of mind on the three factors referred to above can be made a common situation in daily life where one sense organ gets linked with an object resulting in an activity. If one is to meditate and concentrate only on an external object, as in the above case then that form of meditation after a certain amount of concentration becomes ‘tranquility’, whereas if the contemplation is spread equally over all three factors, then the form of meditation becomes ‘insight’. As an example if a yogi practices meditation on breathing which is also called ‘Anapana Sati’ the yogi has the choice of either concentrating only on the breath (in and out air draft), which is tranquility meditation or on all three factors - the breath, the place near the tip of the nose which strikes the breath and the feeling that is observed.- which is insight meditation.

Hence it is seen that both forms are practiced in Sri Lanka whereas it is the Insight or Vipassana form that is considered more fruitful or beneficial for one’s progress in the path to mental development, both mundane and supra mundane. It has also got to be appreciated that Insight is not the result of a mere intellectual or theoretical understanding but is won through direct meditative observation in very close proximity to one’s own bodily and mental processes.

It is also possible to arrive at a similar distinction between Samatha and Vipassana from theoretical aspects in terms of eradication of Anusaya Keles or latent tendencies in Vipassana as against eradication of Parivutthana Keles or obsession type defilements in Samatha. The Vidarashana Parapura written by Most Ven. Matara Nyanarama Thero states on p.36 that the form of meditation which removes the five hindrances or ‘nivarana’ such as anger or desire which affect a yogi in his mental development is the Samatha meditation. It is also seen that both forms of meditation can be generally adopted in combination - to maintain tranquility and then to achieve development through insight i.e. control and development of the mind. It is also seen that Tranquility meditation could be used as a preparation for Insight meditation and vice versa.

Mindfulness as a Key to Insight

According to Buddhism, mindfulness which contributes to the effective and efficient performance of any activity is a prime ‘factor of enlightenment’ – ‘Bojjanga’ . It is also one of the eight factors in the ‘Noble Eightfold Path’. Therefore it is not surprising that the yogis who are following the path to enlightenment have given great emphasis to mindfulness. In the Sutta Pitaka which is one of the three main cannons of Buddha’s doctrine, the Maha Sati patthana Sutta enunciates the basis of right mindfulness. The Insight or Vipassana form of meditation is based on the four forms of mindfulness enunciated in this Sutta. It is through the development of mindfulness that a yogi is able to practise Insight meditation. The complete liberation of the yogi is to be achieved through development of mindfulness mentioned in Maha Sathipatthana Sutta by practicing Insight meditation.

The atmosphere needed for Tranquility meditation- a calm and collected setting- is generally not available to a yogi who is a layman living in an urban area. But such laymen who live an active life with regular distractions and facing complex situations live in an atmosphere which is better suited to Insight meditation. This is also one of the main reasons for a remarkable growth of pure Insight meditation internationally.

In his recent publication ‘In This Life Itself’ Ven. Uda Eriyagama Dhammajiva, the Kammatthanacharya of Mitirigala Nissarana Vanaya has clearly presented the methodology of performing Insight meditation under three possible situations, namely

(a) sitting meditation

(b) walking meditation

(c) establishing mindfulness in daily affairs.

It is stated that ‘Mindfulness cultivated during sitting meditation can diminish off after you get up. But mindfulness established in day to day activities is durable’ A meditator can hence develop a continuous application of Insight in day to day activities or walking meditation and achieve very significant results.

A Non- sectarian Image for Religious Practices

From the above it is seen that there has been a major progress in the wider interpretation and perception of ‘Insight mediation’ which can even be utilized for the well being of all members of a non-sectarian society. Promotion of physical and mental health has been one of the unique contributions in the field of medicine.

While it is noteworthy that Insight Meditation is essentially non-sectarian in character it has universal application. In fact it is stated that one need not get converted to Buddhism to start practising Insight meditation. It is also stated that Insight meditation can be referred to as a non-sectarian form of Buddhism. One may even venture into a spiritual path and find that a Buddhist can always remain a non-sectarian path finder who rises above sectarianism and be a member of a common brotherhood of mankind.

Has Buddha Jayanthi of 1956 contributed to the Well being of Society?

There were many fields in which progress for the well being of man was witnessed in 1956 in Sri Lanka. In addition to religion, several other fields such as agriculture, industry, drama, cinema, education and professionalism are some of the important sectors which showed major strides of development. But none of the strides can be compared with the most remarkable development in Insight Meditation which has brought a message of unity to a sectarian society with immense benefit to all its members.

May all living beings be happy !

(Das Miriyagalla is a former Jt. Secy of the Royal Asiatic Society and Vice- President of the Mithirigala Nissarana Vanaya Sanrakshana Sabha. He has also served as the first President of the Buddhist Association of Zambia which pioneered the spread of Buddhism in Africa.)







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J11.08   Buddhism and Science

Based on a talk given by Ajahn Brahmavamso to lay people at the Dhammaloka Buddhist Centre

Nollamara, Western Australia, on 19th of October 2001

Sometime ago, I was invited to the West Perth Observatory as part of the Centenary Federation celebrations in Western Australia. The youth groups of W.A. organised all the events. One of the events they presented was entitled 'Our Place in Space'. The idea was to try and find out whether the future would be one which followed science or one which would follow religion. They wanted to see how those two, so called contradictory approaches to life, would pan out into the future. So they invited representatives from a couple of religions. I represented the Buddhists, and a teacher from a prestigious Christian school represented the Christians. The State Astronomer and a young person from the University of WA, who was about to get a PhD in physics, were also on the panel, representing Astronomy and Physics. What they didn't know was that before I was a monk I was a theoretical physicist. So, I knew what Buddhists know and I also knew what they know. It was a bit unfair, but really good fun. It was good fun talking to the audience about Buddhism, religion and science, and how they come together. There are dangers in religion and science, but they can be used to help people to find a way through their lives in wise, compassionate and effective ways.

The End of the Universe

I started by explaining a few things about Buddhism that many people do not know. Buddhism is so extensive that there are still many things that people in the West don't know about this great religion, especially from the old Scriptures, the suttas. For instance, do you know who the first man in space was? No, it certainly wasn't Yuri Gagarin. It was Venerable Rohitassa! (AN IV, 45)

I think you all know that if you really get your meditation together, it is possible to levitate. One of the stories in the suttas tells the story of a hermit who lived alone in the forest. He developed his meditation and learned how to rise into the air and fly. This particular hermit wasn't just an ordinary levitator, he was one of the best levitators there has ever been. He took levitation to new heights and 'raised the bar', as it were! Because he could go so fast, it was said faster than an arrow, he decided to try and find out where the universe ends. He flew for many, many, many years, and he still could not find the end of the universe. He went beyond the solar systems into deep space using the power of the mind. People often say that's just belief. It's just not real. But later on I'll mention a few facts that show that it probably was real and certainly possible. He went on for many tens of years, and died on the way, never finding an end to the universe.

Being reborn in one of the heavenly realms Venerable Rohitassa came to the Buddha and told him the story of his previous life. That as a hermit, he'd levitated and flew on "for ever and ever and ever", dying on the journey without reaching the end of the cosmos. He was not the first cosmonaut or astronaut, he was the first monkanaut! The Buddha rebuked him, saying that that's not the way to find the end of the universe. Instead, the Buddha emphatically said that the beginning and the end of the universe can only be found by investigating within. This gave the answer to one of the questions that people so often ask of Buddhists: "Who do Buddhists believe created this universe?" A scientist would reword the same question as, "What is the origin of this universe?" The answer is that the beginning and end of the universe are to be found within your own body and mind. You are its creator!

Remembering Past Lives

Buddhism is founded on meditation, and meditation can reveal many, many things, especially deep memories from the past. Monks, nuns, and ordinary meditators can reach such deep meditations that they can not only levitate, but they can remember previous lives! Many people can actually do this. When you come out of a deep meditation you have incredible energy. Afterwards you won't be able to go to sleep, nor will you be able to go and watch TV, because the mind will be too full of its own joy and happiness. Moreover, the mind is so empowered that you can make suggestions to it, suggestions that you would not normally be able to fulfil. But empowered by deep meditation, you can follow the suggestions. I've actually taught this special meditation to people on meditation retreats, because on meditation retreats some get deep results. People sometimes get memories of when they were babies, and then of being in their mother's womb. If they are lucky they get memories of when they were a very old person, i.e. memories from a past life! One of the important things with those past life memories is that they are very real to the person experiencing them. It's as if you are back there experiencing it. Anyone who has had a memory like that has no doubt in their mind about past lives. It's not a theory any more. Such memories are like remembering where you were this morning when you had breakfast. You have no doubts that that was you this morning, having that breakfast. You didn't imagine it. With the same clarity, or even greater clarity, you remember that that very old person was you, only it wasn't a few hours ago, it was many decades ago. It was a different time, a different body and a different life. Now if people can do that on nine day meditation retreats, imagine what you would do if you were a monk or a nun, who meditates not just for a weekend, or for nine days, but nine years, twenty-nine, thirty-nine, or fifty-nine years. Imagine how much power you could generate in that meditation. Now imagine how much more power you could generate if you were a Buddha with an Enlightened mind.

Now you know what to do to discover for yourself if you've lived before. Meditate. I don't mean just meditating to get rid of stress and make your self calm. I mean really meditate, deeply. Meditate to get your mind into what we call the Jhānas. Those are deep states of absorption, where the body disappears. You don't feel. You can't see. You can't hear. You're absolutely inside the mind. You have no thoughts but you are perfectly aware. You are blissed out. The method, the instructions for the experiment, are very clearly laid down. Even in my little book "The Basic Method of Meditation" all the steps are there. Follow them, and invest the resources necessary for doing that experiment not just one weekend retreat, but many weekend retreats, and sometimes many years of meditating. If you want to follow that 'scientific method', you have to enter into a Jhāna. And then, after you emerge from that state, you ask yourself, "What is my earliest memory?" You can keep going back in your mind, and eventually you will remember. You will see for yourself the experience of past lives. Then you know. Yes, it is true! You have had the experience for yourself.

The Buddha said he did remember past lives, many past lives, many aeons of past lives. He said specifically that he remembered ninety-one aeons. That's ninety big bangs, the time before and the time afterwards, huge spaces of time. That's why the Buddha said there was not just one universe, but many universes. We are not talking about parallel universes as some scientists say. We are talking about sequential universes, with what the Buddha called sanvattati vivattati. This is Pāli, meaning the unfolding of the universe and the infolding of it, beginnings and endings.

The suttas even give a measure for the lifetime of a universe. When I was a theoretical physicist, my areas of expertise were the very small and the very large; fundamental particle physics and astrophysics. They were the two aspects that I liked the most, the big and the small. So I knew what was meant by the age of a universe and what a 'big bang' was all about. The age of a universe, the last time I looked in the journals, was somewhere about seventeen thousand million years. In the Buddhist suttas they say that about thirty seven thousand million years is a complete age. When I told that to the state astronomer he said yes, that estimate was in the ball park, it was acceptable. The person who was the convener of the Our Place in Space seminar made a joke about the fact that a hundred or two hundred years ago, Christianity said the universe was about seven thousand years old. That estimate certainly isn't acceptable, the Buddhist one is!

It is remarkable that there was a cosmology in Buddhism twenty-five centuries ago that doesn't conflict with modern physics. Even what astronomers say are galaxies, the Buddha called wheel systems. If any of you have ever seen a galaxy, you will know there are two types of galaxy. First, there is the spiral galaxy. The Milky Way is one of those. Have you seen a spiral galaxy? It is like a wheel! The other type is the globular cluster, which looks like a wheel with a big hub in the middle. 'Wheels' is a very accurate way of describing galaxies. This was explained by someone twenty five centuries ago, when they did not have telescopes! They didn't need them, they could go there themselves!

There is a lot of interesting stuff in the old suttas, even for those of you who like weird stuff. Some times people ask this question, "Do Buddhists believe in extra terrestrial beings, in aliens?" Would an alien landing here upset the very foundation of Buddhism? When I was reading through these old suttas I actually found a reference to aliens! It's only a very small sutta, which said that there are other world systems with other suns, other planets, and other beings on them. That's directly from the Anguttara Nikāya. (AN X, 29)

The Ghost in the Machine

During the seminar at the West Perth Observatory, one of the audience put their hand up and asked, "Why is it that when I look through a telescope I feel that my religion is challenged?" She was a Catholic. She explained that she felt scared when she looked through a telescope, because what she saw did not agree with what she read in her bible. As a Buddhist you don't need to be afraid. I took that question and turned it back on to the scientists by asking, "What if you looked through the opposite end of the telescope to investigate the one who is looking? I think you scientists would be scared. You would be afraid if you turned the telescope inwards and looked into yourselves, and asked who is looking at all of this?" Part of the problem with science is that it is all 'out there'. It's always a person looking through the telescope, looking at the apparatus, but never reflecting back to see who is actually looking at all this. Who is doing this?

When the discussion was starting to get a bit dull, I decided to stir up the State Astronomer by talking about life. Any scientists here would know that quantum mechanics, or quantum theory, describes the world as composed of wave functions. The wave function specifies the probability of an observable event. However, when life gets involved, when an observation is made, the wave function collapses and reality as we know it occurs. There has to be observation, a life there, to make it happen. The quantum theory needed an observer, a life, to give meaning to the equations. After the quantum revolution in physics, an objective universe, independent of life, became nonsensical.

Another fundamental law of physics is called the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which says that entropy always increases. In other words, life gets more disordered, even more chaotic. However, recently someone won the Nobel Prize for proving an exception, that when there is a closed system that includes life, entropy decreases! Life gives order to chaos. That disproved the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Because of life we get organisation rather than disorder. The universe is a closed system and it has got life in it. That's why there is organisation.

When I was at university, life was what the physicists called, the 'ghost in the machine'. The 'ghost in the machine' is what messed up all the objective theories. This ghost scared the lab-coats off many a scientist!

Following Beliefs Blindly

This method that we take as science in the universities, in the labs, and in the hospitals often suffers from the same disease as religion dogmatism. You know what religious dogmatism is like. We have a belief and whether it fits with experience or not, whether it's useful or not, whether it's conducive to people's happiness, harmony, and peace in the world or not, we follow it just because that's our belief. But following beliefs blindly, dogmatically, is just a recipe for violence and suffering.

One of the beautiful things about Buddhism that encouraged me to become a Buddhist when I was young, and which keeps me as a Buddhist now, is that questioning is always encouraged. You do not need to believe. In one of the tales from the ancient texts the Buddha gave a teaching to his chief monk, Venerable Sariputta. After giving the teaching, the Buddha asked his chief monk, "Sariputta, do you believe what I just taught?" Sariputta, without any hesitation, said "No I don't believe it, because I haven't experienced it yet". The Buddha said, "Well done! Well done! Well done!" That is the attitude to encourage in all disciples, either of religion or science. Not to believe, but to keep an open mind until they've had the true experience. This attitude goes against dogmatism, it runs counter to fundamentalism, which one doesn't only see in religion, but which one also sees in science.

'The eminence of a great scientist', the old saying goes, 'is measured by the length of time they obstruct progress in their field'.

The more famous the scientist, the more prominent they are, the more their views are taken to be gospel truth. Their fame stops other people challenging them; it delays the arrival of a better 'truth'. In Buddhism when you find a better truth, use it at once.

The Problem with Dogmatism

There is an old story, from the time of the Buddha, about two friends who went looking for treasure in a town that had been abandoned. (DN 23.29) First they found some hemp and decided to make two bundles of that hemp and carry it away. They would be able to sell it when they got back home. Soon after they had made these big bundles of hemp they came across some hempen cloth. One of the men said, "What do I need the hemp for? The cloth is better". The other man said, "No this is already well bound up, I've carried it for so long already, I'll keep my load of hemp". Then they found some flax, some flaxen cloth, some cotton, and some cotton cloth, and each time the man carrying the hemp said, "No, the hemp is okay for me", while his friend changed his load for that which was more valuable. Later on they found some silver, and then some gold. Each time one man would always change what he was carrying for something better, but the other man stubbornly kept his bundle of hemp. When they got home the man who carried the gold was very popular with his family. As for the man who carried the hemp, his family was not happy with him at all! Why don't we change our views, our ideas, when we see something better? The reason we don't do that is because of attachment. This is my view. We are comfortable with the old views, even though we know they are wrong. We don't really want to change. Sometimes our self image is bound up with those views. Like the scientist who is bound up with his achievements, bound up with what he's seen so far, he or she resists new ideas.

