Introduction to the Buddhist Scriptures
By Nina van Gorkom
General Aspects of Buddhism
The Conditions for the Cycle of Birth and Death.
Sariputta, before he met the Buddha, heard the Dhamma from Assaji, one of the first five disciples of the Buddha. He was deeply impressed by Assaji's behaviour when he saw him walking on his alms round. We read in the "Book of Discipline"(IV, Mahavagga, Ch I, The Great Section, 22):
... The wanderer Sariputta saw the venerable Assaji walking for almsfood in Rajagaha - pleasing whether he was approaching or departing, whether he was looking in front or looking behind, whether he was drawing in or stretching out (his arm), his eyes were cast down, he was possessed of pleasant behaviour - and seeing him, it occurred to him: "This is one of those monks who are indeed perfected ones in the world or who have entered on the way to perfection. What now if I, having approached this monk, should ask him: 'On account of whom are you, your reverence, gone forth, or who is your teacher, or whose dhamma do you profess?'"....
We then read that Sariputta decided to wait until Assaji had returned from his alms round. He then said to him:
..."Your reverence, your faculties are quite pure, your complexion very bright, very clear. On account of whom, your reverence, have you gone forth, or who is your teacher, or whose dhamma do you profess?"
"There is, friend, a great recluse, a son of the Sakyans, gone forth from a Sakyan family. I have gone forth on account of this Lord and this Lord is my teacher and I profess this Lord's dhamma."
"But what is the doctrine of your reverence's teacher, what does he point out?"
"Now, I, friend, am new, not long gone forth, fresh to this dhamma and discipline. I am not able to teach you dhamma in full, but I can tell you its purport briefly."
Then the wanderer Sariputta spoke thus to the venerable Assaji: "So be it, your reverence, tell me little or tell me much, (but) in any case explain to me its purport; I want just its purport. Why should you make a great elaboration?"
Then the venerable Assaji uttered this terse expression of dhamma to the wanderer Sariputta:
"Those dhammas which proceed from a cause, of these the
Truth-finder has told the cause,
And that which is their stopping- this is the doctrine of the great recluse."
When the wanderer Sariputta had heard this terse expression of dhamma, there arose dhamma-vision, dustless, stainless, that "Whatever is of the nature to uprise all that is of the nature to stop." He said: "If this is indeed dhamma, you have penetrated as far as the sorrowless path, unseen, neglected for many myriads of aeons."
Sariputta attained the first stage of enlightenment, the stage of the sotapanna. He had accumulated great wisdom for aeons, and therefore he understood the true nature of the dhammas which arose while he was listening to Assaji. He immediately understood realities such as hearing and sound as elements which arise because of conditions, which are impermanent and devoid of self. He penetrated the truth that whatever arises because of conditions has to fall away and is thus dukkha, he understood the cause of dukkha which is craving, he understood the ceasing of dukkha which is nibbana, and he understood the way leading to the ceasing of dukkha, which is the eightfold Path. Sariputta told his friend Moggallana the dhamma he had learned from Assaji, and Moggallana also became a sotapanna. They went to visit the Buddha and when the Buddha saw them from far he said that they were to be his two chief disciples. When they asked for ordination, the Buddha ordained them. Not long afterwards they attained arahatship.
Sariputta had developed satipatthana in former lives, he had accumulated wisdom to such degree that he could become a chief disciple. For us today, it is difficult to realize nama and rupa as they are; many conditions are necessary for the development of understanding. Together with right understanding many other good qualities have to be developed. We read in the "Dialogues of the Buddha"(III, no. XXXIII, The Recital, Ch X) that the Buddha asked Sariputta to give a discourse to the monks. Sariputta spoke to the monks about the discord among the sectarians which were the Niganthas, after their leader, Nathaputta, had died. He exhorted the monks to be in concord with the following words:
But to us, friends, the Dhamma has been well set forth and imparted by the Exalted One. It is effectual for guidance, conducive to self-mastery, and is imparted by one perfectly enlightened. Herein there should be a chanting by all in concord, not a wrangling, that thus this holy life may persist and be long maintained. That may be for the welfare and happiness of many folk, for compassion on the world, for the good, the welfare, the happiness of devas and of men.
