Nibbàna Sermon 9
by Bhikkhu K. Ñänananda



Nibbana Sermons Part 1 - 7


Nibbàna Sermon 08

Nibbàna Sermon 09

Nibbàna Sermon 10

Nibbàna Sermon 11

Nibbàna Sermon 12

Nibbàna Sermon 13

Nibbàna Sermon 14

Nibbàna Sermon 15

Nibbàna Sermon 16

Nibbàna Sermon 17

Nibbàna Sermon 18

Nibbàna Sermon 19

Nibbàna Sermon 20

Nibbàna Sermon 21

Nibbàna Sermon 22

Nibbàna Sermon 23

Nibbàna Sermon 24

Nibbàna Sermon 25


Nibbàna Sermon 09

Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammàsambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammàsambuddhassa
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato sammàsambuddhassa

Etaü santaü, etaü paõãtaü, yadidaü sabbasaïkhàrasamatho sabbåpadhipañinissaggo taõhakkhayo viràgo nirodho nibbànaü.[1]

"This is peaceful, this is excellent, namely the stilling of all prepa­ra­tions, the relinquishment of all assets, the destruction of craving, detachment, cessation, extinction".

With the permission of the Most Venerable Great Preceptor and the assembly of the venerable meditative monks. This is the ninth sermon in the series of sermons given on the topic of Nib­bàna. In our last sermon we discussed, to some extent, how the insubstantiality and the vanity of the comic acts enacted by saü­sàric beings in this drama of existence gradually become clear to a meditator as he keeps his postures according to the Sati­pañ­ñhàna­sutta. We mentioned how the fact that name is only a shadow of form is revealed to the medi­tator when he is attend­ing to his postures seeing the elements con­stituting the basis of form as empty.

By way of analogy we brought in the simile of a mime or a dumb show. What characterizes that kind of drama is the comic nature of the acts which depict scenes suggestive of animate or inanimate ob­jects not actually present on the stage. A meditator becomes aware, while attending to his postures, that he is mere­ly enacting a dumb show. He comes to understand how far name is dependent on form, and the four elements appear to him as empty.

In the Satipaññhànasutta we find the following instruction in re­gard to the keeping of postures: Yathà yathà và pan'assa kàyo paõi­hito hoti tathà tathà naü pajànàti,[2] "in whatever way his body is dis­posed, so he understands it". This is suggestive of the attempt of a spec­tator to understand the mimicry of an actor or an actress in a pantomime. While attending to one's postures one feels as if one is watching a one-man dumb show. One gets an opportunity to watch it even more keenly when one comes to the section on full awareness, sampaja¤¤apabba, dealing with the minor postures, khuddaka iriyà­patha.

The worldlings are in the habit of creating material objects in ac­cordance with the factors on the name side in an extremely subtle man­ner, by grasping the four elements under the influ­ence of the per­sonality view, sakkàyadiññhi. The material objects around us are rec­ognized as such by grasping the four elements. The definition of the form aspect in name-and-form points to such a conclusion: cattàro ca mahàbhåtà catunna¤ca mahà­bhåtànaü upàdàya råpaü,[3] "the four great primaries and form de­pendent on those four primaries".

The word upàdàya in this context has a special connotation of relativity. So in this way, material objects are created with the help of factors in the name group. This reveals a certain princi­ple of relativ­ity. In this relativity one sees the emptiness of both name and form. This same principle of relativity is implicit in some other statements of the Buddha, but they are rather ne­glected for a lack of recognition of their significance. We come across such a discourse with a high degree of importance in the Saëàyatanavagga of the Saüyutta Ni­kàya. There the Buddha states that principle of relativity with the help of an illustration:

Hatthesu, bhikkhave, sati àdànanikkhepanaü pa¤¤àyati, pàdesu sati abhikkamapañikkamo pa¤¤àyati, pabbesu sati sam­mi¤jana­pasà­raõaü pa¤¤àyati, kucchismiü sati jighacchà pipàsà pa¤¤àyati.[4] "When there are hands, monks, a taking up and put­ting down is ap­parent; when there are feet, a going forward and coming back is ap­parent; when there are joints, a bending and stretch­ing is apparent; when there is a belly, hun­ger and thirst is apparent."

Then the contrary of this situation is also given: Hatthesu, bhik­khave, asati àdànanikkhepanaü na pa¤¤àyati, pàdesu asati abhik­kamapañikkamo na pa¤¤àyati, pabbesu asati sammi¤jana­pasàraõaü na pa¤¤àyati, kucchismiü asati jighac­chà pipàsà na pa¤¤àyati. "When there are no hands, a taking up and putting down is not ap­parent; when there are no feet, a go­ing forward and coming back is not apparent; when there are no joints, a bend­ing and stretching is not apparent; when there is no belly, hunger and thirst are not appar­ent." What is implied by all this is that basic principle of relativity.

Some meditators, engaged in satipaññhàna meditation, might think that materiality does not really exist and only mentality is there. In other words, there are no hands, only a taking up and putting down is there. There are no feet, only a going and com­ing is there. That way, they might dogmatically take the bare ac­tivity as real and subject it to an analysis. But what is important here is the understanding of the relativity between the two, which reveals the emptiness of both. If, on the other hand, one of them is taken too seriously as real, it ends up in a dogmatic standpoint. It will not lead to a deeper understand­ing of the emp­tiness of name and form.

Now in the case of a pantomime, as already mentioned, a spec­ta­tor has to imagine persons and things not found on the stage as if they are present, in order to make sense out of an act. Here too we have a similar situation. Name and form exist in re­lation to each other. What one sees through this interrelation is the emptiness or in­substantiality of both.

We brought up all these analogies of dramas and film shows just to give an idea of the impermanence of saïkhàras, or prepa­rations. In fact, the term saïkhàra, is very apt in the context of dramas and film shows. It is suggestive of a pretence sustained with some sort of effort. It clearly brings out their false and un­real nature.