This is the problem called dogmatism. Sometimes when I talk about levitation, people say levitation doesn't exist, it's just myth. Wait until you see someone levitate! If you saw someone levitate, if the three monks here rose up about two or three feet, wouldn't that be challenging?

Sorry, we can't do that in public. It's against our rules. One of the reasons we can't demonstrate psychic powers in front of people is that if we did, someone would probably record it on a video camera and send it to a television channel. Then everybody, even from overseas, would come to Perth. Not to listen to the Dhamma, not to hear about Buddhism, but just to see the monks do their tricks. Then we would be pressured into giving demonstrations all the time. It would be like a circus, not a temple. The point is that monks are not here to demonstrate tricks.

Even if a monk did perform a miracle, many people would say: "This is just a trick. It's done with special effects. They are not really levitating". If you don't want to believe it, you won't. This is the problem with dogmatism. What you don't want to see, you do not see. When you don't want to believe it, you go into denial. This is why I say that many scientists are in denial about the nature of the mind.

The Boy with No Brain

This is a well known case that throws a challenge to modern science. It's the case of Professor John Lorber and the student with no brain.[1] Professor Lorber was a neurologist at Sheffield University who held a research chair in paediatrics. He did a lot of research on hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. The student's physician at the university noticed that the youth had a slightly larger than normal head, and so referred him to Professor Lorber, simply out of interest. When they did a brain scan on the student they saw that his cranium was filled mainly with cerebrospinal fluid. The student had an IQ of 126, had gained a first-class honours degree in mathematics, and was socially completely normal. And yet the boy had virtually no brain. This is not just a fabrication; research has found other people with no brains. During the first world war, when there was such carnage in the trenches of Europe. Soldiers had their skulls literally blown apart by bullets and shrapnel. It is said that the doctors found that some of the shattered heads of those corpses were empty. There was no brain. The evidence of those doctors was put aside as being too difficult to understand. But Professor Lorber went forward with his findings, and published them, to the great disturbance of the scientific community. Billions of dollars are going into research on the brain. Current views hold that imbalances in the brain are causing your depressions, your lack of intelligence, or your emotional problems. And yet here is evidence that shows you don't need much of a brain to have an excellent mind.

A doctor friend in Sydney discussed this case with me once. He said he'd seen those CT scans, and confirmed that the case was well known in the medical community. He explained that that boy only had what was called a reptilian brain stem. Usually, any baby born with just a reptilian brain stem, without the cortex and the other stuff, will usually die straight away or within a few days after birth. A reptilian brain stem is not capable of maintaining basic bodily functions such as breathing, heart or liver. It's not enough to keep the higher brain functions going. It's not enough for speech, not enough for intelligence, certainly not enough for being an honours student in mathematics. This doctor said, "Ajahn Brahm, you wouldn't believe the problem that this is causing in my field of science. It shatters so much past research. It is challenging so many drug companies that are making billions of dollars in profits". Because dogmatic scientists can't understand how a person with virtually no brain can be intelligent, they are just burying the findings at the back of the filing cabinet, classifying it as an anomaly. But truth just won't go away.

The Mind and the Brain

As soon as you start to include the mind, this 'ghost in the machine', in the equations, scientists tend to become discomfited. They take refuge in dogma, and say, "No, that cannot exist". I really took the Sate Astronomer to task over such dogmatism in science.

As far as Buddhism is concerned there are six senses. Not just the five senses of science, namely sight, sound, smell, taste and touch but in addition the mind. From the very beginning in Buddhism, mind has been the sixth sense. Twenty-five centuries ago, the sixth sense was well recognised. So this is not changing things to keep up with modern times; this was so from the very beginning. The sixth sense, the mind, is independent of the other five senses. In particular the mind is independent of the brain. If you volunteer to have a brain transplant with me you take my brain and I take your brain I will still be Ajahn Brahm and you will still be you. Want to try it? If it was possible and it happened, you would still be yourself. The mind and the brain are two different things. The mind can make use of the brain but it doesn't have to.

Some of you may have had out of the body experiences. These out of the body experiences have recently been the subject of mainstream scientific research. Out of the body experiences are now a scientific fact! I like to stir people up by saying things like that. Recently I saw that Dr. Sam Parnia, a researcher from the University of Southampton Medical School, has given a paper, stating that consciousness survives death.[2] He said that he did not know how it happens, or why it happens, but, he says, it does happen. His evidence was gathered from people who have had out of the body experiences in his hospital. Dr Parnia, investigated and interviewed many, many patients. The information which they gave him, as a cool headed scientist, said yes, those people were conscious during the time they were dead. What was especially very convincing was that often they could actually describe to the doctor the medical procedures that were done during the time when they were clinically dead. They could describe it as if they were looking at their body from a position above the table. But how that happens Dr. Parnia can't explain. Why it happens he can't explain. But other medical findings also support the above. Finally, their findings replicated the work done earlier by Dr. Raymond A. Moody in the United States.[3]

The evidence proved to those hard nosed doctors that out of body experiences do happen. But how could they happen? If we agree that the mind can be independent of the body, then we have a plausible explanation. The brain doesn't need to be functioning for a mind to exist. The scientific facts are there, the evidence is there, but a lot of scientists don't like to admit those facts. They prefer to close their eyes because of dogmatism.

Come and See for Yourself

If you had just one person who had been confirmed as medically dead who could describe to the doctors, as soon as they were revived, what had been said, and done during that period of death, wouldn't that be pretty convincing? When I was doing elementary particle physics there was a theory that required for its proof the existence of what was called the 'W' particle. At the cyclotron in Geneva, CERN funded a huge research project, smashing atoms together with an enormous particle accelerator, to try and find one of these 'W' particles. They spent literally hundreds of millions of pounds on this project. They found one, just one 'W' particle. I don't think they have found another since. But once they found one 'W' particle, the researchers involved in that project were given Nobel prizes for physics. They had proved the theory by just finding the one 'W' particle. That's good science. Just one is enough to prove the theory.

When it comes to things we don't like to believe, they call just one experience, one clear factual undeniable experience, an anomaly. Anomaly is a word in science for disconcerting evidence that we can put in the back of a filing cabinet and not look at again, because it's threatens our worldview. It undermines what we want to believe. It is threatening to our dogma. However, an essential part of the scientific method is that theories have to be abandoned in favour of the evidence, in respect of the facts. The point is that the evidence for a mind independent of the brain is there. But once we admit that evidence, and follow the scientific method, then many cherished theories, what we call 'sacred cows' will have to be abandoned.

When we see something that challenges any theory, in science or in religion, we should not ignore the evidence. We have to change the theory to fit the facts. That is what we do in Buddhism. All the Dhamma of the Buddha, everything that he taught, if it does not fit the experience, then we should not accept it. We should not accept the Buddha's words in contradiction of experience. That is clearly stated in the Kālāma Sutta. (AN III, 65) The Buddha said do not believe because it is written in the books, or even if I say it. Don't just believe because it is tradition, or because it sounds right, or because it's comforting to you. Make sure it fits your experience. The existence of mind, independent of the brain, fits experience. The facts are there.

Sometimes, however, we cannot trust the experts. You cannot trust Ajahn Brahm. You cannot trust the scientific journals. Because people are often biased. Buddhism gives you a scientific method for your practice. Buddhism says, do the experiment and find out for your self if what the Buddha said is true or not. Check out your experience. For example, develop the method to test the truth of past lives, rebirth and reincarnation. Don't just believe it with faith, find out for yourself. The Buddha has given a scientific experiment that you can repeat.

Until you understand the law of kamma, which is part of Buddhism, kamma is just a theory. Do you believe that there is a God 'up there' who decides when you can be happy or unhappy? Or is everything that happens to you just chance? Your happiness and your suffering in life, your joy, your pain and disappointments, are they deserved? Are you responsible or is it someone else's fault? Is it mere chance that we are rich or poor? Is it bad luck when we are sick and die at a young age? Why? You can find the true answer for yourself. You can experience the law of kamma through deep meditation. When the Buddha sat under the Bodhi tree at Bodhgaya, the two knowledge's he realized just before his Enlightenment were the knowledge from experience of the truth of rebirth, and the knowledge from experience of the Law of kamma. This was not theory, not just more thinking, not something worked out from discussions around the coffee table this was realization from deep experience of the nature of mind. You too can have that same experience.

All religions in the world except Buddhism maintain the existence of a soul. They affirm a real 'self', an 'essence of all being', a 'person', a 'me'. Buddhism says there is no self! Who is right? What is this 'ghost in the machine'? Is it a soul, is it a being, or is it a process? What is it? When the Buddha said that there is no one in here, he never meant that to be just believed, he meant that to be experienced. The Buddha said, as a scientific fact, that there is no 'self'. But like any scientific fact, it has to be experienced each one for themselves, paccattam veditabbo viññūhī. Many of you chant those Pāli words every day. It is basic scientific Buddhism. You have to keep an open mind. You don't believe there is 'no self', you don't believe there is a 'self' both beliefs are dogmatism. Keep an open mind until you complete the experiment. The experiment is the practice of sila, samādhi and pañña, (virtue, meditation and insight). The experiment is Buddhist practice. Do the same experimental procedures that the Buddha did under the Bodhi tree. Repeat it and see if you get the same results. The result is called Enlightenment.

Men and women have repeated that experiment many times over the centuries. It is in the laboratory of Buddhist practice that the Enlightened Ones, the Arahants, arise. The Arahants are the ones who have done the experiment and found the result. That's why Buddhism always has been the scientific way. It is the way of finding out for your self the truth of Enlightenment.

Buddhism is also the scientific way of discovering the truth about happiness, what most people are interested in. What is happiness? Some students from our local Islamic school came to visit our monastery a short while ago. I performed a little party trick for them, which was also an illuminating way to demonstrate the existence of the mind. I was trying to explain Buddhism, so I asked them:

"Are you happy? Put your hands up if you are happy now".

At first there was no response. Then one person responded and raised their hand.

"Oh! You're all miserable?" I said "Only one person, come on! Are you happy or not?"

More students put there hands up.

"Okay, all those people who put their hands up saying they are happy, with your index finger can you now point to that happiness? Can you give it coordinates in space?" They couldn't locate that happiness.

It's hard to locate happiness, isn't it? Have you ever been depressed? Next time you are depressed, try to point to that feeling with your index finger! You will find that you cannot locate depression, or happiness, in space. You cannot give it coordinates, because these things reside in the mind, not in the body, not in space. The mind is not located in space. That's why after a person dies, if they become a ghost they can appear all over the world immediately. People sometimes ask me, "How can that happen?" How can a person who dies, say in New York, appear immediately in Perth? It is because the mind is not located in space, that's why. This is why you cannot point to happiness, you cannot point to depression, but they are real. Are you imagining the happiness? Do you imagine the depression? It's real. You all know that. But you cannot locate it in three dimensional space. Happiness, depression, and many other real things, all live in mind-space.

The mind is not in the brain, it's not in the heart. We have seen that you could have no brain but still have a mind. You could take out your heart, and have a bionic heart, or a heart transplant, and you would still be you. This understanding of the mind is why Buddhists have no objection at all to cloning. You want to clone me, go for it! But don't think that if you clone Ajahn Brahm that you'll be able to have one Ajahn Brahm who goes to Singapore this evening, another one who stays in Perth for next Friday night's talk, plus one who can stay in Bodhinyana monastery, one who can go to Sydney, and one who can go to Melbourne. If you clone me, the person who looks like me will be completely different in personality, knowledge, inclination, and everything else. People clone Toyota cars in the same way. They look exactly the same but the performance really depends on the driver inside the car. That's all cloning is, it's just a replicating a body. Sure it looks the same, but is the body all that a person is? Haven't you seen identical twins? Are identical twins the same personality? Have they got the same intelligence? Have they got the identical inclinations? Do they even like the same food? The answer is usually no.

Why do people have this problem about cloning? Clone as much as you want. You are just creating more bodies for streams of consciousness to come into. Those streams of consciousness come from past lives. What's the problem? You would never be able to predict the result. Suppose you took Einstien's brain, extracted some of his DNA, and cloned a new Einstien. He might look the same, but I guarantee he won't be half as clever.

If people want to proceed with stem cell research, which is going to help humanity, then why not? In stem cell research there is no 'being' involved. The 'being' hasn't come in yet. In Buddhism, it is understood that the 'being' descends into the mother's womb at any time from conception until birth. Sometimes it doesn't even go into the womb at all and the foetus is stillborn. The objections to stem cell research are dogmatic, unscientific, and uncompassionate. They're foolish as far as I'm concerned. I think sometimes that I would tear my hair out if I weren't a monk.

If you want to look at the scientific evidence for rebirth, check out Professor Ian Stevenson. He spent his whole life researching rebirth on a solid scientific basis at the University of Virginia.[4] Chester Carlson, the inventor of xerography, (encouraged by his wife) offered funds for an endowed chair at the University to enabled Professor Stevenson to devote himself full-time to such research. If it weren't for the fact that people do not want to believe in rebirth, Dr. Ian Stevenson would be a world famous scientist now. He even spent a couple of years as a visiting fellow of Magdalene College in Oxford, so you can see that this is not just some weird professor; he has all of the credentials of a respected Western academic.

Dr. Stevenson has over 3000 cases on his files. One interesting example was the very clear case of a man who remembered many details from his past life, with no way of gaining that information from any other source. That person died only a few weeks before he was reborn! Which raises the question, for all those months that the foetus was in the womb, who was it? As far as Buddhism is concerned, the mother kept that foetus going with her own stream of consciousness. But when another stream of consciousness entered, then the foetus became the new person. That is one case where the stream of consciousness entered the mother's womb when the foetus was almost fully developed. That can happen. That was understood by Buddhism twenty five centuries ago. If the stream of consciousness doesn't enter the mother's womb, the child is a stillborn. There is a heap of evidence supporting that.

Science and Buddhism

When a Buddhist looks through a telescope, they are not scared by what they might find. They are not scared of science. Science is an essential part of Buddhism. If science can disprove rebirth, then Buddhists should give up the idea of rebirth. If science disproves non-self, and shows there is a self, then all Buddhists should abandon non-self. If science proves there is no such thing as kamma, but instead there is a big God up in the sky, then all Buddhists should believe in God. That is, if it's provable science. Buddhism has no sacred cows. However, I encourage you to do those experiments for yourselves. I'll bet you will find out that there is no one 'in there'. You will find out about kamma. You will find out you've been here before, that this is not your first life. If you don't behave yourselves in this life, you'll have another life to come yet. Do you think you are finished with nappies, with school? Do you really want to go through all that again? If not be careful.

So, here is my thinking about science and Buddhism. I think that Buddhism is pure science, a science that doesn't stop 'out there', but also investigates the mind, the 'being', the 'ghost in the machine'. And it doesn't disregard any anomalies. Buddhism takes everything as its data, especially experience, and looks at it scientifically. It is incredibly successful.

One of the reasons why people celebrate science is because of all of its achievements in technology. One of the reasons why Buddhism is growing these days is because of all of its achievements in the 'technology of the mind'. It solves problems. It explains mental difficulties. Buddhism succeeds in solving those inner problems because it has all these strategies, these ancient 'gizmos', which actually work. If you try some of these Buddhist gizmos, you will find out for yourself that they produce the goods, they solve your inner suffering and pain. That is why Buddhism is growing. I think that Buddhism will supplant science!

Thank you very much.


J11.09   Hypnosis, Re-birth and Kamma

Kingsley Heendeniya


In recent time, hypnosis has become an absorbing study and practice. Notwithstanding hilarious exposure of tricksters, as on local television, there are experts claiming professional qualifications from putative universities courses in London. The avowed objective is to ‘prove’ re-birth - like proving the Pythagoras Theorem.`A0 My intention is not to ridicule it but that it is a waste of time. 

