Introduction to the Buddhist Scriptures

 By Nina van Gorkom


Part Five

General Aspects of Buddhism

Chapter VIII

The Impact of the Dhamma on Daily Life.

The Buddha's teachings can be applied in all situations of our daily life, in happy circumstances or in times of distress. He taught that all conditioned realities are impermanent, dukkha and non-self. The realisation of the truth will eventually lead to detachment, but the development of the wisdom which penetrates the true nature of realities takes an endlessly long time. It is difficult to accept that all conditioned realities are impermanent, especially when we have to suffer the loss of people who are dear to us. We read in the introduction to the "Snake Jataka" (Jataka III, no. 354) that a landowner grieved because of the death of his son. The Buddha said to him that all beings are subject to death and that all conditioned realities are subject to dissolution. He then related to him the "Snake Jataka".

In this story about one of the Buddha's past lives he was a brahmin who supported his family with field labour. He exhorted his wife, son, daughter, daughter-in-law and female slave as follows:

"According as you have received, give alms, observe holy days, keep the moral law, dwell on the thought of death, be mindful of your mortal state. For in the case of beings like ourselves, death is certain, life uncertain: all existing things are transitory and subject to decay. Therefore take heed to your ways day and night."

We then read that the Bodhisatta went with his son to plough the field. When they burnt rubbish a snake was irritated by the smoke and bit the Bodhisatta's son who then fell down and died. The Bodhisatta did not weep and covered him with a cloak. He realized the transitoriness of all conditioned realities. When the other members of the family heard of the death of the Bodhisatta's son they came and lifted the body on to a funeral pyre, made offerings of perfumes and flowers and set fire to it. They did not weep, because they were dwelling on the thought of death. Because of their virtue the throne of Sakka, King of the Devas, became hot, and thereupon he came to see the family at the funeral pyre and asked them what they were doing. We read about the following conversation between Sakka and the family members:

And going there in haste he stood by the side of the funeral pyre and said, "What are you doing?"

"We are burning the body of a man, my lord."

"It is no man that you are burning," he said. "Methinks you are roasting the flesh of some beast that you have slain."

"Not so, my lord," they said. "It is merely the body of a man that we are burning."

Then he said, "It must have been some enemy."

The Bodhisatta said, "It is our own true son, and no enemy."

"Then he could not have been dear as a son to you."

"He was very dear, my lord."

"Then why do you not weep?"

Then the Bodhisatta, to explain the reason why he did not weep, uttered the first stanza: -

"Man quits his mortal frame, when joy in life is past,

Even as a snake is wont its worn out skin to cast.

No friend's lament can touch the ashes of the dead:

Why should I grieve? He fares the way he had to tread."

Sakka then asked each of the family members the reason why they did not weep and they answered with a stanza. We read that the mother said:

"Uncalled he came here, unbidden soon to go;

Even as he came he went. What cause is there for woe?

No friend's lament can touch the ashes of the dead:

Why should I grieve? He fares the way he had to tread."

The sister said:

"Though I should fast and weep, how would it profit me?

My relatives alas! would more unhappy be.

No friend's lament can touch the ashes of the dead:

Why should I grieve? He fares the way he had to tread."

His wife said:

"As children cry in vain to grasp the moon above,

So mortals idly mourn the loss of those they love.

No friend's lament can touch the ashes of the dead:

Why should I grieve? He fares the way he had to tread."

The female slave said:

"A broken pot of earth, ah! who can piece again?

So too to mourn the dead is nought but labour vain.

No friend's lament can touch the ashes of the dead:

Why should I grieve? He fares the way he had to tread."

Sakka was pleased that they carefully dwelt on the thought of death, and he filled their house with countless wealth.

It is natural that we mourn the loss of dear people, but we should know that our grief is caused by selfishness. We cling actually to our own pleasant feeling we derived from their company. It is difficult to face with wisdom the loss of people who are dear to us. We cannot help being sad, but we should know that sadness is a cetasika, dosa, which arises so long as there are conditions for its arising. It is conditioned by attachment to the objects which can be experienced through the senses. Only the person who has attained the third stage of enlightenment, the "non-returner", sakadagami , has eradicated attachment to sensuous objects and all kinds of aversion, sadness, fear or grief.