The purpose of the perception of impermanence, with regard to this drama of existence, is the dispelling of the perception of perma­nence about the things that go to make up the drama. With the dis­pelling of the perception of permanence, the ten­dency to grasp a sign or catch a theme is removed. It is due to the perception of perma­nence that one grasps a sign in accor­dance with perceptual data. When one neither takes a sign nor gets carried away by its details, there is no aspiration, expecta­tion, or objective by way of craving. When there is no aspiration, one cannot see any purpose or essence to aim at.

It is through the three deliverances, the signless, the desire­less, and the void, that the drama of existence comes to an end. The per­ception of impermanence is the main contributory factor for the ces­sation of this drama. Some of the discourses of the Bud­dha, con­cerning the destruction of the world, can be cited as object lessons in the development of the perception of imperma­nence leading to the signless deliverance.

For instance, in the discourse on the appearance of the seven suns, Sattasuriyasutta, mentioned earlier,[5] this world system, which is so full of valuable things like the seven kinds of jewels, gets fully con­sumed in a holocaust leaving not even a trace of ash or soot, as if some ghee or oil has been burned up. The per­ception of imperma­nence, arising out of this description, auto­matically leads to an un­derstanding of voidness.

If the conviction that not only the various actors and ac­tresses on the world stage, but all the accompanying decorations get fully de­stroyed together with the stage itself at some point of time grips the mind with sufficient intensity to exhaust the in­fluxes of sensuality, existence and ignorance, emancipation will occur then and there. That may be the reason why some at­tained arahant-hood immedi­ately on listening to that sermon.[6] That way, the perception of imper­manence acts as an extremely powerful antidote for defilements.

Aniccasa¤¤à, bhikkhave, bhàvità bahulãkatà sabbaü kàma­ràgaü pariyàdiyati, sabbaü råparàgaü pariyàdiyati, sab­baü bhava­ràgaü pariyàdiyati, sabbaü avijjaü pariyàdiyati, sab­baü asmi­mànaü pari­yàdiyati samåhanati.[7] "Monks, the percep­tion of impermanence, when developed and intensively prac­tised, ex­hausts all attachments to sensuality, exhausts all at­tachments to form, exhausts all attach­ments to existence, ex­hausts all igno­rance, exhausts all conceits of an `am' and eradi­cates it com­plete­ly."

This shows that the perception of impermanence gradually leads to an understanding of voidness, as is clearly stated in the following quotation: Aniccasa¤¤ino, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno anat­tasa¤¤à san­ñhàti. Anattasa¤¤ã asmimànasamugghàtaü pàpuõàti diññheva dham­me nibbànaü.[8] "Monks, in one who has the per­ception of imper­ma­nence, the perception of not-self gets estab­lished. With the percep­tion of not-self, he arrives at the destruc­tion of the conceit `am', which is extinction here and now".

Such an assessment of the importance of the perception of im­per­manence will enable us to make sense out of the seem­ingly con­tra­dictory statements in some of the verses in the Dham­mapada, such as the following:

Puttà matthi dhanaü matthi,

iti bàlo viha¤¤ati,

attà hi attano natthi,

kuto puttà kuto dhanaü?[9]

"Sons I have, wealth I have,

So the fool is vexed,

Even oneself is not one's self,

Where then are sons, where is wealth?"

The perception of not-self at its highest, gives rise to the idea of voidness, as implied by the dictum su¤¤am idaü attena và at­ta­ni­yena và,[10] "this is empty of self or anything belonging to a self".

Some are afraid of this term su¤¤atà, emptiness, voidness, for various reasons. That is why we mentioned at the very outset, al­ready in the first sermon, that gradually the monks themselves showed a lack of interest in those discourses that deal with the idea of voidness.[11] The Buddha had already predicted, as a dan­ger that will befall the Sàsana in the future, this lack of regard for such dis­courses. This prediction reveals the high degree of importance at­tached to them.

The last two sections of the Sutta Nipàta, namely Aññhaka­vag­ga and Pàràyanavagga, abound in extremely deep sermons. In the Pàràyanavagga, for instance, we find the Brahmin youth Mogha­ràja putting the following question to the Buddha: Kathaü lokaü avek­khantaü, maccuràjà na passati?[12] "By look­ing upon the world in which manner can one escape the eye of the king of death?" The Bud­dha gives the answer in the follow­ing verse:

Su¤¤ato lokaü avekkhassu,

Mogharàja sadà sato,

attànudiññhim åhacca,

evaü maccutaro siyà,

evaü lokam avekkhantaü,

maccuràjà na passati.[13]

"Look upon the world as void,

Mogharàja, being mindful at all times,

Uprooting the lingering view of self,

Get well beyond the range of death,

Him who thus looks upon the world,

The king of death gets no chance to see."

From this we can infer that the entire Dhamma, even like the world system itself, inclines towards voidness. This fact is borne out by the following significant quotation in the CåëaTaõhàsaï­khayasut­ta, cited by Sakka as an aphorism given by the Buddha himself: Sab­be dhammà nàlaü abhinivesàya.[14] Though we may ren­der it sim­ply as "nothing is worth clinging on to", it has a deeper significance. The word abhinivesa is closely associated with the idea of entering into or getting entangled in views of one's own creation. The impli­cation, then, is that not only the views as such, but nothing at all is worth­while getting entangled in. This is suggestive of the emptiness of eve­rything.

This brings us to a very important sutta among the Eighths of the Aïguttara Nikàya, namely the Kiümålakasutta. In this par­ticular sut­ta we find the Buddha asking the monks how they would answer a set of questions which wandering ascetics of other sects might put to them. The questions are as follows:

Kiü målakà, àvuso, sabbe dhammà? Kiü sambhavà sabbe dham­mà? Kiü samudayà sabbe dhammà? Kiü samosaraõà sab­be dham­mà? Kiü pamukhà sabbe dhammà? Kim adhipateyyà sab­be dham­mà? Kim uttarà sabbe dhammà? Kiü sàrà sabbe dham­mà? [15] "What is the root of all things? What is the origin of all things? Where do all things arise? Towards what do all things converge? What is at the head of all things? What dominates all things? What is the point of tran­scendence of all things? What is the essence of all things?"