Sariputta then gave an exposition of the Dhamma, grouping the items he brought forward numerically, in arithmetical progression. He presented the Dhamma in a form which was easily memorized and this shows his concern with the preservation of the Dhamma . Sariputta gave at each section the same exhortation as at the beginning. We read in the section on the Tens about ten doctrines which are a refuge, a protection. These include all the different kinds of wholesomeness which have to be developed together with right understanding in order to reach the goal. The text states:
Ten doctrines conferring protection.
Herein, friends, a monk is virtuous, lives self-controlled according to the self-control prescribed in the Vinaya, he has entered on a proper range of conduct, he sees danger in the least of the things he should avoid, he adopts and trains himself in the precepts.
He learns much, and remembers and stores up what he has learnt. Those doctrines which, excellent at the beginning, in the middle, at the end, in the letter and in their contents, declare the absolutely perfect and pure religious life; these he learns to a great extent, bears them in mind, treasures them by repetition, ponders them in mind, penetrates them by intuition.
He is a friend, an associate, an intimate of men of good character.
He is affable, endowed with gentleness and humility; he is patient and receives admonition with deference.
Where there are duties to be done for the seniors among his fellow-disciples, he therein is industrious, not slothful, and exercises fore-thought in methods for discharging them, is capable of accomplishing, capable of organizing.
And furthermore, friends, he loves the Dhamma, the utterance of it is dear to him, he finds joy in the teaching of higher Dhamma and higher Vinaya.
Furthermore, friends, he is content with necessaries of any quality, whether it be clothing, alms, lodging, medicines and provision against sickness.
Furthermore, friends, he is continually stirring up effort to eliminate bad qualities, evoke good qualities, making dogged and vigorous progress in good things, never throwing off the burden.
Furthermore, friends, he is mindful, and possessed of supreme lucity and perspicacity in following mentally and recollecting deeds and words long past.
Furthermore, friends, he is intelligent, endowed with insight into the arising and passing away (of dhammas), insight which is of that ariyan penetration which leads to the complete destruction of dukkha.
Sariputta then explained other points of the teachings, such as bad qualities one should get rid of and good qualities which should be cultivated, and finally ten qualities of the arahat, including the eight Path factors and also insight and emancipation of the arahat. At the conclusion of his sermon he received the approval of the Buddha.
The sutta which was quoted above stresses the importance of studying the Dhamma, pondering over what one has learnt and penetrating the truth by insight. It is said that one should delight in Abhidhamma, in "higher Dhamma". The Abhidhamma teaches about absolute realities, paramattha dhammas, with the purpose to develop right understanding of them when they appear. Sariputta also exhorted the monks to delight in "higher Vinaya", they should be intent on the goal of the Vinaya: the eradication of all defilements. Therefore, they should develop many good qualities such as friendliness, gentleness, humility, patience and contentedness. Whenever there is patience, the citta is kusala citta, citta without attachment, aversion or ignorance. Patience is needed to be contented with little, to have moderation in eating. With patience one should listen to the Dhamma, ponder over the details of the teachings and develop right understanding of realities. Without patience there will not be "insight into the arising and falling away of dhammas", insight which leads to the complete destruction of dukkha. This was the last item of the "tens" mentioned by Sariputta.
The arising and falling away of dhammas cannot be penetrated merely by thinking, only by the development of direct understanding of realities. Whatever reality appears has arisen because of conditions, and after it has arisen it has to fall away, it is impermanent. When sound appears, we should know that it has arisen because of its appropriate conditions, there is no self who could cause its arising. Sariputta, when he heard the Dhamma from Assaji, understood immediately the true nature of nama and rupa and also the conditions for their arising. For us today a more detailed study of realities is necessary. We have very little understanding of the different types of citta which arise in daily life. Visible object, sound and the other sense objects are experienced through the relevant doorways by cittas arising in a process . Visible object is experienced by seeing-consciousness which is vipakacitta, the result of kamma committed in the past. If kusala kamma produces seeing-consciousness it experiences a pleasant object and if akusala kamma produces seeing-consciousness it experiences an unpleasant object. In a process of cittas experiencing a sense object there are not only vipakacittas but also other types of cittas: on account of the object which impinges on one of the senses kusala cittas or akusala cittas arise. We usually like pleasant objects, we are attached to them, and we dislike unpleasant objects. Attachment and aversion are defilements, akusala cetasikas, arising with akusala citta. Defilements are accumulated from moment to moment and they can motivate kamma, actions through body, speech and mind, which is able to produce vipaka in the future. We are moving in a vicious circle: time and again vipakacitta arises, and on account of the objects experienced by vipakacitta defilements arise which can motivate kamma; kamma produces vipaka, and so the cycle continues.