There are many things we do not know and understand. We cannot hear and smell like dogs, taste like vipers, travel where there is no track like birds, wiggle like bees to communicate, and so on. But we can do things animals cannot. Scientists have not written the final textbook, called off their search and gone home to sleep while there is nothing to add or take away from the teaching of the Buddha.`A0 Yet, among others, hypnotists have a field day. The latest technique is indefinite regression of memory beyond conception. Persons undergoing this experience narrate things happened to them in previous lives. And it is assumed to be true. What is true is that the findings of hypnosis, as in science, are necessarily speculative. If there is one thing that can be said about the Buddha, it is that he put away all speculation and spoke from direct experience, of things not pointing to a person. 


There are hundreds of anecdotal accounts of re-birth, many published by researchers in the West. Some are not Buddhists. My close relative has a son when about three years old suddenly spoke of having been run over by a train. The boy never saw a train nor was he told about it. The father got frightened and did not encourage the memory. All this is very interesting. So what? 

There is an ancient book, The Questions of King Milinda, the Milindapanha, with an oft quoted dictum - ‘Na ca so na anno’ meaning ‘Neither he nor another’ sometimes falsely attributed to the Buddha. It is the answer to the question ‘When a man dies, who is reborn - he or another?’ When discussing it, the crucial point is missed - that the question cannot be asked. To answer in any way assumes it can be asked. 

The question takes the validity of the ‘self’ for granted and the answer merely denies it since the question can only be asked about a ‘self’. When asking who is reborn, it falls into sakkayaditthi or belief in a self. The proper way is to reject the question. The Anguttara refers to the ditthisammpanna who cannot hold that pleasure and pain belongs to someone but also hold that they do not belong to someone. The ditthisammpanna has seen that the present person has arisen dependent on present conditions and as ceasing with the cessation of present conditions. Seeing this, he does not regard the present person as present ‘self’. Consequently he does not ask the question Who? about the present. Having induced the principle to past and future [atitanagate nayam netva] he does not regard the past or future person as past or future ‘self’ and does not ask the question Who? about the past or the future. The Milindapanha is a misleading book. Strictly speaking, the word rebirth is a misnomer. It assumes the birth again of the same self. The word used in Dhamma is punnabbhava meaning re-becoming. The words ‘birth’ and ‘death’ are accordingly not used when describing the arahat.


The concept of action [kamma] and its reaction [vipaka] is often grievously misunderstood. The Buddha has spoken relatively little about it, in fact stating that since vipaka takes time, and no one can know at the present time what precisely lies in store, to ponder about the ripening of action would make a person go mad. The permutations are too many and memory can be faulty. The Buddha teaches about certainty. 

The question what should I do? is the ethical question. All actions done by ME is either kusala or akusala [skilful or not skilful]. Akusala is rooted in lobha, dosa and moha, resulting in arising of action. Kusala action does not result in arising of action. The puthujjana does not understand this because he neither sees arising nor cessation of action. He may adopt a set of moral values for any number of reasons - faith in a teacher, fear of evil doing, a philosophical stance etc. But the need for moral necessity is not self-evident. We are always confronted with choices - chase the beggar at the gate, give him some food, invite him for a meal etc. Jean Grenier, quoted by Venerable Nanavira Thera writes, ‘A choice, in the full sense of the word, a "real" choice is possible only if man has access to the truth; if not they are only compromises of all kinds: the noblest are also the most modest.’ Sartre concludes that man is bound by his nature to adopt values of one sort or another. He cannot escape from choosing. He is totally responsible for his choice. There is nothing in his nature to justify choosing a particular set of values. The puthujjana does not see a task to be performed to justify his existence. The aryasavaka on the other hand sees that to bring his existence to an end is the very task that justifies his existence.

10 10 2004 - Sunday Island



J11.10   Stressed Americans turn to meditation

D. C. Ranatunga

Tension and stress in their lives have led some Americans to look towards Buddhist meditation as a form of relaxation. Meditation classes at the Washington Buddhist Vihara are very popular according to Ven. Aharagama Dhammasiri Nayaka Thera, President of the vihara, which is the first Theravada Buddhist temple in the United States. It was founded by the late Ven. Madihe Pannasiha Maha Nayaka Thera in the mid-1960s."With only a few holidays, the life of the Americans revolves round work. Their stress levels are high. So they try to get away for an hour or two on Sundays to follow our meditation classes," says Ven. Dhammasiri. The most senior pupil monk of Madihe Maha Nayaka Thera, Ven. hammasiri has been managing the Washington Vihara for the past 16 years. In recognition of his services, the Dharmarakshita sect of the Amarapura Nikaya appointed him as the chief high priest in North America recently.

Ven. Dhammasiri points out that unlike a few years back when foreigners were more interested in Buddhist philosophy, now the accent is on meditation. A meditation class is held on Sundays from 7 p.m. onwards at the vihara. In addition, classes are also held on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7p.m. to 8.30 p.m. "The attendance is encouraging," Ven. Dhammasiri says.

The vihara also conducts a dhamma class every other Friday for two hours in the evening while a daham pasala is held every other Sunday morning. Monday evenings are devoted to a group discussion on the ill effects of alcohol and drugs.

With a growing interest in comparative religions in the university curriculum, many students select Buddhism. Groups of students come to the vihara looking for material. Ven. Dhammasiri discusses the dhamma with them.

"I also get invited for lectures and seminars at universities, colleges and churches. There is always a lot of interest when a Buddhist monk attends these. So many questions are asked - about the robe, its colour, why the head is shaven and so on."

Following one of his presentations, Rev. Nathan D. Baxter, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral interviewed Venerable Dhammasiri about Buddhism.

Extracts of the interview were published in the Spring Issue of the 'Cathedral Age'. Here we reproduce extracts from their conversation.

Conversation about Buddhism

Baxter: Westerners often wonder whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy, and often the answer hinges on whether Buddhism is theistic or has a theology. Does Buddhism have a belief in some kind of ultimate being or a presence higher than the individual?

Ven. Dhammasiri: Buddhism is neither theistic nor atheistic. It defines god and religion in a humanistic way. Religion, according to Buddhism is something that has grown up on earth to satisfy a human need and to solve a human problem. Buddhism does have a belief in an ultimate being and a presence higher than the normal human being, and that is the Buddha. Buddhists do not see the Buddha as an ordinary human being or philosopher such as Socrates, Plato, or Aristotle.

He represents the ‘ultimate state’ in the spiritual evolution of the human being. God for the Buddhist is the ideal of perfection conceived by human beings which they strive to realize through the practice of religion. Buddhism speaks of action (karma) and its consequences (vipaka).

Baxter: When one wills an action, is that person aware of whether the intention is good or bad, or is it something one discovers later? That is to say, if I decide to do something that might be in my interest but may be harmful to my brother's, is that a wilful karma or is it something else? I'm trying to find the moral principle.

Ven. Dhammasiri: Karma is not a moral law. The essence of karma is motive, which is emotional. If one acts angrily, it will have bad consequences. If one acts kindly, it will have good consequences. That is how karma works.

Baxter: That's much like Jesus' teaching about that which comes from our hearts. It's not what comes from our mouths but from our hearts that is at the root of our goodness.

Ven. Dhammasiri: We have the greatest respect for Jesus Christ. Many of his teachings are very Buddhistic. Take the Sermon on the Mount - pure Buddhist! And the concept of turning the other cheek, avoiding revenge, this is clearly Buddhist, too. Examples like this are common in the Gospels.

Baxter: Let's talk about the compatibility of Buddhism with Christianity. How would a Buddhist understand prayer and worship?

Ven. Dhammasiri: We do have worship, but not prayer as a Christian might understand it. To worship is to recognize the worth of some thing or some person (worth-ship). Worship is based on a sense of values. We do not pray to a supernatural power for things to happen or even for salvation. The worship in our temples is before the statue of the Buddha, in admiration, respect, and gratitude of what he achieved and for teaching us the way to happy and peaceful living.

Baxter: Would a Buddhist worshipper have a sense that the Buddha would hear or be aware of their expression of gratitude or their gestures of honour and respect?

Ven. Dhammasiri: Not at all. We do not believe the Buddha can hear what we say, or know what we say in any subtle way. We do not even believe that a Buddha exists after attaining Pari-Nirvana. It is interesting to note here that the essence of God for the theist is God's ‘existence’ but the essence of the Buddha to the Buddhist is a Buddha's ‘non-existence’, because he has ‘awakened’ from the ‘dream of existence’.

Baxter: Can one follow Buddhist practice and still be a Christian, or must one reject Christianity in order to embrace Buddhism?

Ven. Dhammasiri: Part of being a Buddhist is the practice of universal good will. Anyone can practise Buddhism even though he or she has Christian beliefs. But becoming a Buddhist is a different thing. This involves a change in beliefs. We never ask anyone to become a Buddhist. We never ask because we don't believe in labels. Labels don't matter; your heart matters. I always say to Christians who come to me asking this question, "Stay a Christian. Don't change your religion, but practise those things that can make you a better Christian." Anyone can practise meditation, loving kindness, and forgiveness and express gratitude to the people who help and teach you. You don't have to become a Buddhist to practise Buddhism.

Baxter: Where do you see opportunities for Christians and Buddhists to learn and grow together? How can we deepen our spiritual lives together?

Ven. Dhammasiri: The best way I can think of to deepen our spiritual lives is to drop all dogmatism and blind faith and to study about religion with an open mind. Buddhism is full of many beautiful teachings. Do not look for others' faults; look for the nice things and leave behind that which you find to be not so good. If someone is looking for the bad things in a person or a religion, he will only find the sand and stones. But if he sifts them properly, all the unneeded things will go away. When you use this theory to look at others' religions, it can be a very helpful way to seek peace and harmony between each other.



J11.11   Glorious path to mind and soul conditioning

Wijitha L. Munidasa

A mind needs to be quiet

As experienced our mind always seek freedom from pain and sorrow. Be clear on this only a mind that is free from evil, anger and hatred is a free mind. When this happens the mind becomes deeply conditioned and super soft with great noble thoughts flowing in. According to Buddha’s preachings and his philosophy this is meditation. Meditation helps one to be a Master of reality and to discipline himself. It also helps to keep the mind free from all evils without any propagandistic dull and cruel sense of destitution entering the mind. In this stage your mind is kept full of compassion, care, softness and openness blocking away jealousy, hatred and envy. It is these sinful factors that poison one’s blood circulating through mind victimizing for ever and ever.

The Buddha asked what exactly is the purpose of one’s living and went on to explain that love, compassion and obligations should be the main theme of one’s life. He said that religion, belief and faith are all different aspects that linger one’s mind and soul continuously. If one is to be happy he should be morally free of all evils and be full. This he said can be achieved by meditation. When this can be achieved one will automatically select or fall to the path of noble truth and wisdom. To learn the final absolute scientific truth about one’s life is a very difficult-process. A noble task one has to discipline through manysansaras. It was only our Gauthama Buddha the great humanitarian scientist who could master the art of attaining Nirvana through tireless meditation process. Our legends have a meaning in the discovery of our lives where memories and aspirations that leads to fear leave deeply painful and sorrowing scar in our hearts and minds. The Buddha preached this as Thanha Jayathi Soko, Thanha Jayathi Bhayang.

This was his first serman to the five acetics on that full moon Esela poya day atBaranesa Migadaya in the deer forest admids thousands of waiting devas. He went on to say that this is the basic concept of world’s truth and named itDukkha and Karma. Discover it your self.

Because no one can be of salvation to you. You are your own salvo and saviour. This is Buddhist philosophy’s basic truth about life where one has to actualize this. He asked whether isn’t it better to think of your ownself and do good to save you first, rather than think of your hatreds and getting into mere assimilational showdowns. For dream lives (Manakkalpitha lokas) based on others does not in any way make sensible inroads in one’s psycobasic mind status. What one needs today is his own liberation in mind to discover whatDukka and Karma is. If he can do this he will be of use to the mankind in the society and to the environment.

Maha Bamba created this world with his own dreams with majestic silent mountains, relentless restless roaring seas, galaxy and galaxies of undiscovered worlds above, beautiful flowering gardens filled with pleasure and many more. What more paradises are there for us. But did he show the way to reach the paradise. No it was Buddha who said all this is pain and sorrow. He went on to say that paradises are nothing But Nivana nor Nirvana. The final solace and peace, the ultimate goal any human goal any human can achieve. To understand Nivana one has to be free of all worldly attachments and it is not easy. When this can be done he is light and free and will become deeply conditioned in his mind status. To find successful satisfaction in today’s society one need not go into complicated business of quiet meditation. Just begin by being quiet in your mind by watching what is evident and happening around. Try not to be an apprentice in your own self. If this can be achieved no one can mislead you to committing sin. When one is happy in his mind through meditation, he is intelligent and full of wisdom to see that world will never accept evil. In this condition, he will never accommodate poison inside his mind. Buddha asked how to become free. Find out and discover yourself. Because becoming free gives one tremendous vitality to discipline one’s mind. He said discipline is constant learning to think what is good and evil. Therefore do not allow and let your mind push you in doing against your wish. Because it is only a dull mind needs pushing around. When this happens mind will be shaken that can even finally begin to fragment your soul completely.

A mind needs to be quiet sans all complicated worldly acts. Buddha said it is not that easy to keep it that way, because you are attached. And that attachment leads one to pain and sorrow. Asked why, the answer is mind without meditation is restless and unable to understand the surrounding. In this state one is completely uncertain and insecure where the mind status becoming a prisoner looking for escape to freedom. Meditation here helps to subside raging conflicts between you and your mind and helps to listen to your mind.

What is the purpose of living without knowing the exact purpose of life. Know that death awaits us. This is the way of life Buddha explained. Understanding of what is good and bad is a matter of your own selfs personal opinion as you are free to do so. He said to be vulnerable is to live, and to withdraw is to die. What is best you have to choose according to good and evil. Many of us are eager to find the true significance of life. This eagerness becomes a hindrance to understand between your soul and mind. Mind is never at quiet it is bound to roam trying to acquire new ideologies. What is best you have to choose at this stage is to try and meditate as far as possible to evaluate what is best for you. If this can be achieved you are your own master of reality and salvo.Sabbe Sattha Bavanthu Sukithattha. Most venerable lord your supreme doctrine has demonstrated that no sooner you discipline the mind through meditation final bliss of Nirvana is within our reach. Meditation is the onlyEkayana Maggo to reach final deliverance and emancipation of humans from the cycle of birth or the wheel of existence.

22 09 2003 - The Island


J11.12    Sublime virtues to happiness and peace

Bhikku Bodhi

An Enlightener, a World Teacher

The first event in the life of the Buddha commemorated by Vesak is his birth. I would like to consider the birth of the Buddha, not in bare historical terms, but through the lens of Buddhist tradition -an approach that will reveal more clearly what this event means for Buddhists themselves.

To view the Buddha’s birth through the lens of Buddhist tradition, we must first consider the question, "What is a Buddha?" As is widely known, the word "Buddha" is not a proper name but an honorific title meaning "the Enlightened One" or "the Awakened One". The title is bestowed on the Indian sage Siddhartha Gautama, who lived and taught in northeast India in the fifth century B. C.

From the historical point of view, Gautama is the Buddha, the founder of the spiritual tradition known as Buddhism. However, from the standpoint of classical Buddhist doctrine, the word "Buddha" has a wider significance than the title of one historical figure. The word denotes, not just a single religious teacher who lived in a particular epoch, but a type of person-an exemplar- of which there have been many instances in the course of cosmic time. The title "Buddha" is in a sense a "spiritual office," applying to all who have attained the state of Buddhahood. The Buddha Gautama, then, is simply the latest member in the spiritual lineage of Buddhas, which stretches back into the dim recesses of the past and forward into the distant horizons of the future.