The Bodhisatta reminded his family of the impermanence of conditioned realities. Everybody knows that death is unavoidable, but thinking about the impermanence of life is not the wisdom which realizes the impermanence of the nama or rupa appearing at this moment. We read in the "Kindred Sayings" (III, Khandha-vagga, Kindred Sayings on Elements, First Fifty, 12, Impermanence) that the Buddha, while he was at Savatthi, explained about the impermanence of the five khandhas, of conditioned namas and rupas:

Then the Exalted One said: "Body, monks, is impermanent. Feeling, perception, the activities (sankharakkhandha), consciousness is impermanent.

So seeing, monks, the well-taught ariyan disicple is repelled by body, is repelled by feeling, by perception, by the activities. He is repelled by consciousness. Being repelled by it he lusts not for it: not lusting he is set free: in this freedom comes insight that it is a being free. Thus he realizes: "Rebirth is destroyed, lived is the righteous life, done is my task, for life in these conditions there is no here-after." Right understanding of nama and rupa has to be developed stage by stage by mindfulness of their characteristics as they appear at the present moment. This will lead to the eradication of clinging to the concept of self and eventually to complete detachment from all objects which can be experienced.

What we take for a person, a being, are in the ultimate sense citta, cetasika and rupa which arise and fall away all the time. The dying of what we call a person is not different from what occurs at this moment, namely, birth and death of nama and rupa. The last citta of this life-span falls away and is then succeeded by the first citta of the next life. We read in the "Dispeller of Delusion" (Commentary to the Book of Analysis, Ch 4, Classification of the Truths, 101) that there are three kinds of deaths: momentary death, conventional death and death as "cutting-off":

... Herein, "momentary death" is the breaking-up of the rupas and namas during the course (of an existence). "Tissa is dead", "Phussa is dead"; this is called "conventional death". The completing of his time (kalakiriya) without liability to rebirth-linking by one who has destroyed the cankers is called "death by cutting-off"....

Conventional death is the ending of someone's life-span; at that moment the  dying-consciousness arises and falls away. So long as one has not attained arahatship, death will be followed by rebirth. The "death by cutting off" is the final passing away of the arahat who has no conditions for rebirth. Through insight we can understand by direct experience the momentary death, that is, the impermanence, of nama and rupa. The understanding of momentary death will help us to have less fear or grief when we are confronted with "conventional death", the ending of a life-span.

The impermanence of nama and rupa cannot be realized immediately; the truth of impermanence can only be penetrated in the course of the development of insight. One should be aware of nama and rupa, investigate their characteristics, and develop more understanding of them so that their characteristics can be clearly distinguished from each other. When the rupa which is sound appears we know that there must be hearing which experiences sound, but it is difficult to realize the characteristic of hearing and to clearly distinguish it from the characteristic of sound. Sati can be aware only of one characteristic at a time and at such a moment panna can investigate the characteristic of the reality appearing at the present moment. If there is awareness of rupa but not yet of nama, we cannot direct sati to be aware of nama. If we try this, there is desire for result and this obstructs the development of panna. If panna investigates more and more the characteristics of rupas which appear, there will be conditions also for awareness of nama. Sati and panna are non-self, they are beyond control. One may sometimes doubt about the usefulness of being aware of hardness which appears through the bodysense or sound which appears through the ears, but by the study of the Dhamma we will gain more confidence in the benefit of maha-satipatthana, which is the only way to eliminate ignorance.

We read in the "Gradual Sayings" (I, Book of the Ones, Ch VIII, 5-10):

Of slight account, monks, is the loss of such things as relatives. Miserable indeed among losses is the loss of wisdom.

Of slight account, monks, is the increase of such things as relatives. Chief of all the increases is that of wisdom. Wherefore I say, monks, you should train yourselves thus: We will increase in wisdom. You must train yourselves to win that.

Of slight account, monks, is the loss of such things as wealth. Miserable indeed among losses is the loss of wisdom.

Of slight account, monks, is the increase of such things as wealth. Chief of all the increases is that of wisdom. Wherefore I say, monks, thus must you train yourselves: We will increase in wisdom. You must train yourselves to win that.

Of slight account, monks, is the loss of such things as reputation. Miserable indeed among losses is the loss of wisdom.

Of slight account, monks, is the increase of such things as reputation. Chief of all the increases is that of wisdom. Wherefore I say, monks, thus should you train yourselves: We will increase in wisdom. You must train yourselves to win that.