The Buddha penetrated in the night he attained enlightenment the conditional arising of all the phenomena of life, the conditions for the continuation of the cycle of birth and death. He realized that so long as there is ignorance of realities there is no end to this cycle. He also penetrated with insight the cessation of the cycle, he realized that by the extinction of ignorance and of the craving and clinging conditioned by it, no more rebirth will follow. Then the cessation of the process of existence has been realized and this means the end of dukkha. The dependent arising of the phenomena which form up the cycle of birth and death, consists of twelve links, starting with ignorance and ending with old age and death. The dependent arising of phenomena is called the "Dependent Origination", in Pali "Paticcasamuppada" . We read in the "Book of Discipline"(IV, Maha-vagga, I,The Great Section):
At one time the awakened one, the Lord, being recently fully awakened, was staying at Uruvela on the bank of the river Neranjara at the foot of the Tree of Awakening. Then the Lord sat cross-legged in one (posture) for seven days at the foot of the Tree of Awakening, experiencing the bliss of freedom.
Then the Lord during the first watch of the night paid attention to causal uprising in direct and reverse order: conditioned by ignorance are the kamma-formations (sankhara) ; conditioned by the kamma-formations is consciousness ; conditioned by consciousness are nama and rupa ; conditioned by nama and rupa are the six bases ; conditioned by the six bases is contact (phassa); conditioned by contact is feeling; conditioned by feeling is craving; conditioned by craving if grasping; conditioned by grasping is becoming; conditioned by becoming is birth; conditioned by birth, old age and dying, grief, sorrow and lamentation, suffering, dejection and despair come into being. Such is the arising of this entire mass of dukkha. But from the utter fading away and stopping of this very ignorance (comes) the stopping of kamma-formations; from the stopping of kamma-formations the stopping of consciousness; from the stopping of consciousness the stopping of nama and rupa; from the stopping of nama and rupa the stopping of the six bases; from the stopping of the six bases the stopping of contact; from the stopping of contact the stopping of feeling; from the stopping of feeling the stopping of craving; from the stopping of craving the stopping of grasping; from the stopping of grasping the stopping of becoming; from the stopping of becoming the stopping of birth; from the stopping of birth, old age and dying, grief, sorrow and lamentation, suffering, dejection and despair are stopped. Such is the stopping of this entire mass of dukkha.
Ignorance which is mentioned as the first factor is ignorance of the four noble truths. Only right understanding of nama and rupa can eradicate ignorance, and thus the cycle of birth and death will come to an end. If someone develops wholesome qualities but neglects the development of right understanding ignorance cannot be eradicated. At the moment of kusala citta defilements have no opportunity to arise, but the latent tendencies of defilements are lying dormant in the citta, they are the conditions for the arising of akusala citta later on, at any time.
The Dependent Origination does not consist of abstract formulas, it pertains to our life now, at this moment. Our life now is conditioned by the past and our present life conditions in its turn life in the future. The Buddha used many methods for teaching the truth. He taught the four noble Truths: dukkha, its arising, its ceasing and the way leading to its ceasing. Or he taught the arising of the cycle of birth and death, which is dukkha, by way of twelve links, and the ceasing of dukkha by the ceasing of ignorance and consequently the ceasing of the other links of the process of existence. We read in the "Kindred Sayings" (II, Nidana-vagga, Ch XII, Kindred Sayings on Cause, 5, The Housefather, 43, Dukkha) that the Buddha, while he was at Savatthi, said to the monks:
I will teach you, monks, how dukkha arises and how it passes away. Listen to it...
What, monks, is the arising of dukkha?
Because of eyesense and visible object seeing-consciousness arises, contact is the clash of the three ; feeling is conditioned by contact, craving by feeling. This, monks, is the arising of dukkha.