To understand this point more clearly requires a short excursion into Buddhist cosmology. The Buddha teaches that the universe is without any discoverable beginning in time: there is no first point, no initial moment of creation. Through time, world systems arise, evolve, and then disintegrate, followed by new world systems subject to the same law of growth and decline. Each world system consists of numerous planes of existence inhabited by sentient beings similar in most respects to ourselves. Besides the familiar human and animal realms, it contains heavenly planes ranged above our own, realms of celestial bliss, and infernal planes below our own, dark realms of pain and misery.

The beings dwelling in these realms pass from life to life in an unbroken process of rebirth called samsara, a word which means "the wandering on". This aimless wandering from birth to birth is driven by our own ignorance and craving, and the particular form any rebirth takes is determined by our karma, our good and bad deeds, our volitional actions of body, speech, and thought. An impersonal moral law governs this process, ensuring that good deeds bring a pleasant rebirth, and bad deeds a painful one.

In all planes of existence, life is impermanent, subject to ageing, decay, and death. Even life in the heavens, though long and blissful, does not last forever. Every existence eventually comes to an end, to be followed by a rebirth elsewhere. Therefore, when closely examined, all modes of existence within samsara reveal themselves as flawed, stamped with the mark of imperfection. They are unable to offer stablility, secure happiness and peace, and thus cannot deliver a final solution to the problem of suffering.

However, beyond the conditioned spheres of rebirth, there is also a realm or state of perfect bliss and peace, of complete spiritual freedom, a state that can be realised right here and now even in the midst of this imperfect world. This state is called Nirvana (in Pali, Nibbana), the "going out" of the flames of greed, hatred and delusion. There is also a path, a way of practice, that leads from the suffering of samsara to the bliss of Nirvana; from the round of ignorance, craving, and bondage, to unconditioned peace and freedom.

For long ages this path will be lost to the world, utterly unknown, and thus the way to Nirvana will be inaccessible. From time to time, however, there arises within the world a man who by his own unaided effort and keen intelligence, finds the lost path to deliverance. Having found it he follows it through and fully comprehends the ultimate truth about the world. Then he returns to humanity and teaches this truth to others, making known once again the path to the highest bliss. The person who exercises this function is a Buddha.

A Buddha is thus not merely an Enlightened One but is above all an Enlightener, a World Teacher. His function is to rediscover in an age of spiritual darkness, the lost path to Nirvana, to perfect spiritual freedom and teach this path to the world at large.

Thereby others can follow in his steps and arrive at the same experience of emancipation that he himself achieved. A Buddha is not unique in attaining Nirvana. All those who follow the path to its end realize the same goal. Such people are called arahants, worthy ones, because they have destroyed all ignorance and craving. The unique role of a Buddha is to rediscover the Dharma, the ultimate principle of truth, and to establish a 'dispensation' or spiritual heritage to preserve the teaching for future generations. So long as the teaching is available, those who encounter it and enter the path can arrive at the goal pointed to by the Buddha as the supreme good.

To qualify as a Buddha, a World Teacher, an aspirant, must prepare himself over an inconceivably long period of time spanning countless lives. During these past lives, the future Buddha is referred to as a bodhisattva, an aspirant to the full enlightenment of Buddhahood. In each life, the bodhisattva must train himself, through altruistic deeds and meditative effort, to acquire the qualities essential to a Buddha.

According to the teaching of rebirth, at birth our mind is not a blank slate but brings along all the qualities and tendencies we have fashioned in our previous lives. Thus, to become a Buddha requires the fulfillment, to the ultimate degree, of all the moral and spiritual qualities that reach their climax in Buddhahood.

These qualities are called paramis or paramitas, transcendent virtues or perfections. Different Buddhist traditions offer slightly different lists of the paramis. In the Theravada tradition, they are said to be tenfold: generosity, moral conduct, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience, truthfulness, determination, loving-kindness, and equanimity. In each existence, life after life through countless cosmic aeons, a bodhisattva must cultivate these sublime virtues in all their manifold aspects.

What motivates the bodhisattva to cultivate the paramis to such extraordinary heights is the compassionate wish to bestow upon the world the teaching that leads to the Deathless, to the perfect peace of Nirvana. This aspiration, nurtured by boundless love and compassion for all living beings caught in the net of suffering, is the force that sustains the bodhisattva in his many lives of striving to perfect the paramis. And it is only when all the paramis have reached-the-peak of perfection that he is qualified to attain supreme enlightenment asa Buddha. Thus, the personality of the Buddha is the culmination of the 10 qualities represented by the 10 paramis. Like a well-cut gem, his personality exhibits all excellent qualities in perfect balance. In him, these 10 qualities have reached their consummation, blended into a harmonious whole.

This explains why the birth of the future Buddha has such a profound and joyful significance for Buddhists. The birth marks not merely the arising of a great sage and ethical preceptor but the arising of a future World Teacher. Thus, at Vesak, we celebrate the Buddha as one who has striven through countless past lives to perfect all the sublime virtues that will entitle him to teach the world the path to the highest happiness and peace.






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J11.13    Fundamentals of Buddhism


Buddhism (the Dhamma) as enshrined in the Tripitaka runs into thousands of pages. One, to master it, will take a life-time of dedication and to practise it, it needs much more devotion and time. However, certain fundamentals in the teachings of the Buddha that I have gathered for inspiration, guidance and practice are briefly set out below.

* Buddhism is neither a religion nor a philosophy: it is the Dhamma (the truth) a way of life .

Buddhism (the Dhamma) as enshrined in the Tripitaka runs into thousands of pages. One, to master it, will take a life-time of dedication and to practise it, it needs much more devotion and time.

* It does not demand submissions, but commands perception and realisation.

* It holds man supreme and above all other beings.

* Gods help and protect those who lead a righteous life.

* It denounces blind faith and pursues rational understanding and diligent observance.

* One has to bear oneself the consequence of one’'s own good or evil deeds.

* All component things (sanskhara) in the mundane world are subject to change and decay (impermanence)

* Only those who lead a virtuous life are protected by the Dhamma: They need no other protection.

* How long one does live is determined by one's self alone and none other.

* The monks have a separate code of ethics while the laity have a separate code of ethics.

* Temple is the place where one can feel tranquility and be free from worldly worries and feelings.

* Meditation is the remedy for stress and pressure.

* In Buddhism, it is not congregational worship but individual observance of precepts.

* One must avoid extremes in life and commit oneself to moderation where greed is subdued and curbed.

* One should not be submissive or subservient to anyone but show obeisance and reverence to whoever who deserves it.

* Buddhism does not discriminate between man and woman or the follower and non-follower.

* It extends loving kindness (meththa) to all beings.

* Every being until it realises cessation of death, continues to exist in the cycle of birth (samsara).

* The Dhamma is based on the law of causation .

* One is one' s own saviour and the stars have nothing to do with life.

* Those who are threatened take refuge in rocks, trees, gods, devils and temples .

*The Dhamma is above the Buddha; "One who sees the Dhamma sees me."

*All worldly possessions are subordinate to the mind free of defilements.

*Here or hereafter one has to pay for one's own misdeeds or be rewarded for one's good deeds.






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J11.14    Buddha Charitha or life of the Buddha


'Let my skin, sinews and bones alone remain and let my blood and flesh dry up, yet never will I move from this seat without attaining full enlightenment'.

Prince Siddhartha Gautama was born as the son of King Suddhodana and Queen Maya of the Himalayan kingdom of Kapilavastu. The Prince was brought up with care and received his education and perfected the skills meant for princes of his time.

At the age of 26, he married Princess Yasodhara. But from his early days the Prince was in deep contemplation over the problem of suffering. He then decided to renounce the world, giving up all his comforts and seeking the answer for suffering. When he was 29 he gave up his family life and opted for the life of a mendicant.

He asked for answers from the reputed teachers who were engaged in meditation. He learnt from them different systems of attaining spiritual emancipation. He later decided to practice austerities, which reduced him to the state of a skeleton. The penance he practised did not achieve his desired goal. He realised the futility of his exercise and decided to avoid the two extremes - self-indulgence and self-mortification - and chose the middle path. Legend has it that the Buddha was inspired to this 'middle path' when he stumbled upon a man tuning his sitar. First the string was too loose and the sound unclear. The man then made the string overly taut and the sound was unpleasant. Lastly he tuned the string to perfection; not too loose and not too taut.

It was a full moon day (May which came to be called Vesak) and as he sat under the Bodhi Tree at Buddhagaya he made a firm resolution. He said to himself - 'Let my skin, sinews and bones alone remain and let my blood and flesh dry up, yet never will I move from this seat without attaining full enlightenment'.

Then began a conflict of forces- light and darkness. Mara, the evil force appeared before the Buddha and addressed him. 'Siddhartha, why struggle so much? Give up your vain attempt. Lead a life of ease and comfort, while earning merit for a happy life in the next world'.

Hearing this Siddhartha replied, 'Mara, even the least merit has no use for me. I am not after the accumulation of merit, not after the next world. I am after the solution to the problem of suffering'. Siddhartha at the end triumphed over the forces of Mara. As the sun rose on the eastern horizon, the light of wisdom dawned. Prince Siddhartha now became Sammasambuddha - the fully enlightened one.

In this manner Prince Siddhartha became victorious and he was able to solve the problem of suffering. The solution he realised was the four noble truths. He continued to enjoy this happiness of emancipation for seven weeks. Finally he decided to give the world the message he had experienced.

He then visited the deer park near Varanasi to set Dharmachakka, the wheel of law in motion. By doing so, in his first sermon to five of his disciples, the Buddha laid the foundation of the kingdom of righteousness.

Before long he had 60 disciples and to them said, "Go ye, O Bhikkhus and wander forth for the gain of the many, in compassion for the world, for the good, for the gain, for the welfare of gods and men. Proclaim, O Bhikkus, the doctrine glorious, preach ye a life of holiness, perfect and pure".

In this manner the Buddha began the ministry of humanity. The scriptures describe how he visited villages and towns giving the message of truth, love and peace. It is said that he walked miles for the sake of one person. As a result he came to be called Mahakarunika, the great compassionate one.

In his sermons, maitri, or universal love, was one of his favourite themes. He explained the universal love, 'just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life so should one practise loving kindness towards all beings. A better simile of pure love than this cannot be found in the whole world'.

He was an affectionate mother and father to all beings. He never made any distinction between man and man. All were equal in his sight.

The Buddha in one of his sermons said, "Even as the five great rivers, Ganga, Yamuna, Aciravati, Sarabhu and Mali when they enter the great ocean leaving their great names behind, become one with it, even so, in this dispersion, Kshatriyas, Brahmin, Vaisyas and Sudras lose their old names and old descent and become known as sons of the Buddha".
In his love and compassion, he went to the charnel-field to save Kamara, the baby from the beasts of prey. The neglected orphan became the protector of so many lives. He consoled Kisagotami, the bereaved young mother who was insane with grief after the death of her child. She who had the belief that her only child was all she had on earth, came to regard the whole world as her own.

Angulimala was a murderer but was converted into a saintly figure. The terror he had unleashed became a blessing to all.

He admitted Sunita the scavenger of Savathi into the order of Sangha and he became worthy of honour of kings. He also raised Ambapali, the courtesan, from the lower position she had been subject to, to become an example of purity.

All life was sacred and he came to be called the Compassionate One. He showed compassion not only to human beings but also to all living beings. His life became one continuous record of love and compassion.

The Buddha served the world in preaching with sermons for 45 years and fulfilled his mission on earth. At the age of 80, when he was nearing the stage of passing away, the Mahaparinibbana sutra recorded how he was engaged in making his last journey to Kusinara to instruct his disciples on the fundamentals of his teachings. Finally as he lay between two sal trees surrounded by his disciples, he said 'Be a lamp unto yourself, be a refuge unto yourself, seek no refuge from outside.'Hold fast to the lamp of truth, take refuge in truth alone, seek no external refuge. Impermanent are all conditioned things. Be diligent and work out your own salvation.'

Two thousand and forty seven years have passed after the passing away of the Buddha. Mahaparinibbana, the teachings of the Buddha, continue to inspire man and mould his thinking. The ideas on righteousness developed into a cultural and spiritual force. His was the conquest of hearts and mind which he achieved with the weapon of universal love.






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J11.15    Samana Gotama to Buddha: A canonical – based reconstruction

Ushering in the 2600th year of Sammasambodhi, May 2011

Prof. Suwanda H. J. Sugunasiri

A Wanderer in Search

Leaving the palace in search of the spiritual life, Prince Siddhartha joins the ranks of Samanas ‘wanderers’. These were seekers who had eschewed the path of orthodoxy of the time, namely, Brahminism, and opted for an independent path. They were ‘wanderers’, not just in the sense of going from place to place with no fixed abode, but also in terms of the wandering spiritual life, trying out this, that and the other, the extreme being, as characterized by the Buddha, ‘the practice of self-mortification’ (attakilamathànuyoga). The name of the clan tagged on, Prince Siddhartha now comes to be ‘Samana Gotama’.

In the following Chart, we attempt to provide a thumbnail sketch of how this Samana Gotama, of Watch 1 (6 to 10 p.m.), emerges in the form of the Buddha in Watch 3 (4 to 6 a.m.), as he, on that historic night 2599 years ago, sat under the tree which we now call the Bodhi Tree. This a Canonically-based reconstruction, with a little creative ingenuity. While what is contained in the Chart is not unknown to the Buddhist, hopefully, it would help get a systematized visual understanding of what has been read in the books, or heard in one or more bana discourses given by the learned monks over the years.

Speaking to the Chart

We invite the reader, then, to begin looking at col. 1, reading BOTTOM UP, beginning with Watch 1. (Drawn upon the author’s article, Rebirth as Empirical Basis for the Buddha's Four Noble Truths, Sumeru (online).)

Watch 1 (see Col. 1)

1.1 Col. 2, bottom grid, shows the approximate time period (6 to 10 PM) when the Samana Gotama (see col. 7) begins his final striving (padhàna).

1.2 Col. 3 (same grid) shows the ‘knowledge of former lives’ (see the Chart for the Pali term) he comes by, through intense meditation. These relate to his own past lives.

1.3 As shown in col. 5, he sees "how he himself was born in several lifetimes".

Watch 2 (see Col. 1)

2.1 During this Watch (10 p.m. to 2 a.m., as in Col. 2), Samana Gotama, as he still is (Col. 7), gains the ‘knowledge of exiting and re-appearing’, but this time in relation to his kith and kin and others with whom he might have had the occasion to come into interaction over the lifetimes in samsara.

2.2 Here he sees (Col. 5) how these others reap as they have sowed, "according to their actions, bad… leading to misery and good… to a good destiny".

Watch 3 (see Col. 1)

It is these knowledges, then, that takes the Samana Gotama to the final critical stage in Watch 3 (Col. 2, upper grids)

3.1 We may postulate (and this is where the creative ingenuity plays its role) that it is in watching the drama of the past lives unfolding that the First Noble Truth of ‘Suffering’ (dukkha) (Col. 4) emerges, in the first hour of the third watch (Col. 4: 2 to 3 a.m.)

3.2 While the earlier knowledges (of past lives) were based in a visual sighting of some actual happenings in the mind’s eye, the knowledge of the dukkha is something that can be said to have sneaked up into this consciousness, now rendering him, taking a license here, the ‘Emerging Buddha’ (col. 7). He is no longer just seeking, but yet not found it all either, as when he becomes the Buddha. Thus ‘Emerging Buddha’. Though not Canonical, it seeks to provide the bridge from Samana Gotama to Buddha.

3.3 Stemming from the realization of suffering is ‘Arising’ – the reasons for suffering: attachment (tanhà) and grasping (upàdàna), through the six senses. Again, while this knowledge is also based on sighting the rebirths, of self and others, it also entails abstract and intuitive thinking. Still at this stage (3 - 4 a.m. (see col. 4)), he is an ‘Emerging Buddha’, but now with an additional link of understanding.

3.4.1 Now we see how, in the first hour of Watch 3, knowledge re the framework of the Four Noble Truths – Suffering, Arising, Cessation and Path, emerges on the basis of the suffering that he has come to perceive in Watches 1 and 2, the upward arrow indicating this connection. The upward arrows in Columns 4 and 5 also indicate that the interrelated details of each of the Noble Truths come to be worked out as well, roughly one after the other, in the context of the framework.