The Dhamma teaches us what really counts in life. The loss of people who are close to us is very painful, but the loss of panna is worse. The loss of a dear person we feel only in this life, but the loss of panna pertains also to lives in the future. In this sutta the Buddha reminded the monks not to be neglectful in the development of satipatthana. If there is no development of panna defilements will increase and they can motivate akusala kamma which is able to produce the result of an unhappy rebirth.

When we are performing the most common activities in daily life, such as moving about, bending or stretching, taking hold of different things, talking or eating, there are usually akusala cittas which condition the movement of the body. Whereas, when there is mindfulness of nama and rupa there are kusala cittas. We read in the "Satipatthana Sutta" (Middle Length Sayings I, 10), under Mindfulness of the Body, in the sections about the Postures of the Body and Clear Comprehension, that the Buddha exhorted the monks to be mindful during all their activities:

And again, monks, a monk, when he is setting out or returning is one acting in a clearly conscious way; when he is looking in front or looking around... when he has bent in or stretched out (his arm)... when he is carrying his outer cloak, bowl and robe... when he is eating, drinking, chewing, tasting... when he is obeying the calls of nature... when he is walking, talking, standing, sitting, asleep, awake, talking, silent, he is one acting in a clearly conscious way....

We may not notice attachment and aversion when they are not strong, but through satipatthana we come to know also our more subtle defilements. When we, for example, lift our hands or take hold of a glass or plate, we are likely to do so with lobha. When we do not apply ourselves to dana, sila or mental  development, akusala cittas condition rupas when we move about or take hold of things. The study of more details about nama and rupa helps us to understand that what we take for self are only nama and rupa, conditioned by different factors. When we are speaking, kusala citta or akusala citta produces the rupa which is vocal intimation, and this is a rupa which conditions speech sound. When we gesticulate in order to convey our intentions, kusala citta or akusala citta produces the rupa which is bodily intimation. By awareness we will come to know whether kusala citta or akusala citta conditions our speech or gestures. When we take food, put it into our mouths, chew it and swallow it, we usually do so with lobha, even if there is no pleasant feeling at that moment. Then there are akusala cittas producing different rupas. We can learn to be aware of nama and rupa, also while we are eating.

In the "Maha-satipatthana sutta", and also in other suttas, the Buddha explained about the Four Applications of Mindfulness, namely, Mindfulness of the Body, of Feelings, of Cittas and of Dhammas. They include all realities which can be objects of mindfulness, and they have been explained under different aspects. These different aspects remind us that right understanding of nama and rupa can be developed in any situation. We are reminded not to see a "self" in the body, in feelings, in cittas, in dhammas. We read, for example, in the "Satipatthana Sutta (of the "Middle Length Sayings, I, 10), under "Mindfulness of the Body", in the section on Mindfulness of the Elements, that the monk should be aware of the elements of which the body consists. We read:

And again, monks, a monk reflects on this body according to how it is placed or disposed in respect of the elements, thinking: "In this body there is the element of extension (solidity), the element of cohesion, the element of heat, the element of motion." Monks, even as a skilled cattle-butcher, or his apprentice, having slaughtered a cow, might sit displaying its carcase at a crossroads, even so, monks, does a monk reflect on this body itself according to how it is placed or disposed in respect of the elements....

The Commentary to this sutta, the "Papancasudani" , explains that when a cow has been slaughtered and cut up, the butcher does not think of the cow who was alive; he does not think, "I am selling the cow; these people are taking away the cow." He thinks, "I am selling meat; these people indeed, are taking away meat." In the same way, when we are mindful of the elements, we will come to understand that what we take for the whole body, for a collection of body parts, consists of different kinds of rupas which arise and fall away.

We read in the section on the postures:

And again, monks, a monk, when he is walking, comprehends, "I am walking"; or when he is standing still, comprehends, "I am standing still"; or when he is sitting down, comprehends, "I am sitting down"; or when he is lying down, comprehends, "I am lying down." So that however his body is disposed he comprehends that it is like that....

The commentary to this sutta, the "Papancasudani", explains that the meaning of this passage is not just knowing that one is going when one is moving on, because this does not lead to the eradication of a belief in a self. The commentator explains the conditions for the postures. Citta produces a "process of oscillation". We read:

By the diffusion of the process of oscillation born of mental activity, going and the other modes of deportment take place and then there are these forms of conventional speech: "A living being goes", "A living being stands". "I go". "I stand."