The monks confessed that they were unable to answer those ques­tions on their own and begged the Buddha to instruct them. Then the Buddha gave the exact answer to each question in a cut and dried form, saying, this is the way you should answer if wandering ascetics of other sects raise those questions.

Chandamålakà, àvuso, sabbe dhammà, manasikàrasambhavà sab­be dhammà, phassasamudayà sabbe dhammà, vedanàsamo­saraõà sabbe dhammà, samàdhipamukhà sabbe dhammà, satàdhi­pateyyà sabbe dhammà, pa¤¤uttarà sabbe dhammà, vimut­tisàrà sab­be dhammà. "Rooted in desire, friends, are all things. Born of at­ten­tion are all things. Arisen from contact are all things. Converging on feeling are all things. Headed by concen­tration are all things. Domi­nated by mindfulness are all things. Surmountable by wisdom are all things. Yielding deliverance as essence are all things."

Before getting down to an analysis of the basic meaning of this dis­course, it is worthwhile considering why the Buddha fore­stalled a possible perplexity among his disciples in the face of a barrage of questions likely to be levelled by other sectari­ans. Why did he think it fit to prepare the minds of the disciples well in advance of such a situation?

Contemporary ascetics of other sects, notably the brahmins, en­tertained various views regarding the origin and purpose of `all things'. Those who subscribed to a soul theory, had different answers to questions concerning thing-hood or the essence of thing. Presuma­bly it was not easy for the monks, with their not-self standpoint, to answer those questions to the satisfaction of other sectarians. That is why those monks confessed their in­com­petence and begged for guid­ance.

It was easy for those of other sects to explain away the ques­tions relating to the origin and purpose of things on the basis of their soul theory or divine creation. Everything came out of Brahma, and self is the essence of everything. No doubt, such answers were substantial enough to gain acceptance. Even modern philosophers are con­fronted with the intricate problem of determining the exact criterion of a `thing'. What precisely ac­counts for the thing-hood of a thing? What makes it no-thing?

Unfortunately for the sutta, its traditional commentators seem to have ignored the deeper philosophical dimensions of the above ques­tionnaire. They have narrowed down the meaning of the set of an­swers recommended by the Buddha by limiting its application to whole­some mental states.[16] The occurrence of such terms as chanda, sati, samàdhi and pa¤¤à, had probably led them to believe that the entire questionnaire is on the sub­ject of wholesome mental states. But this is a serious underesti­mation of the import of the entire dis­course. It actually goes far deeper in laying bare a basic principle governing both skilful and unskilful mental states.

Now, for instance, the first two verses of the Dhammapada bring out a fundamental law of psychology applicable to things both skilful and unskilful: Manopubbaïgamà dhammà, mano­señ­ñhà manomayà.[17] Both verses draw upon this fundamen­tal princi­ple. Nowadays, these two lines are variously inter­preted, but the basic idea expressed is that "all things have mind as their fore­run­ner, mind is their chief, and they are mind-made". This ap­plies to both skilful and unskilful men­tal states.

Now the sutta in question has also to be interpreted in the same light, taking into account both these aspects. It must be mentioned, in particular, that with the passage of time a certain line of interpreta­tion gained currency, according to which such terms as chanda were taken as skilful in an exclusive sense. For instance, the term sati, wherever and whenever it occurred, was taken to refer to sammà sati.[18] Likewise, chanda came to be in­ter­preted as kusalacchanda, de­sire or interest in the skilful, or kat­tukamyatàchanda, desire to per­form.[19]

But we have to reckon with a special trait in the Buddha's way of preaching. His sermons were designed to lead onward the listeners, gradually, according to their degree of understand­ing. Sometimes the meaning of a term, as it occurs at the end of a sermon, is different from the meaning it is supposed to have at the beginning of the ser­mon. Such a technique is also evident.

The term chanda is one that has both good and bad connota­tions. In such contexts as chandaràga[20] and chandajaü aghaü,[21] it is sug­gestive of craving as the cause of all suffering in this world. It refers to that attachment, ràga, which the world identi­fies with craving as such. But in the context chanda-iddhipàda,[22] where the reference is to a particular base for success, it is reck­oned as a skilful mental state. However, that is not a suffi­cient reason to regard it as some­thing alien to the generic sense of the term.

There is an important sutta, which clearly reveals this fact, in the Saüyutta Nikàya. A brahmin named Uõõàbha once came to Vener­able ânanda with a question that has a relevance to the sig­nificance of the term chanda. His question was: Kim atthiyaü nu kho, bho ânanda, samaõe Gotame brahmacariyaü vussati?[23] "Sir ânanda, what is the purpose for which the holy life is lived under the recluse Gotama?" Venerable ânanda promptly gives the following answer: Chandappahànatthaü kho, bràhmaõa, bhagavati brahmacariyaü vussati. "Brahmin, it is for the aban­donment of desire that the holy life is lived under the Exalted One." Then the brahmin asks: Atthi pana, bho ânanda, maggo at­thi pañipadà etassa chandassa pa­hà­nàya? "Is there, sir ânanda, a way or practice for the abandonment of this desire?" Venerable ânanda says: "Yes". Now, what is the way he mentions in that context? It is none other than the four bases for success, iddhi­pàda, which are described as follows:

Chanda­samàdhipadhànasaïkhàrasamannàgataü iddhipàdaü bhàveti, viriyasamàdhipadhàna­saïkhàra­samannàgataü iddhi­pàdaü bhàveti, cittasamàdhipadhànasaïkhàrasamannàgataü id­dhi­pàdaü bhàveti, vãmaüsàsamàdhipadhànasaïkhàrasam­an­nàgataü iddhi­pàdaü bhàveti. (1) "One develops the basis for success that has voli­tional preparations leading to a concentra­tion through desire", (2) "one develops the basis for success that has volitional preparations leading to a concentration through energy", (3) "one develops the ba­sis for success that has voli­tional preparations leading to a concen­tration by making up the mind", (4) "one develops the basis for suc­cess that has volitional preparations leading to a concentration through investigation".