3.4.2 There is another understanding that emerges in the inquiring, and creative, mind of the Emerging Buddha: Conditioned Co-origination (paticca samuppàda) (Col. 6). A three-fold reality appears in his consciousness:

a. how any given reality has resulted from a preceding condition (linear causality: if A, then B);

b. this happening in the context of other conditions (multicausality); and

c. that a reality created by a preceding condition in turn serves as a condition in the reverse order (i.e., if B, then A) (reciprocal causality).

It is at this moment in time that two more fundamental Teachings can be said to have emerged in the mind of the emerging Buddha:

(a) there is no Godhead required to explain any reality; and

(b) there is no soul, an unchanging entity, that is behind human (and sentient) action or thought. This is the Teaching of anatta ‘asoulity’.

3.5.1 Now at the cusp of a breakthrough, in even deeper meditation in the 3rd hour of Watch 3 (Col. 4), the Third Noble Truth emerges: Cessation (nirodha) (Col 5). As shown in Col. 7, at this point, the Emerging Buddha now becomes, voila, the Buddha! A light is born (aloko udapàdi); an eye is born (cakkhum udapàdi).

3.5.2 If this means gaining the ‘Knowledge of getting rid of flows’ (àsavakkaya nàna) (Col. 3 top), it also means the actual cutting off of such ‘flows’. If the first is ‘Attaining Buddhahood’, the latter is ‘Attaining Nibbana’ (col. 7), the two-way arrow indicating how one arises in relation to the other, and in the same process.

3.5 As Column 3 shows, if Knowledges I and II relate to Rebirth/Re-becoming, Knowledge III relates to end of both (Re)birth (ajàta), which by definition means also ‘no death’ (amata).

3.6 In the final hour of Watch 3 (col. 4), 5 – 6 a.m., we see the Path emerge (as shown with the upward arrow), now completing the framework of the Four Noble Truths.

3.7 Col. 6, then, shows this Path, in terms of the Noble Eightfold Path, excellent in View (reading from the bottom), Conceptualization, Language, Conduct, Livelihood, Mental Exercise, Mindfulness, and finally, Concentration.

3.8 The two-way arrow in the last column against the last hour of the Watch 3 shows, again intuitively constructing, the newly minted Buddha both working through the details of the Path, in the ‘Bliss of Emancipation’ (the texts allowing it a whole week out of the first seven weeks). This time period, and thereafter, can be seen as including reminiscing upon his newly experienced state of being, and double-checking for himself the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.

Walking the Talk – Nibbana, in This Very Life

In this Chart, then, we have walked through the steps that took Wanderer Gotama to becoming the Buddha. We celebrate this joyous day certainly for the Buddha’s great achievement of gaining insight into reality (Enlightenment). But let us also not forget that this Enlightenment included the ‘Knowledge of getting rid of flows’ (àsavakkaya nàna).

However, what is of even more existential relevance for us puthujjanas – ordinary folk, is that it is not just gaining ‘knowledge’ that makes the event momentous. It is that that knowledge comes to be put into practice by actually cutting off the roots of dukkha, which is to say, experiencing Nibbàna.

This should be what is of significance for us to remember - that knowledge for the Buddha was not merely for the sake of knowledge, but for the sake of putting it to work for himself, i.e., to put an end to his own suffering. Should it be for anything less for us?

So on this WESAK day, as we rejoice, it is my hope, and request, that we make a serious personal commitment to work diligently, and consistently, towards experiencing Nibbana, no, not in a next life, but in this very life time, as a seen reality (dittha dhamma). The methodology the Buddha has developed specifically towards this, the ekàyana magga, is, of course, Mindfulness Meditation (satipatthàna bhàvanà). So my second request is that we take to meditation seriously.

But our beginning point has to be to make a commitment to abide by, and be guided by, the five Training Principles (aka Precepts), on a daily, if not a moment to moment basis. This entails being consistently at it, and a conscious effort, taking stock at bed time each day, through sort of a self-confessional, and rectifying oneself of any shortfalls the next day.

May you then for starters, abstain from taking life, taking what is not given, sexual misconduct, disharmonious language and negligence in liquor?

May you be well!

(A Mindfulness Meditation Practitioner, and Founder of Nalanda College of Buddhist Studies, Toronto, Canada, the author is currently President, Buddhist Council of Canada. He may be reached at

15 05 2011 - Sunday Island






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J11.16    The seat of enlightenment

Upali Salgado

As the Ganges flows through Varanasi (Benares), one sees the spirit of Hinduism present in the people who gather in the thousands to bathe and pray, offering incense and flowers in traditional pooja near the ghats. Likewise, about two hundred kilometres away at Buddhagaya, the home of twenty-eight Buddhas, there is the majestic looking, very ancient temple and the venerated Bodhi tree, with the diamond-studded seat of Vajirasana Buddha. There, thousands of Buddhist devotees gather daily to observe Atasil and meditate on the impermanence of life and attempt to rid themselves of the suffering that is manifested in various forms.

The beautiful vihare of striking Gupta architecture has been referred to in monastic records of monks, dating back to the 4th Century AC.

Archaeologist Ale-xander Cunningham visited this site around 1880. Francis Buchanan-Hamilton, an explorer, has recorded visiting the place of worship in 1811. Later, our own Anagarika Dharmapala, who dedicated his life to the struggle to take control of the hallowed site from the Hindu Mahanta (Overlord), was in tears when he first saw the neglected vihare. Long after Dharmapala's demise, in 1949, after India gained Independence from the British, the

Buddha Act was passed by the Bihar State Assembly, to give control of the temple to a Management Committee comprising of Buddhists and Hindus.

The vihare
The historic Buddhist Vihare is 170 feet tall and 48 ft wide at plinth level. Straight sides form a square truncated pyramid. The Asokavadana (Chronicle) and related records recounted by Chinese pilgrims, describe Emperor Asoka's conversion to Buddhism in the eighth year of his reign. The Emperor followed the teachings of the Great Master and became known as Dharma Asoka (The righteous Asoka) and not as Chanda Asoka (The wicked Asoka). He visited the Buddhagaya temple to pay homage everyday, and spent hours there. His Queen, who sought to have the Bo tree partly destroyed, did not find this behaviour acceptable. But with Sardha, the Emperor poured cows' milk to moisten the roots. The tree revived to reach a height of thirty-seven metres. The Bo tree we see today though is not the very same tree. Our sacred Bo tree at Anuradhapura is historically older.

According to Cunningham, the Bodhi tree in 1890 looked very much decayed. It is known that in about 1015 AC, devout Burmese pilgrims had haphazardly renovated the dilapidated structure of the Temple. Archaeologists say that this Vihare was built with red sandstone and lime. Relics and coins of a Kushan King, Huvshaka have been found. The important ‘Diamond Throne’ according to Cunningham had been located inside the Temple (it is now outside, by the Bo tree), at the spot where the main altar stands. This position has now been occupied by a beautiful image of the Buddha, in the Bhumis-parsha mudra (posture). The Vajirasanaya or Diamond Throne is beneath this Buddha image.

Sir Edwin Arnold, author of The Light Of Asia visited Buddhagaya around 1870, at a time when the whole place was under the control of the Hindu Saivite Mahanta. Having seen the shabby and neglected state of the Vihare, Sir Edwin with his incomparable epic, focused the world's attention on the situation, which prompted Anagarika Dharmapala (later ordained Bhikkhu and named Devamitta Dharmapala) to visit the holy place. He then resolved that the Buddhists should take control of the Vihare and the images. Dharmapala founded the Maha Bodhi Society of India. He moved from country to country, addressing gatherings about his noble mission, and received strong support from Japan.

The Buddha's enlightenment
No story of Buddhagaya Vihare and of the historic Bo tree would be complete without a reference to Sakyamuni Gauthama Buddha, and his Enlightenment. Ancient records say that Prince Siddhartha as the mendicant Bodhisattva in search of the truth about suffering and the way to end it, had after consuming milk rice, offered with great piety by a villager named Sujatha, regained strength and headed towards Gaya. Then a grass cutter named Sottiya had offered him eight handfuls of 'Kusa Grass' (a long leafed heavy grass of a bushy type) which the Bodhisattva accepted. On reaching the time-hallowed spot where all previous Buddhas sat (they were: Tanahnakara, Nedhankara, Sarananakara, Deepankara, Konnadanga, Mangala, Sumana, Revatha, Sobitha, Anomadassi, Paduma, Naradha, Padumuttara, Sumedha, Sujatha, Piyadassi, Attadassi, Dhammadassi, Siddhartha, Tissa, Phussa, Vipassi, Sukhi and Kassyapa), the Great Being who by then was free of all worldly and sensuous desires said to Himself, “this is the immovable spot on which all previous Buddhas planted themselves. This is the place for destroying passion's net.”

He then attempted to sit on the Kussa grass. The gods in heaven deemed it unsuitable for a future Buddha, so close to His goal, to sit on grass. For that reason, they offered Him the ‘Diamond throne’, which was indestructible and unshakable, on which the future Buddha sat motionless for weeks in order to meditate. The Bodisattva sat cross-legged in a dyana mudra (posture) and made a mighty resolution: “Let my skin and bones become dry and welcome...! And let all flesh and blood dry up..., but never from this seat will I stir, until I have attained the supreme and absolute wisdom.”
He sat there in deep meditation, reaching jhana after jhana. Mara (the evil one), sovereign of all passions and the personification of death, did everything possible to disturb the Bodhisattva from His mission, but failed. Mara caused showers of red coals, sand and mud to fall on the Bodhisattva, but failed to disturb Him. He finally caused his beautiful daughters Thirst (desire), Joy (tenderness) and Delight (raga) to sing and dance before the Bodhisattva hoping to seduce Him and break His jhana (concentration) but again failed.

Then Mara commanded; “Siddhartha arise from your seat. It does not belong to you, but to me.” When the mendicant heard this, He said to Mara: “You have not fulfilled the ten perfections (of endurance, courage, patience, love, dhana, gift of wife, children, flesh, eyes and royal rule etc.), therefore this seat belongs to me”. At that point Mara questioned, “Who bears witness to your having given these perfections?” The Bodhisattva then drew forth His right hand and touched the earth in the Bhumis-sparsha mudra, and said, “Are you a witness or not to my having given a great seven hundred fold donation in my Vessantara existence? Then the earth quaked and the sky thundered: “I bear witness to you.”

Mara knew he was defeated and fled in the presence of the Devas. The devas cried joyously;

“The victory now hath this illustrious Buddha won
The wicked one, the slayer hath defeated been
Thus round the throne of wisdom, birds and Devas, shout joyously...”
When He thus attained omniscience many prodigies took place. The Compassionate One then breathed forth a solemn utterance, which never has been omitted by any of the previous Buddhas.
“Through birth and rebirth endless rounds,
Seeking in vain, I hastened one,
To find who framed this edifice.
What misery, birth incessantly,
O, builder I have discovered thee
This fabric (craving) thou shall never rebuild,
The rafters (passions) are all broken now,
Your ridgepole (ignorance) is demolished,
My mind has now attained unformed nibbana
And reached the end of craving (desire)”
-Sutta Nipatha

(Translated by Lord Chamers)






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J11.17     Truth is unpleasant


While browsing through the Pali text of the Samyutta Nikaya this writer came across a gem of a statement by the Buddha, a statement which as an ontological proposition would remain validly applicable to human behaviour of any time or clime. Here (Samyutta Nikaya, Vol. III, P-138. PTS), The Buddha gives expression to a particular trait of human behaviour in general through personal experience says He "although I do not fight with the world, the world fights with Me" (Naham Lokena vivadaani loko ca mayaa vivadati).

Next, He generalises this trait as a common human failure by saying a proponent of truth does never dispute with anyone in the world" (Dhammavaadina hi kena ci lokasmimvivadati). Next, He follows with the third step saying that there are certain realities which the wise people commonly acknowledge as true and valid, and He Himself shares such propositions with them, thereby not claiming any monopoly of such truths, which are true in the ultimate sense.

Otherwise people also share them. But when such truths are addressed to the ordinary people they begin to fight and dispute against such utterances. This means that such men of wisdom who can comprehend deeper truths about existence are few and far between. The unwise are in a great majority, who pose a reactionary challenge to the men of wisdom who are in a minority.

One such ultimate reality is the impermanence of all worldly phenomena, the philosophy of Buddhism. The ordinary person is not wise enough to understand this significant point. As a result, he behaves in society in an anti-religious manner as if all human acquisitions such as wealth, power, children, friends etc. would all permanently remain with him. Accordingly, he hankers after them, acquires them by fair and foul news as if he is going to live forever. It needs no elaboration to prove how such behaviours become the source of almost all social evils and problems. It is the selfish thirst for power and possessions that is at the roof of all our social ills. Cut-throat competition, character assassination, slander, frudunlence etc. are the main characters of this evil drama. All social evils are its actors. They become a vicious circle beyond the power of religion to control.

In the contemporary social scene, both at home and abroad this evil side of life seems to be ruling the roost as shown by the media reports. Whether it be in the ordinary person's day-to-day life, politics, the administrative set-up or in short, in any type of human organisation, the cankerous presence of this evil is evident. Where general human good in the form of service to oneself and to other should be the form, how many participants in an organisation are able to submerge their ego and work for the common good? Does things happen properly as it should be in any of the afore-mentioned contexts? Answer is in the negative.

In such a context the few wise men who highlight and pinpoint these weaknesses are not only not tolerated but they invariably earn wrath of the majority. A truthful honest person becomes a misfit where truth has become unpleasant. It is the unwise majority who rule the roost. "Blind is the world few can see the truth says The Buddha. Take for example, the Western-oriented "war against terror", emanating from the suspected Iraqi weaponry or religiose fundamentalism.

The threatening preparations in this anti-terror campaign are already provoking reprisals at terrible cost to human life as has been exemplified by the recent human devastation in Bali. When the protagonists of the drama fail to see the truth only providence can help.

30 10 2002 - Daily News






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J11.18    Thanatophobia - the fear of death

Aryadasa Ratnasinghe

"Again and again the slow wits seek rebirth,
Again and again comes birth and dying comes,
Again and again men bear us to the grave"
- Samyutta Nikaya

Humans, animals as well as all born into this world fear death because they love to live and not to die. This is the natural phenomenon from which none can escape. Death, in whatever form, is painful because separation from kith and kin is sorrowful. From a physio-medical point of view, death is the cessation of all cellular activity in the body by the loss of breath.

All religions believe death is certain and life is uncertain, no matter where, how or when it occurs. According to Buddhism, death is the fore-runner of birth, unless and until the goal is reached ceasing rebirth by the realisation of Nibbana, which is a super-mundane state (Lokuttara Dhamma), to be realised only by intuitive wisdom.

Death should be serene and peaceful. If not, there arises fear and pain due to uncertainty of life after death. Then there is also attachment to those loved ones, fanned by fidelity and affection, mostly between close relatives. A person on the verge of death, if he is of sound mind, recollects incidents of the past, and his next life is believed to depend on the merits and demerits of such thought.

Generally, people do not contemplate on death while they are alive, but it is good to do so now and then. Buddha recommends frequent contemplation on death because there are many benefits to be acquired by doing so. When a person visits a funeral house, the sight of the dead body gives him food for thought that it would happen to him also some day, to depart from this world leaving everything and taking nothing, except the results of his good and bad actions.

Contemplating on death can release us from the grip of the sensual lure attached to worldliness. We will not be deluded by material wealth, i.e., movable and immovable properties, but will channel our resources towards a more fulfilling and rewarding life to achieve the aspired goal of liberation from all suffering.

The 'Paticca Samuppada' (Dependent origination) taught in Buddhism is the doctrine of conditionality of all physical and psychical phenomena, which everyone has to endure during his lifetime. Through rebirth are conditioned old age and death 'Jati paccaya jara maranam'). Without rebirth, there is neither old age nor death, no suffering or misery. This is the truth and not a fiction.

The 'Patticca Samuppada' describes the process of rebirth in subtle terms and assigns death to one of the following four causes, viz:

1. 'Kammakkhaya' (Exhaustion of the 'Janaka kamma' or the reproductive 'Kammic' energy. The Buddhist belief is that, as a rule, the thought, volition or desire, which is extremely strong during lifetime, becomes predominant at the time of death and conditions the subsequent birth.

2. 'Ayukkhaya' (The expiration of the life term which varies in different planes of existence). Natural deaths due to old age may be classified under this category. Irrespective of the 'Kammic' force that has yet to run, one must, however, succumb to death when the maximum age limit is reached.

3. 'Ubhayakkhaya' (The simultaneous exhaustion of the reproductive 'Kammic' engery and the expiration of the life-term.

'Upacchedaka-kamma' (The opposing action of a more powerful 'Kamma' unexpectedly obstructing the flow of the reproductive 'Kamma' prior to the expiration of the life-term.

(These first three are collectively called 'Kala-marana' (timely deaths) and the fourth is known as 'Akala-marana (untimely deaths). So, death maybe due to any of the aforesaid causes.

Although people weep over the dead, which is due to their sorrow becoming poignant, Buddha's admonition was that it benefits none but only causes others to follow suit. It is only an emotional exercise very often unavoidable. When Buddha's step-mother Maha Pajapati Gotami was about to die at the ripe old age of 120 years, the Maha Thera Ananda and the nuns close to her cried. Seeing what they were up to, she reproached them saying "Why should you cry? Don't you realise that this body of mine has become old and decrepit?

"Weary have I grown with this old body. It has been nothing but a great burden to me. Long have I aspired for the liberation of Nibbana. And today, my wish is about to be realised and truly my death is a happy event. It is the time for me to beat the drum of satisfaction and joy. So, please do not cry over my condition".

The Buddha, as he was dying under natural surroundings, between two 'sal' (Shorea robusta) trees, also told Ananda Maha Thera not to cry over his death. He said one must with wisdom and equanimity accept the fact that death and separation from all that we love is inevitable. His last words were "All conditioned things are subject to dissolution and disintegration. Therefore, you should strive on with diligence".

The passage into the next life, at the moment of death, is nearly an impenetrable mystery for us who have not experienced it. There are published accounts of near-death experienced by people who have been resuscitated from clinical death.

At the crucial moment, the dying person may, by focusing his mind on past experiences, leap to a higher realm, if he had lived a holy life of purity and morality.

According to Buddhism, the death of any living being is inherent in its nature as a compound entity. Death is thus a natural function of the on-going process of life. For just as a birth leads to death and vice versa, the process of rebirth takes place according to the 'Kamma' potential of a being. In this way the habits and events of a person's future destiny lie on his good and bad actions.

Death, as defined in Buddhist scriptures, is the dissolution of 'Khandas' or the five aggregates of perception, sensation, mental formation, consciousness and corporeality. In brief, the combination of these five aggregates is called 'birth'. The existence of these aggregates, as a bundle, is called 'life'. The dissolution of them is called 'death'. The re-combination of these aggregates is called 're-birth'. According to Buddhism, death is nothing but the temporary end of a temporary phenomenon.

Saul Alinsky, the American philosopher says: "The single most important thing I have ever learnt was that I am going to die. When one accepts death to come at any time, he will concentrate on it and get prepared to face the event. The fault is that most people do not think over death until circumstances cause him to do so".

Transferring merits 'Punyanumodana') to the departed is based on the popular belief that on a person's death, his good and bad 'Kamma' are weighted against one another and his destiny determined. His actions determine whether he is to be born in a sphere of happiness or a realm of woe. The belief is that the departed one might have gone to the world of the departed spirits. Usually, a dead person is identified as a 'Preta' in Buddhism.

When a person dies, there is a customary ritual which is generally practised by inviting Bhikkus to be present at the occasion, for the transfer of merit to the departed. The transferrers pour water from a jug or other similar vessel into a receptacle, while repeating the Pali formula, which reads:

"As rivers, when full, must flow and reach and fill the distant ocean, so indeed, what is given here will reach and bless the 'Pretas' (spirits) there. As water poured on mountain top must soon descent to fill the plain, so, indeed, what is given here will reach and bless the spirits there" (Nidhikanda Sutta in Khuddakapatha).

This injunction of the Buddha to transfer merits to those departed ones, is said to be the counterpart of the Hindu custom which has come down through the ages. Various ceremonies are performed so that the spirit of the dead ('Preta') might live in peace. Alms are offered to Bhikkus on the 7th day after death, at the end of the third month and at the end of the year. Some continue it annually as a kind gesture to the departed in transferring merit.

In the Tirokudda Sutta, Buddha mentions that the greatest gift one can confer on one's dead relative or any other, is to perform acts of merit and to transfer such merit so acquired to the dead.

13 08 2003 - Daily News






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J11.19   Time and space: The Abhidhamma perspective

The following is the Professor K. N. Jayatilleke Memorial Lecture 2003

Y. Karunadasa,

former director, Postgraduate Institute of Pali and Buddhist Studies.



It is necessary to begin this lecture with a brief introduction to the Abhidhamma teaching on the nature of empirical reality, because it is in the context of this teaching that the Abhidhamma theory of time and space assumes its significance. The view of reality as presented in the Abhidhamma stems from a single philosophical principle, which gave direction and shape to the entire project of the Abhidhamma systematization. This principle is the notion that all phenomena of empirical existence are made up of a number of elementary constituents, the ultimate realities behind the manifest phenomena. These elementary constituents, the building blocks of experience, are called dhammas. The dhamma-theory is not merely one principle among others in the body of Abhidhamma philosophy but the base upon which the entire system rests. It would thus be quite fitting to call this theory the cornerstone of the Abhidhamma. But the dhamma-theory was intended from the start to be more than a mere hypothetical scheme. It arose from the need to make sense out of experiences in meditation and was designed as a guide for meditative contemplation and insight. For the Abhidhamma, to see the world correctly is to see - not persons and substances - but bare phenomena (suddha-dhamma) arising and perishing in accordance with their conditions. The task the Abhidhamma specialists set themselves was to specify exactly what these "bare phenomena" are and to show how they relate to other "bare phenomena" to make up our "common sense" picture of the world.

The dhamma-theory was not peculiar to any one school of Buddhism but penetrated all the early schools, stimulating the growth of their different versions of the Abhdhamma. However, there are sound reasons for believing that the Pali Abhidhamma Pitaka contains one of the earliest forms of the dhamma theory, perhaps even the oldest version. This theory did not remain static but evolved over the centuries as Buddhist thinkers sought to draw out the implications of the theory and to respond to problems it posed for the critical intellect. Thus the dhamma theory was repeatedly enriched, first by the Abhidhamma commentaries and then by the later exegetical literature and the medieval compendia of Abhidamma, the so-called "little finger manuals" such as the Abhidhammatthasangaha, which in turn gave rise to their own commentaries and sub-commentaries.

In developing the dhamma-theory the Abhidhamma resorts to two complementary methods: that of analysis (bheda) and that of synthesis (sangaha). The analytical method dominates in the Dhammasangani, which according to tradition is the first book of the Abhidhamma Pitaka; for here we find a complete catalogue of the dhammas, each with a laconic definition. The synthetical method is more characteristic of the Patthana, the last book of the Abhidhmma Pitaka; for here we find an exhaustive catalogue of the conditional relations of the dhammas. The combined use of these two methods shows that, according to the methodological apparatus employed in the Abhidhamma, "a complete description of a thing requires, besides its analysis, also a statement of its relations to certain other things". Analysis shows that the world of experience is resolvable into a plurality of factors; synthesis shows that these factors are not discrete entities existing in themselves but inter-connected and inter—dependent nodes in a complex web of relationships. It is only for the purpose of definition and description that things are artificially dissected. In actuality the world given to experience is a vast network of tightly interwoven relations.

This fact needs emphasis because the Abhidhamma doctrine of dhammas has sometimes been represented as a radical pluralism. Such an interpretation is certainly not admissible. It is mostly modern writings mainly based on the Sarvastivada Abhidharma that have given currency to this incorrect interpretation. "Up to the present time", observes the Venerable Nyanaponika Thera, "it has been a regular occurrence in the history of physics, metaphysics, and psychology that when a whole has been successfully dissolved by analysis, the resultant parts come again to be regarded as little Wholes. This is the kind of process that culminates in radical pluralism. Such a trend did, in fact, surface within certain schools of Buddhist thought and culminated in the view that the dhammas persist in all three periods of time. But the Pali Abhidamma Pitaka did not succumb to this error of conceiving the dhammas as ultimate unities or discrete entities. In the Pali tradition it is only for the sake of definition and description that each dhamma is postulated as if it were a separate entity; but in reality it is by no means a solitary phenomenon having an existence of its own. This is precisely why the mental and material dhammas are often presented in inter-connected groups. In presenting them thus the danger inherent in narrowly analytical methods has been avoided - the danger, namely of elevating the factors resulting from analysis to the status of genuinely separate entities. Thus if analysis shows that composite things cannot be considered as ultimate unities, synthesis shows that the factors into which the apparently composite things are analysed (ghana-vinibbhoga) are not discrete entities.

If this Abhidhammic view of existence, as seen from its doctrine of dhammas, cannot be interpreted as a radical pluralism, neither can it be interpreted as an out-and-out monism. For what are called dhammas - the component factors of the universe, both within and outside us - are not fractions of an absolute unity but a multiplicity of co-ordinate factors. They are not reducible to, nor do they emerge from, a single reality, which is the fundamental postulate of monistic metaphysics. If they are to be interpreted as phenomena, this should be done with the proviso that they are phenomena with no corresponding noumena, no hidden underlying ground. For they are not manifestations of some mysterious metaphysical substratum, but processes taking place due to the interplay of a multitude of conditions.

In thus evolving a view of existence that cannot be interpreted in either monistic or pluralistic terms, the Abhidhamma accords with the "middle doctrine" of early Buddhism. This doctrine avoids the eternalistic view of existence, which maintains that everything exists absolutely (sabbam atthi) as well as the opposite nihilistic view, which maintains that absolutely nothing exists (sabbam natthi. It also avoids, on the one hand, the monistic view that everything is reducible to a common ground, some sort of self-substance (sabbam ekattam) and, on the other, the opposite pluralistic view that the whole of existence is resolvable into a concatenation of discrete entities (sabbam puthuttam). Transcending these two pairs of extremist views, the middle doctrine explains that phenomena arise in dependence on other phenomena without a selfsubsisting noumenon that serves as the ground of their being.

The inter-connection and inter-dependence of these dhammas are not explained on the basis of the dichotomy between substance and quality. Consequently, a given dhamma does not inhere in another as its quality, nor does it serve another as its substance. The socalled substance is only a figment of our imagination. The distinction between substance and quality is denied because such a distinction leaves the door open for the intrusion of the doctrine of a substantial self (attavada) with all that it entails. Hence it is with reference to causes and conditions that the inter-connection of the dhammas should be understood. The conditions are not different from the dhammas, for it is the dhammas themselves that constitute the conditions. How each dhamma serves as a condition (paccaya) for the origination of another (paccayuppanna) is explained on the basis of the system of conditioned genesis (paccayakara-naya). This system, which consists of twenty-four conditions, aims at demonstrating the inter-dependence and dependent origination (paticca-samuppada) of all dhammas in respect of both their temporal sequence and spatial concomitance. In this connection four postulates are recognized as axiomatic, either implicitly or explicitly. The first is that it is not empirically possible to identify an absolute original cause of the "dhammic" process. 


Such a metaphysical conception is not in accord with Buddhism’s empirical doctrine of causality, the purpose of which is not to explain how the world began but to describe the uninterrupted continuity of the samsaric process whose absolute beginning is not conceivable. The second is that nothing arises without the appropriate conditions necessary for its origination. This rules out the theory of fortuitous origination (adhicasamuppanna). The third is that nothing arises from a single cause. This rules out theories of a single cause (ekakaranavada). This means the rejection of all monistic theories, which seek to explain the origin of the world from a single cause, whether this single cause is conceived as a personal God or an impersonal Godhead. The fourth postulate is that nothing arises as a single effect. Thus on the basis of a single cause or a plurality of causes, a single effect does not arise. The rejection of these four theories means that, according to Abhidhamma, from a plurality of conditions a plurality of effects takes place. Applied to the dhamma-theory, this means that a multiplicity of dhammas brings about a multiplicity of other dhammas.

A dhamma in the sense of an elementary constituent is often defined as that which has its own-nature or own-being (sabhava, sakabhava). This has two implications. one is that it represents a specific fact, mental or material, which is not shared by the other dhammas. Hence own-nature is also defined as the characteristic, which is peculiar to a dhamma (avenika-sabhava). The other implication is that since a dhamma has its own nature, its existence is not dependent on the operation of the mind as a conceptual construct. It is not a product of mental interpretation and as such it is an existent having objective reality. The definition of dhamma as that which bears its own-nature is said to be provisional, because such a definition creates the false impression that the dhamma is different from its own-nature, when in actual fact both mean the same thing." This insistence on their non-duality is to prevent the intrusion of the distinction between substance and quality into what otherwise is a unique element of existence. A dhamma is also defined as that which has its own-characteristic (salakkhana, saka-lakkhana). However, this definition should not be understood to mean that the characteristic is different from what is characterized thereby. Thus, for instance, the definition of the earth-element (pathavi dhatu) as that which has the characteristic of solidity-cum extension (pathavi dhatu kakkhalatta-lakkhana) should be rephrased to mean that solidity-cum-extension is itself the earth-element (kakkhalattam eva pathavi dhatu). What all this goes to show, is that the so-called dhamma is a discrete fact, a unitary element of existence, free from complexity and devoid of the distinction between substance and quality.

If the dhammas represent the final factors into which the whole of existence is analysed, one question that naturally arises here is whether they exhibit a unity or a plurality. The answer seems to veer towards both alternatives although it appears paradoxical to say so. In so far as the dhammas are distinguishable, one from another, to that extent they exhibit plurality. In so far as they are not actually separable, one from another, to that extent they exhibit unity. The reason for this situation is the methodological apparatus employed by the Abhidhammikas in explaining the nature of empirical existence. As mentioned earlier, this consists of both analysis (bheda) and synthesis (sangaha). Analysis, when not supplemented by synthesis, leads to pluralism. Synthesis, when not supplemented by analysis, leads to monism. What one finds in the Abhidhamma is a combined use of both methods. This results in a philosophical vision, which beautifully transcends the dialectical opposition between monism and pluralism.

Consensual reality and conceptual constructs

What emerges from this Abhidhamma doctrine of dhammas is a critical realism, one which (unlike idealism) recognizes the distinctness of the world from the experiencing subject yet also distinguishes between those types of entities that truly exist independently of the cognitive act and those that owe their being to the act of cognition itself. How does this doctrine interpret the "common sense" view of the world, a kind of naive realism in the sense that it tends to recognize entities more or less corresponding to all linguistic terms? In other words, what relation is there between the dhammas, the ultimate elements of existence, and the objects of common sense realism? What degree of reality, if any, could be bestowed on the latter?

It is in their answers to these questions that the Abhidhammikas formulated a theory relating to consensual reality (sammuti) and conceptual constructs (pannatti). This may be understood as an attempt to explain the common sense view of reality while retaining dhamma realism as the Abhidhamma view of reality. According to this theory, "the entities of our everyday frame of reference possess merely a consensual reality derivative upon the foundational stratum of the dhammas". For instance, the validity of the term "table" is based, not on an objective existent corresponding to the term, but on mental interpretation superimposed on a congeries of material dhammas when they are organized in a particular manner. Although a table is not a separate reality distinct from the material dhammas that enter into its composition, nevertheless the table is said to exist because in common parlance it is accepted as a separate reality. Thus all objects of common sense realism are conceptual consstructs (pannatti) with no corresponding objective counterparts.

