Paticcasamuppada: Practical Dependent Origination

Practical Dependent Origination
by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
Translated excerpts from the Chinese version. Translated by Johnson Sumpio.


The doctrine of paticcasamuppada [dependent origination] taught by the Buddha is profound; consequently, majority of people cannot understand the law of dependent origination. Nonetheless, it is as valid today as it was when the Buddha explained the doctrine to Ven. Ananda some 2500 years ago. The doctrine of dependent origination, the core of Buddhism, is so difficult to comprehend that people commit serious errors in understanding it, and thereby distort the Buddha Dhamma. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu reveals the root of the distortions, and carefully scrutinizes and analyzes it in the book. The root of the distortions may be traced back to the primitive Buddhism period, but the earliest relevant record can be found in Buddhaghosa’s essay written some 1500 years ago.

The teachings of many mainstream schools are based on Buddhaghosa’s essay. By treating Buddhaghosa’s misinterpretation of the Buddha Dhamma as standard, they obscured the Truth. Buddhaghosa explained the doctrine of dependent origination based on the idea of three connected lifetimes (past, present, and future). According to his idea, ignorance and action in the past gave birth to the present; the consequences of past actions are thus experienced in the present. The process causes our vexation (due to Craving and Clinging) in the present life, while transmigration [the cyclical process of death and rebirth or samsara] delivers us to births and sufferings in future lives. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu examines such an interpretation and raises these critical questions: If the Buddha taught the absence of an ego (anatta), then what is migrating from one life to the next? If the cause of suffering is instilled in one lifetime and its consequence emerges in another, how do we free ourselves from suffering in our practice in this life?

Proper understanding of dependent origination is essential. It allows us to know that the concept of an ego is dependent on various causal conditions. It also frees us from the erroneous belief of “an everlasting self.” The self or ego is not present. The idea of an ego is continually perpetrated by Ignorance. The ignorant citta [could mean the heart or mind depending on the context] is deceived by endless manifestations sustaining the illusion of “an everlasting self.” As Buddhadasa Bhikkhu points out, the Buddha taught the doctrine of dependent origination to help us see through the illusions. The idea of a process of dependent arising that encompasses three lifetimes implies that something is going from one life to the next. It is contrary to what the Buddha taught, and it undermines the Buddha’s teachings.

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu has strong basis in his interpretation of the doctrine of dependent origination. He circumvents the essays, and refers directly to the original Pali suttas as source. He focuses on the practical application of the Buddha’s teachings for the benefit of practitioners who intend to free themselves from suffering in this very life. The doctrine of dependent origination is actually a comprehensive analysis of the onset and cessation of suffering. In understanding the law of dependent arising we see clearly how the practice can be carried out. By focusing on the Contact in the instant, one can develop Wisdom and prevent the onset of suffering because the contributing factors for the onset and cessation of suffering exist in that instant. If Ignorance confounds the citta, suffering occurs; but if Right Mindfulness and Wisdom can subjugate the Six Roots (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind), suffering ceases. In this way the doctrine of dependent origination can be practical because the causes and consequences both exist in this life, where they are accessible. If the causes of suffering exist in the previous life, as Buddhaghosa said, then freeing oneself from suffering in this life is impossible because the cause of suffering is inaccessible.

This book is very important to serious students of Buddhism. It points out the misconceptions, and leads us to the original teaching of the Buddha found in the Pali suttas. We hoped the book will clear up muddled essential religious doctrines and help everyone to understand suffering and discover everlasting peace.

The Doctrine of Dependent Origination is Profound

The doctrine of dependent origination, the core or essence of Buddhism, is profound. For this reason, it is bound to spawn certain issues. These issues can endanger Buddhism, and take the benefits of religious doctrines away from the Buddhists. The Ven. Ananda once told the Buddha he found the doctrine of dependent origination evident and easy to comprehend. The Buddha replied, “Ananda, do not say so. The doctrine of dependent origination is so profound that sentient beings are unable to comprehend it. They are unable to understand what I teach; likewise, they are unable to perceive the process of dependent arising. Consequently, they are perplexed just like with a ball of entangled thread, a jumble of munja grass. They cannot free themselves from sufferings, state of deprivation [apaaya-bhumi], degeneration, and transmigration.”

This part of the sutta tells us not to treat the doctrine of dependent origination lightly; that one should devote his mind and intellect to the study of the doctrine.

Ordinary people, however, are used to the concept of a continuing existence. They still perceive an ego; therefore, they find the doctrine of dependent origination profound and difficult to comprehend. To them the doctrine is an unfathomable and intricate philosophy similar to the ball of entangled thread. Therefore, they spend much effort debating just like the blind men arguing among themselves when they try to describe the different parts of an elephant.

The knowledge of dependent arising comes naturally to an arhant. An arhant treats it as an open and proven science and a plaything. Even though he might not know the Buddha’s doctrine, he has seen through everything. An arhant does not cling anymore. He does not experience Craving and Clinging due to Contact. An arhant does not have to know the different links of dependent origination [the twelve links: Ignorance, Formation, Consciousness, Name & Form, Six Sense Bases, Contact, Feeling, Craving, Clinging, Existence/Being, Birth, and Aging & Death]. He might not know how to teach the doctrine of dependent origination or explain anything relevant, but because an arhant already possesses the perfect Right Mindfulness, he does not anymore experience suffering, because there is already the cessation of dependent arising.

Even with his wisdom the Buddha spared no efforts to discover the process of dependent arising and develop a doctrine for teaching sentient beings. When the Buddha attained enlightenment, he hesitated to teach the doctrine because only a handful of people would be able to understand it. In the end, however, the Buddha bore the burden of teaching the arcane and profound Truth because of his great compassion for the sentient beings. Because only a few people could understand the doctrine, we can see how difficult a task it was for the Buddha.

Everyday Language and Dharma Language

The Buddha used two kinds of language to teach his doctrines. One was everyday language, which was used to teach ordinary moral lessons to people deluded by the concept of a continuing existence. These people experienced an ego. They were possessive because of their deep-rooted mental Clinging. On the other hand, the Dhamma language was used to teach people who were mildly deluded (people with sharp mind) for them to understand the Absolute Truth [paramattha-sacca], and to stop them from embracing the concept of a continuing existence.

The doctrine of dependent origination is an Absolute Truth; therefore, the Dhamma language must be used to explain it. It is contrary to the teaching of morality (about worldly goodness, which supports the concept of an ego). The everyday language cannot be used to discuss the doctrine of dependent origination. If the Dhamma language were used, however, people could not understand it, and would turn to everyday language to figure things out. Ultimately, the problem will not only be about comprehension but also about misunderstanding the law of dependent arising. This is the basic difficulty in teaching the doctrine. It is also why the Buddha initially hesitated to teach upon his enlightenment. Sometimes, comprehension is not possible even after teaching, as in the case of Bikkhu Sati, the son of a fisherman. I shall talk about him later in the book. The doctrine has been taught to and discussed with people up to the present, but they are still unable to comprehend it. They are either unable to practice it or deviating from the right path in their cultivation.

The teaching of morality involves the presence of a person, sentient beings, the self, and the Tathagata [a Buddha]. Even teaching people to perform meritorious deeds entails the idea of enjoying blessings after their death. In the case of Absolute Truth, however, sentient beings, the person, and the Tathagata are absent. There are only successive instants of occurrences due to interdependent conditions. The occurrences are a process of dependent arising (paticcasamuppanna dhamma). When these occurrences link together or form a chain, it is called dependent origination. Here the ego is absent in every instant; therefore, no entity is born, no entity has died, and nobody is receiving karmic ramification, which is according to the concept of a continuing existence. This is not nihilism because, at the very instant, no person has died. In every instant, there is only dependent arising. This is in accord with the Eight Noble Paths or the Middle Path, which is applicable in moral teaching.

If the causal conditions of goodness exist, most ordinary people adhere to morality because of habit. They seek peace of mind through meritorious deeds. When the causal conditions change, however, they suffer because they cling and they experience impermanence. They will understand that morality is not their ultimate refuge and must seek Absolute Truth, such as the doctrine of dependent origination, to get free of suffering. When a person transcends the concept of an ego, ego possession, goodness and evil, good and bad, bitterness and pleasure, then he will no longer experience suffering. The teaching of an ego that is constantly present in the process of dependent arising not only violates the law of dependent arising but also violates the Buddha’s principle in preaching the Dhamma – that is to help people totally abandon any concept of an ego. For this reason, the doctrine of dependent origination does not involve morality, because morality, in any situation, is based on the ego. It advocates the concept of a continuing existence.

At present, two kinds of teaching of the doctrine of dependent origination exist. One distorts the Buddha Dhamma, and it has existed for more than a thousand years. The other is in accord with the Buddha Dhamma, and it teaches awareness of Contacts at the sense bases to prevent Feeling from advancing to Craving. In this way, the doctrine of dependent origination can be practiced to reap the results at once. The truth is if ordinary people can practice in this manner, they can have significant achievements even without referring to the law of dependent arising. A serious practitioner should be wary of the confusion from these two kinds of teaching, and ensure that his cultivation is in accord with the Buddha Dhamma. The nature of dependent origination, as taught by the Buddha, upholds neither nihilism – for instance, encouraging people to abstain from performing meritorious deeds, be irresponsible, be troublesome and reckless – nor the concept of a continuing existence; for instance, advocating people to be extremists, to be deluded with the concept of an eternally existing ego or all forms of ego and ego possessiveness. The doctrine of dependent origination is not an exaggerated theory as generally believed. On the contrary, it entails rigorous cultivation such that when there is Contact in the sense base, Right Mindfulness is applied to subjugate Feeling, thus preventing its advance to Craving, Clinging, and Existence/Birth. In actual practice, a term such as “dependent origination” is unnecessary.

The doctrine of dependent origination must not be interpreted as a theory of spirits, where the spirit of the ego is present, where the spiritual consciousness is reincarnated or stays in the body. In this age, western scholars ridicule such belief. Do not mix everyday language (or a language polluted with the concept of a continuing existence) that is used in teaching morality with the doctrine of dependent origination, because only the Dhamma language (or language from the Right View) is used to teach the doctrine. Practicing in accordance with the law of dependent arising is the true Middle Path. The suttas say that in knowing dependent origination one achieves supreme or supra-mundane Right View. Such a Right View is not prone to nihilism or the concept of a continuing existence. The doctrine of dependent origination stays in the Middle Path that is neither the substantiation of the ego (concept of a continuing existence) nor the negation of the ego (nihilism). Its law follows the principle of “this exists therefore that exists, this ceases to be therefore that ceases to be.” This principle keeps Buddhism from embracing nihilism or the concept of a continuing existence. We must be careful not to let the doctrine of dependent origination evolve into one that is not in accord with the Buddha Dhamma or become a doctrine of Hinduism or Brahmanism. The truth is it is impossible to instill the doctrine of dependent origination in the mind of one who embraces the concept of a continuing existence because the two are contradictory. Hence, teaching the doctrine of dependent origination using the concept of a continuing existence is undermining the law of dependent arising.

There are two distinctions in the Buddha’s teachings in the primitive Pali suttas. One part is morality, which is taught to people who embrace the concept of a continuing existence, and the other part is Absolute Truth, which abolishes the concept of a continuing existence without nihilism. During the time when essayists were popular, a very common deviation was using the concept of a continuing existence to explain Absolute Truth and the doctrine of dependent origination. Whenever opportunity arose, the essayists interpreted the doctrine of dependent origination from a viewpoint where ego existed. The person died and was reborn. The essayists also interpreted the doctrine from a purely materialistic viewpoint. For instance, hell was explained to be under the ground, a place where people go when they died. It was not explained according to the law of dependent arising where the fearsome hell exists in every instant. Furthermore, even if hell is supposedly experienced according to the law of dependent arising, people still consider it under the ground or a place for dead people.

Therefore, the primitive Pali suttas must be used as basis in studying dependent origination. Do not blindly follow the essayists or totally abide by essays and canons such as the Visuddhimagga [Way to Purity]. I believe the author of Vissuddhimagga and the one who integrated the annotations of all the Pali Buddhist canons were the same person. As a result, people’s thoughts were monopolized, and they blindly followed the essays and canons all throughout. Nevertheless, we must still use the principle of the Four Criteria (mahapadesa) in the Kalama Sutta and Mahaparinibbaana Sutta to safeguard and apply our autonomy so as to protect ourselves from becoming victims of books, essays, or canons that are prone to the concept of a continuing existence.

If we use the Kalama Sutta and the Four Criteria, we can strictly apply the Buddha’s principle to choose the right things from layers upon layers of garbage. This is not to say that all of the essays and canons are useless, but that the Buddha’s principle must be strictly applied to find the right explanations. According to the Four Criteria, anything that is not in accord with the Doctrine [dhamma] and Discipline [vinaya] should be considered as erroneous hearing, memory, speech, and teaching. The doctrine of dependent origination is primarily intended to abolish the concept of a continuing existence and nihilism. Therefore, if the teaching of the doctrine involves man’s transmigration in three lifetimes, then it is unacceptable in accordance with the Four Criteria.

Principle of Dependent Origination

Following are some points on the principle of dependent origination:

I.      In the absence of thought and wisdom for liberation, Existence/Being and Birth are developed at the instant the Six Roots come in contact with the Six Objects [sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, and idea; gunas]. In other words, the process of dependent arising begins at the very instant Contact is established due to Ignorance.

II.     In the language of dependent origination, no “person,” “ego,” “us,” or “them” exists to experience suffering, the cessation of suffering, or transmigration.

III.   In the language of dependent origination, there is no so-called “joy;” there are only suffering and the cessation of suffering. “Joy” is not spoken in dependent origination because the concept of a continuing existence is based on “joy” (“joy” readily leads to the concept of a continuing existence, whereas “suffering” readily leads to nihilism). It is only in everyday language that the absence of suffering is referred to as “joy.” For instance, “nibbana is the utmost joy” is used for the convenience of teaching morality.


IV.  There is no transmigrating consciousness (patisandhi vinnana; that which connects this life to the next) in the language of dependent origination. Therefore, the consciousness (vinnana) in dependent arising refers to the Six Consciousness (arising from contacts between the Six Roots and Six Objects). The Buddha never explained consciousness as transmigrating consciousness because his purpose is to let us clearly see the Six Consciousness of ordinary sense organs. Transmigrating consciousness was only mentioned in essays in latter period. These essays unconsciously introduced the concept of a continuing existence into Buddhism. They have encroached Buddhism like destructive insects. The truth is we already have consciousness due to ordinary sense organs or Consciousness from Ignorance in the process of dependent arising, and no longer need a transmigrating consciousness.

V.    There is only the law of dependent arising in dependent origination; meaning all phenomena emerge only when mutually dependent conditions exist. Furthermore, the beginning and end of each phenomenon happen in an instant after which other phenomena continuously arise due to mutually dependent conditions. A phenomenon that arises due to mutually dependent conditions is called a dependent arising. There are two important principles here: (1) do not entertain the idea of an ego so as not to embrace the concept of a continuing existence; and (2) do not entertain the idea that nothing exists so as not to become nihilistic. As long as one stays in the Middle Path, he will not stray from the law of dependent arising.

VI.  From the kamma viewpoint, dependent origination is the cessation of the neither-black-nor-white kammas as well as the black and the white kammas. The meritorious kamma [punna-kamma], non-meritorious kamma, and imperturbable kamma (anenja) are all considered as suffering. One must transcend the three kinds of kamma to be totally free from suffering. In this way, the kamma will not become basis for ego clinging or the concept of a continuing existence.

VII  That which conforms to the “principle of direct and immediate efficacy” (sanditthika)[primarily concerned with the world and present life] is in accord with Buddhist principle. The interpretation of dependent origination that encompasses three lifetimes does not follow the “principle of direct and immediate efficacy.” The eleven states of dependent origination must all  conform to the “principle of direct and immediate efficacy” to be recognized as the Buddha’s teaching.

VIII. There are many ways of interpreting the doctrine of dependent origination in the suttas. For instance, (1) from Ignorance to Aging & Death in forward order (anuloma); (2) from Aging & Death to Ignorance in reverse order (patiloma); the forward and reverse orders of interpretation also talk about the cessation of dependent arising; (3) from contacts between the Roots and surroundings up to emergence of Consciousness, Contact, and Feeling but without mentioning Ignorance; (4) from Feeling up to suffering in Aging & Death; and the most peculiar of all, (5) simultaneous birth and cessation in one process of dependent arising such that Formation originates from Ignorance, Consciousness originates from Formation, Name & Form originates from Consciousness, and so forth up to the stage where Craving originates from Feeling, then the cessation of Craving is explained as the cessation of Clinging thus the cessation of suffering. This peculiar interpretation seems to claim that even when the process of dependent arising has developed up to the stage of Craving, the Right Mindfulness can still be brought forth to stop  Craving and reverse the process until suffering is eliminated. Nonetheless, if we discuss the different kinds of dependent arising in the suttas, we will see more clearly that the process of dependent arising does not have to encompass three lifetimes.

IX.      Dependent arising is a phenomenon that lasts an instant; it is impermanent. Therefore, Birth and Death must be explained as phenomena within the process of dependent arising in everyday life of ordinary people. Right Mindfulness is lost during contacts of the Roots and surroundings. Thereafter, when vexation due to greed, anger, and ignorance is experienced, the ego has already been born. It is considered as one “birth.” The “birth” that originates from the mother’s womb used in everyday language is not the “birth” meant in the doctrine of dependent origination. The meaning of birth in everyday language obstructs our understanding of the doctrine. We should instead direct our attention on possible “future births” [emergence of the ego] at the moment. This is certainly far better than not knowing in what state the “future birth” of everyday language will deliver us.

X.       A philosophical theory of dependent origination for discussion is not beneficial to us; therefore, it is not essential. The doctrine of dependent origination is a kind of cultivation. It can stop the manifestation of suffering by maintaining awareness in the Six Roots when they come in contact with surroundings. Applying this principle to protect the Six Roots and stop influxes (asava) [“flowing” of the citta that perpetrates samsara] is the real end to the process of dependent arising. Any same method of cultivation is correct even if it is not referred to as the doctrine of dependent origination. This manner of ending the process of dependent arising is called the Right Path (sammapatipada).

The above points can be used as criteria for testing one’s understanding of the real doctrine of dependent origination. The real doctrine of dependent origination is actual cultivation that leads directly to cessation of suffering. Suffering is manifested because vexation generates a process of dependent arising (from Ignorance to Aging & Death). The process involves two rounds of birth, because once the Roots come in contact with the Objects, Consciousness emerges out of Ignorance. The first round of birth refers to the emergence of Name & Form due to Consciousness. The Six Sense Bases comes next from Name & Form. Before these happen, however, Consciousness does not seem to exist, because it is in a state of stay at the moment. Only people who embrace the concept of a continuing existence call it the transmigrating consciousness [that connects one lifetime to the next]. Feeling, originating from Contact, generates vexation that is due to Craving and Clinging. Thereafter, Existence/Being and Birth follow in succession. This is the birth of the ego and ego possessiveness, the second round of birth. At this point, suffering due to birth, aging, death, distress, sorrow, bitterness, worrying, and irritation may be experienced. They are simply called the Five Aggregates of Clinging (pancupadanakkhandha) or suffering. Therefore, each process of dependent arising involves two rounds of birth. Death or birth, in the doctrine of dependent origination, does not come when one is physically dead. The birth and death of the physical body in everyday language has nothing to do with the Buddha’s doctrine of dependent origination.

The Buddha’s purpose in teaching the doctrine of dependent origination is to totally abolish the concept of an ego. It is not enough to analyze the absence of an ego using the Five Aggregates; the process of dependent arising must be perceived clearly. Each of the Aggregates appears in accordance with the law of causality “this exists therefore that exists, this ceases to be therefore that ceases to be” only when the eleven states of dependent arising have totally come about. This enables us to better perceive the absence of an ego, delusion (vexation), kamma, and karmic reaction (vipaka); or realize the absence of ego in the entire causal process. Yet, learning about the absence of ego in the Five Aggregates but not clearly perceiving dependent arising might still result in delusion. For instance, in the Pali suttas, a bhikkhu asks the Buddha, “Esteemed Buddha, if the ego is absent in the Five Aggregates, then who is the receiver of karmic repercussions due to actions of the ego that is absent?” Evidently, there is knowledge about the absence of ego in the Five Aggregates, but there is no full understanding of the concept of absence of ego. Consequently, there is the idea that an ego has to experience suffering or pleasure due to the law of kamma. That is absurd. There will be no such question if the process of dependent arising is correctly perceived.

No ego can be found operating when the phenomena that last an instant according to the law of dependent arising are correctly perceived. This life and the next, the woeful realms (hell, hungry ghost, animal, and asura realms), man, heavenly gods, Brahma, the Buddha, or sangha, however, exist in the process of dependent arising. They are perpetuated by volitional action (abhisankhara) of meritorious, non-meritorious, and imperturbable kammas. If the volitional action has already generated Feeling or Birth, and the citta is afflicted by extreme vexation and anxiety, then hell is created in the moment. This is the hell of great heat (mahaparlaha) mentioned by the Buddha in the Samyutta-nikaya. It is also called the “hell where the six contact points belong” (chapassa yatanika niraya). It is real hell and more horrible than the hell under the ground that is believed by people who embrace the concept of a continuing existence. The same sutta refers to the “heaven where the six contact points belong” (chapassa yatanika deva). It is real heaven and more realistic than the heaven in the sky that is believed by people who embrace the concept of a continuing existence. When we suffer and experience terror, we are in the asura realm. When we are starving and breathless, we are in the hungry ghost realm. When we are foolish, we are in the animal realm. When we experience both suffering and pleasure, we are in the human realm. When we enjoy different temperaments and interests, we are in the realms of heavenly gods. When we experience too much pleasure and non-suffering-and-non-pleasure from meditation on the form or formless (rupa-jhana or arupa-jhana), we are in the realms of Brahma. All these are more realistic than the realms in the after-life [physical death] that is believed by people who embrace the concept of a continuing existence. The misunderstandings are caused by a distorted concept of Buddhism’s “spontaneous arising” or “spontaneous origination” (opapatika).

True Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha can be immediately confirmed upon the cessation of dependent arising. Only a wise person can confirm them by personal experience. They are more realistic than the Three Jewels of Buddhism spoken by people who embrace the concept of a continuing existence. The Three Jewels spoken by such people are meaningless. The “present life” is one process of dependent arising in the instant, whereas the “next life” is another process of dependent arising in the next instant. This is a more realistic way of understanding the law of dependent arising. To people who embrace the concept of a continuing existence, however, “birth” comes from the mother’s womb and “death” is physical death. This is using everyday or children’s language and not what the Buddha taught. One must comprehend the law of dependent arising according to the Buddha’s doctrine of dependent origination and not according to latter-period essayists, who embraced the concept of a continuing existence. The dependent origination discussed by latter-period essayists was their own creation that has been passed down up to present day.

The language of dependent origination or the perfect Dhamma language can help us perceive the truth in phenomena. It is different from ordinary languages that are polluted by concepts of continuing existence. For instance, in the Right View (sammaditthi), there are other worlds, parents, heaven, hell, kamma, initiator and receiver of the kamma, the present life and the next. All these are explained according to the language of ordinary people. In the Intermediate Right View, there are only suffering and cessation of suffering. A suffering entity or “person” that is ending the suffering is neither mentioned nor acceptable. In the Perfect Right View, or undistorted supra-mundane realm, dependent arising is perceived as is, neither existing (atthita) nor nonexistent (natthita). Seen from the Middle Path the process of dependent arising, which operates according to the principle “this exists therefore that exists, this ceases to be therefore that ceases to be,” is perceived as devoid of ego, person, heaven, or hell. A perception of this level is called Truthful Middle Path because it is prone neither to nihilism nor the concept of a continuing existence.

In the Right View that abides by secular truth the ego is present, whereas in the Right View that perceives the Absolute Truth ego is inexistent. The Buddha always used two kinds of language to expound his doctrines. The doctrine of dependent origination is about Absolute Truth and not ethics and morality. No entity is migrating from one life to the next. Also, it is not necessary for a process of dependent arising to encompass three lifetimes.

The method of explaining a process of dependent arising as encompassing three lifetimes can be traced back partly to Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga [The Path of Purification]. The rest is unclear because no other relevant materials are older than theVisuddhimagga. Therefore, I will comment on the essay and its author. Essentially, my target is not Buddhaghosa. I believe it is beneficial for us to use the proper method in studying the Buddha Dharma, practicing Buddhism, or applying the Buddha’s doctrine of dependent origination. I disagree with explanations that are not in accord with the Buddha’s teaching. Hence, my comments are not actually for personal gains. I simply use relevant theories in the Pali suttas to help everyone understand the doctrine on his own, find out the truth, and not necessarily believe me or any other person. We would violate the spirit of the Kalama Sutta if we blindly believe what people are saying. We must use the “dhamma eye” as tool for assessing issues.

Buddhaghosa simply added analogies, notes, and commentaries in the then existing Vimuttimagga to produce his Visuddhimagga. It aggravated the situation. We must therefore focus our attention to the Buddha’s doctrine of dependent origination. Although it is very difficult, still we must do our best to let the Buddha’s doctrine benefit sentient beings.

Because Buddhaghosa’s essay does not corroborate with the tenets of the Pali suttas, such as the Kalama Sutta, I, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, like a puny insect that is trying to topple a tree or stop a moving vehicle, must depend on my intelligence to comment on Buddhaghosa. Although people will find my effort outrageous, as a Buddhist, I am quite satisfied with what I am doing because I am introducing the right theory to the teaching of the doctrine of dependent origination, the core of Buddhism.

The Doctrine of Dependent Origination is the Perfect Truth

Most people relate to the Four Noble Truths when the core of Buddhism is mentioned. The doctrine of dependent origination is the perfect and ultimate Truth; hence, it is called “maha-ariyasacca” [the Great Truth]. It must be discussed until it is fully understood. Dependent arising exists within us in almost every moment; yet, we are not aware of it.

Anybody who is able to comprehend the doctrine of dependent origination has the capability to engage in his own cultivation and end his suffering. On the other hand, we must consider it our responsibility to understand it, and help others to understand it. Such is the Buddha’s wish. If we can do it, then the Buddha’s realization of dependent arising will not be in vain.

It is just like the Four Noble Truths. If nobody understands them, then the Buddha Dharma is useless. Essentially, the doctrine of dependent origination is more important than the Four Noble Truths. It is the perfect and ultimate Truth. We must help one another to comprehend it, and promote it to all Buddhists. This is the main reason why we are discussing the “maha-ariyasacca,” the doctrine of dependent origination.

Following are guide questions to help you understand the doctrine. What is dependent arising? Why do we have to know about dependent arising? What are the benefits of understanding dependent arising? What method do we use to end suffering?

What is Dependent Arising?

The doctrine of dependent origination explicitly points out how suffering begins and ends. It reveals that the beginning and ending of suffering are mutually dependent cyclic natural phenomena; that they are not attributable to ghosts, divinities, spiritual entities, or other things. Dependent arising is natural occurrences due to interdependent conditions. When each phase of the process comes about due to mutually supporting conditions suffering begins or stops. The “paticca” in paticcasamuppada means “mutually dependent,” while “samuppada” means “to occur simultaneously.” Dependent arising, therefore, occurs due to mutually dependent and cyclic causal conditions.

The doctrine of dependent origination also explains that no “person,” “self,” or “sentient beings” exist, or no “person,” “self,” or “sentient beings” are successively transmigrating. Everything manifests, stays, and expires naturally. By comprehending the doctrine, one can see that the no “person,” “self,” or “sentient beings” with an ego exist. If people do not comprehend the doctrine, they will be dominated by ignorance, and will feel that a “person,” “self,” or “sentient beings” exist. The doctrine of dependent origination points out that how suffering begins and ends and the beginning and end of suffering are due to mutually dependent causal conditions. In this sense, the “person,” “self,” and “sentient beings” are superfluous.

Furthermore, the mutually dependent cyclic phenomena start and end with great intensity and in a flash. Thoughts arise with great intensity and in a flash. Anger comes about with great intensity and in a flash. In everyday life, when a mind action occurs in a flash and generates suffering, it becomes a dependent arising instantaneously. One feels horrified if he can perceive such phenomena. If one cannot, then he will be oblivious to them. Dependent arising, to put it in ordinary language, is intense and lightning-speed mind action, which generates suffering, in our everyday life.

Why Do We Have to Know About Dependent Arising?

For the purpose of learning and cultivation, we must know dependent arising. Because nobody understands it, it has become a fallacy. The ordinary people’s fallacy is similar to Bhikkhu Sati’s belief: “Only the consciousness is going around in samsara.” This bhikkhu insisted that there was a “person,” “self,” or “sentient being” in the consciousness, which dwelled in samsara from one lifetime to the next. Believing that the consciousness has a “person,” “self” or “sentient being” that is perpetually going around in samsara is a fallacy resulting from ignorance of the nature of dependent arising.

All the bhikkhus tried to convince Bhikkhu Sati to abandon the fallacy, but Bhikkhu Sati was adamant about his view. The bhikkhus then told the Buddha about it, and the Buddha talked to Bhikkhu Sati. The Buddha asked him, “Do you really have such a concept?” Bhikkhu Sati said, “There is only the consciousness that is going around in samsara.” The Buddha then asked, “What is this consciousness that you speak of?” Bhikkhu Sati replied, “Esteemed Buddha, the consciousness is the entity that can talk, feel, or receive all the karmic repercussions.”

His was a very serious fallacy: a consciousness that facilitates talking, feeling, and receiving of all karmic repercussions.

Ordinary people do not know why it is a fallacy because they believe, as Bhikkhu Sati did, that the consciousness exists perpetually. Since they are used to the idea, they do not consider it a fallacy.

It is false to believe that the consciousness is perpetual, that it exists and acts on its own, and that it is not dependent arising. Consciousness, a manner of dependent arising, is devoid of ego. It manifests in an instant because of the interaction of mutually dependent conditions, and it advances to successive stages.

Bhikkhu Sati maintained that there was an ego or a consciousness with an ego that went around in samsara. This consciousness did not only exist in the instant but also persisted to the next life. He called the ego that could talk, feel, or receive karmic repercussions consciousness.

The common view prevents people from seeing the fallacy. Consciousness is devoid of ego. If consciousness exists, then it is dependent arising. It is a natural phenomenon manifested from successive occurrences due to mutually dependent conditions. It is not an entity.

What are the Benefits of Understanding Dependent Arising?

Understanding dependent arising enables us to reject fallacy and possess the Right View to be totally free from suffering. It is false to believe that a “person” is present and reincarnates into a certain sentient being due to kamma. If one erroneously believes consciousness is ego, then he will experience suffering, and will be unable to free himself from suffering. Therefore, one must know the nature of consciousness, which is dependent arising. In this way, one can totally eliminate suffering using the Right View, the right understanding. According to the Pali suttas, “Consciousness is dependent arising. It is a phenomenon arising due to mutually dependent conditions. Without these causal conditions, there is no consciousness.”

If consciousness has a main body, then it can manifest on its own initiative, and does not have to depend on causal conditions. The truth is consciousness cannot exist independently. Nevertheless, it is so infinitesimal that we find ourselves thinking, feeling, and allowing the Name & Form (body and mind) to perform work. Hence, we mistakenly think that there is a main body in us, and we call it consciousness. The doctrine of dependent arising helps us abandon such a fallacy for the cessation of suffering.


What Method Do We Use to End Suffering?

As the ordinary principles always advocate, it is right cultivation, the proper way of living or right living. Proper way of living is using wisdom to defeat ignorance, using knowledge to stop foolish living, or maintaining mindfulness, especially with external contacts. Right living is having perfect Right Mindfulness in life. Thus, there is Wisdom or Right View not foolishness and ignorance in one’s life. Right living is a life without suffering.

The Eleven States of Dependent Arising

The doctrine of dependent origination taught presently is not in accord with the primitive Pali suttas. What is said in the primitive Pali suttas is different from what is being passed on today. In the Pali suttas, the dependent arising is a chain of eleven states, which make up one cycle, whereas the eleven states being explained today encompass three lifetimes: the past, present, and future lifetimes. Such a dependent arising cannot be used in our cultivation.

The primitive Pali suttas state that whenever we experience vexation, the eleven states are mutually dependent and they advance successively to generate a dependent arising. For this reason, dependent arising does not have to encompass three lifetimes, a lifetime, a year, a month, or a day. A complete process of dependent arising and the suffering that ensues can possibly occur and end in an instant. If dependent arising is erroneously taught, it becomes useless and sets off senseless arguments. If it is explained in accordance to the primitive Pali suttas, however, dependent arising can provide significant benefits because it directly resolves our everyday problems.

One must first know the eleven states of dependent arising to better understand the subject:

  1. Ignorance bears Volitional Action: Volitional Action emerges because Ignorance is its supporting condition.
  2. Volitional Action bears Consciousness: Consciousness emerges because Volitional Action is its supporting condition.
  3. Consciousness bears Name-and-Form: Name-and-Form emerges because Consciousness is its supporting condition.
  4. Name-and-Form bears the Six Sense Bases: Six Sense Bases emerges because Name-and-Form is its supporting condition.
  5. Six Sense Bases bears Contact: Contact emerges because the Six Sense Bases is its supporting condition.
  6. Contact bears Feeling: Feeling emerges because Contact is its supporting condition.
  7. Feeling bears Craving: Craving emerges because Feeling is its supporting condition.
  8. Craving bears Clinging: Clinging emerges because Craving is its supporting condition.
  9. Clinging bears Becoming: Becoming emerges because Clinging is its supporting condition.
  10. Becoming bears Birth: Birth emerges because Becoming is its supporting condition.
  11. Birth bears Aging & Death: Aging, sickness, death, anxiety, sorrow, vexation, and suffering emerge because Birth is their supporting condition.

The eleven states are mutually dependent in a complete process of dependent arising. As stated in the Pali suttas, there is no gap between any of the states. Therefore, it is not necessary to classify the first two states as belonging to the past, the next ten states to the present, the remaining state to the future, and thereby explain a process of dependent arising as encompassing three lifetimes. If it is explained as encompassing three lifetimes, how can one take advantage of dependent arising and cultivate to end suffering, when the “cause” is in the present life and the “fruit” is in another? The doctrine of dependent origination being taught today encompasses three lifetimes, thus it is not helpful to our cultivation.

If you study the Pali suttas, you will discover that dependent arising is not like this. It does not need three lifetimes to complete a process. Depending on the circumstance, only one, two, or three instants are sufficient to complete a process.

Suffering Due to Dependent Arising Depends on Clinging

The suffering in dependent arising requires Clinging as supporting condition. For instance, if a farmer who is working under the sun does not cling to “Oh, I feel very hot!” The “very hot” sensation will only be a natural sensation, and not a suffering due to dependent arising. Natural sensation results from external stimulation, but because the mind does not cling to it, there is no personal feeling of suffering. Suffering in dependent arising, however, is vexation experienced due to the mind’s clinging to sensation of external stimulation. Suffering due to dependent arising requires Clinging, and it leads to the emergence of ego. If the farmer becomes agitated by thinking “Because I am a farmer, it is my kamma to do this hard labor,” he will feel dejected. In thinking this way, suffering due to dependent arising emerges.

If the heat generated by the sun on the farmer’s body is treated as natural sensation, and there is no Clinging, then the ego will not emerge. Therefore, there is no suffering in a dependent arising. When there is Clinging, suffering develops totally. It is suffering in a dependent arising. If our hand is bleeding from a cut and we feel the pain without Clinging, it is natural sensation and not suffering in a dependent arising.

Suffering in a dependent arising must come from a complete process of Ignorance, Volitional Action, Consciousness, Name-and-Form, Six Sense Bases, Contact, Feeling, Craving, Clinging, Becoming, Birth, and Aging & Death.

Buddhists understand that when the Six Roots come in contact with the Six Objects, and these Objects have value or significance, then the Six Objects support the emergence of Ignorance. For instance, suffering is not experienced if one sees a tree and stone as insignificant, whereas it will be a different matter if one sees a tiger, woman, or something of significance. If a male dog sees a beautiful woman, the latter will be insignificant to the former. If a young man sees the beautiful woman, however, she will be very significant to him. Here the “seeing” of the male dog is not relevant to dependent arising, but the young man’s “seeing” is.

Tree, weeds, and stones are insignificant in ordinary situation, but a diamond, stone statue of a divinity, or tree with special meaning can cause a dependent arising in the citta. Therefore, we may conclude that when the Six Roots come in contact with the Six Objects, the Six Objects must be significant to the viewer for them to bring about ignorance, foolishness, and confusion. Only in such contacts will Consciousness arise in the instant and advance towards Volitional Action. Volitional Action can generate Name-and-Form making the viewer’s normal body and mind abnormal and wild. Consequently, the body and mind experience suffering.

When the Name-and-Form is transformed, the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind become the Six “abnormal and wild” Roots. The process then goes on to the “wild” Contact, Feeling, Craving, Clinging, Becoming, and finally Birth. Birth is the total emergence of ego. Furthermore, because of Clinging, Birth, Aging & Death, or different kinds of suffering can emerge at once.

The above is an example of dependent arising that occurs in everyday life. It is a complete process of the eleven states of dependent arising in an instant. There can be tens or hundreds of dependent arising occurring in a day without our being aware of them. For this reason, saying that the process of dependent arising encompasses three lifetimes is false.

People generally misunderstand the doctrine of dependent origination. Believing that the process of dependent arising encompasses three lifetimes is straying from the original meaning of the primitive Pali suttas. Dependent arising begins and stops with lightning speed. It generates suffering, and occurs in our everyday life.

The Buddha Discovered Dependent Arising

How did the doctrine of dependent origination originate? In theSamyutta-nikaya, the Buddha spoke of discovering dependent arising after six years of ascetic practice. Following are what the Buddha said in the Pali suttas:

Bhikkhus, before I became enlightened and was still a bodhisattva, I had already realized that all sentient beings experienced suffering in birth, old age, death, and rebirth. If the sentient beings do not know the method for the cessation of suffering, how are they supposed to be free of suffering?

Bhikkhus, I asked, “Why is there old age and death? What are the causal conditions for old age and death?” Because I skillfully endeavored on mind training, I developed Wisdom sight.

Birth is condition to Aging & Death. Aging & Death comes from Birth.
Becoming is condition to Birth. Birth comes from Becoming.
Clinging is condition to Becoming. Becoming comes from Clinging.
Craving is condition to Clinging. Clinging comes from Craving.
Feeling is condition to Craving. Craving comes from Feeling.
Contact is condition to Feeling. Feeling comes from Contact.
Six Sense Bases is condition to Contact. Contact comes from Six Sense Bases.
Name-and-Form is condition to Six Sense Bases. Six Sense Bases comes from Name-and-Form.
Consciousness is condition to Name-and-Form. Name-and-Form comes from Consciousness.
Volitional Action is condition to Consciousness. Consciousness comes from Volitional Action.
Ignorance is condition to Volitional Action. Volitional Action comes from Ignorance.

Thereafter, I meditated on it again in another way:

Ignorance is condition to Volitional Action.
Volitional Action is condition to Consciousness.
Consciousness is condition to Name-and-Form.
Name-and-Form is condition to Six Sense Bases.
Six Sense Bases is condition to Contact.
Contact is condition to Feeling.
Feeling is condition to Craving.
Craving is condition to Clinging.
Clinging is condition to Becoming.
Becoming is condition to Birth.
Birth is condition to Aging & Death.

Bhikkhus, the people have never heard of wisdom that conquers suffering. The Wisdom sight, Dhamma eye, and brilliance have all come about within me.

This is the dependent arising or chain of suffering the Buddha discovered when he became enlightened. The Buddha also discovered that suffering is generated by the eleven states of dependent arising. When one who is dominated by Ignorance (absence of Right Mindfulness) comes in contact with the surrounding, Consciousness emerges in that instant. Consciousness is not a perpetual entity. It is manifested only when the Roots come in contact with the surroundings. Thereafter, Volitional Action, the motive force for creating new Name-and-Form, emerges rapidly following the manifestation of Consciousness. The new Name-and-Form will then experience suffering, and generate the Six Sense Bases that sustains suffering. Subsequently, Contact, Feeling, Craving, Clinging, Becoming, and Birth (emergence of the ego) emerge one after the other. At this point, the conditions for suffering are complete.

From what we know about Buddhism and man’s history, the Buddha was the first to discover dependent arising. After he discovered it, he became enlightened. This was how the doctrine of dependent origination originated according to the Pali suttas.

Becoming and Birth in the Language of Dependent Origination

The language of dependent origination is expounded by the Dhamma language, which is used by people who have seen the dhamma, and not by the everyday language, which is used by people who are ignorant of the Buddha Dhamma.

If we use everyday language to explain dependent origination, there will be confusion and lack of understanding. For instance, the Buddha’s enlightenment under the Bodhi tree was the cessation of Ignorance. With the cessation of Ignorance came the cessation of Volitional Action, Consciousness, and Name-and-Form. Why then did the Buddha not die? When the Buddha attained enlightenment, it was the cessation of Ignorance. With the cessation of Ignorance came the cessation of Volitional Action. Why then did the Buddha not die under the Bodhi tree? It is because the language of dependent of origination is the Dhamma language. Therefore, Birth and Death do not mean the birth or death of the physical body.

If the terms are misunderstood, as when everyday language is used, then a process of dependent arising entails two forms of birth. One is the birth of Name-and-Form (from sexual union of the parents); another is birth in the next life. If there are two births, then dependent arising will be thought to encompass three lifetimes: past, present, and future lifetimes. At this point, a complete process of dependent arising will be disjointed, and it will not be in accord with the Buddha’s doctrine of dependent origination. The amusing part is, even if there are two forms of birth in dependent arising, there are no two forms of death. This is because two forms of death are incomprehensible.

According to the doctrine, the Becoming and Birth in dependent arising do not originate from the mother’s womb but from Clinging, where the experience of an ego develops; it is called Birth. This can be proven by the Pali suttas.

In the suttas, the Buddha said, “Clinging to that which brings delight.” This means when Contact brings on Feeling, no matter if that Feeling is construed as suffering, pleasure, or non-suffering-and-non-pleasure, there is “delight” in it. This is Clinging. Any form of “delight” is Clinging because “delight” sustains Clinging. When there is “delight,” there is Clinging.

“Delight” here refers to satisfaction in perplexity. According to the Buddha, “delight” is Clinging. When we are satisfied with a certain thing, we are holding on to it. There is “delight” in Feeling, thus “delight” is Clinging. Therefore, when we experience Feeling, “delight” emerges at once; it is Clinging. “From Clinging comes Becoming; from Becoming comes Birth; from Birth comes Aging & Death. This is suffering.”

Becoming and Birth come from Feeling, Craving, and Clinging. They do not have to wait for transmigration after physical death to emerge. Becoming and Birth can happen at any time and place. They can happen many times in a day. When Feeling in reaction to Ignorance exists, a certain kind of “delight” due to perplexity develops. This is Clinging; after which Existence/Birth and Birth develop. Therefore, Becoming and Birth emerge in an instant, and they happen many times in a day.

In Dhamma language, the development of the ego and ego possessiveness, which is occurrence of Becoming and Birth, can happen many times in a day, hundreds of times in a month, thousands of times in a year.

Dependent arising is a phenomenon that happens in an instant. It does not encompass three lifetimes. The process of dependent arising occurs in everyday life. Ignorance is the beginning of a process of dependent arising. When Ignorance is eliminated, the process cannot continue; then there is absence of suffering.

The Ego is Not Present in Dependent Arising

The erroneous interpretation of the doctrine of dependent origination is not only unfavorable to the practitioner but also harmful to Buddhism. The belief that dependent arising encompasses three lifetimes, which is not based on the principle of the Pali suttas, is false. It is false based whether on the words or on the meaning of the Pali suttas.

According to the Pali suttas, the Buddha said that dependent arising is successive instants of occurrences due to interdependent conditions. The process starts with Ignorance and ends in suffering. There are no other things involved in the process.

Based on the Buddha’s teaching, therefore, it is apparent that the belief of a dependent arising that encompasses three lifetimes is false. The Buddha’s purpose in teaching the doctrine of dependent origination was to eliminate fallacies, to stop the clinging to self, person, or sentient beings. Hence, the ego is not present in his explanation of the chain of eleven states of dependent arising.

Now, some people explain dependent arising as having an entity that transmigrates three lifetimes. One’s vexation in his past life is said to be the cause of karmic repercussions in his present life. The karmic repercussions in his present life again become a new vexation that will cause karmic repercussions in his next life. Seen this way dependent arising involves an ego, spirit, sentient being, or person that is in transmigration. This was what the Bhikkhu Sati falsely believed. It is against the Buddha’s teachings, where the ego is not present.