Venerable ânanda replies that the way of practice to be fol­lowed for the abandonment of desire is the above mentioned four bases per­taining to desire, energy, mind and investigation. The brahmin is puz­zled at this reply. He thinks, if that is so, de­sire is not abandoned, it is still there. And he raises this objec­tion to show that there is an implicit contradiction: Chandeneva chandaü pajahissatã'ti, netaü ñhànaü vijjati, "that one abandons desire by desire itself is an impos­sibility". Then the Venerable ânanda brings out a simile to convince the brahmin of the im­plicit truth in his reply.

"What do you think, brahmin, is it not the case that you ear­lier had the desire `I will go to the park', and after you came here, the appropriate desire subsided?" So this is the logic be­hind the state­ment concerning the abandonment of craving. The term chanda is used here in the first instance with reference to that type of craving for the purpose of the abandonment of crav­ing.

Desire as a basis for success is developed for the very aban­don­ment of desire. So there is no question about the use of the same word. Here, chanda as a base of success still belongs to the chanda-family. A desire should be there even for the aban­donment of desire. This is a distinctive basic principle underly­ing the middle path.

Some have a great liking for the word chanda, but dislike the word taõhà. So much so that, if one speaks of a craving for at­taining Nibbàna, it might even be regarded as a blasphemy. In another ser­mon given by Venerable ânanda himself, one ad­dressed to a par­ticu­lar sick nun, we find the statement: Taõhaü nissàya taõhà pa­hàtab­,[24] "depending on craving one should abandon craving". That again is suggestive of a special applica­tion of the middle path tech­nique. But the kind of craving meant here is not something crude. It is spe­cifically explained there that it is the longing arising in one for the attainment of arahant-hood on hearing that someone has already attained it. Of course, there is a subtle trace of craving even in that longing, but it is one that is helpful for the abandonment of craving. So one need not fight shy of the implications of these words.

As a matter of fact, even the word rati, attachment, is used with reference to Nibbàna. When, for instance, it is said that the disciple of the Buddha is attached to the destruction of craving, taõhakkhaya­rato hoti sammàsambuddhasàvako,[25] it may sound rather odd, be­cause the word rati usually stands for lust. How­ever, according to the Middle Path principle of utilizing one thing to eliminate another, words like chanda and taõhà are used with discretion. Sometimes terms like nekkhamasita do­manassa,[26] unhappiness based on re­nun­cia­tion, are employed to indicate the desire for attaining Nib­bàna. Therefore the state­ment chandamålakà sabbe dhammà need not be interpreted as referring exclusively to skilful mental states.

With regard to the significance of sati and samàdhi, too, we may mention in passing, that terms like micchà sati, wrong mind­fulness, and micchà samàdhi, wrong concentration, do sometimes occur in the discourses.[27] So let us examine whether the set of statements un­der consideration has any sequential co­herence or depth.

"Rooted in desire, friends, are all things." We might as well bring out the meaning of these statements with the help of an il­lustration. Supposing there is a heap of rubbish and someone ap­proaches it with a basket to collect it and throw it away. Now, about the rubbish heap, he has just a unitary notion. That is to say, he takes it as just one heap of rubbish. But as he bends down and starts collecting it into the bas­ket, he suddenly catches sight of a gem. Now the gem becomes the object of his desire and interest. A gem arose out of what earlier ap­peared as a rubbish heap. It became the thing for him, and desire was at the root of this phenomenon - true to the dictum "rooted in de­sire, friends, are all things".

Then what about origination through attention? It is through at­tention that the gem came into being. One might think that the origin of the gem should be traced to the mine or to some place where it took shape, but the Buddha traces its origin in accor­dance with the norm manopubbaïgamà dhammà, "mind is the fore­runner of all things". So then, the root is desire and the source of origin is atten­tion, the very fact of attending.

Phassasamudayà sabbe dhammà, "all things arise from con­tact". There was eye-contact with the gem as something special out of all the things in the rubbish heap. So the gem `arose' from eye-contact. Vedanàsamosaraõà sabbe dhammà, "all things con­verge on feeling". As soon as the eye spotted the gem, a lot of pleasant feelings about it arose in the mind. Therefore, all things converge on feeling.

Samàdhipamukhà sabbe dhammà, "headed by concentration are all things". Here, in this case, it may be wrong concentration, micchà samàdhi, but all the same it is some kind of concentra­tion. It is now a concentration on the gem. It is as if his medita­tion has shifted from the rubbish heap to the gem. Satàdhipatey­yà sabbe dhammà, "domi­nated by mindfulness are all things". As to this dominance, undis­tracted attention is necessary for the maintenance of that thing which has now been singled out. Where there is distraction, attention is drawn to other things as well. That is why mindfulness is said to be dominant. Be it the so-called wrong mindfulness, but nonetheless, it is now directed towards the gem.

Now comes the decisive stage, that is, the `surmountability by wisdom', pa¤¤uttarà. Let us for a moment grant that somehow or other, even though wrongly, micchà, some kind of surrogate mind­fulness and concentration has developed out of this situa­tion. Now, if one wants to cross over in accordance with the Dham­ma, that is, if one wants to attain Nibbàna with this gem it­self as the topic of medi­tation, one has to follow the hint given by the statement pa¤­¤ut­tarà sab­be dhammà, "surmountable by wis­dom are all things".

What one has to do now is to see through the gem, to pene­trate it, by viewing it as impermanent, fraught with suffering, and not-self, thereby arriving at the conviction that, after all, the gem belongs to the rubbish heap itself. The gem is transcended by the wisdom that it is just one item in this rubbish heap that is `The world' in its entirety. If one wins to the wisdom that this gem is something like a piece of charcoal, to be destroyed in the holocaust at the end of a world pe­riod, one has transcended that gem.