Thus; the Abhidharnma theory of reality demands that we make a clear distinction between dhammas, that is, those types of entities that possess ontological ultimacy on the one hand, and pannattis, that is, those entities that exist only as conceptual constructs, on the other. A dhamma is a truly existent thing (sabhava-siddha), whereas a pannatti is a thing merely conceptualized (parikappa-siddha). The former is an existent verifiable by its own distinctive intrinsic characteristic, but the latter, being a product of the mind’s synthetic function, exists only by virtue of thought. It is a mental construct superimposed on things and hence possesses no objective counterpart.

Concept of time (Kala pannatti)

It is in the light of the distinction made between the dhammas as entities having objective reality on the one hand and pannattis as mental constructs, on the other, that we have to understand the Abhidhamma theory of time and space. On the subject of time the books of the Abhidhamma Pitaka are relatively silent. However, the fact that time is not elevated to the status of a conditioned or unconditioned dhamma shows that it has not been considered as existing in a real and ultimate sense. This is in contrast to the substantialist schools of Indian philosophy, where time is recognized as an eternal, all pervading substance, the existence of which is inferred from facts of consecution and simultaneity between phenomena. It is in the post-canonical commentarial literature that the Buddhist idea of time gets more clearly articulated.

The commentary to the Dhammasangani says that time is an avijjamana-pannatti, which means that it is a conceptual construct with no corresponding objective reality, a concept based on the continuous elemental flow. It is the dhammas, the ultimate constituents of empirical existence, which arise and perish in continual succession, that serve as a basis for our construction of the notion of time. only the dhammas are real (paramattha, saccikattha); time is a conceptual construct, a product of the interpretative function of our mind (kappana-siddha). Therefore, unlike the dhammas, time has no own-nature (sabhavato avijjamana).

That there is no time without reference to events and that, therefore, time is always determined by events, is aptly summarized by the following statement which we find expressed in the same commentary: "Chronological time denoted by reference to this or that event is only a conventional expression" (Tam tam upadaya pannatto kalo voharamattako). Thus different times means not different parts of one and the same time but times determined by different events. As the commentary elaborates on this: "Time is only a concept derived from this or that phenomenon, such as (a) states expressed in such phrases as ‘temporal (aspect) of mind’, ‘temporal (aspect) of matter’; (b) the phenomenal occurrence expressed by such phrases as ‘the past’ and ‘the future’; (c) the phenomenal succession in an organism expressed by ‘the time of seedgermination’ and ‘the time of sprouting’; (d) the characteristic marks of phenomena expressed by ‘the time of genesis’ and ‘the time of decay’; (e) the functions of phenomena expressed by ‘the time of feeling’ and ‘the time of cognizing’; (f) functions of living beings expressed by ‘the time of bathing’ and ‘the time of drinking’; (g) the modes of posture expressed by ‘the time of going’ and ‘the time of stopping’; (h) the revolution of the moon, sun, etc., expressed by ‘morning, evening, day, and night’; or (i) the grouping of days and nights, etc. into periods expressed by ‘half-month’, ‘month’".

Accordingly the Pali commentaries speak of a "plurality of times" (samaya-nanatta), and in the same context, of a plurality of causal confluences as well. A causal confluence is the completeness of conditions (paccaya-samaggi) necessary for the occurrence of an event. All causal confluences, in the final analysis, mean the causal confluences of the dhammas, the ultimate elementary constituents into which existence is analysed. Therefore in the final analysis all our notions of time are due to the dhammas that alone possess ontological ultimacy. Apart from the dhammas, there is no discrete entity called time (na hi tabbinimmutto anno koci kalo nama atthi). In consonance with this stance, the Pali commentaries maintain that it is in relation to the mental and material dhammas that all temporal distinctions should be understood.

The question is raised whether any reference to temporal distinctions of past, present, and future implies the recognition of time as a dhamma, that is, as a real existent. (Addha namayam dhammo eva apanno ti?.) The reply given is that there is no such dhamma called time because all temporal distinctions are, in the final analysis, distinctions pertaining to dhammas themselves (dhammassa pana avatthabhedo).25 Although time does not exist in its own nature (sabhavena avijjamanopi), yet it is possible to speak of dhammas and compound things as belonging to the three divisions of time by considering time as a receptacle (adhikarana) or as a support (adhara) for their serial occurrence.26 Thus from the point of view of the Abhidhamma doctrine of momentariness, past means the dhammas which have ceased after having gone through the three moments of origination, existence, and dissolution (tayo khane patva niruddha); future means the dhammas which have not yet arrived at the three moments (tayo khane asampatta); and present means the dhammas that pass through the three moments (tayo khane sampatta, khanattaya-pariyapanna).27

Thus what is regarded as present in the ultimate sense is the momentary present (khanapaccuppanna) that consists of the three phases of a single mind-moment. obviously this kind of time is not actually perceptible. Therefore in order to account for perceptible time, the Pali commentaries speak of two other ways of defining the present. One is in terms of a series or continuum of moments (santati) and is called continuous present (santai-paccuppanna).28 On the definition of continuous or serial present the commentary to the Dhammasangani records two opinions. According to the Majjhimabhanakas, the residers of the Majjhimanikaya, continuous or serial present has to be understood as illustrated by the following examples: When a person after having sat in darkness goes to the light, material objects do not become manifest to him all at once. The time that requires for the material objects to become manifest is equal to one or two continua. Similarly when a person after having walked in the light enters a room, the time that takes place until the objects become manifest should be understood as one or two continua. When a person, standing afar, sees the bodily movements of people washing clothes or of those who beat drums and ring bells, he does not hear at once the sound they make. The time that passes until he hears the sound is equal to one or two continua.29 On the other hand, the Sam— yuttabhanakas, the reciters of the Samyauttanikaya speak of two kinds of continua, one is material (rupa-santari) and the other is mental (arupa-santati).30 "The material continuity is when the ripples of the water stepped into by one crossing to the bank have not settled down, or when, area a journey the heat of the body has not subsided, or when to one coming out of the glare into a room the gloom is not yet dispelled, or when after being occupied with religious exercise in a room, one looks out of the window during the day and the quivering of the eyes has not subsided." 31 A mental continuum is equal to two or three cognitive processes (Javana-withi), each lasting sixteen mind-moments.32 Two or three cognitive processes, as Venerable Nyanaponika Thera observes, appears too brief a time-interval "to ascribe actual perceptibility", while " the earlier examples imply a duration too long to convey the idea of "present".33 However, as he further observes, "still we must suppose that the second division, the ‘serial present’ is intended to refer to the actual experience of a "now".34 The third way of defining the present is with reference to the present life-term (addha-paccuppanna. While the third way of defining the present is found in the Pali suttas (suttanta-pariyaya), the other two are found only in the Abhidhamma (abhidhamma-niddesa.35)

That time is determined by events is also shown by the mutual relationship between time and consciousness, as we find this expressed in the following quotation from the same commentary.

Samaye niddisi cittarn cittena samayam muni

Niyametvana dipetum dhamme tattha pabhedato.36

We give below Venerable Nyanaponika Thera’s English translation:

By time the Sage described the mind

And by the mind described the time,

In order to show, by such definition,

The phenomena there arranged in classes.37

Now, in the psychology of the Abhidhamma a distinction is made between consciousness (citta), on the one hand, and its concomitants called mental factors (cetasika), on the other. Their relationship is one of invariable concomitance in the sense that when consciousness arises together with it arise the mental factors as well. Their simultaneous origination is sought to be shown by a schematic sentence in the Dhamasangani, where its first part begins with the words: "fat a time when" (yasmim samaye) and the second part,.with the words: "fat that [same] time" (tasmim samaye). The first part identifies the kind of consciousness that it intends to describe and the second part enumerates the kind of mental factors that arise together with that consciousness.38 Through this arrangement the time that consciousness takes to occur gets defined by the time that takes for the temporary combination of the mental factors. As Venerable Nyanaponika Thera says, ‘the duration of that mind-defining time period is circumscribed by the simultaneity of the mental factors enumerated in the second part of the sentence ... In other words, a state of consciousness lasts as long as the combination of its single [mental] factors. This represents the limitation of consciousness by time. Its description too is possible by reference to time, namely to the temporary simultaneity of the single [= mental] factors".39

The commentators interpret "fat a time when" of the Dhammasangani as ‘fat a moment when", where the term moment (khana) is used in its technical sense to mean the briefest temporal unit.40 In the context of this commentarial interpretation, the moment as the briefest temporal unit becomes definable as the duration of a state of consciousness, which, as we have seen, is equal to the time taken for the temporary simultaneity of the mental factors. Thus while a state of consciousness determines the measure of the moment as the briefest time unit, the moment in turn determines the time during which a state of consciousness or the temporary simultaneity of the mental factors occurs. Thus we have the equation: moment as the briefest unit of time is equal to the occurrence of a state of consciousness, which in turn is equal to the simultaneous occurrence of the concomitant mental factors.


If time is, thus, a conceptual construct, what about space? What is the position assigned to it in the Theravada Abhidhamma? There is clear textual evidence to show that from the very beginning Buddhism dissociated itself from the view expressed in many schools of Indian thought that what is called akasa (space, ether) is a subtle and ethereal plenum, which pervades the universe. This is precisely why in the Samkhya, Vedanta, Nyaya Vaisesika and in the medical tradition as represented by Caraka and Susruta, akasa is elevated to the level of a mahabhuta or elemental substance. It is therefore defined as a non-corporeal substance devoid of tactility (sparsa) and characterized by ubiquity (vibhu), absolute continuity and infinite magnitude.41 That Buddhism rejected this theory of absolute space is shown by the fact that in none of the Buddhist texts is akasa elevated to the level of a mahabhuta. For Buddhism, as for Jainism, mahabhuta means only the four primary elements of matter, namely, pathavi (solidity and extension), apo (viscidity and cohesion), tejo (temperature of cold and heat), and vayo (distension and mobility). It is of course true that in the early Buddhist discourses akasa is enumerated immediately after, and apparently as co-ordinate with, the four mahabhatas.42 But this does not mean that akasa is the fifth mahabhuta, just as much as virznana (consciousness), which, too, is sometimes enumerated after the five items in question, is not the sixth mahabhuta What this clearly suggests is that from the very beginning Buddhism did not subscribe to an absolute and realistic view of space.

This early Buddhist view of space gets further articulated in the Abhidhamma of the Theravadins. It is of course true that a number of statements both in the canonical and exegetical texts of the Abhidhamma seem to suggest a realistic view of space, that is, the recognition of space as something objectively real. Thus, for instance, matter is defined as that which is extended in space, the principle of spatial extension being represented by the earth-element.43 This means that space serves as a kind of receptacle for the existence of matter. Again, space is said to function as the principle of delimitation (pariccheda), delimiting the boundaries of each rupa-kaldpa, that is, the smallest unit of matter and thus physically separating it from the other rupa-kalapas.44 On an empirically observable level, its function as the principle of delimitation is to delimit and separate material objects so that we can perceive them as distinct and separate entities. These several roles assigned to space could suggest that as explained in the Abhidhamma space is something objectively real. However, if space is so described, this kind of description, as the commentaries say, is made "for the convenience of grasping the meaning"-(sukhagahanattham), and, therefore, it is not valid in an ultimate sense (nippariyaiyena).45 This will. become clear if we examine here the nature of space in the context of the dhamma theory.

If time is not elevated to the level of a dhamma, in the case of space the situation is somewhat different. For we find an item called akasa-dhatu (space-element) listed in the Dhammasnngani of the Abhidhamma Pitaka as an upada- rupa, i.e. a material dhamma dependent on the four primary elements of matter. As to why it is so postulated, some say that since space is "necessary for the movement of matter, it can well be placed under secondary matter". 46 If this were the reason for its inclusion in matter, then it ought to have been given a position at least on par with the primary elements, rather than being recognized as dependent on, and, therefore, secondary to them. The several examples cited to illustrate the kind of space that is meant here clearly show that the reference is not to."bare geometric extension" but to the void region that delimits and separates material objects.47 In other words, what the Abhidhamma means by akasa-dhatu is bounded or delimited space. Hence the commentaries define it as having the characteristic (lakkhana) of delimitating material objects and the function (rasa) of showing their boundaries. And while it is manifested (paccupatthana) as the confines of matter, it has as its proximate cause (padatthana) the separated material objects.48 And it is because of the material objects separated by the space-element that we can say, "this is above, this is below, this is across".49 These different aspects of the space-element come into focus by its description as pariccheda-rupa, i.e. the material phenomenon of delimitation. The principle of delimitation signifies not only that which delimits (paricchindati) but also that which is delimited (paricchijjati) 50. The implication is that since the space-element means bounded space, it sets limits to and is itself limited by the environing material phenomena. This should explain why it is listed as a secondary material phenomenon dependent on the primary elements. Since our idea of the void is due to the environing matter, and since all matter, from the point of view of the elemental analysis, depends on the primary elements, the space-element, too, can be said to depend on them.

In the Sarvastivada Abhidarma, too, we find its counterpart, also referred to as akasadhatu, but in this system its inclusion in matter is due to another reason: The spaceelement is either light (aloka) or darkness (tamas) and therefore it is included in the objective sense-field of the visible (rupayatana).51 In contrast, the Theravadins include it in the objective field of mental objects (dhamma, vatana), which means that it is not visible but can be cognized only as an object of mind-consciousness.52 We find this view defended in a Kathavatthu controversy as well. In response to the view held by some Buddhist schools that space is visible because one can see the interval-between two trees or two posts or the space in a keyhole or in a window, the Theravadins’ reply is that in the case of an interval between two trees, for instance, what one actually sees with his eyes is only the colour of the two trees and that the interval as such is known only by the mind as an object of mind-consciousness.53

Besides the space referred to above, the Sarvastivadins recognize another kind of space which is called akasa and not akasa-dhatu. It is defined not as space bound by matter but as that which provides room for the movement of matter (yatra rupasya gatih).54 It is omni-present (sarvagata) and eternal (nitya). Its nature is non-obstruction (anavarana- svabhava). That is to say, it does not obstruct (avrnoti) matter, which freely exists therein; nor is it obstructed (avryate) by matter, for it cannot be dislodged by the latter. However, space is not the mere absence of obstruction (anavarana-bhava-matra), but something passively really In view of these characteristics, in the Sarvastivada Abhidharma, space is elevated to the level of an unconditioned dharma and in this sense it is on a par with pratisamkhya and apratisamkhya-nirodha. Thus what the Sarvastivadins call unconditioned space is the space considered as absolutely real and as serving as a receptacle for the existence and movement of material phenomena.

What could be considered as the Theravada counterpart of this kind of space is found only in one Theravada work, namely the Milindapanha. Here we find space defined as follows: In no way can it be grasped (sabbaso agayha); it inspires terror (santasaniya); it is infinite (ananta), boundless (appamana) and immeasurable (appameyya). It does not cling to anything (alagga), is not attached to anything (asatta), rests on nothing (appatittha) and is not obstructed by anything (apalibuddha). 56 Elsewhere in the same work we are told that two things in this world are not born of karma (akammaja), or of causes (ahetuja), or of season (anutuja), namely Nibbana and space.57 However, what is important to remember here is that although the Milindapanha describes space in such a way as to fall in line with its counterpart in the Sarvastivada Abhidharma, it carefully avoids the use of the term "unconditioned" (asankhata) in describing it: This is a very sign)ficant departure from its Sarvastivada version. What could have prompted the Milindapanha to take this stance is that such a description would elevate space to a level on par with Nibbana.