The Four Criteria also tell us that the viewpoint of a dependent arising with ego is false because it is contrary to what the Buddha taught. The Pali suttas explain dependent arising as successive instants of occurrences due to interdependent conditions. The ego is not present if the suttas’ original meaning is preserved.

Everyday Language Cannot Be Used to Interpret the Doctrine of Dependent Origination

Name-and-Form in Everyday Language and the Dhamma Language

As explained before, the doctrine of dependent origination is not to be interpreted in everyday language. If the doctrine is interpreted in everyday language, then the following would have happened: After the Buddha had become enlightened, he died under the Bodhi tree immediately. This is because when Ignorance ceases so do Volitional Action, Consciousness, and Name-and-Form. Thus, the Buddha should have died when his Ignorance ceased. The Buddha did not die, however, but continued to teach his dhamma for the next 45 years. This means the doctrine of dependent origination cannot be interpreted using everyday language. The same goes for the process of dependent arising. The emergence of Name-and-Form cannot be interpreted by everyday language because the Buddha taught that Feeling sustains delight, which in turn gives rise to Craving, Clinging, Becoming, and Birth. The Birth here does not refer to birth of the physical body; likewise, the death does not refer to expiration of the physical body. They refer to Birth and Death in the mind: the Birth and Death of the ego.

Therefore, the Name-and-Form in the doctrine should be interpreted using the Dhamma language. In everyday language, the Name-and-Form is the mind and physical body that continue to exist after one is born. The elaborate abhidhamma says Name-and-Form has countless births in every instant, but in the Dhamma language of the Buddha, each birth originates from contact between Ignorance and the surrounding. The birth will only stop when the contact ceases. According to everyday language, each process of dependent arising has two forms of birth. Because it is incomprehensible, it is explained as involving three lifetimes. Such an interpretation, however, embraces the concept of a continuing existence.

“State of Seeking Birth” in Everyday Language and the Dhamma Language

The difference of the Dhamma language and everyday language can also be found in interpreting the “state of seeking birth” (sambhavesi). In performing the Buddhist rite for dedication, we recite a portion of the sutta for dedication: “to grant all sentient beings – those that have been born or in the state of seeking birth – happiness.” This refers to two kinds of sentient beings: one that has already been born (bhuta), and one that is seeking birth. This is the interpretation of ordinary people in Thailand and other countries. The sentient beings that have been born are living now, like you and me. As for those who are still in the “state of seeking birth,” there is a consciousness that is without a physical shell moving around seeking birth. This is an interpretation entirely in everyday language, and not according to the Buddha Dhamma.

Buddhism does not advocate a consciousness or entity that moves around seeking birth [or rebirth, as is usually believed]; it is a belief held by people who embrace the concept of a continuing existence. In Buddhism, consciousness emerges and expires in an instant according to the law of dependent arising. This is my opinion, Buddhism’s “state of seeking birth” is interpreted in the Dhamma language; it is different from that of everyday language. Buddhism’s “state of seeking birth” refers to a state that, in the case of ordinary people, is still without vexation; a state where there is still the absence of Craving, Clinging, or holding on to self.

It is normal for Craving, Clinging, and the holding on to ego and ego possessiveness to exist in everyday life, but they are inactive most of the times. For instance, those of you sitting there listening are without the ego because you do not crave or cling to anything. You do not have the illusion of an ego. You are just sitting there, listening naturally, and you are in a normal and blank state. When strong Craving and Clinging emerge, however, intense suffering follows. Ordinary people thus live in two states: where one is “born” because there is Craving, Clinging, and a suffering self, and where one is in a “state of seeking birth.” They are the objects of the Buddhist rite for dedication: those that are “born” and foolish and those that are in a “state of seeking birth” and oblivious of what is happening.

The “state of seeking birth” awaits the birth of the ego and ego possessiveness. It is a sorry state because the ego and ego possessiveness are ready to emerge at any time. When one loses Right Mindfulness, and the ego and ego possessiveness develop out of contact between Ignorance and the surrounding, there is “birth.” This “birth” of the ego and ego possessiveness, caused by greed or anger, is, however, short lived. Once greed or anger disappears, the “born” [birth of the ego] expires and returns to a “state of seeking birth.” Then again, from the “state of seeking birth” comes the “birth” of the ego and ego possessiveness because of craving, anger, hatred, or fear. The process of dependent arising is thus repeated. In each process of dependent arising, “birth” is realized because of causal conditions. When these causal conditions disappear, the “born” expires and returns to a “state of seeking birth.”

This interpretation of the “state of seeking birth” is useful in cultivation because the practitioner can take advantage of and benefit from it; unlike with ordinary people’s interpretation, where the consciousness leaves the body and moves around seeking birth after death. I do not believe the “state of seeking birth” should be interpreted according to everyday language. It is irrelevant to the doctrine of dependent origination, and not beneficial to us. Worse, it embraces the concept of a continuing existence.

My unorthodox belief can be proven using the Pali suttas. They are found in the record of the material food (kabalinkarahara), contact food (phassahara), thought food (manosancetanahara), and consciousness food (vinnanahara) in the Samyutta-nikaya. The Buddha said the Four Foods [cattaro ahara] enable the “born” to live, and they nourish the “state of seeking birth.”

In explaining the Four Foods, the Buddha also used analogy of the Four Foods in everyday events. We are sentient beings that are “born” and in a “state of seeking birth” at any day. The function of the Four Foods is to continue nourishing the “state of seeking birth,” but their special effect is continually sustaining those that are already “born” (sentient beings that are born).

This example allows everyone to understand that there are two interpretations of the “born” according to everyday language and the Dhamma language. The important thing is for everyone to know which interpretation directly benefits the cultivation of the Buddha Dharma. Only the interpretation according to the Dhamma language can benefit one’s cultivation.

We must stop all “births” and “states of seeking birth” by properly cultivating according to the doctrine of dependent origination, and by disallowing the emergence of the ego and “state of seeking birth.” To stop “birth” or the “state of seeking birth,” the Four Foods must be totally eliminated. The Four Foods must not be allowed to become significant and initiate volitional action. With this kind of understanding, our cultivation can benefit from the doctrine of dependent origination.

Suffering in the Dhamma Language

Suffering has many meanings. In the Dhamma language, it refers to dependent arising. In Pali, there can be suffering, the cause and end of suffering, and the pathway to the cessation of suffering, which is the development and cessation of dependent arising. Suffering has a special meaning in dependent arising. Suffering is due to Ignorance, which bears Volitional Action. Volitional Action bears Consciousness, and the process continues until suffering comes about. This is the development of suffering according to the doctrine of dependent origination.

In the Samyutta-nikaya, dependent arising is referred to as the warped path. What is warped path? It is the process of dependent arising that leads to suffering. What is the True Path? It is the cessation of dependent arising, where the different states gradually die out until suffering is totally eliminated. The True Path is the right path, whereas the warped path is the wrong path.

The meaning of suffering here is different because it refers specifically to suffering after Clinging emerges. Therefore, meritorious kamma is suffering; non-meritorious kamma is suffering; imperturbable kamma is also suffering.

Volitional Action in dependent arising is a causal condition for suffering. Meritorious acts [Volitional Action] can also lead to suffering, but ordinary people do not know this. They believe meritorious acts bear pleasure. The truth is meritorious acts bear meritorious kamma, non-meritorious acts bear non-meritorious kamma, and imperturbable acts bear imperturbable kamma. There is still suffering in these three kinds of act [Volitional Action] because they sustain Clinging. One holds on to meritorious kamma, non-meritorious kamma, and imperturbable kamma because of Clinging. Thus, suffering has special meaning in dependent arising.

It is easy to comprehend that non-meritorious kamma is wrong and suffering, but both meritorious and imperturbable kammas are also suffering and wrong because they bear Clinging. Imperturbable kamma is not affected by meritorious or non-meritorious kamma, but the self is present in it. “Imperturbable” persons are often times called Brahman. Although they are not tainted with meritorious or non-meritorious kamma, the self is still present in them. Their mind may be “imperturbable” while in meditation, but Clinging emerges because the self holds on the ego’s imperturbable acts. Therefore, it still is suffering.

Ordinary people believe goodness is preferable. In the language of dependent arising, however, all is suffering. Meritorious kamma is suffering; beauty is suffering; happiness is suffering. As long as something is the result of volitional action, and it can cause successive volitional actions, then it is suffering. As long as the law of dependent arising applies, then it is suffering.

Dependent Arising and the Baby

Dependent arising emerges from Clinging, and not from only thought and feeling. Therefore, it is not applicable to the fetus inside the womb. This is because Ignorance, Craving, and Clinging have not yet developed in the fetus. The Majjhima-nikaya tells about the birth of the baby up to the point where dependent arising occurs. In the sutta, the Buddha explicitly describes how human life is formed.

The Buddha said that when a child sees form through eye consciousness, he experiences craving for the delightful and shows disgust for the disagreeable. Because the child is without Right Mindfulness, Ignorance is present. He is dominated by habit and characteristic, and does not know deliverance through Wisdom. Hence, when he experiences the Five Sensual Desires (sight, sound, odor, taste, and touch), his mind is readily affected by contacts with the surrounding. If Right Mindfulness and Wisdom are present, however, there can be cessation of the notion of goodness and evilness.

Dependent Arising Occurs and Ends in a Flash

We are unaware that a process of dependent arising begins and ends in a flash. Within this very short period of time, the eleven states or twelve links of dependent arising are manifested successively. For instance, when we become angry, suffering emerges. In an instant, we already experience suffering because of anger. We are unaware that all the eleven states, from Ignorance through Birth, occur and end successively in that instant. When our eyes see the surrounding, we experience craving or anger immediately. The process happens in an instant, and it is dependent arising.

The Buddha taught about the mundane world, its cause and cessation, and method for the cessation of the mundane world in the Samyutta-nikaya.

Bhikkhus, how is the mundane world formed? When the eye sees things, eye consciousness is produced. The integration of the three is Contact. Contact is causal condition of Feeling. Feeling is causal condition of Craving. Craving is causal condition of Clinging. Clinging is causal condition of Becoming. Becoming is causal condition of Birth. Birth is causal condition of aging, sickness, and death. Bhikkhus, this is how the mundane world is formed.

A process of dependence arising is the “volitional action of the mundane world” the Buddha spoke of. The emergence of suffering is the volitional action of the mundane world. All these occur when Consciousness emerges through contacts between the Six Sense Bases (Roots) and surrounding (Objects).

It is difficult to detect how Volitional Action, Consciousness, Name-and-Form and Six Sense Bases manifest through the volitional action of Ignorance in two or more successive occurrences of a process of independent arising because they happen in a flash. What we can experience first is Feeling, the feeling of suffering, delight, joy, or melancholy. The cessation of the mundane world is similar to the cessation of suffering. With the end of Ignorance comes the end of Volitional Action; with the end of Volitional Action comes the end of Consciousness, and so on. This was how the Buddha explained it.

A Dependent Arising Within Dependent Arising

The basic principle of dependent arising is quite unique; it is called the “radiant wheel.” Here the process of dependent arising goes into a process of termination of itself [what others call the Transcendental Order of Dependent Origination]. The amusing thing is it shows the “meritorious effect of suffering.”

The Buddha talked about the stages of ending suffering. “I will explain the cessation of influxes (asava) only to wise people or people who see truth.” The Buddha said that when one clearly sees the beginning and end of the Five Aggregates (form, feeling, thinking, volition, consciousness), the influxes within him end because of Wisdom. The Buddha was able to pronounce this Truth because he had seen and realized it.

When influxes end, the Wisdom sight appears and reflects the citta that is now free of influxes. The Wisdom that initiates cessation appears when one abandons greed [becoming dispassionate]. Dispassion comes from disenchantment. Disenchantment is experienced because of ultimate Wisdom or having the Wisdom sight to see Truth. The Wisdom sight to see Truth arises from samadhi. Samadhi arises from bliss. Bliss arises from calmness. Calmness arises from rapture. Rapture arises from contentment. Contentment arises from having faith. Faith is an upshot of suffering.

In the process of dependent arising, suffering comes from Birth. Birth comes from Becoming. Becoming comes from Clinging. Clinging comes from Craving. Craving comes from Feeling. Feeling comes from Contact. Contact comes from Six Sense bases. Six Sense Bases comes from Name-and-Form. Name-and-Form comes from Consciousness. Consciousness comes from Ignorance.

As shown above, the cessation of influxes must proceed in the order of a process of dependent arising, which arrives at faith. If we believe in the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, and the cessation of suffering through cultivation, then it is called faith.

Faith is condition to contentment.
Contentment is condition to rapture.
Rapture is condition to calmness.
Calmness is condition to bliss.
Bliss is condition to samadhi.
Samadhi is condition to Wisdom sight to see Truth.
Wisdom sight to see Truth is condition to disenchantment.
Disenchantment is condition to dispassion.
Dispassion is condition to deliverance.
Deliverance is condition to the Wisdom that initiates cessation towards nibbana.

This shows that the cessation of influxes must start with faith, and faith comes from suffering. This seems paradoxical but without suffering, we would not be forced to seek the protection of the Buddha. When we are like refugees scampering towards the Buddha, we are determined and we believe in the Buddha because we have experienced the burdens of suffering. Therefore, suffering becomes a causal condition of faith. Essentially, suffering becomes a positive experience.

The purpose of the Buddha in explaining that faith comes from suffering is to keep us from feeling sadness, fear, and inadequate. If we apply the doctrine of dependent origination in everyday life, suffering will be the foundation of faith. Faith supports the Buddha Dhamma, helping us to cultivate for the cessation of influxes. Suffering, seen in this light, becomes beneficial.


1.   The mundane world, its cause and cessation, and method for the cessation of the mundane world result from the beginning or end of a process of dependent arising, which is produced when the Six Roots come in touch with the Six Surroundings. All these happen to man when he is still alive.

2.   The states of dependent arising do not encompass three lifetimes or extend to the next life as is understood using everyday language. The interpretation of “paticca” does not allow such extension. “Paticca” means a chain of mutual dependency. The chain is so closely linked such that nothing can be inserted into it. It is a series of occurrences that cannot be divided into three life existences or lifetimes. Dependent arising is related to the Four Noble Truths, and there is no reason to break up its eleven states.

3.   Dependent arising begins when Contact is experienced by a child who is old enough to understand certain things. The Contact is not one of Wisdom but of Ignorance, an absence of Right Mindfulness.

4.   The doctrine of dependent origination reveals the truth about the beginning and end of suffering. It does not tell us that man owns suffering and has to retain it over many lifetimes. The owner of suffering is not present; no receiver is present when suffering occurs. The doctrine likewise tells the practical principle of causality. Only the Buddha’s doctrine of dependent origination can reveal such Truth.
When I was still a student of Buddhism, I had no choice but to study a doctrine of dependent origination that was against the Buddha’s original proclamation. Later, when I became a teacher of Buddhism, I went against the essence of the Buddha’s doctrine by teaching that the process of dependent arising encompassed three lifetimes. I accept my mistake and ask for forgiveness. I have spent decades studying the doctrine of dependent origination to discover that it is within our grasp, that we can apply it in our everyday life through Right Mindfulness. When we are able to block dependent arising at the instant of a Contact, the Buddha’s doctrine becomes beneficial and practical to us.

How do we apply the doctrine of dependent origination? When there is contact with surrounding, one has to maintain Right Mindfulness to keep Ignorance from developing into suffering.


I hope everyone will possess the right intelligence to correctly understand the doctrine of dependent origination. My interpretation of the doctrine of dependent origination might be criticized not only by Thai Buddhists but also by Buddhists all over the world because dependent arising is generally understood to extend over lifetimes. I was the target of severe criticisms in Thailand when I explained the concept of void and commented on the adhidhamma before. I am sure my interpretation of the doctrine of dependent origination will likewise be criticized. Nevertheless, because I am Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, I must perform my duty. I know what is right or wrong. I shall oppose to the end anything that I know is harmful to the Buddha Dhamma. I am not afraid of criticisms.

An applicable doctrine of dependent origination is what the Buddha realized and taught. If we embrace it, we can be able to end our suffering. A dependent arising, where the self or a main body is not present, is one that belongs to an ideal and practical doctrine.

I am offering this book to enthusiasts of Buddhism so that they can correctly practice the Buddha Dhamma.

Buddhist calendar Year 2521 (1978)  Wisakha Bucha Day [Buddha’s birthday]


Notes: The translation is based on my interpretation of ideas in theChinese version of the book.
This is a continuing project, so the contents will be revised and edited from time to time. Information in brackets and word italicization are mine.
Johnson Sumpio

Source :



Comparative study:

Maha-nidana Sutta – Paticca-samuppada & Anatta
Paticca-samuppada-vibhanga Sutta – Analysis of Dependent Co-arising


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In 1958 Venerable Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû was the leader of a group consisting of Mr. Chuen Siroros (Founder of Buddha Nigom Association and Buddha Dharma Grove in Chiangmai), Mrs. Surichai Siroros, Miss Penchai Siroros, Mr. Rabil Bunnak, Mr. Wichian Indrakusin, Ven. Silananda and myself. We went to India on pilgrimage to the most holy and sacred places of the Lord Buddha for three months in order to shoot a film studying the life and teaching of Lord Buddha. We went almost everywhere to examine the history, the teaching, the stone carvings, the sculpture, the Indian traditions and way of life. All of us considered Ven. Buddhadâsa to be the most learned scholar, full of erudition and experience in Buddhist scripture and philosophy. Mr. Chuen Siroros, his wife and daughterbelieved in Ven. Buddhadâsa as a most perfect guru. The film, called “Visit to the Land of the Buddha”(“Soo Daen Buddha Bhoom”), became enormously popular and ranked first among films of its kind in Siam. Even now it has not been surpassed.

This book is intended to serve as a gift in honor of the cremation of the late Ven. Buddhadâsa. It is from my thesis describing all those meditation masters present in Thailand and Burma written under the super-vision of Professor Dr. Mahesh Tiwary, Ph.D.


The sponsor of this book is Mr. Sa-ard Kongsuwan who is publishing it for free distribution in honor of the late Venerable Ajarn and to transfer the merit to his beloved wife, Mrs. Sompong (Daeng) Kongsuwan. Both wife and husband respected and regarded Ven. Buddhadâsa as the supreme teacher of our time. I must be thankful to Mrs. Kim Harris and Mr. William Baumgardt for typing the manuscript and also to Joan Hero for improving my Thai-Indian English.

The essence of Ven. Buddhadâsa teaching is Sunnata : voidness. There is nobody, no-self, no soul, no proprietor, no owner, no I, no my, no nationality, no race, and no color. Because of feeling and attachment the aggregates exist-yet when one attachment disappears completely. There is no longer anything to attach to! Only the foolish, blinded as they are by craving and egoism and thus clinging to the five aggregates, will argue with this.

Anybody wanting to know more about emptiness must read the Sunnata Sutta and the Mahasunnata Sutta in the Majjhima-nikaya, preached by the Buddha and explained by the late Ven. Buddhadâsa; and also the doctoral dissertation on Sunyata (Sunnata) written by Ven. Phra Maha Thongyod Bhuripalo (Phra Shri-sudharmamuni), Abbot of Thai Monastery, Bodh Gaya, Bihar, India.

From my experiences of having met many teachers at different places in Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka and India, and also from my own study and research, I would say that the best form of meditation practice is mindfulness with breathing (Anapanasati). Through it, one can develop both serenity and awareness. Both Samadhi and Sati are needed for insight and liberation. Scholarship and erudition alone will not lead to Saniadhi. In fact, too much analytical thought will block the way. For meditation one needs quietness of mind: no thought, no criticism, no analyzing. Let Samadhi and Sati work, like two hands together. When both Sati and Samadhi are in operation, the transience of all things will become apparent to the meditation practitioner. When one realizes this great truth of unceasing change, the impermanence of everything in the universe-that realization is called Vipassana, insight. That is the goal of Buddhism.


A Glimpse of the Life

And Teaching of Venerable

Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû

By Venerable Vivekananda, Ph.D.


Venerable Buddhadâsa was a famous meditation master in Thailand. He is well known among both Buddhists and non-Buddhists for his lessons in meditation. He was a practical man who taught a very clear method of practicing meditation. There were no barriers of caste, creed or color in the practice he taught.

It is said that Ven. Buddhadâsa was born on May 27, 1906 (2449 B.E.) at Pumriang in Chaiya, Province of Surat Thani, South Thailand. His father’sgiven name was Siang and his mother’s was Kleuan. At birth he was given the name Mgeuam. The family name was Panich. He was the eldest son and had a younger brother, Yee Key, later changed to Dharma-dasa, and a sister, Kimsoy.

The area where master Mgeuam was born has a rich cultural heritage. It was previously known as Sri Vijaya. It is said that Buddhism came to Sri Vijay from Sri Lanka. A group of monks came from Sri Lanka and propagated Buddhism. For a long period it was renowned as a center for Buddhist education. An old pagoda stands now telling its history of cultural activities. The area preserves a very congenial and harmonious atmosphere conducive to the teachings of the Buddha. This was an important influence on the mind of the child Mgeuam.

Master Ngeuam’s father, Siang Parnich, was a merchant. His parents did not consider education important at first Ngeuam completed his secondary education, the highest then available in Chaiya, at age 14. There was no university in Thailand at the time.

While in worldly affairs, Mgeuam performed his domestic duties with sincerity though he had no real interest in or attachment to the domestic life. This was his background on reaching the age of 20.

His ordination ceremony was held at Wat Ubolin Pumriang, Chaiya. He was given the monastic name,”Indapanno”. After his ordination he passed the advanced Dharma examination while at the monastery. He went to Wat Pathum Kongkha in Bangkok for further study. He learned Pâli, but intentionally failed the fourth grade examination in 1931.

A turning point had come. He had realized that the study of Pâli and other academic subjects was not sufficient in leading the real life. Believing mere theoretical knowledge to be useless, he balanced his theoretical studies with practical training in the teaching of Buddha. He developed an immense interest in this and gained profound knowledge through insight meditation.

After his practical training, he returned home and decided to serve Buddhasana with his practical know-ledge. At first, in 19^2, he established his center at Pumriang which he called “Suan Mokkhabalarama. “Mo ! Suan Mokkh came first! When it became too small, he relocated to Wat Dhannamlais which was also called “Suan Mokkhabalarartu” where he taught and propagated Buddhism until his death. He also trained many disciples.

His center is located at the foot of riang A Hillin Chaiya. He guided his younger brother, Dharmadasa, in bringing out a quarterly journal named “Buddhasasana” and in running a private school for children. His journal, “Buddhasasana,” is still read among learned Buddhists in Thailand. The private school he founded developed into a higher secondary school with a large number of students. His school is renowned for study and discipline.