So then, the essence of all things is not any self or soul, as pos­tu­lated by the brahmins. Deliverance is the essence. In such discourses as the Mahàsàropamasutta, the essence of this entire Dhamma is said to be deliverance.[28] The very emancipation from all this, to be rid of all this, is itself the essence. Some seem to think that the es­sence is a heaping up of concepts and cling­ing to them. But that is not the essence of this teaching. It is the ability to penetrate all con­cepts, thereby transcending them. The deliverance resulting from transcendence is itself the essence.

With the cessation of that concept of a gem as some special thing, a valuable thing, separate from the rest of the world, as well as of the ensuing heap of concepts by way of craving, con­ceit and views, the gem ceases to exist. That itself is the deliver­ance. It is the emancipa­tion from the gem. Therefore, vimutti­sàrà sabbe dhammà, "deliver­ance is the essence of all things".

So then, we have here a very valuable discourse which can even be used as a topic of insight meditation. The essence of any mind object is the very emancipation from it, by seeing it with wisdom. Considered in this light, everything in the world is a meditation ob­ject. That is why we find very strange meditation topics mentioned in connection with the attainments of ancient arahant monks and nuns. Sometimes, even apparently unsuit­able meditation objects have been successfully employed.

Meditation teachers, as a rule, do not approve of certain medi­ta­tion objects for beginners, with good reasons. For in­stance, they would not recommend a female form as a medita­tion object for a male, and a male form for a female. That is be­cause it can arouse lust, since it is mentioned in the Theragàthà that lust arose in some monk even on seeing a decayed female corpse in a cemetery.[29] But in the same text one comes across an episode in connection with Ven­erable Nàgasamàla, which stands in utter contrast to it.

Venerable Nàgasamàla attained arahant-hood with the help of a potentially pernicious meditation object, as he describes it, in his words: "Once, on my begging round, I happened to look up to see a dancing woman, beautifully dressed and bedecked, dancing to the rhythm of an orchestra just on the middle of the highway."[30] And, what happened then?

Tato me manasikàro,

yoniso udapajjatha,

àdãnavo pàturahu,

nibbidà samatiññhatha,

tato cittaü vimucci me,

passa dhammasudhammataü.[31].

"Just then, radical attention

Arose from within me,

The perils were manifest,

And dejection took place,

Then my mind got released,

Behold the goodness of the Norm."

If one wishes to discover the goodness of this norm, one has to interpret the sutta in question in a broader perspective, with­out lim­iting its application to skilful mental states. If a train of thoughts had got started up about that gem, even through a wrong concentration, and thereby a wrong mindfulness and a wrong concentration had taken shape, at whatever moment radi­cal attention comes on the scene, complete reorientation oc­curs instantaneously, true to those qualities of the Dhamma im­plied by the terms, sandiññhika, visible here and now, akàlika, not in­volving time, and ehipassika, inviting one to come and see.

Some might wonder, for instance, how those brahmins of old who had practiced their own methods of concentration, attained arahant-hood on hearing just one stanza as soon as they came to the Bud­dha.[32] The usual interpretation is that it is due to the mi­raculous pow­ers of the Buddha, or else that the persons con­cerned had an extraor­dinary stock of merit. The miracle of the Dhamma, implicit in such occurrences, is often ignored.

Now as to this miracle of the Dhamma, we may take the case of someone keen on seeing a rainbow. He will have to go on looking at the sky indefinitely, waiting for a rainbow to appear. But if he is wise enough, he can see the spectrum of rainbow colours through a dew­drop hanging on a leaf of a creeper wav­ing in the morning sun, pro­vided he finds the correct perspec­tive. For him, the dewdrop itself is the meditation object. In the same way, one can sometimes see the entire Dhamma, thirty-seven factors of enlightenment and the like, even in a potentially pernicious meditation object.

From an academic point of view, the two terms yoniso mana­si­kàra, radical attention, and ayoniso manasikàra, non-radical at­ten­tion, are in utter contrast to each other. There is a world of difference between them. So also between the terms sammà diñ­ñhi, right view, and micchà diññhi, wrong view. But from the point of view of reali­sation, there is just a little difference.

Now as we know, that spectrum of the sun's rays in the dew­drop disappears with a very little shift in one's perspective. It ap­pears only when viewed in a particular perspective. What we find in this Dham­ma is something similar. This is the intrinsic nature of this Dhamma that is to be seen here and now, timeless, lead­ing onward, and realiz­able by the wise each one by himself.

Our interpretation of this sutta, taking the word sabbe dham­ to mean `all things', is further substantiated by the Samiddhi Sutta found in the section on the Nines in the Aïguttara Nikàya. It is a dis­course preached by Venerable Sàri­putta. To a great ex­tent, it runs parallel to the one we have al­ready analysed. The dif­ference lies only in a few details. In that sutta we find Vener­able Samiddhi answering the questions put to him by Venerable Sàriputta, like a pupil at a cate­chism. The following is the gist of questions raised and answers given:

`Kim àrammaõà, Samiddhi, purisassa saïkappavitakkà uppaj­jan­tã'ti? - `Nàmaråpàrammaõà, bhante.'

`Te pana, Samiddhi, kva nànattaü gacchantã'ti? - `Dhàtåsu, bhan­te.'

`Te pana, Samiddhi, kiü samudayà'ti? - `Phassasamudayà, bhante.'

`Te pana, Samiddhi, kiü samosaraõà'ti? - `Vedanàsamo­saraõà, bhante. '

`Te pana, Samiddhi, kiü pamukhà'ti? - `Samàdhipamukhà, bhante.'

`Te pana, Samiddhi, kim adhipateyyà'ti? - `Satàdhipateyyà, bhante.'

`Te pana, Samiddhi, kim uttarà'ti? - `Pa¤¤uttarà, bhante.'