However, what is important to remember here is that the kind of space described in the Milindapanha is not the same as the space-element listed in the Dhammasangani. For the latter means not space in the sense of "bare geometric extension" but spaces bounded by matter. What can be considered as a parallel to the Milindapanha space is found in the Kathavatthu of the Abhidhamma Pitaka. For here too space is described more in terms of that which provides room for the existence and movement of material phenomena. However, unlike in the Milindapanha it is not described as infinite and eternal, but as something neither conditioned nor unconditioned. 58 The commentary observes that if space is so described, this means that it is a pannatti, i.e., a nominal dhamma or a conceptual construct with no objective counterpart.59

Thus in the Theravada Abhidhamma as well we find two kinds of space. What led to this idea can be traced to the early Buddhist discourses themselves. Here space is sometimes described as referring to cavities, apertures and interstices. This is what the suttas mean by akasa-dhatu (space-element), when it is counted as one of the six elements (dhatu) into which the empiric individuality is analysed.60 And when the Sangiti Sutta of the Dighanikaya refers to a material phenomenon that is neither visible (anidassana) nor impingent (appatigha), 61 it is very likely that the reference is to this space element. And it is this same space-element that we find in the Abhidhamma list of secondary material phenomena (upada-rupa) as the principle of material delimitation (pariccheda- rupa). Sometimes we find in the Pali suttas space described not as void region but as the ultimate basis, a sort of fulcrum or receptacle for the existence of the physical world. In the Mahaparinibbana Sutta, for instance, the Buddha is represented as saying: "This great earth, O Ananda, rests on water, water on air, and air on space".62 And in the Rahulovada Sutta it is said that space for its part does not rest on anything (akaso na kattha ci patitthito).63 In point of fact, the Milindapanha cites this same statement in its reference to space as described there.64 Equally significant is an observation found in the Abhidharmakosavyakhya of Acarya Yasomitra. It says that when the Vaibhasikas (Sarvastivadins) argue that space is real they base this argument on a sutra-passage where the Buddha declares to a Brahmin that the earth rests on the circle of water, the circle of water on air, air on space and that space for its part does not rest on anything, does not cling to anything.65

It is this latter kind of space that came to be elevated in the Milindapanha almost to the level of an unconditioned dhamma. And it is also this same space that the Kathavatthu describes as neither conditioned nor unconditioned, and this, as the commentary says, means that it is a conceptual construct. In the commentaries it is sometimes introduced as infinite space (anantakasa) and boundless space (ajatakasa).66 Both terms highlight its difference from the space-element in the sense of bounded space. The use of these two terms does not mean that space is regarded as something real and absolute. The use of another term, empty space (tucchakasa) does, in fact, highlight its true nature.67 For as noted earlier, for the Pali commentaries space in the sense of "bare geometric extension" is a mere conceptual construct. (pannatti-matta).

The reference to two kinds of space could be considered as looking at the same phenomenon from two different angles. The first, which is always introduced by the compound word, akasa-dhatu (space-element) means space as void region or as that which delimits material phenomena. The second which is introduced by the simple term, akasa (space) means space as providing room for the existence and movement of matter. It may then be asked why the former is described as conditioned (sankhata) and the latter as neither conditioned nor unconditioned (= pannatti or conceptual construct). The reason for this is that although the former is presented as one of the secondary material phenomena (upada-rupa), it is not considered as an entity distinct from the other material phenomena. It is the method followed in the Dhammasangani that in recognizing certain characteristics and modalities connected with real rupa-dhammas (elements of matter), those characteristics and modalities themselves are presented as separate and co-ordinate rupa- dhammas. It is only a pedagogic device adopted to avoid the distinction between substance and quality entering into the list of rupa-dhammas. The Pali commentators were fully aware of this situation. This should explain why in the commentaries the space-element of the Dhammasangani came to be included in a category called anipphanna-rupa. What is included in this category is, strictly speaking, not a dhamma, because it has no own-nature (sabhava). Nor is it of the nature of rupa in the sense of matter, because it does not answer to its definition.68 If the items included in the category of anipphanna-rupa continue to be presented as rupa-dhammas, this, as the commentators say, is done only as a matter of convention (rulhiya).69

What all this amounts to is that in the ultimate sense (nippariyayena), the space-element (akasa-dhatu) is not different from space akasa). Both are conceptual constructs with no corresponding objective reality. This reminds us of the Sautranntika school of Buddhism where space is defined as "the mere absence of the ‘substance’ that has the characteristic of resistance or impenetrability" (sapratighadravyabhavamatra).70 Since matter is defined as that which has the characteristic of resistance or impenetrability, the above definition can be rephrased to mean that space is the mere absence of matter. This definition is intended to show that space is not something positively real but a conceptual construct having only derivative and pragmatic validity (prajnapti-sat). The addition of the word, mere (matra) is to emphasize the fact that non-existence of matter does not mean the existence of anything other than matter. Space is not the opposite of matter but the mere absence of matter.


The inclusion of time and space in the category of pannattis in other words means that they are not dhammas. The dhammas, as we have already noted, are the entities that have ontological ultimacy. Hence they are often described as paramattha, that is, that which exists in a real and ultimate sense. The description of dhammas as paramattha means not only their objective existence (paramatthato vijjamanata) but also their cognizability in an ultimate sense (paramatthato upalabbhamanata).71 Thus from an ontological point of view, if the dhammas represent the final limits into which the analysis of empirical existence can be pushed, from an epistemological point of view they represent the objects of higher knowledge. The pannattis, on the other hand, signify those entities that have no objective counterparts and therefore which owe their being to mind’s synthetic function (kappaana). Therefore the two terms, paramattha and pannatti, could be understood as indicating two levels of reality as well: The first refers to those entities that truly exist independently of the cognitive act and the second, to those entities that owe their being to the act of cognition itself. These two categories are said to be mutually exclusive and together they provide a rational explanation for the totality of our internal and external experience. Hence it is categorically stated that apart from pannatti and paramattha a third category does not obtain (tatiya koti na vijjati).72 In consonance with this situation pannatti is also defined as "that which is other than the dhammas" (tato avasesa), or as "that which remains after the mental and material dhammas" (namarupa-vinimmutta).73.

Since time and space are two pannattis, they are definable as two asabhava-dhammas as well,74 that is, as two entities devoid of own-nature. Since sabhava or own-nature is not different from the dhamma, from the perspective of this definition what is qualified as asabhava amounts to an abhava, a non-existent in the ultimate sense. Hence the three salient characteristics of empirical reality, namely origination (uppada), existence (thiti), and dissolution (bhanga) are not applicable to time and space. For these three characteristics can be predicated only of those things which properly answer to the Abhidhammic definition of empirical reality.75 Again, unlike the real existents (= dhammas) they are not brought about by conditions (paccayatthitika).76 For this selfsame reason, both time and space can also be defined as aparinipphanna, that is, not positively produced. Aparinipphannata or positive production is true of only those things, which have their own individual essence (avenika-sabhava).77 As the Abhidhamma Mulatika says, "only a dhamma that is an individual essence, with a definite beginning and a definite end in time, produced by conditions, and marked by the three salient characteristics of the conditioned existence, is positively produced".78 As two pannattis, another important characteristic of time and space is that they cannot be described either as sankhata (conditioned) or as asankhata (unconditioned), for to be so described they do not possess their own-nature.79 Since the two terms, sankhata and asankhata, represent the totality of conditioned and unconditioned existence, the description of time and space as neither conditioned nor unconditioned is another way of referring to their nonexistence as real and ultimate existents.

Again, unlike the dhammas, time and space as pannattis are not delimited by rise and fall (udayabbaya- paricchnina).80 Such a situation is true only of dhammas, because they come into being having been not (ahutva sambhonti) and cease to exist after having been (hutva pativenti).81 In contrast, time and space have no individual essence to be manifested in the three instants of arising (uppada)’ presence (thiti), and dissolution (bhanga).82 Thus, since they have no existence marked by the three instantaneous phases - the nascent, static, and cessant - temporal distinctions as past, present, and future do not apply to them. As such, both time and space are also described as kala-vimutta, that is, free from time.83 Here "free from time" means that the three temporal distinctions as past, present, and future do not apply to them. That space is free from time is understandable. But how are we to understand that time is free from time, that is, free from the three temporal distinctions? The answer to this question is that, according to the Abhidhamma, what we call the three temporal distinctions are not three phases of an absolute time but three conceptual constructs which we superimpose on the incessant flow of the dhammas. Past means the dhammas that have ceased to exist, present means the dhammas that exist, and future means the dhammas that are yet to originate.

The Abhidhamma distinguishes two kinds of pannatti. one is called nama-pannatti. It refers to names, words, signs, or symbols through which things, real or unreal, are designated: "It is the mere mode of recognizing (sannakaramatta) by way of this or that word whose sign)ficance is determined by worldly convention"84 It is created by worldly consent (loka-sanketa-nimmita) and established by worldly usage (lokavoharena siddha)85. The other, called attha-pannatti, refers to ideas, notions, or concepts corresponding to the names, words, signs, or symbols. It is produced by the interpretative function of the mind (kappana) and is based on the various forms or appearances presented by the real elements (dhammas) when they are in particular situations or positions (avattha-visesa) .86 Both nama-pannatti and attha-pa`n`natti thus have a psychological origin and as such both are devoid of objective reality.

N`E0ma-pannatti is often defined as that which makes known (pann`E0panato pannatti) and attha-pannatti as that which is made known (pa‘n‘n`E0piyatt`E0 pannatti).87 The former is an instance of agency-definiton (kattu-sadhanad and the latter of object-definition (kammasadhana). What both attempt to show is that nama-pannatti which makes attha- pannatti known, and attha-pannatti which is made known by nama-pannatti, are mutually interdependent and therefore logically inseparable. This explains the significance of another definition, which states that nama-pannatti is the term’s relationship with the ideas (saddassa atthehi sambandho) and that attha-pannatti is the idea’s relationship with the terms (atthassa saddehi sambandho).88 These two pairs of definition show that the two processes of conceptualization and verbalization through the symbolic medium of language are but two separate aspects of the same phenomenon. It is for the convenience of definition that what really amounts to a single phenomenon is treated from two different angles, which represent two ways of looking at the same thing. The difference is established by defining the same word, pannatti, in two different ways. When it is defined as subject it is nama- pannatti - the concept as name. When it is defined as object it is attha-pannatti - the concept as meaning. If the former is that which expresses (vacaka), the latter is that which is expressible (vacaniya).89 In this same sense, if the former is abhidhana or designation, the latter is abhidheya or that which is designated90. Since attha-pannatti stands for the process of conceptualization it represents more the subjective and dynamic aspect, and since nama-pannatti stands for the process of verbalization it represents more.the objective and static aspect. For the assignment of a term to what is constructed in thought - in other words - its expression through the symbolic medium of language - invests it with some kind of relative permanence and objectivity. It is, so to say, crystallized into an entity.

Since time and space are two instances of pannatti, the foregoing observations on the two kinds of painnatti apply to them equally.

13/20 08 2003 - The Island






Personalities History

Articles Index

J11.20    Some vital corrections needed in the presentation of the Angulimala Paritta

And its use in the lives of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka

Professor Dhammavihari Thera

In the vast majority of the books named Piruvana Potvahanse or Maha Pirit Pota which are printed in Sinhala characters and are now in circulation in Sri Lanka, the Angulimala Paritta is most lamentably misrepresented. the Catubhanavarapali in the Simon Hevavitarana Bequest Atthakatha Series does not contain the Angulimala Paritta. In the Piruvana Potvahanse presentation, there are two major areas of error. Although we have repeatedly suggested to the highest authority in the land on the subject of the need for a bureau of standards in Buddhist studies, it has fallen well below deaf ears. We have no Court of Appeal, through which we could rectify such errors, neither among the clergy nor among the academics.

The error No. 1 is that what is presented as the Angulimala Paritta in the Pirit Pota is a tragic combination of what is truly a part of what is in the Sutta by this name in the Majjhima Nikaya, together with a pitiable garbled version of a Commentarial tradition about date of origin of which we would say no more than that it is Commentarial. This covers a vast range of both time and place. Both parts are combined and presented as one genuine whole. Knowing what the Buddha intended, as is very clear from Angulimala Sutta, this to us is an ingenious bit of smuggling.

The Commentary, apparently associating itself with some forms of provincial magical beliefs, says that the water, with which the chair on which the reciter of the Angulimala Paritta sits is washed, is capable of facilitating easy delivery to a pregnant woman. Sri Lankan monks keep chanting this to you over and over again.

Parittam yom bhanantassa nisinnatthanadhovanm

Udakam pi vinasesi sabbameva parissayam

Sotthina gabbhavutthanam tanca sadheti tam khane

It further says that such a chair, carved out of stone, did exist at a later date, in some provincial Indian town. It is not difficult to stretch one’s imagination to contain such degradations, through time and space, within the sublime religious core of a religion like Buddhism. Forget not the hands and the lands through which Buddhism had to pass, in its journey from the north to the south of India. It is now quite clear, with the evidence available, that none of these can pass off as part of the original paritta. Does anybody want to cash on the gullibility of the credulous listener? We strongly feel that it is not a day too early in Sri Lanka to turn a new leaf in the presentation of Buddhism, irrespective of as to who is anxious to learn Buddhism anew through the fashionable and currently prestigious media of television or not.

The error No. 2 is that almost all Piruvana Pirit Potas attempt to present the Angulimala Paritta as being imparted by the Omniscient One (Sarvagna) to the powerful and prestigious (mahesakya) arhant Angulimala. This, it must be pointed out, is also a catastrophic blunder. It is an un-called for glorification. At the time thera Angulimala brought comfort to the pregnant mother who was in great pain due to the misplacement of the child in the womb, and to her unborn child within, on the instruction of the Buddha, he was only a newly ordained monk in the Order.

The asseveration (saccikiriya) he made that he knew not having consciously destroyed any life ever since he became an ariyan disciple, and that alone, brought comfort (sotthi) severally to the mother (itthiya) and to the unborn child (gabbhassa). This was definitely a pre-arhanthood achievement of Angulimala. Nor is Angulimal said to have facilitated, at any stage, the delivery of the child. It was after this event of blessing the pregnant mother that Angulimala became an arhant. For all these details, please read the Angulimala Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya.

There is also currently another serious error in the application of this Angulimala Paritta in the service of pregnancy care. On the advice of someone, the original source being unknown to us as to whether it is the village sorcerer, the astrologer or the village temple monk, or even an elderly man or woman of the village at that, the time of chant of the Angulimala Paritta to the pregnant mother has been deferred to the last week of pregnancy. We know of numerous instances of monks, both of the town and the village, chanting the tender Tambili coconut with the Angulimala paritta and delivering it to the father or husband of the pregnant girl, with the instruction that the water of the chanted nut be consumed by the pregnant mother before proceeding for the delivery of the baby. What a shamelessly ugly enactment of village magic with the connivance of monk and layman?

We were much more bewildered to find in some of the Sri Lankan Buddhist temples, both in London and Paris, copies of some brand of the Piruvana Pota which contained the following instruction appended to the Angulimala Paritta. "In cases of difficulty of delivery of the baby, let some water be chanted with this paritta and the water be applied on the abdomen of the pregnant mother. Then this would ease the delivery of the baby." These books are on the common run even in Sri Lanka today. In the name of the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha who would detect these wild stories and take necessary action? Is it the glamorously labelled fictitious ministries, grandiloquent news paper reporters or non-existent SLS men for Buddhist affairs?

It is impossible for us to miss at this point the Buddhist sense of love and care reflected here in the story of thera Angulimala and the equally sensitive reaction on the part of the Buddha. It pervades human life in its entirety, without any regional differences. It just breathes the welfare of humanity as a whole, through the symbolism of the pregnant mother and the unborn child. About 800 A. D., it produced in Japan a delightful statue of a goddess (an Avalokitesvara) who presides over pregnancy who came to be calle Koyasu Kannon. She was seen in a dream by the Empress who was pregnant at the time. She had this statue made (reproduced herewith) and installed in a famous temple in Japan.

This is why we have established at the Narada Centre, nearly a year ago, the Pregnancy Care Consortium to invoke blessings on pregnant mothers, at any stage in their pregnancy, and their unborn babies (sotthi te hotu sotthi gabbhassa). The date is the first Sunday every month. For this purpose, we use the asseveration of thera Angulimala referred to above. We give every would-be-mother a laminated comply of the real Angulimala paritta, together with its English and Sinhala translations, for use by the husbands, parents or the in-laws. The number of pregnant girls now being served by us stands at 105. Let us ungrudgingly pay adequate respect to the Buddha world that "the Mother is the Friend in one’s Home = Mata Mittam sake ghare."

12 08 2003 - The Island


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