His own life as a monk  was strict and austere. He observed strictly the monastic rules (Patimokkh).He slept on the floor without a mattress using a coconut shell as a pillow He observed Dhutahgas. He took one meal a day (Ekasanikahga). He used only three robes (Teciuarakahga). He slept for only a few hours at night (Jagariyanuyoga).

Ven. Buddhadâsa became a famous meditation master, author, and Pâli scholar. He wrote many book son Buddhism and translated many books from Pâli and English into Thai. Under the pen-name, “Sirivayas,” he composed a number of Buddhist poems.

Ven. Buddhadâsa was a man of wide-ranging interests. His activities were not focused in just one direction but along many paths. He had a fine imagination. He included paintings, sculpture, photography, and a special theater in his center for Buddhist studies. Besides numerous books, he also wrote many articles for general readers interested in Buddhism. He was not a man of blind faith. He criticized even the scriptures whenever he found them unsuitable to the people. For this reason he is sometimes condemned by orthodlox Buddhists. Those who believe in rational thinking, however, praise him. He became famous for his rational, practical, natural approach.

Ven. Buddhadâsa was honored by being given the opportunity to train judges in the hall of the Ministry of Justice. He delivered a series of lectures to officers of the Ministry of Education as well as to students of universities in their auditory halls. He gave sermons to the learned in Bangkok.

The other aspect of Ven. Buddhadâsa that was very much appreciated by the people was his practical training in meditation. After the establishment of the meditation center, he gave lessons in insight meditation encouraging Buddhists, young and old alike, to taste the bliss of Niibbana in this present life. He believed that spiritual stages such as Sotapannahood, Sakada-gam\hoo6, Anagamihood and Arahathood can be realized in this life, nibbana is not far away but near at hand.

He teaches in Sunnata. His Sunnata consists of voidness of Niccam, Dukkham and Atta. He believed that where there is no Atta, there is no craving(Tanha). When there is no craving (Tantia) there is no attachment (Upadana). When there is no attachment(Upadana), there is complete extinction (Nirodha).This is the state of deliverance, emancipation orNibbana


Technique of Insight Meditation According to Buddhadâsa


  1. As was pointed out, Ven. Buddhadâsa was marked in all fields of life. He did not believe that the spiritual life need be confined to the forest or some lonely place. Rather, it can be led by a man amidst worldly activities, that which is complete in the realization. Therefore, he emphasized that the best life is the spiritual life in which there is fulfillment of worldly responsibilities along with achievement of spirituality. He would train a man and make him physically and mentally fit so that he could lead the household life while remaining quite detached from worldly affairs.

A man desiring to be trained in this method of insight meditation approaches the teacher and expresses his willingness. The teacher does not require any formality. If the practitioner desires, he is advised to take refuge in the Triple Gem. He generally observes the five precepts (Panca-sila) or eight precepts (Atthasila)during the period of learning the technique.

There are no hard and fast rules for staying for so many days or months. The length of stay is deter-mined by the mental development of the person concerned. Generally, one lives there for three months.

The mind is naturally very fickle, restless and unsteady. In order to arrest the mind and develop concentration in it, one is required to focus it on the breath. One counts the breath as it comes in and goes out. One does so in a very mindful and watchful way, such as inhaling one, exhaling one; inhaling two, exhaling two ; inhaling three, exhaling three ; inhaling four, exhaling four; inhaling five, exhaling five. One does this type of counting from one to five and repeats the process several times. After some time, develops the count up to ten. After continuous practice ones mind learns to concentrate on breathing. The mind does not wander but remains alert to the breath coming in and going out. This endeavor of concentrating the mind may be called Samantha.

The practice of Vipassana as prescribed by Ven. Buddhadâsa is based on the teaching of the Buddha. When he said “Ditthe Ditthamattam Bhauissati, SuteSutamattam Bhavissati,” he meant that one should not to develop attachment to objects that appear through the six sense organs : eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. Each sense organ has an object of its own. This means that there are six types objects these sense organs. They are the visible, audible, odorous, gustatory, tangible and ideational objects. It is the nature of the sense organs to catch their respective objects. The objects appearing before the sense organs are grasped by them, but a practitioner has to avoid developing attachment to the objects. When one develops attachment to an object, there arises the feeling of “I” and “mine.” When “I” develops there is suffering. Therefore, one must be careful not to allow the “I” to enter the mind.

When the eye sees forms or the ear hears sounds, and so on, the practitioner should be alert and have the wisdom to know what to do with them. One should remain unperturbed. The acts of seeing and hearing are quite all right provided that one never allows the “I” to be constructed out of desire or feeling connected with the objects which one sees or hears. If it is done thus, then it can be said that the “1” is not born. When it is not born it does not die and therefore there’s no suffering at all. Accordingly, one should train the mind in such a way as to remain unattached when the various types of objects appear to the sense organs.

One emphasizes that we should make our lives such that there be no birth again because birth results in suffering. One may be born in any form and he will experience suffering. For example, if one is born as as on, one suffers as a son. If one is born as a rich, one suffers as a rich man. If one is born as a poor man, one suffers as a poor. If one is born as a good man, one suffers as a good man. If one is born as a bad man, one suffers as a bad man. If one is born as a fortunate man, one suffers as a fortunate man. If one is born as an unfortunate man, one suffers as an unfortunate man. Therefore, where there is birth, there is suffering. The best state, according to one is not to be born in any form. By this, he means “The Extinction without Remainder.”

Further, by “birth” Ven. Buddhadâsa does not mean only the birth from a mother’s womb. “Birth” also means the birth in the mind. What is that ? The birth of the idea “I am such” and “I am such and such.” I am a son; I am a father; I am a rich man ; I am a poor man ; I am a good man; I am a bad man ;I am a fortunate man; I am an unfortunate man ;etc. Where there is “1” and “mine,” that is called grasping (Upadana). This “I” born the mind due to ignorance (Avijja). It is born thousands of times everyday and when it is born, suffering (Dukkha) is the unavoidable result.

This may be understood more clearly with an example. Whenever the eye sees a form, or the ear hears a sound, or the nose smells or the tongue tastes or the body touches through the skin, or the mind thinks of past events, is developed. In each case, there arises attachment (Upadana). This gives birth to the “I” and where there is “I” there is suffering. (Dukkha).Therefore, one advises the practitioner to be careful, conscious, and aware when objects appear to the senses. He should remain unaffected and not develop any type of attachment. He can perform all his activities while remaining unattached to the objects. This leads to a happy life.

One concludes by reminding the practitioner to practice constantly the art of non-attachment. He advises that to know it clearly, “One must constantly have a clear understanding of non-attachment. Every day and night, awake or asleep, one should maintain intelligent wisdom all the time. Never let grasping by way of me or ‘This is mine’ occur. Even if one dies during sleep, one still has the possibility of not being born again. Reminder, “in other words, the state “not self” having only the Dharma in a mind which is void of self. “This practice should be done early in the morning and again at bed time.

There is another method of practice which is done when one is about to die. In it one is advised to make the mind free from clinging (Upadana) before one dies. Suppose, for instance, one is injured by a fierce animal, or run over by a car, or crushed by a falling building, or murdered and so on, if there is consciousness left for even a second, one should “at that moment direct one’s mind towards Extinction without Remainder.” One should have neither hope nor desire nor anything to cling to (Upadana). Other-wise there will be birth again because fuel is left behind for another birth.

The two methods simply teach how to train the mind so that there is no clinging (Upadana) to any-thing. One must understand Extinction without Remainder in two categories, namely : one must have a mind really filled with wisdom, and clearly under-stand that “there is nothing to hold onto or to grasp at,” (Sabbê Dharma Malam Abhiniuesaya). In this mind that is completely void of clinging and attachment there is no “I” or “This is mine.” There is only Dharma, the absolute deliverance also known as Extinction without Remainder, or Mirodha. In its full sense, “Hi” means without a remainder, and “bana” means going, or blowing out (as a candle). Mibbana, therefore, means going without any remainder. As described it has the characteristics of a meaning, a practice. Men these days search for a way through the clouds, but the cloud way is dark and without sign, The Mountains are high and often steep and rocky ;in the broadest valleys the sun seldom shines. Green crests before you and behind, White clouds to east and west-Do you want to know where the cloud way lies ?There it is, in the midst of the Void !

From : “Cold Mountain : 100 poems by the T’ang poet
Burton Watson, Translator







Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû is a Thai Buddhist monk(Bhikkhû) whose dedication in service to the Lord Buddha has produced the largest and most innovative body of work of any Bhikkhû in recent Thai history. He has been a pioneer in the application of Buddha-Dhammâ to the realities of the modern world during the recent decades of rampant modernization and economic growth and has forthrightly criticized the immorality and selfishness of many modern social structures. Further, he has been Thailand’s most vocal proponent of open-mindedness toward other religions.

“Buddhadâsa” means “Servant of the Buddha” (Dasa can also be translated “slave.”) and “Bhikkhû” refers to a person who has left home in order to fully undertake Buddhist spiritual training(Dhamma-Vinaya). While Buddhadâsa itself is a generic term, a certain young Thai Bhikkhû took it as his name when he began a unique experiment within Thai Buddhism called “Suan Mokkh” (The Garden of Liberation). In the more than sixty years since, he has initiated and inspired many innovations in the teaching and application of Buddha-Dhammâ. Primarily, as he sees it, his life’s work has been to restore the Buddha’s teaching to its pristine state. Over the centuries many cultural practices and superstitions inevitably ‘have obscured the essential Dhammâ. Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû has dedicated his life to distinguishing the one from the other, that which leads to absolute liberation from self and its suffering, and that which does not, without limiting himself to traditionally narrow religious concerns or orthodox Theravada. His truly radical reform has been to go back to the original source of all Buddhism, that which is even more original than the scriptures or the Buddha himself, something he has come to call “the natural religion of non-selfishness.”

Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû has interpreted the Pâli Tipitaka of Theravada Buddhism in light of its primary principles — noble truths (ariya-sacca), not-self (anatta)or voidness (sunnata), and dependent origination(paticca-samuppada) – so that all of the core teachings fit together and are more deeply understood through each other. In doing so, he moved away from some cherished, albeit secondary, dogmas of orthodox Theravada belief. The consequences of this radical reappraisal have been many, including, an emphasis on the here and now, rediscovery of the spiritual dimension of everyday life, a bridging of the lay-monastic fracture, greater compatibility with science, greater intellectual rigor, and the re-integration of political and social issues within a Dhammâ world view. The last achievement is the focus of this chapter.








Six hundred kilometers south of Bangkok, where the Malay Peninsula suddenly widens, are found ruins belonging to the Sri Vijaya Empire, which dominated the sea-lanes of Southeast Asia between India and China1200 to 1500 years ago. Although Siam has been a Theravada Buddhist country for centuries, the archeological evidence shows that Mahayana Buddhism came to what is now Southern Thailand first.3 Among the Sri Vijaya ruins, numerous and beautiful images of Mahayana Bodhisatvas have been found. Thus, the Buddhist roots of the Chaiya area are ancient and diverse.

At the turn of the century,4 the rubber economy and electricity had not yet come to Chaiya. Life followed the old traditions, which were centered in Buddhism, the effects of which were pervasive and profound. The customs and values of the people still showed the Buddhist roots of their culture. Life was simple and family oriented. Sharing was common and crime rare. The seasons and cycles of rice planting passed on along with the festivals of the people. This was the climate in which Mgeuam Panich (later Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû),his brother Yikey (later Dhammadasa), and their sister Kimsoi were born and raised.

In 1906/2449, Ngeuam Panich was born at Pum Riang, then the provincial seat of Chaiya Province,5 into a small merchant family. Guam’s father was second-generation Chinese (Hokkien) and his mother a native Thai. Their relatives were spread up and down the local seaboard. Many of his relatives were and had been Bhikkhû & even Abbots. The family kept a small store in the Pum Riang market.

In speaking of his childhood, Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû emphasizes three primary influences: his mother, the Wat (“temple”), and Mature. His mother was Buddhadasa’s first “spiritual guide.” She taught the morality and values which have underpinned all of his later insights and accomplishments. Her home was firmly based in the five sila and there was daily contact with Buddhism through offering food to the monk son their daily alms round and other activities. The family economy was thrifty and hard working. Even at a young age, Mgeuam and his brother learned to shred coconut meat more carefully so that more coconut milk, a staple in traditional Thai cooking, could be extracted. In a recent Mothers’ Day talk, Buddhadâsa . Bhikkhû said that his mother’s influence was crucial in the formation of his character.” Whatever abilities, knowledge, and such which I have now, where do they come from ? Let me say that they come from my mother most of all.”6

At the age of eight, Mgeuam was taken by his parents to stay at Wat Pum Riang, where he was a temple boy for the .next three years. This is where he learned to read and write, had his introduction to Buddhist ceremonies, heard many traditional stories, and made frequent forays into the forest to collect medicinal herbs for the abbot. Ajarn Buddhadâsa speaks fondly of his experiences among the temple boys, with whom he learned discipline, hard work, cooperation, punctuality, responsibility, humor, cleverness, and, most importantly, unselfishness. In “A Single Solution for All the World’s problem” he suggests this temple boy education as a way of overcoming the immorality and selfishness which is destroying the world.7

The influence of Nature was experienced while taking his father’s cows into the fields to forage and in collecting herbs for his abbot from the forest. Thesea was always nearby, along with the mangrove forests that then covered much of the shore. The forest then was still primal, full of trees more than a meter wide. Rural life followed the natural cycles of the seasons and animal birth and death. Ajarn Buddhadâsa also tells of a young passion for Siamese fighting fish, which much later developed into a hobby of raising exotic fish at Suan Mokkh. His study of the fish and other animals, as well as plants, especially orchids, provided many insights into nature and the instincts, which has been an important source of material in his teaching.

Mgeuam left the Wat in 1911/2460 to enter Wat Potharam School where he completed the four year primary school curriculum. In 1921/2464, his father opened a second store in Chaiya; near the new railroad station. Ngeuam went to stay with him there and began secondary school. The following year his father died, compelling Ngeuam to leave school in order to help his mother run the family stores. He was now the head of the family at the age of sixteen.

Besides the obvious effects of running a store for four years, there were other important influences on Ngeuam during his late teens. First, he had access to a large number of new books, including many concerning Dhammâ, which were sold in the store. This was a period when writers and thinkers like Krom Phraya Vajirananavarorasa and Luang Wichit Wattakarnwere challenging many traditional Thai beliefs and beginning to demythologize Thai Buddhism. He also had daily opportunities to discuss and debate Dhamma and other issues with local officials, the educated elite of rural Siam. By the time he ordained as a monk, Ngeuam had read and discussed all the basic Dhamma books, and much more, that a young monk would be expected to learn. And these contacts and responsibilities gave him some understanding of the wider world.




At the age of twenty, in line with Thai custom, Ngeuam undertook upasampada (the higher training)as a Bhikkhû for the annual Rains Retreat (Pansa).8He was given the Pâli name Indapanno, which he still uses on official documents. At first, his motivation was simply to express gratitude to his parents and ancestors; he had no intention to remain a monk longer than the customary three months of the Rains Retreat. Phra Mgeuam took to the Bhikkhû life, however, and had an easy time of his studies.9 He also became a popular preacher from the very start. Taking what he learned in his daily Dhammâ classes, he gave nightly sermons which explained the Buddha’s teachings in simple, straightforward terms.

Enjoying the Bhikkhû life, Phra Mgeuam decided not to disrobe after the initial Rains Retreat was over. This made it necessary for his brother to leave University in Bangkok and come home to run the family business. Phra Ngeuam continued his Dhammâ studies and began to teach newly robed Bhikkhû. He had a natural facility for teaching and greatly enjoyed the responsibilities. Eventually, older Bhikkhû and relatives noticed his intellectual abilities and sent him to Bangkok to further his studies and “career.”

At that time, the only way to advance within the institutional Sangha was to study Pâli in Bangkok. Such studied were the opportunity to prove oneself to senior monks and obtain patrons and positions within the ecclesiastical hierarchy. An uncle, who had been Bhikkhû at an influential Bangkok Wat (Wat Pathum Kongkha) for many years, arranged for him to live and study there, but Phra Mgeuam found Bangkok to be noisy and dirty (even sixty years ago !). Worse, the lifestyle and behavior of many monks made a bad impression on him. After only two months, he returned home dismayed, intending to disrobe. At the last minute, he decided to stick out a third Rains Retreat(1928/2471) and passed the third and final level of Dhamma studies. Afterwards, he forgot his plan todisrobe. The following year he taught at the Dhamma School of the royally sponsored Wat Boromathat Chaiya.

In 1930/2473, Phra Mgeuam’s relatives and friends convinced him to try Bangkok again. There he was more interested in visiting Wats, attending lectures, and experimenting with photography, than the rote learning of Pâli. Still, he passed the first Pâli examination(Parien 3, Third Level). He also made his first attempts at writing, in which he showed a modern perspective and expressed the conviction that the highest levels of Buddhist realization are still possible today.

Nonetheless, Bangkok still did not suit PhraWgeuam. He was increasingly put off by the noise, crowding, busyness, and pollution, and his health suffered. He missed the calm and simplicity of his hometown. As he continued his studies, be began to do more outside reading. The Pâli curriculum itself did not include readings from the Tipitaka, but Phra Ngeuam began to read it anyway. The contradiction between the lifestyles, behavior, and practices of the monks around him in Bangkok and the lifestyle and practices of the original Sangha gradually became obvious to him. He began to think that Bangkok was not the path and doubted that peace could be found there.

We have decided that Bangkok certainly is not the place to find purity. Our stumbling into the academic Dhammâ studies (pariyat-tidhamma) has had the good result of making us aware that it was a mis-step. If we didn’t realize this in time, we would take many more steps until it would be hard to extricate ourselves, as has happened with some people. From just this awareness of going astray has come a hint of how we are to take the right step.10

Dissatisfied with and suspicious of the rote translations expected in the Pâli schools, he deliberately failed the next year’s examination by giving answers he believed in but which were not what the examiners wanted. For now, he had something better to do than climbing the ecclesiastical ladder. We have walked according to the world from the moment of birth up until the moment of this insight. From now on, we won’t follow the world anymore and will give up the world to search for that which is pure as the Nobles Ones did until finding it.11




Phra rigeuam left Bangkok and returned to Pum Riang with the intention of living in a natural setting conducive to the practice of Dhammâ as taught by the Buddha. This move had already been prepared through letters to his brother, who also was keenly interested in the problem of adapting the timeless Buddha-Dhammâ to modern realities and who now called himself “Dhammadasa.” A group of his friends called the “Dhammadana Group” helped. Phra Ngeuam returned home and on May 12th, 2475/1932 moved into Wat Trapang Jik, an abandoned temple about a kilometer from the Pum Riang market. Here, just one month before Thailand switched to “democracy” in the form of a constitutional monarchy, Phra Ngeuam began his experiment, Suan Mokkhabalarama, “The Garden of the Power of Liberation” (for short, Suan Mokkh, “The Garden of Liberation”), the most radical attempt to reform Thai Buddhism in recent Siamese history. In making this move, he went beyond the official and politically controlled religious institution without breaking with it. There were no harsh words,. judgments, or condemnations, unlike some later “reformers.”

Alone in an abandoned Wat, where he had to confront socially conditioned fears of spirits, Phra Ngeuam set about his intention to dedicate his life to the practice of Dhammâ. He already knew, however, that his understanding of exactly what and how to practice was insufficient. Thus, for the sake of practicing Dhammâ, he went back to the Pâli texts for guidance. Unlike the forest Wats built around famous teachers, Suan Mokkh turned directly to the Dhammâ and Vinaya (discipline) of the Buddha as the teacher.13 During that first Rains Retreat of Suan Mokkh, Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû began to compile the Dhammâ principles that would guide him. At first he thought this would only take five or six months, after which he would live a wandering life, perhaps in India. Circumstances turned out other-wise and he never left Suan Mokkh.

As Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû pursued these studies, he also experimented with them, which is the Buddhist understanding of “research.” Along with his Dhammâ studies and practice, he was kept busy speaking at other Wats and functions set up by the Dhammadana Group. From the start, we see the three central components of life at Suan Mokkh : study, practice, and Dhamma teaching.

In the second year of Suan Mokkh, the two brothers began to publish the quarterly journal Buddha-Sasana, which was then the only Buddhist magazine in Siam coming from outside of Bangkok and has been the longest running Buddhist periodical in this country for many years. It soon developed a reputation for new ideas, readability, and insight. In the third Rains Retreat of Suan Mokkh (1934/2477), Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû lived the entire three months in silence14 and recorded his experiences in the form of a Dhammâ Log Book. He treated his life as a kind of Dhammâ laboratory experiment ; for example, investigating the effect of different foods on his body and mind, as well as keeping careful track of mental states. He kept a meticulous record of experiences and wrote many short essays based on observations of Mature and insights into the workings of the human mind.15

In his writings, Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû began to explore the connection between study and practice, arguing for their complementariness, rather than an either-or dichotomy. It should be noted that young Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû approach was unique in Siam. For at least a millennium, going way back to the Sri Lankan commentators, there had been a strict separation between city monks (gamavasin) who studied and performed ceremonies and forest monks (arannavasin)who lived a simple meditative life. Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû integrated both strands of monastic life, something which had not been seen in Siam for centuries, if ever. Here was a forest monk who kept many of the traditional ascetic practices (dhutanga)16 , ate one meal a day, lived alone, yet was a diligent scholar, and prolific writer and speaker. Rather than emphasizing to an extreme one or two element of traditional Buddhism, such as the moral precepts or meditation practices, as has been done with more recent “reform groups,” he tried to integrate everything genuine into a balanced Middle Way.




Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû lived alone for most of the first four years, but the quality and innovation of the writing and ideas in Buddha-Sasana inevitably attracted increasing attention. After five years some monks began to stay with him. Visitors included high ranking monks such as the Somdet of Wat Thepsirinda, who was then administering the Thai Sangha on behalf of the Supreme Patriarch, and influential civil servants, who were to provide important support and recognition. Later, they were also to provide protection against those threatened by Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû ideas.

Beginning in 1940/2483, Buddhadâsa Bhikkhu gave a series of lectures at the Buddha-Dhamma Association in Bangkok. Until this point, he had been teaching on the fringes of Thai intellectual society and lacked the podiums supplied by rich Bangkok Wats and royal patronage. In this first Bangkok lecture, he spoke for over two hours concerning the way to realize Buddha-Dhammâ. In this and subsequent lectures we can see the primary features of Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû mature teaching style. His presentations were in plain language, rational, clear, and unencumbered by literary profuseness and old-fashioned monkish phrases. He left out accounts of miracles and divine beings and focussed directly on the Dhammâ, trying to show that anyone of average intelligence could study, understand, practice, and realize its truth for themselves. In this first lecture, he even dared to suggest meditation to the Bangkok intellectuals.

In subsequent years, he gave lectures titled “Peaceas Being Being the Fruits of Realizing Buddha-Dhammâ”(1942), “Buddha-Dhammâ & Peace” (1946), and “Buddha-Dhammâ & The Spirit of Democracy” (1947). The series concluded with his first major controversy in June1948/2491 after speaking about “The Mountains of the Buddha-Dhammâ Way,” in which he asserted that the Buddha, Dhammâ, and Sangha of most Buddhists were obstacles obstructing their way to nibbana. Because of their egoistic attachments to the Buddha,  Dhamma, and Sangha, they did not have the true Buddha, Dhammâ, and Sangha which alone can liberate us from dukkha. The idea that all aspects of Buddhism must be cleansed of attachment to “I” and “mine” has been hard for many to swallow. Through these lectures and Buddha-Sasana, Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû was firmly established as an innovative free-thinker who was unafraid to express views which were not acceptable to the majority, when he thought the old way of understanding hindered people’s spiritual insight and growth.

By the early 1940’s, the original site of Suan Mokkh had become crowded and so a large tract of land was purchased around long abandoned Wat Tarn Mam Lai (Temple of the Flowing Water) through which ran a beautiful stream. In the center of this Wat was Golden Buddha Hill on which were scattered remnants of an ancient temple or stupa. In 1944/2487, Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû moved there permanently and others followed.

At this point in the story, Suan Mokkh and Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû had become well-known to educated Buddhist’s throughout the century. It is time we considered the Dhammâ teaching that led to this recognition; however, a final comment is necessary as we conclude this biographical sketch. Buddhadasa17Bhikkhu feels that his person and its biographical details are not very important. Personal stories too easily distract us from the Dhammâ and strengthen the illusion of self. “The person doesn’t really exist. Who are you talking about ?” he asks. So may the foregoing be forgiven, and taken with a grain of salt. Let us now turn our attention to the Dhammâ which he has served for the sake of liberating humanity from dukkha and making world peace possible.


2Primary resources for this section are Lao Wai Meua WaiSondhaya : Atajiuaprawat kong Tan Puttatat (As Told In the Twilight Years : The Memories of Venerable Buddhadâsa), interviewed and edited by Phra Pracha Pasannadhammo (Komol KimtongFoundation, Bangkok : 1986); Phap Jivit 80 Pi Puttatat Phikkhu(Pictorial Life of Buddhadâsa Bhikkhus 80 Years), ed. PhraPracha Pasannadhammo and Santisuk Sophonsiri (Komol Kimtongfoundation, Bangkok : 1986); and the author’s personal con-versations with Buddhadâsa Bhikkhû. In this chapter, works for which no translator is given have not yet been published in English and translations are this writer’s own.

3There is a traditional belief that two of Emperor Asoka’s missionaries — the monks Sona and Uttara – came to Suvamabhumi, the capital of which is now Nakorn Pathom, in the third century(B.E.).

4Christian Era. 1900 C.E. corresponds to 2443 Buddhist Era (Thai reckoning) and 2500 B.E. corresponds to 1957 C.E.. Thais count 1 B.E. as the year following the Lord Buddha’s parinibbana, whereas the Singhalese and Burmese count 1 B.E. as the year of the parinibbana.

5In 1909, the provincial seat moved to Ban Don, at the mouth of the Tapee River, and was renamed Surat Thani, “City of Good people.” Pum Riang remained the district seat until1921, when it moved to the Chaiya market

 6Phra Khun kong Mae keu Santipap kong Lok (The Virtue of Motherhood is Peace for the World), (Atammmayo, Bangkok :date unknown, original talk given on Mother’s Day 12 August1989).

7“A Single Solution to the World’s Problems” (Mam PrikTuay Diow) in Messages of Truth from Suan Mokkh, (Saccasarajak Suan Mokkh) published in Thai and English (The Dhamma Study & Practice Group, Bangkok : 1990), translators unknown.

8The Pansa (Pâli, Vassa) literally means “rain” and refers to the three month period when bhikkhus temporarily cease their wanderings. It is also the traditional way of counting .years and seniority within the Bhikkhû Sangha.

9Phra is the common Thai term for monks. It is derived from the Pâli uara, (excellent, splendid, noble)

0 80 Years Life Pictures of Buddhadâsa BMkkhu, p. 55.


12Two valuable books concerning the early years of Suan Mokkh are The First Ten Years of Suan Mokkh (Sip Pi Mai Suan Mokkh), tr. Mongkol Dejnakarintra (Dhamma Study & Practice Group, Bangkok : 1990) and The Style of Practice at Suan Mokkh(Naew Patipat Thamm Nai Suan Mokkh) tr. Santikaro Bhikkhû(not yet published).

15Cf. Mahaparinibbana Sutta, Digha-nikaya (EXii.lOO & 154).

l4ChiIdren in the neighboring Muslim village liked to make fun of him, “Crazy Monk, Crazy Monk.”

l5Anutin Patibat Tham : Suksa Jiuit Yang Pen Witayasat(Dhamma Practice Diary : Scientific Study of Life), (Pacarayasarn, Bangkok : 2529/1986).

I6Not to be confused with the more extreme forms of asceticism and mortification found in other religions.




Non-Returner; one established in the Fruition of Non- Returning.


Mindfulness   on   breathing;   mindfulness   regarding breathing.


Attaining nirvana; being perfected one; the Holy One.


Self; ego ; personal entity ; soul.


Eight precepts; eight kinds of moral conduct.


Ignorance ; lack of knowledge ; delusion ; nescience.


The teachings of Lord Buddha; Buddha-Dharma.


Buddhism ; religion of the Buddha ; teachings of Lord Buddha.


A district of South Thailand; ancient city of Siam (Thailand).


The teachings of Lord Buddha.


The younger brother of late Ven. Buddhadâsa; the slave of the Dharma.


Practices of ascetic; practice to remove defilements ;austere practices (thirteen).


Suffering; sorrow; misery ; pain.DukkhamSuffering.


One who eats only one meal a day; one-sessioner’s practice.

Extinction Without Remainder

nirvana; Mibbana; Arahathood ; final stage of saint-hood.


The name of late Ven. Buddhadâsa when he became a monk.


Avoidance of sleep; practice of watchfulness; wake-fullness.


Later-food-refuser’s practice.

Nang A Hills

The name of hills in the vicinity of Suan Mokkhabalaram.


Nirvana; the extinction of all defilements and suffering ; the Unconditioned ; the supreme goal of Buddhism.


Permanent; everlasting.


The Extinction of suffering; the Cessation of sorrow and pain.


The language of three Canons spoken and preached

by the Buddha.


Five precepts; five moral conduct.


Monastic disciplinary code; monastic moral discipline.


Bowl-food-eater’s practice; eating food in the begging



The name of a village in Chaiya District, South Thailand.


The second stage of sanctity; a Once-Returner; one

who has attained the second stage of Sainthood.


Tranquility; serenity ; peace ; calm ; quietude.


The Process of Birth and Death; Rebirth Process; the Round of Existence.


House-to-house seeker’s practice; practice of begging from house to house respectively.


The name of the poet, the late Ven. Buddhadâsa.


A Stream Winner; Stream-Enterer; one who has attained

the first stage of holiness.

Sri Vijaya

The ancient city of Siam, South Thailand.

Suan Mokkhabalaram

A temple and meditation center founded and established

by the late Ven. Buddhadâsa.


Voidness; emptiness.

Surasdhani (Surat Thani)

A name of a province in South Thailand.


Craving; desire ; thirst.


Triple-robe-wearer’s practice; one who wears only three


Triple Gem

The Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.


Attachment; clinging; grasping.


Insight; realizing and experiencing the truth of life.

Wat Dhannamlai

Another name of Suan Mokkhabalaram.

Wat Pathum Konga

A royal temple in Bangkok where the late Ven. Buddha-dasa studied Pâli.

Wat Ubol

A temple at Pumriang village in Chaiya District, Surat Thani Province, South Thailand, where the late Ven. Buddhadâsa took his ordination.


                 A Guide into Buddhist Science
                     Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
              (translated by Santikaro Bhikkhu)
           Copyright 1991 by Evolution/Liberation
             Published by The Vuddhidhamma Fund
Any reproduction, in whole or part, in any form, for sale, profit, or material
gain, is prohibited, except for quotations in reviews or articles. Permission to
reprint for free distribution may be obtained from:
                The Vuddhidhamma Fund
                10/43 Buri Rangsan Village
                Tambol Suan Yai
                Ampoe Muang
                Nontaburi 11000 Thailand
                Tel: (02) 526-5008
Electronic version made possible with the kind permission of the translator.
               First electronic edition:  December 1996
     Transcribed directly from disks provided by Santikaro Bhikkhu
     Formatting & Proofreading: Scott Oser <>
                   This electronic edition is offered
                       FOR FREE DISTRIBUTION ONLY
              by arrangement with Evolution/Liberation
    This text is a gift of Dhamma. You may print this file for your
    personal use, and you may make and distribute unaltered copies
    of this file, provided that you charge no fees of any kind for
    its distribution. Otherwise, all rights reserved.
Editors’ Notes
I. The Scientific Cure of Spiritual Disease
II. The Use of Dhamma
III. New Life of Peace
About the Author
The Translator
Buddha-Dhamma is as vast as the universe and as concise as a moment’s flash of
insight. Many sentient beings have gotten lost between the two, unable to resolve
through direct personal experience the many teachings available today.
Fundamental perspectives are required for us to begin sorting out the
multiplicity of experiences and concepts. Here, we offer a clear, direct, and
practical guide into the essentials of Buddhism, that is, the Dhamma.
While many Buddhists take Dhamma to be “the Buddha’s teaching,” it really means
“Natural Truth” or “Natural Law.” Of course, this is what the Buddha taught and
demonstrated, but we must be careful to distinguish the teaching from the Truth
itself. Thus, to understand Buddhism one must begin with the Dhamma.
This guide examines the three inter-related aspects of Dhamma and pinpoints the
key elements in each. Although Dhamma is One, we interact with it in three basic
ways: study (pariyatti-dhamma), practice (patipatti-dhamma), and realization
(pativedha-dhamma). Dhamma study is finding the right perspective on our human
predicament & what we must do about it. Dhamma practice is developing & correctly
applying the basic tools needed for spiritual survival. Dhamma realization is the
benefits that occur naturally with correct practice. Each aspect can be
approached in many ways. Here, Buddhadasa Bhikkhu approaches each in a direct and
practical way.
Ajahn Buddhadasa conceived of these talks as an introduction to the study,
practice, and realization of Buddha-Dhamma. He emphasizes that practice is the
key. Nonetheless, without sufficient and correct study, one cannot practice
properly. And without realization or the fruition of the rightful benefits of
practice, everything is wasted. In short, we cannot have one without the others.
We must have all three elements of this trio, and they must be fully integrated
through practice.
This guide is translated from the first series of talks given by Ajahn Buddhadasa
to foreign meditators attending the monthly courses at Suan Mokkh. It is intended
for Western Dhamma friends, including those who are new to Buddhist understanding
and practice. We hope that the perspectives offered here will help new students
of Buddhism to get their bearings straight from the start. Those who have studied
and practiced Buddhism for some time, no matter what the school or approach,
should also find this guide helpful. We can never be too clear what Dhamma and
Dhamma practice is about. Many have gotten lost for lack of clarity and a good
Ajahn Buddhadasa is keen to foster “mutual good understanding among religions.”
This translation should contribute to that effort by clarifying what exactly
Buddhism is about. Many non-Buddhist visitors to Asia have trouble separating the
local culture from the Buddhist teachings about Dhamma. We hope that
non-Buddhists who read this may understand the true nature of our religion. Then,
“dialogues” will have honest and worthy foundations. It does nobody any good to
compare (or criticize) the best of one path with the misuses of another. We must
offer each other what is best from each of our paths and then understand and
appreciate each other. In this way, all religions may work together to combat our
common enemy — selfishness.
We hope that this little book will enable you to start your practice of Dhamma on
the right foot. Confusion about what practice really is, meditating for the wrong
reasons, inability to integrate meditation with daily life, and uncertainty about
where practice actually leads all wreak havoc on the spiritual lives of both
“beginners” and “old hands” alike. The Buddha stressed the need for “right
understanding” (samma-ditthi) which is not a particular dogma or acceptance of
some doctrine. Rather, it is an attitude of alert and joyful investigation of
life characterized by the four noble truths. These truths are not to be believed
or accepted; they are to be reflected upon and scrutinized until we have mined
them for all they are worth. May we all find in this life the inner knowing which
frees us from any doubt as to what is true and what is not, without having to
defend or proselytize that understanding.
May all beings be free.
Santikaro Bhikkhu
Suan Mokkhabalarama
November 1991
These talks originally were transcribed and translated in 1986 for the one and
only edition of the “Suan Mokkh International Newsletter” (superseded by
Evolution/Liberation). There were only 350 copies of this mimeographed
publication, which went out of print quickly. The Dhamma Study & Practice Group
has since taken interest in them, and so they appear again, in a more attractive
and readable package. We have made some adjustments in the original translation,
and hope that it now reads more smoothly and clearly.
Most Dhamma talks in Thai, and especially those of Ajahn Buddhadasa, are full of
Pali terms (Pali is the canonical language of early Buddhism). These terms have
found their way, along with many Sanskrit words, into Thai and are familiar to
all practicing Buddhists. They are rich words, and precise, which express
concepts and perspectives which are not always apparent in English. They have the
further advantage of being fixed, for Pali is a “dead language,” like Church
We have tried not to overdo the use of Pali terms, here, although Ajahn
Buddhadasa asks students to become familiar with them. When possible, we have
used an English equivalent. But when there is no English word which captures the
full meaning of the Pali term, it is left in Pali and explained parenthetically
and in footnotes. Words requiring longer explanations can be found in the
glossary, which you may want to rummage through in order to acquaint yourself
with these important terms.
All footnotes are provided by the translator.
Finally, thanks to the friends who helped bring this books to print. Steve
Schmidt, Daniel Kalish, David Olsson, Sister Dhammadinna, Mae ChiNandini, the
Venerable Dusadee Metamkuro\, and the Dhamma Study & Practice Group.
May their efforts help more people to live with less dukkha and nurture greater
peace in this world.
The Editors
(3 February 1986)
To begin, I would like to express my joy that you have come here to study Dhamma
(Natural Truth) [editor’s note: there is a small glossary explaining Pali terms.
All notes are by the editor] Second, I would like to thank each of you for
helping to make Suan Mokkh a useful and worthwhile place.
Today, I would like to talk with you concerning the question: What benefits will
we receive from studying Dhamma? If you get any benefits from Buddhism, you will
become a Buddhist automatically, whether or not you go through a conversion
ceremony. To convert or not to convert is a meaningless issue. The relevant
issue, the important thing, is whether you will get anything useful from
So we will talk about the things that you will gain from Buddhism. Only after
realizing that Buddhism has benefitted you will you know what Buddhism is about.
Until you understand what it is that you have received, you can’t really know
anything about Buddhism. Let’s discuss, then, the things that you will obtain
from Buddhism. Thus, you will understand Buddhism and will become a Buddhist
I would like to say that you will get the best, the highest thing that a human
being ought to get. There is nothing more worth getting than this; it surpasses
everything. We might call this thing, simply, “New Life.” The best thing to do
here is to talk about the characteristics of New Life.
Now, for you to understand what is going to be said, I ask you to forget
everything. Please forget all the faiths, creeds, and beliefs which you have ever
held. Put them all aside for the time being. Even if you prefer to believe in
scientific principles more than any of the so-called religions, leave them
completely alone for now. Make the mind empty, free, and spotless, so that you
can hear something new. Actually, Buddhism shares many characteristics and
principles with science, but Buddhism is a science of the mind-heart rather than
a science of physical things [in Buddhist terminology, there is no real
distinction made between the heart and the mind. The intellect and the emotions
are not seen as being polar opposites. Rather, it is all citta, which can be
translated “mind,””heart,” or “mind-heart.” We use these three terms as
synonyms.] Buddhism is a spiritual science. For this reason, it may be something
new for you.
The first thing we would like you to realize is that Buddhism, or Dhamma, is a
medicine for curing disease. This is a strange and special medicine because it
can be taken by anyone, regardless of religion, nationality, ethnic background,
education, class, or language. Anyone may use this medicine, for Dhamma is like
those modern drugs that cure physical ailments. Such drugs can be taken by people
all over the world, no matter what their religion, race, sex, profession, or
language. Although we come from different cultures, we can use the very same kind
of medicine. Take aspirin, for example. No matter who and where we are, we can
take a few aspirin to get rid of a headache. Dhamma is the same. It is the
universal medicine.
We like to say that Dhamma is a medicine for disease or roga. I would like for us
to use this Pali word “roga,” because it has a clear and useful meaning. Although
it’s usually translated as “disease,” roga literally means “that which pierces
and stabs,” thus causing pain. We don’t really know where the English word
“disease” comes from, so we prefer “roga.” ÊIts meaning is certain and
appropriate: stabbing, piercing, skewering. Dhamma is something that can cure
this stabbing and piercing of roga.
The roga with which we’re most concerned is spiritual. We can call it “spiritual
disease.” Physical disease pierces the body; spiritual disease stabs the mind or
spirit. Dhamma is the latter’s remedy. If we have no spiritual disease, to come
and study Dhamma is a complete waste of time. Hence, everyone must look closely
in order to know both kinds of roga: physical disease, roga of the body, and
spiritual disease, roga of the mind, heart, or spirit. Then, look within
yourselves — right now! — is there any spiritual disease in you? Are you free
from disease or merely enduring it?
We begin our study of Dhamma by getting to know our own roga. You must look and
search within yourself until seeing and discovering how spiritual disease
afflicts you. To do so, you must look inside! If you don’t, you won’t have a
proper beginning to your study of Dhamma. Unless we understand the roga from
which we suffer, we will only study Dhamma in a foolish, aimless way. Actually,
most of you already have some knowledge about your spiritual disease, but for
most that knowledge will be slight, scattered, or unclear.
Let’s talk about the disease a bit more in order to clarify it. All of the
problems which disturb the mind are problems which arise from ageing, illness,
and death. These are the first symptoms of the disease. Our minds are disturbed
and pestered by problems that result from the fact that we all must grow old,
fall sick, and die. These problems are the first thing to look at. Next, there
are three general, miscellaneous problems: we get separated from the things we
love, we experience things we dislike, and we have wishes which go unfulfilled.
These are general problems leading to spiritual disease. Before anything else,
each of you must know these problems or roga as you actually experience them
within yourselves.
This is why there is the principle that Dhamma must be studied and learned
internally, rather than externally. We must learn from life itself. Learn from
all the things that you experience within this fathom-long body. Please be
certain to learn inside only, and don’t bother learning outside. The things that
we learn from external sources, such as books and talks, are never enough. Only
by looking within can we come to understand these spiritual diseases completely.
The external kind of study and learning, such as reading books, discussion, and
listening to talks as you are doing now, can do no more than explain the method
and means of inner study. This external study only learns how to go about the
inner study. Then, you must go and do that inner study in order to understand
I ask all of you to begin your studies from within by studying the problems that
you inwardly experience. Please take a look at the problems that arise from
ageing, sickness, and death. We are afraid of ageing, sickness and death; all
kinds of problems on many different levels arise from them. We must clearly
observe these things in the same way that a geologist examines a rock, as when we
take up something with our own hand, hold it up to the light, and carefully
examine it until we see it clearly in all its detail. In the same way, we must
see clearly the problems that arise from our own ageing, illness, and death.
Further, we must investigate the problems which develop out of them, such as
being separated from beloved things, meeting with unloved things, and desiring
things and then not getting them.
The result of all of the above problems is dukkha (pain), both physical and
mental. The symptoms and conditions of dukkha are many and varied. It comes in
many forms: sorrow, sadness, dissatisfaction, grief, lamentation, tears,
frustration, pain, misery, agony, and more. There are Pali terms for all of
these, but what we call them isn’t important. We needn’t know all of their names,
yet we ought to know how these things really feel when we experience them. To
begin with, you must know them inside yourselves. All of these are roga, the
symptoms of roga, and the results of the roga which we have caught.
Dhamma is the medicine for roga, spiritual disease; thus, the matter we’re
discussing here is a matter of the mind and spirit. The Buddha was one who came
to know this disease, found a cure for it, and used the cure in order to free
himself from disease. After doing so, the Buddha was then able to teach us about
the roga, its cure, and the way to administer the cure. Please understand the
Lord Buddha in this way. If you are afflicted by spiritual disease, you ought to
be interested in his Dhamma [here, Dhamma is both Natural Truth and the knowledge
of Natural Truth which enables us to end the disease, that is, dukkha.] However,
if any one of you is completely free of spiritual disease, you are wasting time
on Dhamma — you can go home. I repeat, anyone who has no spiritual disease is
invited to leave.
Now, let’s talk about studying Dhamma, which is the medicine that cures spiritual
disease. There are many stages and levels to Dhamma. We begin by studying, as we
do with any ordinary subject [Here, study is not just an intellectual learning.
It involves thinking, investigation, training, experimentation, and direct
experience, with emphasis on the training and experience.] Maybe we have no real
understanding of Dhamma at the start. Although we have read many books and
listened to talks, we don’t really know Dhamma. We study in order to know, then
we have knowledge. Once we have some knowledge, it must be used. In short, for it
to be worthwhile, we must know Dhamma, until having Dhamma, and then use Dhamma.
Let’s go through these three things again. Even though we may have read about and
studied Dhamma a great deal, although we may have much knowledge of it, we may
not have the right kind of knowledge. This means we don’t really have Dhamma. If
it isn’t the correct knowledge, we won’t be able to use it. Thus, we need to
study until we have a sufficient amount of the right knowledge. Otherwise we
won’t be able to use it. Please investigate this fact thoroughly. Therefore, we
must have Dhamma, we must have correct and sufficient understanding of Dhamma.
But having the right knowledge isn’t enough, we must have a sufficiently large
amount of this correct knowledge and it must be very quick. If it isn’t quick, it
is never on time and in the place where it is needed. We must be agile and expert
in the use of Dhamma.
Simply having this knowledge somewhere in the back of our minds doesn’t cure the
spiritual disease. We must be expert in it; we need to be very skillful in its
proper use. We need to be deft, agile, and expert, so that we are able to
understand the spiritual disease that is already present, as well as any new
spiritual disease that may arise. If we have this understanding, it is a good
start in becoming able to use Dhamma to cure our disease. So study the disease
within yourselves. This is the kind of knowledge that you must develop.
You must know that the Buddha spoke of just one thing and nothing else: dukkha
(pain, dissatisfaction) and the quenching of dukkha. The Buddha taught only the
disease and the cure of the disease; he didn’t talk about anything else. When
people asked questions about other matters, the Buddha refused to waste his or
their time with such things. Nowadays, we spend our time studying all kinds of
other things. It’s a pity how our curiosity is aroused by matters such as: After
death, will I be born again? Where will I be reborn? How will it happen? Please
don’t waste your time on those things. Instead of reading lots of books, take
what time you have to focus on dukkha and the complete, utter quenching of
dukkha. This is the knowledge to store up, this is the studying to do. Don’t
bother studying anything else!
The Lord Buddha taught only dukkha and the total cessation of dukkha. He taught
that we must study these two things within our bodies. You can only do this while
the body is alive. Once the body dies, you don’t have to concern yourselves with
this problem any more.But now, while there’s life, constantly, continuously, and
inwardly study dukkha (spiritual disease) and the utter quenching of dukkha (the
cure of the spiritual disease).
Throughout this world there is little interest in this matter of dukkha and its
end. None of the world’s schools pay any attention to it. In the universities,
they don’t teach or study it. The only thing taught in our schools and
universities is cleverness, the storing up of many facts and the ability to
perform mental tricks with them. Students graduate with cleverness and some way
to make a living. This is what modern education means– being clever and earning
lots of money. Dukkha and the quenching of dukkha are totally ignored. We believe
that all education in today’s world is incomplete. It is imperfect because the
most important subjects are forgotten; a general base of knowledge and the
ability to earn a living are not enough. There is a third area of knowledge which
the schools and universities don’t teach: how to be a human being. Why do they
ignore what it takes to be a proper human being, that is, a human being free of
dukkha? Because a proper human being ought to have no spiritual disease, modern
education will be incomplete and insufficient as long as it fails to cure
spiritual disease.
It is correct and proper that each of you has come here to undertake the third
kind of education: how to be a human being without any problems, how to be free
of dukkha. It is good that you have come here and are interested in this topic.
In short, use this opportunity to learn what it takes to be a human being.
If someone tells you that you’re not yet human, please don’t get angry and please
don’t feel sad. First, you must look and see what it means to be human. So let’s
take a look at “manusaya,” the Pali word for human being. This is a very good
word for it has a very useful meaning. Manusaya means “lofty-minded one,” a mind
high enough to be above all problems. Problems are like flood waters, but they
can’t flood the lofty mind. When one’s mind is elevated to a high level, then we
can say that one is a manusaya. The speaker isn’t sure where the English word
“human being” comes from. Our guess is that it must mean “high-minded,” also.
“Man” is probably related to mana (mind) and “hu” ought to mean “high.” So, human
ought to mean “high-minded.”
As things are, Dhamma is the knowledge which tells us exactly what it means to be
human. We’re interested in what it is to be fully human, rather than merely
masquerading in “human” bodies. To be truly human is to be above all problems.
Study and learn in order to be completely human. Study, practice, and work to
develop a mind, heart and spirit that is above all problems. By problems, we mean
dukkha, the thing which, if it arises, we cannot tolerate or endure. When it
occurs, we can’t stand it and struggle to get away from it. This causes
agitation, discomfort, unhappiness, and unhealthiness. Dukkha, our problem, means
“unbearableness, intolerableness. “We can’t stand it, we can’t put up with it.”
Once again, let me repeat that if you have no problems you can go home. You need
not waste your time studying Dhamma. However, if you happen to have some
problems, just one little problem, or perhaps many, then take a good look at
them. Stick around and learn how to look at problems.
I dare say that every one of you has a problem, and further, that you all have
the same problem. This one problem that bothers us all is the thing we discussed
above. It is the problem that arises out of ageing, illness, and death. In short,
we don’t get the things that we want. We can’t maintain this body forever. Life
is never exactly what we want it to be, we can’t have things our way all of the
time. This problem is shared by each and every one of us.
We are all in a situation where we must use a scientific method to solve our
problem. We must use a specifically scientific approach, because the methods of
philosophy and logic can’t solve the problem. [Ajahn Buddhadasa makes a clear
distinction between philosophy and science as he understands them. The former is
mere speculation devoid of practical application, while the latter can be
directly experienced and personally verified through practice.] There are myriad
philosophies concerning everything imaginable, but none of them can solve our
problem. Philosophies are very popular with people in today’s world, they are fun
and interesting, but they don’t work. This is why we must turn to a scientific
method which can and will solve the problem.
It is now time to recall something about which you’ve probably already heard: the
four noble truths (ariya-sacca). Please reflect upon this most important matter.
The four noble truths are Buddhism’s scientific principle of the mind. The four
noble truths allow us to study the specific problem exactly as it is, without
relying on any hypothesis. Most of you are familiar with the standard scientific
method in which a hypothesis is proposed, then tested through experimentation.
Such hypotheses are merely forms of guessing and estimation. With the ariya-sacca
such clumsiness isn’t necessary. Reality is experienced and examined directly,
rather than through the limitations of hypothesis, predictions, and
What, then, are the four noble truths that you must look into? They are:
      1) dukkha;
      2) the cause of dukkha;
      3) the quenching of dukkha, through quenching its cause;
      4) there is a way or path that quenches dukkha by ending its cause.
These are the ariya-sacca. They have the features of science, the reasoning of
science, and the methodology of science. In short, we apply these truths to real
things as they actually happen in life, without using any hypotheses.
Merely reading books won’t enable you to do this science. Books lead to more
hypotheses, ideas, and opinions. Even in a book about Buddhism, the four noble
truths become just more hypotheses. Such is not science, it is only philosophy,
which is always inviting us to play around with hypotheses. So we often get stuck
in endless circles of suppositions, propositions, and arguments. There is no true
Dhamma in that, there is no reality of actually quenched dukkha.
If we want to be scientific about it, practice with the real thing and forget the
hypotheses. Study the real thing itself: study dukkha as you experience it. Look
at the cause of dukkha by experiencing that cause. Observe through direct
personal experience the other side of the coin — the end of dukkha. Lastly,
investigate what you must do to end dukkha. This way is scientific. For as long
as you aren’t doing this, you’re doing philosophy. You’ll only have a
philosophical Buddhism. Don’t get stuck in theories. Look inside, study inside
yourselves, see these truths as they actually happen. Just playing around with
ideas about Buddhism, you will never find the real thing.
If you study Buddhism from books only, no matter what your sources, or how you
study, in the end you’ll always come away with the feeling that Buddhism is a
philosophy. This is because the authors of most books on Buddhism approach it as
a philosophy. They actually believe that Buddhism is a philosophy, which is
totally wrong.
This idea that Buddhism is a philosophy, put it aside, lock it up in a drawer, in
order to practice by studying directly in the mind, as they happen, dukkha, the
cause of dukkha, the end of dukkha, and the way that leads to the end of dukkha.
Study these until you experience the quenching of some dukkha. As soon as you
experience this, you’ll know that Buddhism is no philosophy.
You will know instantly that Buddhism is a science. It has the structure,
principles, and spirit of science, not of philosophy. At the same time, you’ll
see that it is a religion, one with its own particular character, that is, a
religion entirely compatible with modern science. Everything that is truly
understood by science is acceptable to Buddhism, the religion which is a science
of the mind and spirit. Please understand Buddhism in this way.
You may be one of the many who believe that a religion must have a God and that
without a God it isn’t a religion. Most people believe that a religion must have
at least one God, if not many. Such understanding is not correct. A wiser view is
that there are two kinds of religion: theistic and non-theistic. Theistic
religions postulate a God as the highest thing and belief in that God is
all-important. Consider Buddhism to be non-theistic, for it doesn’t postulate any
belief in a personal God. Buddhism, however, has an impersonal God, that is the
Truth (sacca) of Nature according to scientific principles. This Truth is the
highest thing in Buddhism, equivalent to the God or gods of theistic religions.
You should study the word “religion,” it doesn’t mean “to believe in God.” If you
look up this word in a good dictionary, you’ll see that it comes from the Latin
religare, which means “to observe and to bind with the Supreme Thing.” Ancient
grammarians once thought that religare came from the root lig, to observe. Thus,
religion was “a system of observance that led to the final goal of humanity.”
Later scholars considered that it came from the root leg, to bind. Then, religion
became “the thing that binds human beings to the Supreme Thing (God).” Finally,
both meanings were combined and religion was understood to be “the system of
observance (practice) that binds human beings to the Supreme Thing.” The Supreme
Thing needn’t be called “God.” If, however, you insist on calling it “God,” then
recognize that “God” must have two meanings: personal God and impersonal God.
If you prefer to call it “God,” you should understand that Buddhism has the law
of nature as its God. The Law of Nature — for example, the law of idappaccayata,
which is the law of causality and conditionality — is the Buddhist God.
Idappaccayata means:
    With this as condition, this is;
    Because this arises, this arises.
    Without this as condition, this is not;
    Because this ceases, this ceases.
[Some translators render these lines “this … that …,” but the Pali original
explicitly repeats “this … this ….” We leave it to the reader to reflect
This is the Supreme Thing in Buddhism; this Law of Nature is the Buddhist God. In
Buddhism there isn’t a personal God; its God — the Law of Nature– is an
impersonal God. Because Buddhism, in fact, has a God, it is a religion.
Many Western writers and scholars of Buddhism say that it isn’t a religion, since
it has no God. They make a terrible blunder, because they don’t know anything
about the impersonal God. If they knew it, they would see that it is more real
and true than any personal God. Then, they wouldn’t write that Buddhism isn’t a
religion. They would write that Buddhism is another kind of religion. Religions
with personal gods are one kind of religion, but Buddhism is the other kind, the
kind that has an impersonal God.
Most religions believe in a Creator, usually an individualistic God with a
personality. The Buddhist Creator is impersonal. This impersonal God, the Law of
Dhamma or Nature, is the law of idappaccayata:
    Because this is, so this is.
    Because this is, thus this is.
    Because this is, so this is.
This is the law of causality, the natural evolutionary process of this causing
this which in turn causes this and so on in endless concocting. Buddhism has a
Creator, but it is the impersonal God. If you are able to understand the
difference between these two kinds of Gods — impersonal law of causality and
personal Creator — it will be easy for you to realize what Buddhism is.
When things happen in this way, you’ll realize that this matter of dukkha and its
quenching happen according to the law of the impersonal God. Then, you’ll
understand Dhamma correctly and live in harmony with Dhamma. You’ll see it as
science rather than mere philosophy. The distinction between science and
philosophy will ensure that your study of Buddhism is correct and in line with
If you have this knowledge and use it, you have the medicine for curing spiritual
disease. By taking this medicine, the heart is emancipated; it is saved, that is,
freed from all dukkha. Every religion teaches emancipation, but only Buddhism
teaches freedom from all problems, from all of the problems discussed above.
Thus, there is no problem or dukkha to dominate us; this is called
“emancipation.” We have been cured of all the diseases discussed above.
I hope that you understand the general principles, the meaning, and the genuine
goal of Buddhism. If you do, you’ll steadily solve your problems, because your
understanding will be correct from the start.
If you understand what has been said, you will proceed smoothly in the study and
cure of spiritual disease. As time has run out, more details must wait until the
next talk. Before closing, I would like to express my joy at the right action of
all of you who have come to work on this problem of spiritual disease.
And, once again, I thank you for helping to make Suan Mokkh a useful place.
(February 6, 1986)
I’d like to express my happiness at this second opportunity to speak with you.
Last time, we discussed what we will get from Dhamma, from Buddhism. This time,
we’ll discuss the successful use of Dhamma, that is, how to live with Dhamma.
When speaking about Dhamma, we mean the knowledge that we must practice in order
to cure spiritual disease. When speaking about this practice, there are four
important things (dhammas) to be understood. [The most basic meaning of the word
“dhamma” is thing. Here it has the sense of “quality” or “virtue”. You will find,
however, that it has many meanings, levels, and ramifications. See the Glossary,
for a start.] These four things are sati (mindfulness, reflective awareness),
sampajanna (wisdom-in-action, ready comprehension), samadhi (collectedness,
concentration), and panna (intuitive wisdom, insight). If you consider them
carefully, you will find that you have caused these four things to arise through
your practice of anapanasati (mindfulness with breathing). [The system of
meditation taught at Suan Mokkh. See “Mindfulness With Breathing”, by Buddhadasa
Bhikkhu (Dhamma Study & Practice Group, Bangkok:1988)] Now, we must discuss in
detail how to use these four dhammas. We’ll consider them one by one.
Sati (mindfulness, reflective awareness, recollection) is the quick awareness and
recall of the things which must be recalled. It must be as quick as an arrow. We
also can describe sati as a vehicle or transport mechanism of the fastest kind.
This most rapid transport doesn’t carry material things, it carries wisdom and
knowledge. Sati delivers panna (wisdom) in time to meet our needs. Through the
practice of mindfulness with breathing, sati is trained fully.
The second dhamma is sampajanna. Sampajanna is wisdom as it meets up with and
immediately confronts a problem, as it deals with and wipes out that problem —
this is wisdom-in-action. It is only that wisdom specifically related and applied
to a particular situation or event. Nonetheless, you may have come across a
variety of translations for “sampajanna,” which can be rather confusing. We
recommend that you remember it as “wisdom-in-action.” Even better, learn the Pali
word about which there is no doubt. The word “wisdom” encompasses many meanings
and understandings, we can’t even begin to estimate its content. However, the
word “sampajanna” is far more limited in its meaning. It is exactly that wisdom
directly needed for the problem that confronts us. Active wisdom isn’t general,
it is a matter of particulars.
The same holds for the word “Dhamma,” which has an incredible variety of
meanings, depending on how it is being used. When Dhamma is applied to solve a
specific problem, event, or situation, there is a specific Dhamma particular to
that situation. The meaning is limited to the occasion and its circumstances. In
this case of Dhamma solving problems, the most precise and proper term is
“dhamma-sacca” (Dhamma-Truth). Dhamma-sacca is the particular dhamma called for
by the immediate situation with which we must cope, be it the onset of spiritual
disease or exposure to the germs of spiritual disease. It is the use of just the
right thing in a specific incident or event.
We can compare Dhamma with the medicine chest in our house. In it we store a wide
variety of drugs, pills, capsules, ointments, powders, and syrups for possible
use. When we’re actually sick, we must choose from among the many the one drug
which will be effective in treating our ailment. We can’t take them all; we take
just what is needed to cure our illness here and now. The same is true for
Dhamma. Understand that there’s an incredible amount of what we call Dhamma and
panna, but that we only apply a little bit at a time. We apply just that portion
which can take care of the immediate situation. Know how to use the Dhamma, the
panna, which is exactly relevant to our situation and problem. The Dhamma or
wisdom which controls that situation and problem is what we call “sampajanna.”
The third dhamma of today’s session is samadhi. This literally means
“well-established mind, properly-maintained mind, correctly-founded mind.” The
Buddha gave the broadest possible meaning to samadhi when he defined it as “the
one-pointed mind (ekaggata-citta) that has nibbana as its object.”
[“Ekagatta-citta” should not be confused with “ekagatta.” Although both may be
rendered “one-pointedness,” they are used in different contexts. The latter term
refers to a factor of jhana. The former term refers to the “mind with a single
purpose or object.”]
We can say that samadhi has three characteristics: parisuddhi (purity), samahita
(firmness, steadiness, stability), and kammanaya (activeness, readiness,
workableness). Thus, when you want to know whether the mind is in a state of
samadhi or not, examine it for these three qualities. See whether or not it is
pure, stable, and active.
When we speak of the power or energy of samadhi, we mean the way the mind
focusses all of its energy on a single point. This is similar to the magnifying
glass’s ability to focus the sun’s rays onto a single point so that a flame
appears. Similarly, when the mind’s power is collected into one point, then it is
one-pointed. The mind that is samadhi produces a very powerful energy, which is
stronger than any other kind of power. We can describe this highly concentrated
mind in two ways. The first is indriya, which means “sovereign” or “chief.” The
second is bala, which means “power, force, strength.” Thus, we have
samadhi-indriya and samadhi-bala, the mind that has sovereignty and is more
powerful than any other thing.
Samadhi must work together with wisdom. Samadhi is like a knife’s weight and
panna is like its sharpness. For a knife to cut anything properly, it must have
two things: weight and sharpness. A knife that is heavy but dull, like a hammer,
can’t cut anything and only makes a mess. On the other hand, a very sharp knife
that lacks weight, like a razor blade, likewise can’t cut through whatever it
iswe must cut. A knife needs both properties; the mind is the same. To do what it
needs to do the mind requires both samadhi and panna. You might wonder what it is
that cuts, is it the knife’s weight or its sharpness? If you can understand this,
it will be easier for you to understand how Dhamma cuts through problems, that
is, mental defilements. In the moment of sampajanna’s activity, both samadhi, and
panna are working together to slice through the problem. They’re interconnected
and, in practice, can’t be separated.
There remains only the last dhamma to discuss: panna (wisdom, intuitive
knowledge, insight). The meaning of this word is broad and includes much.
Literally, it means “to know fully,” but not everything that there is to know,
only those things which should be known. Panna is the full and adequate knowing
of all things which should be known. Of all the things that we could know, panna
refers only to those things which we need to know, the knowledge which is able to
solve our problems. For example, it isn’t necessary to know about atomic nuclei
or outer space. We only need to know what quenches dukkha (spiritual disease)
directly in our mind.
That which we should know is solely a matter of the quenching of dukkha. This
statement agrees with the Buddha who said that he says nothing about other
matters, that he speaks only of dukkha and the end of dukkha. There is a
beautiful, meaningful quotation in the Pali which we’d like you to hear:
    Pubbe caha bhikkhave etarahica dukkhanceva
    pannapemi dukkhassa ca nirodha.
    Bhikkhus! In times past, as well as now, I speak only
    of dukkha and the utter extinction of dukkha.
The Buddha didn’t mention the future because it doesn’t exist. As for the past
and present, he taught only these two things.
Among the things we should know, we can talk of four important aspects of wisdom.
The first topic I’d like to point out is the three characteristics of existence
(ti-lakkhana): anicca (impermanence, change), dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), and
anatta (non-self, selflessness). Detailed explanations of the three
characteristics can be found in many different books. Today we will only
summarize them.
Anicca means that all compounded things are constantly changing. Please note that
we’re speaking only of compounded things. The uncompounded thing doesn’t have the
characteristic of anicca. Impermanence only applies to things that are produced
through causes and conditions. As this term “compounded thing” is important, you
would do well to learn the original Pali term, “sankhara.” Sankhara means “to
form, to compound, to concoct, to condition,” that is, all the myriad things are
constantly conditioning new things. This is a characteristic or activity of all
phenomenal things, such as these trees around us. Different causes have come
together in them. New things arise, there is growth and development, leaves grow
and fall, there is ceaseless change. Sankhara is this continuous activity of
formation. Anything which is conditioned into existence is called “sankhara.”
That, in turn, conditions the arising of other things and those things are also
called “sankhara.” Thus, sankhara are both things conditioned and the things
which condition, both the causes and results of conditioning.
We can compare this endless compounding of sankhara with the bricks in a wall.
Each brick props up another brick and that brick props up another, which props up
other bricks, and so on through the successive layers of bricks. Each brick is
supported by some of the bricks, while it supports other bricks; it relates to
them both as supporter and supportee. Thus, sankhara has three meanings, both
verb and noun. The first meaning, the verb, is the activity of forming,
conditioning, compounding. The second meaning refers to the things conditioned by
that activity and the third refers to the causes and conditions of that activity.
The meaning of sankhara is as broad as this.
Observe the activity of conditioning; you will see it in everything. Without this
fact of things being continually formed and ceaselessly forming other things,
there would be no existence or life. There can be life or existence only through
this constant conditioning and reconditioning. But sometimes this conditioning is
very subtle and we don’t see it. It may even be hidden, as in a rock. There is
perpetual conditioning happening within each rock, but when you look, your eyes
may not detect it. Nevertheless, see the process of ceaseless conditioning in all
things which exist.
The best approach is to see the conditioning within ourselves. It’s all happening
within our bodies. We can see the conditioning here, we can see the things as
they are conditioned here, and we can see the things which make the conditioning.
By looking within, we can see all this sankhara. There’s the conditioning of the
body-aggregate (rupa-khandha); the conditioning of the feeling-aggregate
(vedana-khandha); the conditioning of sanna-khandha (the aggregate of
perceptions, recognitions, and classifications); the conditioning of the
thinking-aggregate (sankhara-khandha); and, lastly, the conditioning of the
consciousness-aggregate (vinnana-khandha). These five important groups, or
aggregates, of existence and their constant conditioning can all be seen within
our living bodies.
Examine the transmission or contact points: now the eyes work, now the ears work,
now the nose works, now the tongue works, now the skin works, now the mind works.
One-by-one they perform their duties and do their work. When one functions, in
that moment there is sankhara. This is when, where, and how the conditioning can
be observed. In the body alone, there is ceaseless conditioning and constant
change. The cells die and new ones form such that before long they’ve all been
replaced. Even these physical aspects of existence fully exhibit sankhara. For in
this body there are the six internal sense organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue,
body, and mind. They meet up with their external objects: forms, sounds, smells,
tastes, touches, and mental objects. When the sense organ interacts with the
corresponding sense object — for example the eyes see a form or the ears hear a
sound — there is immediate conditioning. A form is seen, a sound is heard, an
odor is smelled. We call this “phassa” (contact). It’s the starting point for
conditioning; a series of further sankhara arises from it. The meeting of sense
organ and sense object (eyes and form, ears and sound, … mind and mental
object) conditions phassa. Phassa conditions vedana (feeling: the pleased and
displeased mental reactions toward the sense experiences). Vedana helps to
condition sanna, because perceptions and recognitions arise through the influence
of feelings. What is felt, that is recognized and classified. Sanna then
conditions various thoughts and thinking, including emotions (sankhara-khandha).
This leads to doing this and doing that. Then, there are the results of the
actions, which lead to further thinking, which lead to further action, and so it
goes. This is one example of what we mean by “conditioning.” We see that this
sort of conditioning goes on constantly, even in our own bodies. It never stops,
never takes a rest, never pauses. It continues whether we’re asleep or awake.
This perpetual flux, this ceaseless flow, is the characteristic of anicca.
When we clearly see the characteristic of anicca, it is easy to understand the
second characteristic, dukkha — unsatisfactoriness, unbearableness, ugliness,
worthlessness. If we want things to go our way according to our thoughts, we’ll
experience dukkha. When things change from what we like or want, we feel dukkha.
In fact, they never really are what we want, because they never stop changing
long enough to really be something. Thus, we have the problem that
unsatisfactoriness (dukkha) is endless. It’s so difficult to with all of this
conditioning, amid all these shifting things. This is the characteristic of
Looking closely we see that we ourselves are impermanent, painful, and
unsatisfying. The things that we love, that satisfy us, are anicca and dukkha.
The things that we dislike are anicca and dukkha. There is nothing among all this
sankhara which is nicca (permanent) and adukkha (satisfying, endurable). We must
see anicca and dukkha within ourselves in this way.
When we see impermanence completely, when we see unsatisfactoriness fully–
clearly and obviously — then we automatically see that all those things are
anatta (not-self). They aren’t permanent selves that we can call “me.” Amid all
the change and conditioning, there is no individual entity or eternal substance
that can be called a “self.” Everything is anatta or not-self. Things exist; we
are not saying they don’t. What is, is; but everything that is, is not-self. We
shouldn’t misunderstand and think that we have a self (atta). There is only the
flow of change. All this is the understanding or panna regarding anicca, dukkha,
and anatta.
The second topic is the understanding or panna regarding sunnata (voidness). When
we see the three characteristics of anicca, dukkha, and anatta, when we realize
that all things are not-self, then we understand that everything is not-self, is
void of anything that has the meaning of the word “self,” and is free of anything
that ought to be called “self.” This is the meaning of sunnata. This single
characteristic of voidness gathers together and caps the previous three
The meaning of “sunnata” is better, broader, easier, and more useful than any
other word to take as a principle of practice and life, but only if we understand
it on the Dhamma level, in the language of sati-panna (mindfulness and wisdom).
It should not be misunderstood through materialistic interpretations, such as
“nothing exists” or that “all is a vacuum.” The Buddha pointed out that such
nihilist views are one extreme of wrong understanding. Sunnata isn’t nihilism or
a nothingness. Everything exists, but is void and free of anything that could be
called a “self.” Thus, we say that everything is void, which is the meaning of
“voidness” in the language of Dhamma. If we see voidness, it includes seeing
anicca, dukkha, and anatta also. We don’t need too many things, the three can be
untidy. Just one — voidness — is enough to prevent against the mental
defilements. [Kilesa: disruptions and contaminations of the mind’s natural
peacefulness and radiance. They are discussed in Chapter III.]
When we see voidness in the things that we love, we don’t love. When we see
voidness in the things we hate, we don’t hate. Then there’s no love and no hate,
no liking and no disliking, no happiness (sukha) and no dukkha. There is just
centeredness, living quietly and freely in the middle. Such is the fruit of truly
seeing the voidness of things. If we don’t see the voidness of all things, we
will love some things and hate others. While love and hatred remain, the mind is
enslaved by attachment to the things loved and hated. With full penetration of
sunnata, the mind is free and no longer a slave to those things. True freedom is
Sunnata is a synonym of nibbana. Nibbana is voidness. When the mind realizes
voidness, there are no defilements. When there are no defilements, there is no
heat. When there is no heat, there is nibbana, which means “coolness.” Thus, when
there is sunnata, there is coolness, nibbana. The Lord Buddha said, “You should
always view the world as something void of atta (self) and attaniya (belonging to
self).” This is the second aspect of panna. [For more on sunnata, see Ajahn
Buddhadasa’s Heartwood From The Bodhi Tree, published by Wisdom Publications,
Boston, USA.]
The third topic I’d like to mention is conditionality (idappaccayata), which
    because this is, this is;
    because this arises, this arises;
    because this is not, this is not;
    because this quenches, this quenches.
These conditions are called “idappaccayata,” the law that things happen according
to causes and conditions. We can also call it dependent origination
(paticca-samuppada) because idappaccayata and paticca-samuppada are the same
thing, the same principle of wisdom to be studied, seen, and understood. You will
see that everything in the world is constantly flowing, that all the world is in
continual flux. It is a profound and complex matter. Many books treat it in great
detail, particularly when it’s described in terms of dependent origination. As we
don’t have much time today, you may need to consult some of those books. [See
Ajahn Buddhadasa’s Practical Dependent Origination (Dhamma Study & Practice
Group, Bangkok: 1992). Other talks on paticca-samuppada will be published in the
next year or two.]
Now, we come to the fourth and last topic: tathata (suchness, thusness). “Merely
thus,” “just such”: everything is such as it is and in no way different from that
thusness. This is called “tathata.” When tathata is seen, the three
characteristics of anicca, dukkha, and anatta are seen, sunnata is seen, and
idappaccayata is seen. Tathata is the summary of them all — merely thus, only
thus, not-otherness. There is nothing better than this, more than this, other
than this, thusness. To intuitively realize tathata is to see the truth of all
things, to see the reality of the things which have deceived us. The things which
delude us are all the things which cause discrimination and duality to arise in
us: good-evil, happiness-sadness, win-lose, love-hate, etc. There are many pairs
of opposites in this world. By not seeing tathata, we allow these things to trick
us into believing in duality: this-that, liking-disliking, hot-cold, male-female,
defiled, enlightened. This delusion causes all our problems. Trapped in these
oppositions, we can’t see the truth of things. We fall into liking and disliking,
which in turn leads to the defilements, because we don’t see tathata.
What we must see constantly and deeply is that good is a sankhara and that evil
is a sankhara too. The pleasant and unpleasant feelings, sukha and dukkha, are
both sankhara. Getting and disappearing, losing and winning all are sankhara.
There isn’t anything which isn’t a sankhara. Thus, all things are the same —
tathata. All things are just suchness, just this way, not otherwise. Further, we
can say that heaven is a sankhara and hell is a sankhara. So, heaven and hell are
tathata — just thus. Our minds should be above heaven and above hell, above good
and above bad, above joy and above dukkha in all respects. Tathata is the fourth
area of understanding or panna, the wisdom that must be developed to a sufficient
degree. We must study reality on both the physical-material level and on the
mental-spiritual level, until our knowledge and wisdom is adequate, natural, and
Now, we know these four dhammas: sati, sampajanna, samadhi, and panna. Next, we
must know how to apply them so that they will be correct, successful, and
beneficial. The question, now, is how to use Dhamma, or Buddhism, in our everyday
How are we going to use them in our daily reality? A quick answer is that we must
live through these four dhammas. We must use these four dhammas correctly to face
all the situations and problems that arise each day. Whenever there arises a
situation which can lead to problems or dukkha — such as the eyes seeing a form,
the ears hearing a sound, or the mind thinking a thought — we must have sati.
Sati realizes that something is happening and recalls the panna relevant to that
event. Sati immediately transports the necessary wisdom to that situation in time
to deal with any possible problems. Mindfulness comes first.
That wisdom applied to the experience is sampajanna. Delivered on time by sati,
wisdom-in-action deals with the immediate situation. Then, in the very moment
when sampajanna goes to work, the power and strength of samadhi gives force and
energy to wisdom so that it can cut through the problem. To the degree that there
is samadhi, to that degree wisdom-in-action will be able to solve the problem.
Panna acts as the warehouse of accumulated knowledge and insight which sati draws
upon to deal with the sense experiences.
When these four dhammas work together in this way, we’ll see that we are most
intelligent in that moment. We are so clever because we’re able to encounter the
situation right then and there without any problems arising. We don’t become
enslaved to the meanings of any of the pairs of opposites. This is the free life,
which is peaceful and cool. It’s the best thing human beings ought to get.
To summarize, we must have sufficient panna, must use sati at all times, must
apply sampajanna correctly and sufficiently, and must apply samadhi properly and
in adequate strength. Together these four dhammas are sufficiently and correctly
used in every situation that may arise with us. This is the answer to the
question: how do we use the Dhamma successfully?
I hope that each of you will try to use these four dhammas in your lives. Nothing
else will justify the time, effort, and expense which you have spent in coming
here. I hope that you don’t leave here in debt, but that you make a profit out of
your stay.
(February 11, 1986)
I would like to express my joy in having a third opportunity to speak with you.
In the first talk, we spoke about the way to study Dhamma. In the second talk, we
spoke of how to practice Dhamma. Today, we will speak about the fruits and
benefits of practicing Dhamma.
When we speak of the benefits of practicing Dhamma, we can divide them into two
categories: first, a happy life free of problems, and second, the ability to use
that life in the most successful and productive way according to our needs. Put
another way, the two kinds of benefits are happiness and the appropriate use of
that happiness for our needs. Together they can be called “New Life.” We will get
New Life from practicing Dhamma.
We will begin with the first benefit, the happy life free of problems. You must
recollect, observe, and see the fact that this on-going process of life follows
our instincts and proceeds under the power of these instincts, which we are
unable to control. Because they are out of control, the instincts lead to things
called “defilements” (kilesa). [Kilesa is usually translated “defilement.” We use
it both in a general sense, covering all the aspects and levels of things which
dirty, pollute, or tarnish the mind, and in a specific sense, limited to the most
noticeable aspect of defilement, the selfish thoughts and emotions such as lust,
anger, fear, worry, laziness, and envy.] Before going further, we ought to
examine the defilements until they’re understood clearly, for they are bound up
with all spiritual disease.
When defilements arise, this life — in the language of Dhamma — is sorrowful,
that is, dukkha. We have experienced over and over again the kind of dukkha that
we’re discussing. We’ve become so familiar with it that most of us consider it
normal, we don’t even think it’s a problem! Let’s learn to distinguish the
difference between two kinds of life: life when the defilements are in control
and possession, and life when the defilements aren’t running the show. We must
understand both kinds of life. If you are unable to see andunderstand the
defilements, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, for you to practice
and benefit from Dhamma. You won’t know how to compare the life of defilement
with a life free of defilement and see how different the two are. This is why I
request that you try to understand the defilements as they arise in your own
lives, even if they annoy you in the process. Study them and get to know them as
they arise within you. The more deeply and completely you know them, as your
insight into them grows, to that degree and no other, you will understand Dhamma
and be able to benefit by Dhamma.
The first nivarana, sensuousness, is of the greed type and the second, aversion,
is of the anger type. The remaining three are of the delusion type. The third
nivarana is thana-middha, when the mind lacks energy and is weak, tired, groggy,
numb, drowsy, or stupefied. When the mind is low in energy it lacks clarity,
freshness, brightness, and alertness. There are many symptoms of the dull,
shrunken, lazy mind which all can be summarized as the lack of mental energy.
This includes the dullness and sleepiness that follows from overeating. Hindered
by thana-middha (sloth and torpor), it is difficult to think, reflect, listen,
meditate, or do anything.
The fourth nivarana is the opposite of the third. This hindrance,
uddhacca-kukkucca, is the agitation and distraction when the mind goes beyond its
limits and is out-of-control. We can see it as a kind of nervous disorder. In
your attempts to meditate, I’m sure that you have all come across this
out-of-control mental activity. An example of restlessness and agitation is the
inability to sleep at night because the mind won’t slow down, won’t rest and
relax, but scatters itself in all directions thinking this, thinking that,
thinking anything, thinking everything. Such unnecessary agitation doesn’t allow
the mind to get the rest and peace it needs. When the mind keeps running all over
the world, keeps getting involved in everything, it is impossible to perform even
a simple task like writing a letter.
Now, we’ve come to the last nivarana, vicikiccha, wavering and uncertainty.
Vicikiccha is uncertainty and doubt concerning the correctness and safety of
things. It is being unsure about what is truly correct and safe. We lack
confidence and trust in what is happening and what we’re doing. Those who follow
a religion that takes faith as the basic principle, faith in God or whatever,
seldom have a problem with this hindrance. Those of us who follow a religion
based in self-confidence, however, encounter doubt much more easily.
This uncertainty, non-belief, trustlessness, and doubt is about what one is, what
one has, and what one is doing. For example, we may have doubts about our health,
our economic situation, or even our personal safety. We may have doubts about the
things we’re involved with: “Is it right and proper? Is it safe? Can I depend on
it?” This doubt may often have to do with everyday concerns, but it can arise
toward Dhamma, or Natural Truth, as well. “Is it really true? Is it of any use?”
You might even doubt that there is such a thing as Truth, have doubts about the
way to realize Truth, or lack confidence in your potential for awakening. If
uncertainty about everyday things hinders us from using them correctly, how much
more so when the doubt is about Dhamma. If we think, “What if it’s just words?
How can I know it’s true? This isn’t taught at university,” then we won’t be able
to take advantage of and benefit by the Dhamma.
For Christians, vicikiccha may be regarding God, the Bible, or Jesus Christ. For
Buddhists, doubt may concern the Buddha, the scriptures, the Dhamma, or practice.
When one has even the slightest doubt that everything is correct and that life is
safe, then one is under the influence of this nivarana. Take a good, deep look
inside and see that vicikiccha might exist in our subconscious all the time.
Together these five things are called the “nivarana.” How is the mind when it is
free of the nivarana? If the mind is free of all five hindrances, how is our
mental life? Study this mind and know what it is like. Can we call such a life
“New Life”?
Here, freedom from the nivarana is called “New Life.” Further, New Life ought to
be free of the kilesa as well. Half-formed defilements are called “nivarana.”
Fully developed defilements are called “kilesa.” To be New Life, it must be free
from the kilesa, too. We must now consider the kilesa in some detail. They can be
known easily by the symptoms of the influence they have on the mind. These can be
experienced easily and known clearly. It isn’t necessary, however, to know all
the tiny details of the defilements. We just need to know the main symptoms. With
electricity, we may not see the electricity itself and we may not understand it,
but we can see its power, its influence, and its symptoms through various
electrical appliances and equipment. Similarly, we may never see the defilements
themselves, but we can learn all we need to know from their symptoms, from the
influence they have on the mind. Their symptoms are many and varied, but we don’t
have to discuss them all. We will talk about the most important ones, the ones
that cause the most trouble in our lives.
The first of these troublesome symptoms is love. When love arises in the mind, is
anything lost? Is there something the mind must suffer and endure? Does it pick
up any burdens or loads? What effects does this thing love have on the mind? I’m
sure that each of us can understand this phenomenon, as all of us have had some
experience with this thing called “love.” Previously, we mentioned the meaning of
roga, a synonym for kilesa, as “something that pierces and stabs.” Does love
pierce? Does love stab? To know, we need not look anywhere but within our own
experience. So look and see for yourself. Other meanings of defilements are
“things that burn”; “things that bind, fetter, and chain”; and “things that
dominate and imprison.” Do any of these meanings fit with the thing we call
“love”? You ought to see whether it is a problem or not. Although many people
consider love to be bliss, from the Dhamma point of view it is utter lack of
calmness, that is, supreme disturbance. Examine it closely and realize for
yourself whether or not love causes problems. Don’t take our word for it, but
don’t believe all of the romantic propaganda of TV, novels, and pop music,
Ordinarily, the thing we call “love” is conditioned out of ignorance (avijja,
not-knowing), the ultimate defilement. Although there may, only in certain
situations, arise a kind of love that comes from wisdom or is governed by it, as
soon as it is the mind of “love,” it becomes a problem. It is no longer peaceful
or joyful. Just by labeling it “love,” it changes from wisdom to ignorance. The
terrible dilemma of love developed from the instinct to preserve the species and
reproduce. Take a good look at its effects. Can you see all the problems it
causes and the torments through which it drags us? Is it a burden? Is it an
obstacle to peace, purity, and joy? At the same time, consider how well off we
would be if free of this problem. Even non-sexual love, such as the love of our
children, parents, and friends, causes us problems by destroying tranquility and
happiness. Non-sexual love must be controlled just as much as sexual love.
Otherwise, there is no peace. If we said, “Do everything as a lover would do, but
do it without love,” would you believe that it is possible? Could you act in such
a way without any defilement?
There are kinds of love which are Dhamma, such as metta (friendliness, kindness)
and karuna (compassion), but they must be correct if problems are to be avoided.
Metta and karuna can be defiled by distinctions, discriminations, and attachment,
then they are dukkha. Not being able to love and not being able to love what we
want to love are problems, are dukkha. All these are wrong. Even the love that
isn’t directly defiled, love that has nothing to do with sex or sensuality, may
be defiled indirectly when contaminated by ego and selfishness. Even the higher
forms of love, such as metta and karuna, must be correct.
In short, love is a problem, it isn’t peacefulness and joy. It must be
controlled, or, if possible, abandoned. Then, the mind will not be disordered. We
must transform defiled-love into Dhamma-love. A life that can master love, that
is above its influence, should we call that “New Life”? I’m sure that each of you
can find the answer.
Now, we’ll talk about love’s opposite: anger or ill-will. When it arises, what is
it like? It’s another kind of fire that burns the mind. It stabs, imprisons,
dominates, and fetters the mind. We all know anger very well, we know the many
problems it causes. We don’t want to get angry, yet we do. We don’t want to be
angry, yet we remain so. You know how disturbing anger is. If we can control it,
how peaceful will that be? Ponder this, please.
The third defilement is hatred, which is different from anger, although both are
forms of dislike or not-liking. When something ugly, dirty, or repulsive appears,
we hate it. We can’t control ourselves, we just hate unattractive, hateful
things. That’s how it is, because we can’t endure the cause of the hatred. Thus,
hatred burns, possesses, and torments our mind. Now, think what it would be like
if there was nothing to hate and nothing to love. No love and no hate — what
blissful peace that would be! Just like the Arahant (the perfected human being).
The Arahant is above the feelings of both hate and non-hate. The liberated mind
has no problems with “hateful” or”ugly” things, because there is nothing hateful
and nothing not-hateful for that mind which totally fulfills Dhamma by fully
realizing Dhamma. Don’t misunderstand that it is dangerous to be free of hate,
that we need hatred to protect ourselves from danger. Hatred itself is the
danger! It’s best not to hate, but we never seem to learn. Thus, pitiful
instances of hate continue in our world. White-skinned people hate black-skinned
people. What’s the excuse for such a problem? We shouldn’t have problems like
that. If we understand correctly, there will be no need to hate and we won’t
The fourth defilement is fear. Everyone is having this problem, we’re all afraid
of something. Fear comes from stupidity, from selfishness, from the craving of a
self that desires things it can’t have. So we fear! Nowadays, we have every
possible kind of fear in this world of ours, especially the fear of nuclear war
and annihilation. When we’re afraid we become helpless. When there is fear, we
lose our mindfulness and wisdom (sati-panna), and our ability to struggle with
problems and protect ourselves. To be unafraid is much better.
Fear comes from the instinct of egoism, fear is an instinctual necessity. If
there is insufficient knowledge and wisdom, this instinct is impossible to
control. Through the study and practice of Dhamma, necessary and sufficient
wisdom is developed so that this instinct can be controlled and fear does not
arise. Understanding and insight into anatta (not-self) allows us to be free of
fear, helps us to uproot fear, and protects us from its future arising. All of
you surely can see that fear has no use at all, that it always leads to dukkha.
We ought to be able to do anything in the face of fearful and frightening things.
Then, we will be in a much better position to deal with those things and succeed
in the business of living. If we must fight with an enemy, but cannot do it
without fear, we are in no position to fight effectively. Our abilities will be
weakened, our wisdom will be diminished, and our mindfulness will be slow. We
will be defeated by whatever foe it is. Unafraid, we are able to use our wisdom,
mindfulness, and skills in the degree needed to defeat that enemy. Face all
frightening things fearlessly. A fearless life is of great use.
There are many other forms of kilesa. Another is worry and anxiety about the
things we love. In Thai and Pali this is called “alaya-avarana,” the anxious
worrying and thinking about, longing after, dwelling upon, and missing of things
we love. This is that spinning around of the mind when it can’t stop thinking of
beloved things. If the mind can’t stop, this keeps it awake at night and causes
headaches during the day.
Another kilesa is envy. This happens instinctually on its own. It happens in
children without their being taught. Envy is a huge problem for the one who feels
it, but it isn’t any problem for its object. The first feels dukkha, the latter
Finally, we come to possessiveness and miserliness. If it gets too strong, it
becomes jealousy, especially the sexual kind. This is yet another form of
selfishness. It often takes place in marriages. The husband doesn’t want his wife
to talk with other men; the wife jealously worries that another woman will steal
her husband away. We are all familiar with that pain and suffering.
These are six examples of defilements. There are many more which we could bring
up, but we are limited by time. Nonetheless, these few examples are enough to
illustrate our point: if we are free of every symptom and condition of
defilement, how healthy, well, at ease, happy, and peaceful will we be? It’s up
to you to discover what this is like, yet even now you ought to be able to
imagine its value. The mind that is totally free from all symptoms of these
defilements is a totally new way of living. This peace and freedom, this coolness
and bliss, is one meaning of New Life.
Now, for the time that remains, we’ll discuss a second meaning of New Life. We
must be able to skillfully use this new way of existing — that comes with
freedom from defilements — to meet our needs. The first aspect of applying the
New Life is making the mind happy at any time. For example, through successfully
practicing mindfulness with breathing (anapanasati) it is possible to have
genuine happiness at any time, in any place. Because of the proper development of
mindfulness with breathing, we have influence and control over the mind. We have
instant happiness as we need it.
The second aspect of using the New Life is that fully practiced Dhamma can help
the sense organs — eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind — to perform most
efficiently, as if they were “divine.” [Divine Eye and Divine Ear are believed to
be results of highly perfected mental concentration (samadhi). They’re commonly
viewed to be magical, and the foolish may meditate solely to gain these powers.]
By this we mean only that they have more ability and effectiveness than is
ordinary. The eyes are more effective than ordinary, the ears are more efficient
than ordinary, the nose and so on are more capable than ordinary, as if they were
“divine.” Divine (dibba) simply means “beyond ordinary.”
Third, is the ability to control experience, that is, the mind, so that it is
always in a state of correctness. This type of mastery has three aspects: control
of the vedana (feelings) [feeling (vedana), here, does not mean emotions],
control of sanna (perceptions, recognitions, classifications), and control of
vitakka (thinking). Controlling the vedana means preventing them from
conditioning defilements, or not experiencing any unwanted feelings. Sanna —
recognizing, evaluating, classifying things as this or that — can be controlled
so that it doesn’t lead to dukkha. Controlling vitakka (thought conception) is to
control the thinking so that either it is correct or there is no thinking at all.
Feelings, perceptions, and thinking can be controlled because there is Dhamma.
Eating delicious food provides an example of the first kind of mastery. If the
food is very delicious we become stupid or crazy over it through our delusion
about deliciousness. When there is enough Dhamma, we can control the feelings
that arise toward that delicious food. Then, we aren’t deluded by the
deliciousness, we don’t eat more than we should, and we don’t make any problems
out of it. We see it all as “just thus, merely thus,” rather than with
foolishness and delusion. The delicious food doesn’t defeat us, it doesn’t
control us, it isn’t our boss, it doesn’t make us do anything stupid. We don’t
force it to be not delicious. If it’s delicious, it stays delicious, but the
deliciousness can’t control us. We control the deliciousness so that it doesn’t
control us and force us to do something wrong or foolish.
We can see most easily that people throughout the world today are slaves to
deliciousness. Much time is spent making delicious things which serve no other
purpose than to excite desire and craving. Then, we compete for those things.
Finally, we divide up the world in attempts to control those things and fight
endless wars, only because we have lost control of and are slaves to
deliciousness. The words “Satan” (the Christian Devil) and “Mara” (the Buddhist
Tempter) represent our stupidity regarding deliciousness. We need to know that
the feelings (vedana) can be controlled.
Now, let’s talk about the control of sanna (recognition, classification).
Previously, we couldn’t remember things well or recall them correctly. From now
on, we’ll have an excellent memory and clear recollection. Through the mastery of
sanna the mind won’t fall into false distinctions and misperceptions, that is,
the ones which punish us with dukkha. For example, sanna can be controlled so
that we don’t identify and regard things as being male and being female. Thereby,
we’re free of the problems that arise from masculinity and femininity. The mind
remains cool and calm. Mastery of sanna means controlling it so that it is always
correct. Correct means that it causes no dukkha.
Controlling vitakka is to control thought. Whenever there is sanna of something,
it invites thinking along the meaning of that sanna. So we think. If it isn’t
controlled, the thinking goes wrong and dukkha is born. So we control thought
only along ways which are correct and beneficial: thinking along the lines of
leaving behind sensuality, of not harming or injuring others, and of not
troubling anyone even unintentionally. If we want more than that, we can stop
thinking altogether. For example, if we will enter samadhi (one-pointed
concentration) or samapatti (attainment of deep levels of concentration), we can
stop the thinking totally, in all respects. We are able to control vitakka: we
can think or we can not think. Or we can think only in the ways we ought to
think. Nothing wrong happens and there is no dukkha. This is what is meant by
controlling vitakka.
A fourth, and final, aspect of this mental mastery is the direct control of the
defilements themselves, which is to control dukkha and prevent its arising. When
there is enough Dhamma, and when Dhamma is practiced sufficiently, attachment
(upadana) can be controlled. This control prevents attachment to “good” and
attachment to “evil.” With no attachment, there is no dukkha. We won’t let
upadana arise, then the concept of “I” (egoism), which is the womb of
defilements, isn’t born. Without the concept of “I,” there will be no
defilements. Once the defilements can be controlled, they are finished. This is
the last good result, a fourth kind of mastery, the control of attachment, which
automatically controls dukkha.
In these ways, life is mastered and used wisely, so that wereap all the
appropriate benefits. Such is the New Life of peace, coolness, and bliss. For
example, we have the ability to be happy whenever we need to be. We have such
splendid sense organs — eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind-sense — that
they can be called “divine.” Then, we can control the feelings, perceptions, and
thinking. Finally, we control attachment so that it never again arises. Thereby,
all problems vanish! There isn’t even the slightest, most remote chance that the
defilements will arise or that there could be dukkha. With these capabilities,
life is maintained in the most skillful way and we accomplish whatever must be
done. If you look honestly, you’ll know within yourself that this is the New Life
in its complete meaning: the highest, the supremely new life. This is what you’ll
receive from the correct and successful application of Dhamma.
The first thing is you study Dhamma, the second is you practice Dhamma, and the
third is you receive the fruits of practicing Dhamma. Look at these clearly and
carefully consider their benefits. Each of you must be fully self-reliant in
doing so. It’s up to each of you to realize the meaning, way, and benefits of
practicing Dhamma.
Finally, I’d like to express my joy that you have begun to study, practice, and
receive the Dhamma. And one last time: thank you. Thank you all for coming to
this place, for making use of it, and helping to make it beneficial. You don’t
have to thank us for anything, but please allow us to thank you.
January 25, 1992
The talks which comprise this book were the first of many series Ajahn Buddhadasa
has given during the monthly meditation courses at Suan Mokkh. Subsequently, all
the points in these three talks have been expanded upon in greater detail. To the
degree allowed by causes and conditions, we will publish as many of these series
of talks as possible.
For more on the subject of Spiritual Disease, see “Heartwood Of the Bodhi Tree”,
(Wisdom Publications, Boston, USA).
For more about Mindfulness with Breathing (anapanasati), the system of meditation
taught at Suan Mokkh, see “Mindfulness With Breathing: Unveiling the Secrets of
Life” (Dhamma Study & Practice Group, Bangkok).
Other books by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu which are available in English:
    Handbook For Mankind
    Keys To Natural Truth
    Practical Dependent Origination
    Dhammic Socialism
    The Prison of Life
    Why Were You Born?
    The Buddha’s Doctrine of Anatta
    The First Ten Years of Suan Mokkh
An English language journal named Evolution/Liberation is published once a year
at Suan Mokkh. It contains some news and an eclectic mix of translations from
Ajahn Buddhadasa’s writings, talks, poems, and conversations. To get on the
mailing list, write to:
    c/o Suan Mokkh
    Ampoe Chaiya
    Surat Thani 84110
A Suan Mokkh website has recently been established. Please see:
ANATTA, not-self, the fact that all things, without exception and including
nibbana, are not-self and lack any essence or substance that could properly be
regarded as a “self.” This fact does not deny the existence of things, but denies
that they can be owned or controlled, that they can be the owner or controller,
in any but a relative, conventional sense.
ANICCA, impermanent (or aniccata, impermanence), flux, instability. Conditioned
things are ever-changing, constantly arising, manifesting, and ceasing. This is
the first fundamental characteristic of conditioned things.
ANUSAYA, tendencies: familiarity with defilement. When a defilement occurs, it
makes the later occurrence of a similar defilement more likely. The more these
tendencies build up, the more we react to experiences in defiled ways. Sometimes
the pressure is strong enough for something to escape even without some external
cause (excuse), that something is called a “nivarana.”
ARAHANT, Worthy One, one far from defilement, one who has broken the wheel of
birth and death, one without secrets: the mind totally and finally free of greed,
anger, and delusion; void of “I” and “mine”; which has ended kamma; which is
unaffected by dukkha. The Arahant should not be regarded as a “person” or
ARIYASACCA, noble truth: truth which frees one from all enemies (ari), namely,
defilements and dukkha. Usually expressed in the fourfold formula: the fact that
dukkha exists; the truth that there is an origin of dukkha, namely, tanha
(desire); the truth of the quenching of dukkha, by quenching desire; and the
truth of the practice leading to the quenching of dukkha. Although the
traditional formula is fourfold, “Truth is but One, there is no second.”
ATTA, self, ego, soul, (Sanskrit, atman): the instinctual feeling (and illusion)
that there is some “I” who does all the things to be done in life. Through
ignorance and wrong understanding this instinctual sensibility is attached to and
becomes “ego.” No personal, independent, self-existing, free-willing, lasting
substance or essence can be found anywhere, whether within or without human life
and experience, not even in “God.” (Cf. anatta, idappaccayata, and sunnata.)
AVIJJA, ignorance, not-knowing, wrong knowledge: the lack, partial or total, of
vijja (correct knowledge) regarding the things that need to be known (e.g., the
four noble truths, sunnata, tathata), as well as knowing things in the wrong way,
i.e., as permanent, satisfying, and self. The most original cause of all dukkha.
Without Dhamma practice, ignorance grows into increasingly wrong knowledge.
ANAPANASATI, mindfulness with breathing in and out: the only meditation or
vipassana system practiced and taught by the Buddha, it covers all four
foundations of mindfulness and perfects the seven factors of awakening, leading
to liberation. Ajahn Buddhadasa considers it the best way to realize sunnata.
CITTA, mind, heart, consciousness, mind-heart: that which thinks, knows, and
experiences. In a more limited sense, citta is what “thinks,” can be defiled by
kilesa, can be developed, and can realize nibbana. Although we cannot know citta
directly, it is where all Dhamma practice occurs.
DHAMMA, thing, nature, natural thing: all things, mental and physical,
conditioned and unconditioned, are dhammas.
DHAMMA, Truth, Nature, Law, Natural Truth, Duty, Order, “the way things are”:
this impossible to translate word has many meanings, the most important of which
are Nature, the Law of Nature, our Duty according to Natural Law, and the Fruits
of doing that Duty correctly according to Natural Law. (See paticca-samuppada.)
DUKKHA, pain, hurt, ill-being, suffering, misery, (or dukkhata,
unsatisfactoriness, imperfection): the spiritual dilemma of human beings.
Etymologically, dukkha can be translated “hard to endure, difficult to bear”;
“once seen, it is ugly”; and “horribly, wickedly void.” In its experiential
sense, dukkha is the quality of experience that results when the mind is
concocted by avijja into desire, attachment, egoism, and selfishness. This
feeling takes on many forms — from the crudest to the most subtle levels — such
as disappointment, dissatisfaction, frustration, agitation, anguish, dis-ease,
despair. In its universal sense, dukkhata is the inherent condition of
unsatisfactoriness, imperfection, and misery in all impermanent, conditioned
things (sankhara). To fully understand the meaning of dukkha, one must realize
that sukha (happiness, bliss) is also dukkha. Nibbana (i.e. sunnata) is the only
thing which is not dukkhata.
KHANDA, aggregates, groups: the five subsystems or basic functions which
constitute the human being. These groups are not entities in themselves, they are
merely categories into which all aspects of our lives can be analyzed. None of
them are “self,” “of self,” “in self,” or “my self”; they have nothing to do with
“selfhood” and there is no “self” apart from them. When they attach or are
attached to the five are known as the “upadana-khandha” (aggregates of
attachment). The five are: -rupa-khandha, form-aggregate, particularly the body,
its nervous system, and sense objects (the world); -vedana-khandha,
feeling-aggregate; -sanna-khandha, recognition-aggregate, the discrimination,
labelling, and evaluation of sense experience; -sankhara-khandha,
thought-aggregate, thought processes and emotions,including volition, desire,
attachment, and “birth”; -vinnana-khandha, consciousness-aggregate, the bare
knowing of a sense object, the most primitive function of mind through which
physical sense stimulation becomes conscious (although often without awareness).
KARUNA, compassion: wanting to help due to awareness and understanding of dukkha,
both one’s own and that of others.
KILESA, defilements, impurities: the harmful thoughts and emotions which tarnish,
dirty, and pollute the mind. Merely passing clouds obscuring the sun’s light. The
three primary categories of kilesa are greed, hatred, and delusion.
MANUSAYA, human being, high-minded being: a mind above the ebb and flow of
worldly conditions.
NIBBANA, coolness, quenching: the Absolute, the Supreme, the Ultimate Reality in
Buddhism; the “goal” of Buddhist practice and highest potential of humanity.
Nibbana manifests when the fires of defilement, attachment, selfishness, and
dukkha are cooled. When they are permanently cooled, nibbana manifests perfectly,
totally, timelessly. Not a place, for nibbana is beyond existence and
non-existence, not even a state of mind, for nibbana is neither mental nor
physical, but a dhamma the mind can realize and experience. To be realized in
this life.
NIVARANA, hindrances, obstacles: disturbing moods and mental qualities which
interfere with the mind’s task, whether worldly or spiritual. Half-strength
defilements, they arise from the tendencies toward defilement built up through
carelessness and need not be triggered by outside objects. To overcome them,
correct samadhi is needed. The traditional list of five are sensual desire,
aversion, sloth and torpor, restlessness and distraction, and doubt.
PANNA, wisdom, insight, intuitive understanding: correct seeing, knowing,
understanding, experiencing of the things we must know in order to quench dukkha,
namely, the four noble truths, the three characteristics, dependent origination,
and voidness. The various terms used for “knowing” are not meant to express an
intellectual activity, although the intellect has its role. The emphasis is on
direct, intuitive, non-conceptual comprehending of life as it is here and now.
Memory, language, and thought are not required. Panna, rather than faith or will
power, is the characteristic quality of Buddhism.
PATICCA-SAMUPPADA, interdependent origination, co-conditioned arising: the
profound and detailed causal process or flow, and its description, which concocts
dukkha. Due to ignorance, there arises, dependent on sense organ and sense
object, consciousness (vinnana). These three things working together are contact
(phassa). Upon this ignorant contact there arises feeling (vedana), desire
(tanha), attachment (upadana), becoming (bhava), birth (jati), decay and death
(jaramarana), and all the forms of dukkha.
PHASSA, the meeting and working together of sense organ, sense object, and sense
consciousness (vinnana). When a sensual stimulus makes enough of an impact upon
the mind — that is, has “meaning” — to draw a response, either ignorant or
wise, beginning with vedana.
SAMPAJANNA, wisdom-in-action, functional wisdom, ready comprehension, clear
comprehension. While panna (wisdom) is developed, or “stored up,” through
introspection and insight, sampajanna is the immediate and specific application
of wisdom to, and into, a particular situation or experience. While panna
understands that “everything is void,” sampajanna understands that “this is
void.” All understanding relies on mindfulness for its appearance, recall, and
SAMADHI, concentration, collectedness: secure establishment of the mind, the
gathering together of the mental flow. Proper samadhi has the qualities of
purity, clarity, stability, calmness, readiness, and gentleness. It is perfected
in one-pointedness (ekaggata). The supreme samadhi is the one-pointed mind
(ekaggata-citta) which has nibbana as its sole concern. In a broader sense,
samadhi can be translated “meditation,” meaning development of the mind through
the power of samadhi.
SANKHARA, concoction, compound, conditioned thing; concocting, compounding,
conditioning. As a verb, sankhara is the endless activity of concocting and
change in which new things arise, manifest, and cease. As a noun, sankhara are
impermanent, created things acting both as the products of the concocting and the
causes of ever new concoctions.
SANNA, recognition, classification, evaluation, perception: once the mind has
made contact (phassa) with a sense object and then feels it (vedana), a concept,
label or image is attached to the experience, which involves recognizing
similarities with past experience and discriminating the value of the object.
SATI, mindfulness, attention, awareness, recall, recollection: the mind’s ability
to know and observe itself. Sati is the vehicle and transport mechanism for
panna, without sati wisdom cannot be developed, retrieved, or applied. Sati is
not memory or remembering, although related to them. Nor is it mere heedfulness
or carefulness. Sati allows us to be aware of what we are about to do. It is
characterized by speed and agility.
SATI-PANNA, mindfulness and wisdom: sati and panna must work together. Panna
depends on sati. It arises through mindfulness of life’s experiences and is
applied to present experience through mindfulness. Yet, without sufficient
wisdom, mindfulness would be misused.
TATHATA, thusness, suchness, just-like-that-ness: neither this nor that, the
reality of non-duality. Things are just as they are (void and dependently
originated) regardless of our perceptions, likes and dislikes, suppositions and
beliefs, hopes and memories.
TILAKKHANA, three characteristics, three marks of existence: inherent features of
all conditioned things, namely, the facts of impermanence (aniccata), dukkha-ness
(dukkhata), and not-self (anattata).
UPADANA, attachment, clinging, grasping: to hold onto something foolishly, to
regard things as “I” and “mine,” to take things personally. Not the things
attached to, but the lustful-satisfaction (chandaraga) regarding them. The Buddha
distinguished four kinds of upadana: attachment to sensuality, to views, to
precepts and practices, and to words concerning self. (To hold something wisely
is samadana.)
VEDANA, feeling: the mental reaction to or coloring of sense experience (phassa).
Feeling comes in three forms: pleasant or agreeable (sukhavedana), unpleasant or
painful (dukkhavedana), and indeterminate, neither-unpleasant-nor-pleasant
(adukkhamasukhavedana). Vedana is a mental actor. Sometimes, however, a more
loose sense of the term is used regarding physical sensations. This primitive
activity of mind is not emotion, which is far more complex and involves thought,
or the more complicated aspects of the English “feeling.”
VINNANA, consciousness: knowing sense objects through the six doors (eyes, ears,
etc.). The most basic mental activity required for participation in the sensual
world (loka), without it there is no experience.
VITAKKA, thought conception, thinking.
BuddhadasaÊBhikkhuÊ(Servant ofÊ theÊ Buddha) went forthÊ asÊa bhikkhuÊ(Buddhist
monk)ÊinÊ 1926, at the age of twenty. After a few yearsÊofÊstudy in Bangkok, he
was inspired to live close with nature inÊorderÊto investigate the Buddha-Dhamma
directly. Thus, he established Suan MokkhabalaramaÊ(TheÊ GroveÊ of the Power of
Liberation) in 1932, near hisÊhometown. At that time, it was the only Forest
Dhamma Center and one ofÊtheÊfewÊ placesÊ dedicatedÊto vipassana (mental
cultivation leadingÊtoÊ”seeing clearly” into reality) in Southern Thailand. Word
ofÊBuddhadasaÊBhikkhu,ÊhisÊ work,ÊandÊSuanÊMokkh spread over the
yearsÊsoÊthatÊtheyÊareÊ easilyÊdescribed as one of the most influential eventsÊ
ofÊBuddhistÊhistory in Siam. Here, we can only mention some of the more
interesting services he has rendered Buddhism.
Ajahn Buddhadasa has worked painstakingly to establish and explain the correct
and essential principles of original Buddhism. That work is based in extensive
research of the Pali texts (Canon and commentary), especially of the Buddha’s
Discourses (suttanta-pitaka),followed by personal experiment and practice with
these teachings. ThenÊhe has taught whatever he can say truly quenches dukkha.
His goal hasÊbeen to produce a complete set of references for present and
futureÊresearch and practice. His approach has been always scientific,
straight-forward, and practical.
Although his formal education only went as far as ninth grade andÊbeginningÊPali
studies, he has been given five Honorary DoctoratesÊbyÊThai universities. His
books, both written and transcribed fromÊtalks, fill a room at the National
Library and influence all serious Thai Buddhists.
Progressive elements in Thai society, especially the young, haveÊbeen inspired by
his teaching and selfless example. Since the 1960’s,Êactivists and thinkers in
areas such as education, social welfare, rural development, and ecology have
drawn upon his teaching and advice.
Since the founding of Suan Mokkh, he has studied all schools of Buddhism, as well
as the major religious traditions. This interest isÊpractical rather than
scholarly. He seeks to unite all genuinely religious people in order to work
together to help humanity. This broad-mindedness has won him friends and students
from around the world, including Hindus, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Sikhs.
Now, he focuses his energies on his last projects. He has established an
International Dhamma Hermitage. This addition to Suan Mokkh is a retreat center
which provides facilities for:
    – Courses which introduceÊforeignersÊand Thais toÊtheÊNatural Truth explained
    in the Buddha’s teachings and start them in the Buddha’s system of
    – Exchanges among practicing representatives of Siam’s and the world’s religions,
    so that they may recover ways to cooperate in overcoming the materialism and
    selfishness which is the world’s worst enemy.
    – Meetings among Buddhists from around the world to establish and agree upon the
    “heart of Buddhism.”
Projects in the preparation stage are a training center for foreign bhikkhus who
aspire to offer there lives in service of the Buddha-Dhamma and a nunnery for
“Dhamma Mothers,” women who have renounced the household life in order to give
birth to Dhamma in themselves and society.
At the age of eighty-five, Ajahn Buddhadasa continues to work as much as his
health and conditions allow. The rest is up to the Law of Nature.
Visitors are always welcome at Suan Mokkh.
Santikaro Bhikkhu was born in the USA and came to Thailand with the U.S. Peace
Corps in 1980. He undertook the bhikkhu life and training in 1985, living and
studying at Suan Mokkh most of that time. He has been translating for Ajahn
Buddhadasa during lectures and conversations, and has translated a few books.
                            * * * * * * * *

Right View

For beginning students interested in the Dhamma, the teachers will start the student out in the teaching of virtue.  There are precepts and many rules, formalities and social conventions. After the students are grounded in morality and virtue so as to become purified, the student are taught meditation (you know the part about folks sitting on a cushion and generally in pain) and that is suppose to lead to wisdom.  That’s the path, in Pail (Maghati Language) stated sila, samadhi panna, or virtue, meditation then to wisdom.  That is the mundane path.  That is what is taught to new students weather as an Asian Child or a fully grown westerner.

The supra-mundane path is more in the way the Buddha set it out, as Panna, sila, samadhi. Panna: Wisdom (in the form of supra-mundane right view as the starting point), Sila: Virtue that comes from wisdom not from following rules and instructions. This leads to a different kind of Samadhi: Concentration, the Noble right concentration of the Buddha is an open and fully aware way to concentrate, not the narrow focus of a tightly controlled concentrated mind that’s developed in the practice called Jhana that the Buddha trained in BEFORE his enlightenment.

Those who are interested in doing the deeper investigations of the supra-mundane Dhamma, will have many things to unlearn.  Much of the teaching of religions in general need to be unlearned and this is true in the case of the Buddhist Religion.  The more Buddhist Religion one knows the more unlearning one must go through.   Learning the supra-mundane Dhamma is mostly the work of removing and unlearning much of what has been taught in the name of Buddhist Religion.  The supra-mundane is easier learned when there are no old beliefs that must be removed.   The supra-mundane is a path of  letting go, a dropping away of all the things causing suffering. Eventually letting go of everything.  Bhikkhu Buddhadasa’s most famous one liner, is “Nothing is worth clinging to as I me or mine”

When the spiritual friend challenges a student using questions and stories, it is not to invite the student to challenge his friend and helper in return, but rather to investigate ones own mind to see what is being taught fits with the reality of the students new and deeper understandings.

If one wants to benefit from developing the skills of happiness, please be ready to pay attention closely, because things are not easily seem through the filers that generally exist in a untrained mins (or a mind that has not been properly trained).

Currently there are a few videos on Youtube under the title of dhammarato or dhammarato16.  If one wants to start training in the supra-mundane Dhamma of the Buddha, email