`Te pana, Samiddhi kiü sàrà'ti? - `Vimuttisàrà, bhante.'

`Te pana, Samiddhi, kim ogadhà'ti? - `Amatogadhà, bhante.'[33]

Except for the first two questions and the last one, the rest is the same as in the questionnaire given by the Buddha. But from this cate­chism it is extremely clear that Venerable Sàriputta is asking about thoughts and concepts. In the case of the previous sutta, one could sometimes doubt whether the word sabbe dham­ referred to skil­ful or unskilful mental states. But here it is clear enough that Ven­erable Sàriputta's questions are on thoughts and concepts. Let us now try to translate the above catechism.

"With what as objects, Samiddhi, do concepts and thoughts arise in a man?" - "With name-and-form as object, venerable sir."

"But where, Samiddhi, do they assume diversity?" - "In the ele­ments, venerable sir."

"But from what, Samiddhi, do they arise?" - "They arise from con­tact, venerable sir."

"But on what, Samiddhi, do they converge?" - "They converge on feeling, venerable sir."

"But what, Samiddhi, is at their head?" - "They are headed by con­centration, venerable sir."

"But by what, Samiddhi, are they dominated?" - "They are domi­nated by mindfulness, venerable sir."

"But what, Samiddhi, is their highest point?" - "Wisdom is their highest point, venerable sir."

"But what, Samiddhi, is their essence?" - "Deliverance is their es­sence, venerable sir."

"But in what, Samiddhi, do they get merged?" - "They get merged in the deathless, venerable sir."

Some noteworthy points emerge from this catechism. All con­cepts and thoughts have name-and-form as their object. The eighteen elements account for their diversity. They arise with contact. They converge on feeling. They are headed by concen­tration. They are dominated by mindfulness. Their acme or point of transcendence is wisdom. Their essence is deliverance and they get merged in the death­less. Be it noted that the deathless is a term for Nibbàna. There­fore, as we have stated above, every­thing has the potentiality to yield the deathless, provided radical attention is ushered in.

It is indubitably clear, from this catechism, that the subject under consideration is concepts and thoughts. All mind objects partake of the character of concepts and thoughts. Therefore the mind objects, according to the Buddha, have to be evaluated on the lines of the above mentioned normative principles, and not on the lines of self essence and divine creation as postulated by soul theories.

In accordance with the dictum `mind is the forerunner of all things', manopubbaïgamà dhammà,[34] the course of training ad­vo­cated by the Buddha, which begins with name-and-form as ob­ject, reaches its consummation in seeing through name-and-form, that is, in its penetration. It culminates in the transcen­dence of name-and-form, by penetrating into its impermanent, suffering-fraught, and not-self nature. This fact is borne out by the discourses already quoted.

The essence of the teaching is release from name-and-form. When one rightly understands the relation between name and form as well as their emptiness, one is able to see through name-and-form. This penetration is the function of wisdom. So long as wisdom is lacking, consciousness has a tendency to get entan­gled in name-and-form. This is the insinuation of the following Dhammapada verse about the arahant:

Kodhaü jahe vippajaheyya mànaü,

saüyojanaü sabbam atikkameyya,

taü nàmaråpasmim asajjamànaü,

aki¤canaü nànupatanti dukkhà.[35]

"Let one put wrath away, conceit abandon,

And get well beyond all fetters as well,

That one, untrammelled by name-and-form,

With naught as his own - no pains befall."

The path shown by the Buddha, then, is one that leads to the tran­scendence of name-and-form by understanding its empti­ness. In this connection, the Brahmajàlasutta of the Dãgha Nikàya reveals a very important fact on analysis.[36] What it por­trays is how the sixty-two wrong views lose their lustre in the light of wisdom emanating from the non-manifestative con­sciousness of the Buddha, which is lustrous on all sides, sabbato pabha.[37]

As to how a lustre could be superseded, we have already ex­plained with reference to a film show.[38] The film show lost its lus­tre when the doors were flung open. The narrow beam of light, directed on the cinema screen, faded away completely be­fore the greater light now coming from outside. Similarly, the sixty-two wrong views in the Brahmajàlasutta are seen to fade away before the light of wis­dom coming from the non-manifesta­tive consciousness of the Bud­dha. The narrow beams of sixty-two wrong views faded in the broader flood of light that is wis­dom.

Those heretics who propounded those wrong views, con­ceived them by dogmatically holding on to name-and-form. They got entan­gled in name-and-form, and those views were the prod­uct of specu­lative logic based on it. We come across an allusion to this fact in the MahàViyåhasutta of the Sutta Nipàta. There it is declared that those of other sects are not free from the limita­tions of name-and-form.

Passaü naro dakkhiti nàmaråpaü,

disvàna và ¤assati tànim eva,

kàmaü bahuü passatu appakaü và,

na hi tena suddhiü kusalà vadanti.[39]

"A seeing man will see only name-and-form,

Having seen he will know just those constituents alone,

Let him see much or little,

Experts do not concede purity thereby."

In the Brahmajàlasutta itself we find some views advanced by those who had higher knowledges. With the help of those higher knowledges, which were still of the mundane type, they would see into their past, sometimes hundreds of thousands of their past lives, and drawing also from their ability to read oth­ers' minds, they would construct various views. Many such views are recorded in the Brahma­jàlasutta, only to be rejected and invalidated. Why so? The reason is given here in this verse.

The man who claims to see with those higher knowledges is see­ing only name-and-form, passaü naro dakkhiti nàmaråpaü. Having seen, he takes whatever he sees as real knowledge, dis­vàna và ¤as­sati tànim eva. Just as someone inside a closed room with tinted window panes sees only what is reflected on those dark panes, and not beyond, even so, those `seers' got enmeshed in name-and-form when they proceeded to speculate on what they saw as their past lives. They took name-and-form itself to be real. That is why the Buddha declared that whether they saw much or little, it is of no use, since experts do not attribute pu­rity to that kind of vision, kàmaü bahuü passatu appakaü và, na hi tena suddhiü kusalà vadanti.

Here it is clear enough that those narrow wrong views are based on name-and-form, assuming it to be something real. The Buddha's vision, on the other hand, is one that transcends name-and-form. It is a supramundane vision. This fact is clearly re­vealed by the implica­tions of the very title of the Brahmajàla­sutta. At the end of the dis­course, the Buddha himself compares it to an all-embracing super-net.[40] Just as a clever fisherman would throw a finely woven net well over a small lake, so that all the creatures living there are caught in it as they come up, all the possible views in the world are enmeshed or forestalled by this super-net, or brahmajàla.

Let us now pause to consider what the mesh of this net could be. If the Brahmajàlasutta is a net, what constitutes that fine mesh in this net? There is a word occurring all over the dis­course, which gives us a clear answer to this question. It is found in the phrase which the Bud­dha uses to disqualify every one of those views, namely, tadapi phassapaccayà, tadapi phas­sapaccayà,[41] "and that too is due to con­tact, and that too is due to contact". So from this we can see that con­tact is the mesh of this net.

The medley of wrong views, current among those of other sects, is the product of the six sense-bases dependent on con­tact. The Bud­dha's vision, on the other hand, seems to be an all-encompassing lustre of wisdom, born of the cessation of the six sense-bases, which in effect, is the vision of Nibbàna. This fact is further clarified in the sutta by the statement of the Buddha that those who cling to those wrong views, based on name-and-form, keep on whirling within the saüsàric round because of those very views.

Sabbe te chahi phassàyatanehi phussa phussa pañisaüvedenti, te­saü phassapaccayà vedanà, vedanàpaccayà taõhà, taõhàpac­cayà upàdànaü, upàdànapaccayà bhavo, bhavapaccayà jàti, jàti­paccayà jaràmaraõaü sokaparidevadukkhadomanassupàyàsà sambhavanti. Yato kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhu, channaü phas­sàya­tanànaü sam­udaya¤ca atthagama¤ca assàda¤ca àdãnava¤ca nis­saraõa¤ca yathàbhåtaü pajànàti, ayaü imehi sabbeheva ut­taritaraü pajànàti.[42] "They all continue to experi­ence feeling coming into contact again and again with the six sense-bases, and to them dependent on contact there is feeling, dependent on feeling there is craving, dependent on craving there is grasping, dependent on grasping there is becoming, de­pendent on becom­ing there is birth, and dependent on birth, de­cay, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair come to be. But when, monks, a monk knows, as they truly are, the aris­ing, the going down, the satisfaction, the peril and the stepping out concerning the six sense-bases, that monk has a knowledge which is far su­perior to that of all those dogmatists."

This paragraph clearly brings out the distinction between those who held on to such speculative views and the one who wins to the vision made known by the Buddha. The former were dependent on contact, that is, sensory contact, even if they pos­sessed worldly higher knowledges. Because of contact originat­ing from the six sense-bases there is feeling. Because of feeling they are lured into craving and grasping which make them go round and round in saü­sàra.

The emancipated monk who keeps to the right path, on the other hand, wins to that synoptic vision of the six sense-bases, replete in its five aspects. That is what is known as the light of wisdom. To him, all five aspects of the six sense-bases become clear, namely the aris­ing, the going down, the satisfaction, the peril and the stepping out. That light of wisdom is considered the highest knowledge, precisely because it reveals all these five aspects of the six sense-bases.

The reference to the formula of dependent arising in the above passage is highly significant. It is clear proof of the fact that the law of dependent arising is not something to be ex­plained with reference to a past existence. It is a law relevant to the present moment.

This name-and-form is reflected on consciousness. Now as to this consciousness, the Nidànasaüyutta of the Saüyutta Nikàya, which is a section dealing with the law of dependent arising in particular, de­fines it in a way that includes all the six types of con­sciousness.

Katama¤ca, bhikkhave, vi¤¤àõaü? Chayime, bhikkhave, vi¤­¤àõa­kàyà - cakkhuvi¤¤àõaü, sotavi¤¤àõaü, ghànavi¤¤àõaü, jivhà­vi¤­¤àõaü, kàyavi¤¤àõaü, manovi¤¤àõaü, idaü vuccati, bhik­khave, vi¤­¤àõaü.[43] "And what, monks, is consciousness? There are these six classes of consciousness - eye- conscious­ness, ear-consciousness, nose-consciousness, tongue-conscious­ness, body-consciousness and mind-consciousness; this, monks, is called consciousness."

This shows that the consciousness mentioned in the formula of dependent arising is not something like a re-linking con­scious­ness. The reference here is not to just one consciousness. It is in depend­ence on name-and-form, reflected on all six types of consciousness, that the six sense-bases get established.

The discrimination between an `internal' and an `external' is the outcome of the inability to penetrate name-and-form, to see through it. There is an apparent duality: I, as one who sees, and name-and-form, as the objects seen. Between them there is a di­chotomy as in­ternal and external. It is on this very dichotomy that the six sense-bases are `based'. Feeling and all the rest of it come on top of those six sense-bases. Craving and grasping fol­low suit, as a result of which those dogmatists get caught up in the vicious cycle of depend­ent arising and keep running round in saüsàra as the Buddha has de­clared.

So then, it becomes clear from the Brahmajàlasutta that such a wide variety of wrong views exist in this world due to the dog­matic involvement in name-and-form reflected on conscious­ness, that is by mis-taking the reflection to be one's self. This, in brief, is tantamount to sakkàyadiññhi, or personality view.

Now let us take up a parable by way of an illustration of the dis­tinction between the wrong view of the dogmatists, already analysed, and the right view, which is in complete contrast to it. It is an episode in the Ummaggajàtaka which more or less looks like a parable to il­lustrate this point.[44] In the Ummaggajàtaka one comes across the problem of a gem. In that story there are in fact several such prob­lems concerning gems, and we are tak­ing up just one of them.