We read that the monk has to see "the body in the body", "feeling in feeling", "cittas in citta", "dhamma in dhamma". We read in the commentary with reference to "Mindfulness of the Body":

The bhikkhu sees the body in the body, as something impermanent; as something subject to dukkha; as something that is non-self; by way of turning away from it and not by way of delighting in it; by freeing himself of passion for it; with thoughts making for cessation and not making for origination; and not by way of laying hold of it, but by way of giving it up...

The goal of satipatthana is detachment which will lead to the cessation of the conditions for the cycle of existence.

The namas and rupas which arise are dependent on conditions. When we consider the different conditions more often, our understanding of the true nature of nama and rupa will grow. We read in the "Kindred Sayings" (IV, Salayatana vagga, Kindred Sayings on Sense, Third Fifty, Ch 4, 139, The personal, by way of condition):

The eye, monks, is impermanent. Whatever condition, whatever cause there be for the appearance of the eye, that also is impermanent. Owing to impermanence the eye has come into being, monks. How could the eye be permanent?

(The same is said with regard to the other senses and the mind.)

So seeing, the well-taught ariyan disciple is repelled by the eye... tongue... mind. Being repelled he lusts not for it... so that he realizes,"for life in these conditions there is no hereafter."

Eyesense is a rupa, produced by kamma , which arises just for a moment together in a group with the four Great Elements, and then it falls away. Visible object or colour is another rupa arising and falling away in a group of rupas. When visible object contacts the eyesense, there are conditions for seeing. Only colour can impinge on the eyesense, not the other rupas arising together with it in a group. Eyesense, visible object and seeing are dependent on conditions which are impermanent, and thus they themselves cannot last either. By the understanding of the conditions for nama and rupa we will be less inclined to take them for self.

We have learnt that the object of sati in the development of insight is a paramattha dhamma, an ultimate reality, but we may still have doubts what awareness is and how it can be developed. Sati is a cetasika. Each citta is accompanied by several cetasikas. The citta is the "leader" in knowing an object, and the accompanying cetasikas also experience the object, but they each perform their own function . Sati is a sobhana (beautiful) cetasika which accompanies sobhana cittas. Each kusala citta is accompanied by sati, but there are many levels of sati. Whenever we perform dana, observe sila, develop calm or insight, there is sati arising with the kusala citta. When we consider nama and rupa in the right way and ponder over the Dhamma we studied, there is sati, but it is not of the same level as right mindfulness of the eightfold Path which is directly aware of the reality which appears.

The object of sati in vipassana is a paramattha dhamma, an ultimate reality. Paramattha dhammas each have their own unchangeable characteristic. We can denote them with different names, but their characteristics cannot be changed. Seeing, for example, is just seeing, the paramattha dhamma which experiences visible object, no matter whether a human being sees or an animal sees. Hardness is just the rupa which is hardness, no matter whether it is hardness of a rock or of a hand. If we do not develop satipatthana we will continue to pay attention only to a "whole" or a collection of things, such a a person or a house, and we take these for "mine" or "self". When there are conditions for direct awareness of the reality which presents itself, panna can investigate its true nature: only a paramattha  dhamma with its own unchangeable characteristic. Visible object appears through the eyes, sound appears through the ears, hardness appears through the bodysense, only one object at a time appears through the relevant doorway and can be object of sati. Through satipatthana we can understand what paramattha dhammas really are: elements which are not a person, not a self.

Mindfulness of nama and rupa should be developed in our daily life, daily life is the test for our understanding. When we are confronted with difficult situations we can verify to what extent panna has been developed. When we are confused and forgetful of nama and rupa, we should not be discouraged, but we should remember that we cannot expect panna to be developed within a short time. We need confidence in the Dhamma and energy in order to persevere in being aware of nama and rupa over and over again.

When sati is mindful of whatever reality appears through one of the six doors, there is no opportunity for the arising of akusala citta, no committing of akusala kamma through body, speech or mind. In the teachings it has been explained that the six doors are "guarded" by sati . However, sati does not last, and at the moments of forgetfulness the six doors are not "guarded". So long as one has not attained the first stage of enlightenment, the stage of the sotapanna, there are still conditions for transgressing the five precepts. Those who are ariyans have no longer conditions for killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and the taking of intoxicants, including alcoholic drinks. Seeing the true nature of nama and rupa, seeing them as impermanent, dukkha and anatta, conditions abstention from deeds which are harmful to oneself and others.