And because of earsense and sound hearing-consciousness arises, because of nose and odour smelling-consciousness arises; because of tongue and flavour tasting- consciousness arises, because of bodysense and tangible object body- consciousness arises, and because of mind and mental objects mind-consciousness arises, with the same results in each case. This is the arising of dukkha.
And what, monks, is the passing away of dukkha?
Because of eyesense and visible object seeing-consciousness arises; contact is the clash of the three; feeling is conditioned by contact, craving by feeling. By the utter fading away and ceasing of craving, grasping ceases, by the ceasing of grasping, becoming ceases, by the ceasing of becoming, birth ceases, by the ceasing of birth, decay-and-death, grief, lamentation, suffering, despair cease. Such is the ceasing of this entire mass of dukkha.
Such is it also in the case of the other senses.
This, monks, is the passing away of dukkha.
There is impingement of sense objects time and again, even now. We cling to the different feelings which arise and we take feeling for "my feeling". We cling to feeling, and clinging conditions grasping. We are in the cycle of birth and death at this moment, and we create conditions for the continuation of "this whole mass of dukkha". Ignorance of the four noble Truths and craving condition new life, again and again.
The Buddha sometimes taught the Dependent Origination in complete form, sometimes he taught part of it. The subject is profound and complex, there are many aspects to it. The teaching of the Dependent Origination demonstrates that there is no self who can create any reality, that there are only empty phenomena, phenomena devoid of self, which are going on. The cycle of birth and death, conditioned by ignorance and craving, is going on for aeons. This can remind us not to expect wisdom to be fully developed within a short time. However, when a beginning has been made with the development of satipatthana by awareness of the reality appearing at this moment, the Dependent Origination will eventually be reversed. With the ceasing of ignorance there will be the ceasing of dukkha.
We read in the Middle Length Sayings" (I, no. 38), in the "Greater Discourse on the Destruction of Craving", that the Buddha, while he was at Savatthi, taught the monks the conditions leading to the continuation of dukkha and those leading to its cessation. He explained that the right conditions have to be present for the conception and birth of a child. We read:
Monks, when that boy has grown and has developed his sense-organs he enjoys himself, endowed with and possessed of the five strands of sense-pleasures: visible objects cognisable through the eye... sounds cognisable through the ear... scents cognisable through the nose... savours cognisable through the tongue... touches cognisable through the body, agreeable, pleasant, liked, enticing, connected with sense-pleasures, alluring.
When he has seen visible object through the eye, he feels attraction for agreeable visible objects, he feels repugnance for disagreeable visible objects; and he dwells without mindfulness aroused as to body, with a mind that is limited ; and he does not comprehend that freedom of mind and that freedom through intuitive wisdom as they really are, whereby those evil unskilled states of his are stopped without remainder. Possessed thus of compliance and antipathy, whatever feeling he feels- pleasant or painful or neither painful nor pleasant- he delights in that feeling, welcomes it and persists in clinging to it. From delighting in that feeling of his, from welcoming it, from persisting in clinging to it, delight arises; whatever is delight amid those feelings, that is grasping; conditioned by grasping is becoming; conditioned by becoming is birth; conditioned by birth, old age and dying, grief, sorrow, suffering, lamentation and despair come into being. Such is the arising of this entire mass of dukkha.
The same is said with regard to the other sense-doors. We then read about a householder who, after he listens to the Dhamma, becomes a monk. He follows the monk's training and abstains from unwholesome deeds and speech. He "guards" the six doors through mindfulness, and he is mindful during all his actions, no matter whether he is walking, standing, going to sleep, awake, talking or silent. He develops samatha to the degree of the fourth stage of jhana, and he develops right understanding to the degree of arahatship. We read:
When he has seen visible object through the eye, he does not feel attraction for agreeable visible objects, he does not feel repugnance for disagreeable visible objects; and he dwells with mindfulness aroused as to the body, with a mind that is immeasurable; and he comprehends that freedom of mind and that freedom through intuitive wisdom as they really are, whereby those evil unskilled states of his are stopped without remainder. He who has thus got rid of compliance and antipathy, whatever feeling he feels- pleasant or painful or neither painful nor pleasant- he does not delight in that feeling, does not welcome it or persist in indulging in it. From not delighting in that feeling of his, from not welcoming it, from not persisting in indulging in it, whatever was delight in those feelings is stopped. From the stopping of his delight is the stopping of grasping; from the stopping of grasping is the stopping of becoming; from the stopping of becoming is the stopping of birth; from the stopping of birth, old age and dying, grief, sorrow, suffering, lamentation and despair are stopped. Such is the stopping of this entire mass of dukkha.
The same is said with regard to the other doorways.
If there is no development of satipatthana we cling to all objectse we experience, we do not see the true nature of realities. We need sense objects all the time, we need friends around us, we cannot be alone. In reality there is no person, only nama and rupa, and thus we are actually alone. We like pleasant objects and we dislike unpleasant objects, but if we develop right understanding of realities, we will be less concerned about the objects being pleasant or unpleasant. The experience of sense objects is only a moment of vipakacitta which arises and then falls away. Through insight there will be more understanding of seeing, hearing and the other vipakacittas, there will be understanding of the conditions for their arising, and they will be realized as non-self. We dislike unkind words spoken by others, but in reality there is no person who is the cause of unpleasantness. Vipaka does not have an external cause, it is a type of citta, a nama, arising because of the appropriate conditions. Only the rupa which is sound is heard by the vipakacitta which is hearing-consciousness, no voice or words are heard. When hearing-consciousness has fallen away, akusala cittas arise most of the time. We tend to think with attachment or aversion about what we heard. When someone shows us by his facial expression that he is angry we have aversion, but the seeing-consciousness which is vipakacitta sees only visible object or colour, and what is seen conditions thinking. Real life is the same as watching T.V.: there is only colour to be seen on the screen, but the seeing conditions a great deal of thinking, thinking mostly with akusala cittas. We are in the cycle of birth and death, and thus there is kamma which causes vipaka, and on account of the objects which are experienced defilements tend to arise.
The scriptures point to the practice of satipatthana time and again. We may try to get rid of akusala, but if there is no mindfulness of akusala when it occurs and if akusala is not seen as only a conditioned nama, we will keep on clinging to an idea of self who tries to eliminate akusala. The clinging to an idea of self is akusala and thus, so long as there is a concept of self who wants to get rid of akusala there is no way to eradicate it. We read in "As it was said" (Khuddaka Nikaya, "Minor Anthologies II, Itivuttaka, The Ones, Ch I, 9) that the Buddha said:
"Monks, the man who does not understand and comprehend lust, who has not detached his mind therefrom, who has not abandoned lust, can make no growth in extinguishing dukkha. But, monks, he who does understand and comprehend lust, who has detached his mind therefrom, who has abandoned lust, can make growth in extinguishing dukkha."
This is the meaning of what the Exalted One said. Herein this meaning is thus spoken.
By whatsoever lust inflamed
Beings to the ill-bourn go,
That lust, completely knowing it,
Those who have insight do reject.
Rejecting it, no more again
They come unto this world at all.
The same is said about ill-will, dosa, and delusion, moha.
The teaching of the Dependent Origination clearly shows us that we are born because of ignorance and craving. Ignorance and craving are deeply rooted and thus there are conditions for their arising time and again. We cling to all objects, we cling to what we take for "ourselves". Even when we perform wholesome deeds we cling to the idea of "our kusala". However, kusala citta and akusala citta do not belong to a self, they arise because of their appropriate conditions. We may wish to suppress akusala, but it will arise again and again so long as it has not been eradicated by insight which is developed stage by stage. It is the function of panna to eradicate akusala by completely knowing its true nature. Only by the development of panna will there be the elimination of ignorance. We read in the same section of "As it was said" (Ch. II, The Ones, 4) :
This was said by the Exalted One...
"Monks, I see not any other single obstacle, hindered by which humankind for a long, long time fare up and down and wander on, like this obstacle of ignorance. Indeed, monks, it is through this obstacle of ignorance that humankind, being hindered, do fare up and down and wander on for a long, long time."
This is the meaning of what the Exalted One said. Herein this meaning is thus spoken.
There is no other single thing
Hindered by which the human race
For days and nights does wander on,
Which like delusion hinders.
They who, delusion giving up,
Have pierced right through the mass of gloom
No more again do wander on:
In them no cause for that is seen.
This meaning also was spoken by the Exalted One; so I have heard.