The citizens of Mithilà came and informed king Videha that there is a gem in the pond near the city gate. The king commis­sioned his royal adviser Senaka with the task of taking out the gem. He went and got the people to empty the pond but failed to find the gem there. Even the mud was taken out and the earth dug up in a vain attempt to locate the gem. When he confessed his failure to the king, the latter entrusted the job to bodhisatta Mahosadha, the youngest adviser. When he went there and had a look around, he immediately under­stood that the gem is actu­ally in a crow's nest on a palm tree near the pond. What ap­peared in the pond is only its reflection. He convinced the king of this fact by getting a man to immerse a bowl of water into the pond, which also reflected the gem. Then the man climbed up the palm tree and found the gem there, as predicted by Maho­sadha.

If we take this episode as an illustration, the view of the dog­ma­tists can be compared to Senaka's view. The discovery of the Buddha that name-and-form is a mere reflection is like the solu­tion advanced by bodhisatta Mahosadha to the problem of the gem in the pond.

Now what is the role of personality view in this connection? It is said that the Buddha preached the Dhamma adopting a via media between two extreme views. What are they? The eternal­ist view and the nihilist view. The eternalist view is like that at­tachment to the re­flection. Sometimes, when one sees one's own image in water, one falls in love with it, imagining it to be some­one else, as in the case of the dog on the plank mentioned in an earlier sermon.[45] It can some­times arouse hate as well. Thus there could be both self-love and self-hate.

Inclining towards these two attitudes, the personality view it­self leads to the two extreme views known as eternalism and ni­hilism, or annihilationism. It is like Senaka's attempt to find the gem by emp­tying the water and digging the bottom of the pond. The Buddha avoids both these extremes by understanding that this name-and-form is a reflection, owing to the reflective nature of this pond of consciousness. It has no essence.

The name in this name-and-form, as we have already stated in an earlier sermon, is merely a formal name, or an apparent name.[46] And the form here is only a nominal form, a form only in name. There is neither an actual name nor a substantial form here. Name is only ap­parent, and form is only nominal. With this preliminary understand­ing one has to arouse that wisdom by build­ing up the ability to see through name-and-form, in order to win to freedom from this name-and-form.

So, in this sermon, our special attention has been on name-and-form, on the interrelation between name-and-form and con­scious­ness. All this reveals to us the importance of the first two lines of the problematic verse already quoted, vi¤¤ànaü anidas­sanaü anantaü sab­bato pabhaü,[47] "consciousness which is non-manifestative, end­less, lustrous on all sides".

According to the Buddha's vision, by fully comprehending the fact that name-and-form is a mere image, or reflection, the non-mani­festative consciousness develops the penetrative power to see through it. But those others, who could not understand that it is a re­flection, aroused self-love and self-hate. It is as if one is trying to outstrip one's shadow by running towards it out of fun, while the other is trying to flee from it out of fear. Such is the nature of the two extreme views in this world.

Dvãhi, bhikkhave, diññhigatehi pariyuññhità devamanussà olã­yanti eke, atidhàvanti eke, cakkhumanto ca passanti.[48] "Ob­sessed by two views, monks, are gods and men, some of whom lag be­hind, while others overreach, only they do see that have eyes to see."

This is how the Itivuttaka, the collection of the `thus said' dis­courses, sums up the situation in the world. Some fall back and lag behind, while others overstep and overreach. It is only they that see, who have eyes to see.

[1] M I 436, MahàMàlunkyasutta.

[2] M I 56, Satipaññhànasutta.

[3] M I 53, Sammàdiññhisutta.

[4] S IV 171, Hatthapàdopamasutta.

[5] A IV 100, Sattasuriyasutta; see sermon 8.

[6] Mp IV 52.

[7] S III 155, Aniccasa¤¤àsutta.

[8] A IV 353, Sambodhisutta.

[9] Dhp 62, Bàlavagga.

[10] E.g. at M I 297, Mahàvedallasutta.

[11] S II 267, âõisutta; see sermon 1.

[12] Sn 1118, Mogharàjamàõavapucchà.

[13] Sn 1119, ibid.

[14] M I 251, CåëaTaõhàsaïkhayasutta.

[15] A IV 338, Kiümålakasutta.

[16] Sv-pñ I 138.

[17] Dhp 1, 2, Yamakavagga.

[18] Cf. the discussion at As 250.

[19] Vibh-a 289.

[20] E.g. at D II 58, MahàNidànasutta.

[21] S I 22, Nasantisutta.

[22] E.g. at S V 253, Iddhipàdasaüyutta.

[23] S V 272, Uõõàbhabràhmaõasutta.

[24] A II 145, Bhikkuõãsutta.

[25] Dhp 187, Buddhavagga.

[26] M III 220, Saëàyatanavibhaïgasutta.

[27] D II 353, D III 254, 287, 290, 291, M I 118, M III 77, 140, S II 168, S III

109, S V 1, 12, 13, 16, 18-20, 23, 383, A II 220-229, A III 141, A IV 237, A V 212-248.

[28] M I 197, MahàSàropamasutta.

[29] Th 315-316, Ràjadatta Thera.

[30] Th 267-268, Nàgasamàla Thera.

[31] Th 269-270, Nàgasamàla Thera.

[32] Pj II 587.

[33] A IV 385, Samiddhisutta.

[34] Dhp 1, Yamakavagga.

[35] Dhp 221, Kodhavagga.

[36] D I 1-46, Brahmajàlasutta.

[37] D I 223, Kevaóóhasutta.

[38] See sermon 5.

[39] Sn 909, Mahàviyåhasutta.

[40] D I 46, Brahmajàlasutta.

[41] D I 42, Brahmajàlasutta.

[42] D I 45, Brahmajàlasutta.

[43] S II 4, Vibhaïgasutta.

[44] Ja VI 129 (no 546), Ummaggajàtaka.

[45] See sermon 6.

[46] See sermon 1.

[47] M I 329, Brahmanimantanikasutta.

[48] It 43, Diññhigatasutta.


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