When there is mindfulness of cittas, we learn to see them as namas which are conditioned. Kusala citta and akusala citta arise when there are the right conditions for their arising, there is no self who can control them. When we understand this it can condition us to think of other people with kindness and compassion, even when they behave in a disagreeable way. The akusala cittas of both ourselves and others arise because of defilements which have been accumulated from life to life. The Buddha explained in detail about the many kinds and degrees of defilements and of good qualities with the purpose of helping people to investigate all realities within themselves and around themselves. Without his teaching we would take for pure kindness what actually is selfishness. Through the Dhamma we can have a more precise understanding of kusala and of akusala. We read in the "Dhammapada" (vs. 183) about the essence of the Buddha's teaching in a concise form:

Not to do any evil,

To cultivate good,

To purify one's mind,

This is the teachings of the Buddhas.

By the development of satipatthana the mind will be purified by right  understanding. Without purification of the mind, which is the third counsel, one cannot follow the first counsel, abstaining from evil, and the second counsel, the cultivation of wholesome qualities. When we read in the scriptures about the giving up of defilements we may have wrong understanding of the texts if we do not know that only panna which has been developed in vipassana can eradicate defilements. We read, for example, in the "Dhammapada" (vs. 221-225):

One should give up anger; one should abandon pride; one should overcome all fetters. Ills never befall him who clings not to mind and body and is passionless.

Whoso, as a rolling chariot, checks his uprisen anger, him I call a charioteer; other folk merely hold the reins.

Conquer anger by love; conquer evil by good; conquer the stingy one by giving; conquer the liar by truth.

One should utter the truth; one should not be angry; one should give even from a scanty store to him who asks; by these three things one may go to the presence of the gods.

So long as we take anger for self it cannot be eradicated. When it appears it can be object of awareness so that it can be realized as a conditioned nama, not self. Whenever we read in the scriptures that the Buddha exhorted people to abstain from evil and to cultivate wholesomeness, satipatthana was always implied, even when it was not explicitly mentioned. We read, for example, in the "Gradual  Sayings" (I, The Book of the Twos, Ch V, 2) that the Buddha said:

Monks, there are these two companies. What two? The discordant and the harmonious. And what is the discordant company?

Herein, monks, in whatsoever company the monks dwell quarrelsome, wrangling, disputatious, wounding each other with the weapons of the tongue,- such a company is called "discordant".

And what, monks, is the harmonious company?

Herein, monks, in whatsoever company the monks dwell in harmony, courteous, without quarrels, like milk and water mixed, looking on each other with the eye of affection,- such a company is called "harmonious".

The development of right understanding of nama and rupa will not give an immediate result with regard to one's behaviour, but gradually there will be more conditions for abstaining from speech and actions which can harm other people, more conditions for loving kindness and compassion.

It is important in whose company we are, good or bad friends will influence our behaviour. That is why the Buddha stressed righteous friendship. This is essential for the development of the eightfold Path. The development of right understanding of nama and rupa is a long process which takes many lives. We can easily be lured by desire for result. At such moments we are not mindful of what naturally appears in our daily life and thus, we are already off the right Path. We may misinterprete what we read in the scriptures about satipatthana and try to be mindful of particular objects, we may try to control sati. A friend who has right understanding of the Dhamma can help us to develop satipatthana in the right way. We read in the "Gradual Sayings" (Book of the Threes, Ch III, 24, Most Helpful):

Monks, these three persons are very helpful to another person. What three?

The one through whom a person goes for refuge to the Buddha, to Dhamma and the Order...

Then there is the one through whom one understands, as it really is, the meaning of: This is dukkha, This is the origin of dukkha, This is the ending of dukkha, This is the practice that leads to the ending of dukkha.

Also there is the one through whom a person, by destroying the asavas , himself in this very life comes to know thoroughly the heart's release, the release by insight which is freed from the asavas, and having attained it abides therein. Such a person is very helpful to one.

These are the three persons. Than these three I declare there is no other more helpful to this person. To these three persons I declare one cannot make requital by salutations, by rising up in his presence, by saluting him with clasped hands, by dutiful behaviour or by offerings of the requisites of food, clothing, bed and lodging, medicines and extra delicacies.

copyright (C) [Zolag] Revised 1/12/99, e-mail: