Buddhism In Daily Life
by Nina van Gorkom
published by zolag.co.uk
In the Buddhist temples of Thailand we see people paying respect in front of the Buddha statue by kneeling and touching the floor three times with their hands and head. Those who have just arrived in Thailand may wonder whether this way of paying respect is a form of prayer or whether it has another meaning. Buddhists in Thailand express in this way their confidence in the “Three Gems”: the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. They take their refuge in the “Three Gems”.
The first Gem is the Buddha. When people take their refuge in the Buddha, they say the following words in Påli: “Buddhaÿ saraùaÿ gacchåmi”, which means, “I go for refuge to the Buddha”. What is the meaning of the word “Buddha”? The Illustrator of Ultimate Meaning (the “Paramatthajotikå”, a commentary to the “Minor Readings”, Khuddaka Nikåya) explains, in the commentary to the “Three Refuges”, the meaning of the word “Buddha”:
... and this is
said, “Buddha”: in what sense buddha? He is the discoverer (bujjhitå) of
the Truths, thus he is enlightened (buddha).
He is the enlightener (bodhetå) of the generation, thus he is
enlightened. He is enlightened by omniscience, enlightened by seeing all,
enlightened without being led by others... he is quite without defilement, thus
he is enlightened; he has travelled by the Path that goes in only one way, thus
he is enlightened; he alone discovered the peerless complete enlightenment, thus
he is enlightened; ... Buddha: this is not a name made by a mother, made by a
father... this (name) “Buddha”, which signifies final liberation, is a
realistic description of Enlightened Ones, Blessed Ones, together with their
obtainment of omniscient knowledge at the root of an enlightenment (tree).
The Buddha is the discoverer of the truth. What is the truth the Buddha discovered all by himself? “He is enlightened by omniscience, enlightened by seeing all...” the commentary to the.56 • Buddhism in Daily Life Paramatthajotikå says. He had developed the wisdom to see and to experience the truth of all things. Everything in life is imperma-nent and thus it is unsatisfactory. People suffer from old age, sickness and death. In spite of this truth people still cling to the things in and around themselves. Thus they are not able to see reality. The Buddha understood through direct experience that all phenomena which arise fall away immediately. He did not cling to anything at all.
For us it is difficult to experience the truth of impermanence.
Nåma and rúpa arise and fall away all the time, but one cannot
have direct understanding of impermanence if one’s wisdom is
not developed. It is difficult to be aware often of realities when
they appear and to realize what they are: only nåma and rúpa,
phenomena which are impermanent and not self. The more we
realize how difficult it is to see things as they are, the more we
understand that the Buddha’s wisdom must have been of the
The Buddha taught that everything in life is dukkha. Dukkha
literally means pain, misery or suffering. However, the experience of the truth of dukkha is much deeper than a feeling of sorrow or contemplation about suffering. It is the direct understanding of the impermanence of the nåmas and rúpas in our life and the realization that none of these phenomena is true happiness. Some people may think that pondering over this truth is already the experience of the truth of dukkha. However, one does not have the real understanding of the truth if one merely thinks about it. When paññå has been developed to the degree that the arising and falling away of nåma and rúpa are directly understood, one will come to realize the truth of dukkha. Then one will gradually learn to be less attached to nåma and rúpa.
In the Greater Discourse of a Full Moon (Middle Length Sayings III, no. 109) we read that the Buddha, while he was staying near Såvatthí, in the palace of Migåra’s mother, in the Eastern Monastery, asked the monks:
“What do you
think about this, monks? Is material shape permanent or impermanent?”
“But is what is
impermanent painful or is it pleasant?”.The
Buddha • 57 “Painful, revered sir.”
“And is it right
to regard that which is impermanent, suffering, liable to change, as, ‘This is
mine, this am I, this is myself’?”
The Buddha asked the same question about mental phenomena. Everything in our life is impermanent. Also what we call happiness is impermanent–it is only a mental phenomenon which arises and then falls away immediately. How can that which arises and falls away as soon as it has arisen be real happiness? Everything in life, even happiness, is therefore dukkha or unsatisfactory. What arises and falls away should not be taken for self; everything is anattå or “non-self”. Impermanence, dukkha and anattå are three aspects of the truth, the truth of all realities within ourselves and around ourselves. It may take us a long time before we can experience things as they really are. The only way to develop direct understanding of the truth is being aware of the nåma and rúpa which appear, such as, for example, seeing, hearing or thinking at this moment.
The Buddha was always mindful and clearly conscious. He did not have ignorance of any reality. When we realize how difficult mindfulness is we deeply respect the great wisdom of the Buddha. The Buddha is called the “Awakened One”, because he is awakened to the truth. We read in the Discourse with Sela (Middle Length Sayings II, no. 92) that the Buddha said to Sela:
“What is to be
known is known by me, and to be developed is developed, what is to be got rid of
has been got rid of–therefore, brahman, am I awake.”
The Buddha had, by his enlightenment, attained the greatest purity. He had completely eradicated all defilements. The Buddha attained enlightenment during his life in this world. He taught others to develop in their daily lives the wisdom which can completely eradicate defilements and all latent tendencies. The more we know about our own defilements, including the more subtle de-filements, and the more we see how deeply rooted the clinging to the concept of self is, the more will we realize the high degree of the Buddha’s purity..58 • Buddhism in Daily Life The Buddha was full of compassion for everybody. The fact that the Buddha was free from defilements did not mean that he wanted to dissociate himself from the world. On the contrary, he wanted to help all beings who still had defilements to find the Path leading to true understanding. People are inclined to think that Buddhism makes people neglectful of their duties towards others and that it makes them self-centered. This is not so. Buddhism enables one more fully to perform one’s duties and to serve other people in a more unselfish way.
The Buddha attained enlightenment for the happiness of the world. In the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Ones, Ch XIII) we read that the Buddha said to the monks:
Monks, there is one
person whose birth into the world is for the
welfare of many
folk, for the happiness of many folk; who is born out
of compassion for
the world, for the profit, welfare and happiness of
devas and mankind.
Who is that one person? It is a Tathågata
who is arahat, a
fully Enlightened One. This, monks, is that one person.
The more one understands the Buddha’s teachings, the more one is impressed by his compassion for everybody. The Buddha knew what it meant to be free from all sorrow. Therefore he helped other beings to attain this freedom as well. One can help people by kindness, by generosity, and in many other ways. The most precious thing one can give others is to show them the way to true peace. The Buddha proved his great compassion to people by teaching them Dhamma.
When Buddhists pay respect to the Buddha statue they do not pray to a Buddha in heaven, since the Buddha passed away com-pletely.
Buddhists pay respect to the Buddha statue because they
think with deep reverence and gratefulness of the Buddha’s virtues:
of his wisdom, his purity and his compassion. When we speak of
virtues we think of good qualities in someone’s character. There
are many degrees of good qualities however. When the wisdom
of him who follows the eightfold Path is developed to such an
extent that he can attain enlightenment, then his way of life will
1 Literally, “thus gone”, the Perfect One.
have become purer and his compassion for others deeper.
Wisdom.The Buddha • 59
is not only theoretical knowledge of the truth, but realizing the
truth in one’s life as well. The virtues of the Buddha were developed
to such degree that he not only attained enlightenment without
the help of a teacher, but was also able to teach the truth to
others, so that by following the right Path they could attain
There were other Buddhas before the Buddha Gotama. All
Buddhas find the truth by themselves, without being led by others.
However, there are two different kinds of Buddhas: the
“Sammåsambuddha”, that is, a “Universal Buddha” or “Perfectly
, and the “Pacceka Buddha” or “Silent Buddha”.
The Sammåsambuddha has found the truth and is able to teach others as well the way to enlightenment. The Pacceka Buddha has not accumulated virtues to the same extent as the Sammå-sambuddha and thus he is not as qualified in teaching others as the Sammåsambuddha. The Buddha Gotama was a Sammå-sambuddha. There cannot be more than one Sammåsambuddha in a Buddha era; neither can there be in that era Pacceka Buddhas. The Buddha era in which we are living will be terminated when the Buddha’s teachings have disappeared completely. The Buddha foretold that the further one is away from the time he lived, the more his teaching will be misinterpreted and corrupted. His teach-ings will disappear completely and then there will be a next Buddha, and so the next Buddha era. The next Buddha will discover the truth again and he will teach other beings the way to enlightenment.
Buddhists take their refuge in the Buddha. What does the word “refuge” mean? The Paramatthajotikå commentary speaks about the meaning of the word “refuge”:
... When people
have gone for refuge, then by that very going for refuge it combats, dispels,
carries off, and stops their fear, anguish, suffering, (risk of) unhappy
destination (on rebirth), and defilement...
The going for
refuge is the arising of cognizance with confidence
therein and giving
preponderance thereto, from which defilement is
eradicated, and which occurs in the mode of taking
1 Sammå means thoroughly, rightly.
that as the highest
value....60 • Buddhism in Daily Life
Going for refuge to the Buddha does not mean that the Buddha can eradicate people’s defilements. We read in the Mahå-Parinibbåna-sutta (Dialogues of the Buddha II, no. 73) that, before his passing away, the Buddha said to Ånanda:
Now I am frail, Ånanda,
old, aged, far gone in years. This is my eightieth year and my life is spent...
Therefore, Ånanda, be an island to yourself, a refuge to yourself, seeking no
external refuge; with Dhamma as your island, Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no
The Buddha then explained that one takes one’s refuge in the Dhamma by developing the “four Applications of Mindfulness”, that is, being mindful of nåma and rúpa in order to develop right understanding of them. This is the eightfold Path which leads to enlightenment. One can depend only on oneself in following this Path, not on anyone else.
The Buddha said that the Dhamma and the Vinaya would be
his successor. Today the Buddha is no longer with us, but we take
our refuge in the Buddha when we have confidence in his teachings
and we consider it the most important thing in life to practise
what he taught..•
The second of the Three Gems Buddhists take their refuge in is the Dhamma. When they take their refuge in the Dhamma they say: “Dhammaÿ saraùaÿ gacchåmi”, which means, “I go for refuge to the Dhamma.”
What does the word “dhamma” mean? Most people think that dhamma only means doctrine, but the word “dhamma” has several more meanings. Dhamma means everything which is real, no matter whether it is good or bad. Dhamma comprises, for example, seeing, sound, greed and honesty. We cannot take our refuge in every dhamma; for instance we cannot take our refuge in greed or hate.
Can we take refuge in our good deeds? The effect of a good deed is never lost, since each good deed will bring its fruit accord-ingly. In the Kindred Sayings (I, Sagåthå-vagga, Ch I, part 8, Slaughter Suttas, § 5) we read that a deva (divine being) asks the Buddha how a man should live so that he does not have to fear life in another world. The Buddha answered:
Let him but rightly
set both speech and mind.
And by the body
work no evil things.
If in a house well stored with goods he dwell,
Let him have faith
, be gentle, share his goods
With others, and be affable of speech.
In these four qualities if he persist,
He need not fear life in another world.
A good deed can cause a happy rebirth such as birth in the
human plane of existence, or in a heavenly plane, and in that
case one need not fear life in another world. However, even a
heavenly plane is not a permanent refuge. Life in a heavenly
1 Confidence in wholesomeness.
plane may last very long, but it is not permanent. There
may be.62 • Buddhism in Daily Life
rebirth in unhappy planes after one’s lifespan in a happy plane is
terminated, depending on which of one’s accumulated good and
bad deeds, kusala kamma and akusala kamma, will produce
. Each deed will bring its own result: a wholesome deed will bring a pleasant result and an unwholesome deed will bring an unpleasant result. Some deeds may produce a result in this life, other deeds may produce result in a future life. The accumulated unwholesome and wholesome deeds may cause births in different planes of existence at different times. In the Kindred Sayings (I, Sagåthå-vagga, Ch III, Kosala, Part 2, § 10, Childless) we read about someone who gave alms to a Pacceka Buddha. Because of this good deed he was reborn in heaven seven times and after that in the human plane, which is also kusala vipåka. However, he killed his nephew because he wanted his brother’s fortune. This ill deed caused him to be reborn in hell. Thus he received the results of kusala kamma and of akusala kamma at different times.
So long as all defilements and latent tendencies have not been eradicated, there will be rebirth in different planes of existence. Even those who are reborn in heavenly planes still have defilements and latent tendencies. Birth is sorrow, no matter in what plane; birth will be followed by death. We read in the Kindred Sayings (II, Nidåna-vagga, Ch XV, part 1, § 3, Tears) that the Buddha, while he was in the Jeta Grove, near Såvatthí, said to the monks:
Incalculable is the
beginning, monks, of this faring on. The earliest point is not revealed of the
running on, faring on, of beings cloaked in ignorance, tied to craving.
As to that, what do
you think, monks? Which is greater,— the flood of tears shed by you crying and
weeping as you fare on, run on this long while, united as you have been with the
undesirable, separated as you have been from the desirable, or the waters in the
... For many a long
day, monks, have you experienced the death of
mother, of son, of
daughter, have you experienced the ruin of kinsfolk, of
1 Kamma is volition, but the terms kusala kamma and akusala kamma stand also
for good action or evil action motivated by wholesome or unwholesome volition. Deeds bring their results accordingly; more precisely: the volition or intention which motivates a deed is accumulated and can produce result later on.
calamity of disease. Greater is the flood of tears shed by you.The Dhamma • 63 crying
and weeping over one and all of these, as you fare on, run on this many a long
day, united with the undesirable, separated from the desirable, than are the
waters in the four seas.
Only when all defilements have been eradicated will there be no
cause any more which can produce a next life; that is the end of
rebirth , and that means the end of all sorrow. Nibbåna is the end
of rebirth because nibbåna is the end of defilements
. Therefore one can truly take one’s refuge in nibbåna. In the suttas, nibbåna is called “the deathless”. We read in the Kindred Sayings (V, Mahå-vagga, Book I, Kindred Sayings on the Way, I, Ignorance, § 7) that, when the Buddha was at Såvatthí, a monk said to him:
deathless! The deathless!’, lord, is the saying. Pray, lord, what is the
deathless, and what the way to the deathless?”
“That which is
the destruction of greed, the destruction of hatred, the destruction of
ignorance, monk–that is called ‘the deathless’. This same ariyan eightfold
way is the way to the deathless.”
Nibbåna is the dhamma we can take our refuge in, nibbåna is included in the second Gem. Nibbåna is a Gem of the highest value, because there is nothing to be preferred to complete freedom from all sorrow, from birth, old age and death. Nibbåna is real. If one has not yet attained enlightenment, one has not experienced nibbåna. But if one follows the right Path one may realize nibbåna, even during this life.
Nibbåna is the deathless, it is the end of the cycle of birth and
death. People may think that is not very desirable not to be born
again. It does not make much sense to speculate about nibbåna;
if we have not attained enlightenment we cannot imagine what
nibbåna is like. At the present time we can experience our defile-ments;
we can experience the sorrow which is caused in the
world by greed, hatred and ignorance. We read in the Kindred
1 There are four stages of enlightenment. At each of these stages nibbåna is
experienced and defilements are progressively eradicated. Only when the last
stage of enlightenment, the stage of the arahat, has been attained, there is the
end of defilements and there will be the end of rebirth. This will be further
explained in Ch. 8.
Sayings (I, Sagåthå-vagga, Ch III, Kosala, Part 3, § 3, the World).64 • Buddhism in Daily Life that, when the Buddha was at Såvatthí, King Pasenadi asked him:
“How many kinds
of things, Lord, that happen in the world, make for trouble, for suffering, for
sire, happen of that nature.
What are the three?
Greed, hatred and
ignorance:— these three make for trouble, for suffering, for distress.”
Who does not want to be free from suffering, caused by greed hatred and ignorance? Those who want to become free from all defilements take refuge in nibbåna. What is the Path leading to nibbåna? Nibbåna cannot be attained merely by wishing for it. Can people attain nibbåna by doing good deeds? Even when one performs good deeds there can still be the idea of self. When one does good deeds but there is no development of right understanding of realities, the belief in a self and other defilements cannot be eradicated. Thus, good deeds alone, without right understanding, cannot lead to nibbåna. Only vipassanå can lead to the attainment of nibbåna, to the eradication of defilements.
On may wonder whether it is necessary, in addition to developing
vipassanå, to do other good deeds. There is no self who can
choose to perform a particular kind of kusala. The Buddha encour-aged
us to perform all kinds of kusala for which there is an
opportunity. Sometimes there is an opportunity for dåna, sometimes
for síla, at other times for samatha or for vipassanå. Through the
development of vipassanå we will come to know our defilements,
even the more subtle ones. Then we will see the danger of defile-ments
more clearly and realize the benefit of developing the Path
leading to their eradication. If we observe the precepts or do
other kinds of good deeds with mindfulness of nåma and rúpa, we will learn that there is no self who performs kusala and thus kusala will be purer. However, vipassanå will not immediately transform one’s character. It is most important to develop right understanding of both kusala and akusala as only conditioned realities, as non-self.
The development of vipassanå takes many lives, because ignorance is deeply accumulated. Most of the time we are ignorant and forgetful of the nåma and rúpa which appear now through.The Dhamma • 65 one of the five senses or through the mind-door. We are used to thinking of realities which have fallen away already a long time ago or of those which may present themselves in the future. We should not expect to learn awareness in one day or even within one year. We cannot tell how much progress is made each day, because wisdom develops very gradually.
We read in the Kindred Sayings (III, Khandhå-vagga, Middle Fifty, Part 5, § 101, Adze-handle) that the Buddha, when he was at Såvatthí, said to the monks:
By knowing, monks,
by seeing is, I declare, the destruction of the
, not by not
knowing, by not seeing...
Suppose, monks, in
a monk who lives neglectful of self-training there should arise this wish: ”O
that my heart were freed from the åsavas without grasping.” Yet for all that
his heart is not freed from the åsavas. What
is the cause of that?
It must be said
that it is his neglect of self-training. Self-training in what? In the four
applications of mindfulness... in the ariyan eightfold Path.
... in the monk who
dwells attentive to self-training there would not arise such a wish as this:
“O that my heart were freed from the åsavas without grasping”; and yet his
heart is freed from them. What is the cause of that?
It must be said it
is his attention to self-training... Just as if, monks, when a carpenter or
carpenter’s apprentice looks upon his adze-handle and sees thereon his
thumb-mark and his finger-marks he does not thereby know: ”So and so much of
my adze-handle has been worn away today, so much yesterday, so much at other
times.” But he knows the wearing away of it just by its wearing away.
Even so monks, the
monk who dwells attentive to self-training has not this knowledge: “So and so
much of the åsavas has been worn away today, so much yesterday, so much at
other times.“ But he knows the wearing away of them just by their wearing
When wisdom is highly developed, nibbåna can be realized. There
are four stages of enlightenment and at each stage nibbåna is
1 Cankers or intoxicants, one group of defilements. Defilements are classified
into different groups.
experienced and defilements are progressively
eradicated..66 • Buddhism in Daily
Defilements are so deeply rooted that they can only be eradicated
stage by stage. At the first stage the wrong view of self is eradicated,
but there are still attachment, aversion and ignorance. Only at
the last stage of enlightenment, the stage of the arahat, are all
defilements and latent tendencies eradicated completely. When
one has attained the stage of the arahat there will be no more
The citta which experiences nibbåna is a “supramundane” or
lokuttara citta. There are two types of citta for each of the four
stages of enlightenment: lokuttara kusala citta and its result, the
“fruition-consciousness”; thus there are eight types of lokuttara
citta. Nibbåna and the eight types of lokuttara citta which experi-ence
nibbåna are included in the second Gem, the Dhamma to
which one goes for refuge
. When we take our refuge in the second Gem, we consider it the goal of our life to develop the wisdom which can eventually eradicate all defilements.
There is still another Dhamma included in the second Gem, namely the Dhamma in the sense of the Buddha’s teachings. We can take our refuge in the Buddha’s teachings. The teachings can lead people to the truth if they study them with right understanding and if they practise according to what is taught. We should study the whole of the Buddha’s teachings. If one studies only a few suttas one will not clearly understand what the Buddha taught. Many times a sutta merely alludes to things which are explained in detail in other parts of the Tipiìaka, the “three Collections” of the scriptures. It is useful to study the commentaries to the Tipiìaka as well, because they explain the Buddha’s teachings. The teachings are our guide since the Buddha passed away.
We read in the Discourse to Gopaka-Moggallåna (Middle Length Sayings III, no. 108) that after the Buddha’s passing away a brahman asked Ånanda what the cause was of the unity of the monks. He said:
“Is there, good
Ånanda, even one monk who was designated by the good Gotåma, saying: ‘After
my passing this one will be your support’, and to whom you might have recourse
1 Nibbåna and the eight lokuttara cittas are the “nine supramundane dhammas”,
“nava lokuttara dhammas”.
“There is not
even one monk, brahman, who was designated by the.The Dhamma • 67 Lord
who knew and saw, perfected one, fully Self-Awakened One, saying:
‘After my passing
this one will be your support’, and to whom we might have recourse now.”
“But is there
even one monk, Ånanda, who is agreed upon by the Order and designated by a
number of monks who are elders, saying:
Lord’s passing this one will be our support’, and to whom you might have
“There is not
even one monk, brahman, who is agreed upon by the Order... and to whom we might
have recourse now.”
“But as you are
thus without support, good Ånanda, what is the cause of your unity?”
“We brahman, are
not without support, we have a support, brahman.
Dhamma is the
In the Gradual Sayings (Book of the Threes, Ch VI, § 60, Sangårava) we read that the Buddha spoke to the brahman Sangårava about three kinds of “marvels”: the marvel of “superpower”, such as diving into the earth or walking on water, the marvel of thought-reading and the marvel of teaching. The Buddha asked him which marvel appealed to him most. Sangårava answered:
Of these marvels,
master Gotama, the marvel of super-power... seems to me of the nature of an
illusion. Then again as to the marvel of thought-reading... this also, master
Gotama, seems to me of the nature of an illusion. But as to the marvel of
teaching... of these three marvels this one appeals to me as the more wonderful
The teachings are the greatest miracle because they can change a
person’s life. Through the Dhamma one is able to follow the Path
which eventually leads to the end of all sorrow, to the end of the
cycle of birth and death. The Buddha’s teachings do not appeal to
everyone. Many people find it difficult to think in a way which is
different from the way they used to think. They do not like the
truth of non-self. They want to be master of their mind even
though they can find out that this is impossible. The Buddha
knew how difficult it is for people to change their way of thinking. In the Discourse to Vacchagotta on Fire (Middle Length Sayings II, no. 72) we read that the Buddha, when he was staying near Såvatthí, in the Jeta Grove, taught Dhamma to Vacchagotta who.68 • Buddhism in Daily Life had wrong views. Vacchagotta, after having brought forward his wrong views and having listened to the Buddha’s reply, said that he was at a loss and bewildered on account of what the Buddha had said to him. The Buddha replied:
You ought to be at
a loss, Vaccha, you ought to be bewildered. For, Vaccha, this dhamma is deep,
difficult to see, difficult to understand, peaceful, excellent, beyond
dialectic, subtle, intelligible to the wise; but it is hard for you who are of
another view, another allegiance, another objective, of a different observance,
and under a different teacher.
Dhamma is deep and difficult to understand. People cannot un-derstand
Dhamma if they still cling to their own views. If they
would really study the teachings and apply what they have learnt,
they could find out for themselves whether one can take one’s
refuge in the Dhamma. When we have verified in our life that
what the Buddha taught is reality, even if we cannot yet experience
everything he taught, we do not want to exchange our under-standing
for anything else in life. If we develop right understanding
of realities we will have Dhamma as a support. Thus we take
refuge in the Dhamma..•
The Sangha is the third of the “Three Gems”. When Buddhists
take their refuge in the Sangha they say: “Sanghaÿ saraùaÿ
gacchåmi”, which means, “I go for refuge to the Sangha”. The
word “sangha” literally means “congregation” or “community”. It
is the word generally used for the order of monks. However, the
word “sangha” in connection with the third Gem has a different
meaning. The third Gem, the Sangha we take our refuge in, is the
“ariyan Sangha”, the community of all those who have attained
enlightenment. “Ariyan” or “noble person” is the name which
denotes all those who have attained one of the four stages of
enlightenment, no matter whether they are monks, nuns (bhikk-hunís),
unmarried layfollowers or married layfollowers. In the
suttas we read that countless men and women layfollowers, single
and married, attained enlightenment
In order to understand what enlightenment is, we should first
know more about the accumulation of defilements. All kinds of
defilements which arise are conditioned; they are conditioned by
akusala in the past. Akusala citta which arises now conditions
akusala citta again in the future. Each citta which arises falls
away completely and thus we may wonder how there can be
accumulation of defilements. Each citta which arises falls away but it conditions the succeeding citta and this again the next one. Since our life is a continuous series of cittas succeeding one another, the process of accumulation continues in this series of cittas, going on from moment to moment, from birth to death, and from one life to the next life. That is the reason why there are conditions at present for all kinds of defilements; they can arise at any time when there are the right conditions.
The defilements which have been accumulated are very deeply
1 See, for example, Middle Length Sayings II, no. 73, “Greater Discourse to
rooted, and they can only be eradicated in stages, at the
different.70 • Buddhism in Daily
stages of enlightenment. First the latent tendency of the clinging
to the concept of self has to be eradicated. The belief in a self can
be eradicated by understanding what it is we take for self, in
developing vipassanå or right understanding of realities. What we
call “my body” are only physical phenomena, rúpas, which arise
and fall away and which we cannot control. We read in the
Kindred Sayings (III, Middle Fifty I, § 59, The Five) that the
Buddha said to his first five disciples in the Deerpark of Vårånasi:
Body, monks, is not
the self. If body, monks, were the self, then body would not be involved in
sickness, and one could say of body: “Thus let my body be. Thus let my body
The same is said about mental phenomena. What we take for “my mind” are only mental phenomena, nåmas, which arise and fall away and which are beyond control. There is no self who can direct them. The wrong view of self we have accumulated through-out countless lives can be eliminated only very gradually. The wisdom becomes keener as successive stages of insight are attained during the development of vipassanå. When the first stage of enlightenment is attained and nibbåna is experienced for the first time, the wrong view of self is eradicated completely and there is no more doubt about nåma and rúpa.
The first stage of enlightenment is the stage of the “stream-winner”, in Påli: “sotåpanna”. We read in the Kindred Sayings (III, Khandhavagga, Ch XXV, Kindred Sayings on Entering, § 1, The Eye) that the Buddha said to the monks:
The eye, monks, is
impermanent, changeable, becoming otherwise.
The ear, monks, is impermanent, changeable. So is the nose, the tongue,
the body, and the mind. It is impermanent, changeable, becoming otherwise...
He, monks, who thus
knows, thus sees these doctrines, is called “streamwinner, saved from
destruction, assured, bound for enlightenment”.
The sotåpanna, the streamwinner, is bound for the last stage of enlightenment, which is the stage of the arahat. At the first stage of enlightenment, the stage of the sotåpanna, nibbåna is.The Sangha • 71 experienced and defilements are eradicated, but not all defilements are eradicated yet. There are still lobha, dosa and moha. The sotåpanna knows that there are still conditions for akusala cittas, but he does not take them for self. Although he still has defilements, he will never transgress the five precepts; it has become his nature to observe them. He cannot commit a deed which can cause rebirth in one of the woeful planes; he is “saved from destruction” as we read in the above-quoted sutta. Those who are not ariyans cannot be sure that they will not be reborn in a woeful plane of existence, even if they have done many good deeds in this life. One may have committed an evil deed in a past life which may cause rebirth in an unhappy plane. Only ariyans can be sure that they will not be reborn in an unhappy plane.
The sotåpanna has an unshakable confidence in the “Three
Gems”: in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. He has no
doubts about the Path the Buddha taught; he cannot delude himself
about the right practice of vipassanå. We are deluded about the
right practice so long as we cling to a self, when we want to
induce the arising of awareness or when we cling to results we
are hoping for. The sotåpanna, however, is firmly established on
the Path to the last stage of enlightenment, the stage of the
In the scriptures nibbåna has been described as the end of
lobha, dosa and moha, as the end of dukkha, as the end of
rebirth, as the deathless. When one reads this one may think that the attainment of enlightenment and the experience of nibbåna only pertains to the arahat who has realized the fourth and last stage of enlightenment and who will not be reborn after he has passed away. However, at each of the four stages of enlightenment nibbåna is experienced and defilements are eradicated, until they are all eradicated at the last stage of enlightenment. The ariyans who have not reached the stage of the arahat still have defilements and they still have conditions to be reborn, but they are sure to reach the end of defilements and the end of rebirth.
The sotåpanna has experienced nibbåna. It is difficult to under-stand and define what nibbåna is. Nibbåna is the unconditioned dhamma, it does not arise and fall away. All realities we experience in daily life arise because of conditions and then fall away im-mediately. What arises and falls away is dukkha, suffering or.72 • Buddhism in Daily Life unsatisfactory. All conditioned realities are impermanent, dukkha and anattå, non-self. Since nibbåna does not arise and fall away it is not impermanent and thus not dukkha. Nibbåna is not a person or self, it is anattå. Thus, all realities, including nibbåna, are anattå. When paññå has been developed to the degree that condi-tioned realities are clearly understood as they are, as impermanent, dukkha and anattå, there can be enlightenment, the experience of nibbåna. Nibbåna is the object of lokuttara citta, supramundane citta, as we have seen in chapter 7. The lokuttara cittas which experience nibbåna arise and then fall away immediately, they are impermanent. After they have fallen away other types of cittas arise which are not lokuttara cittas. So long as one has not eradicated all defilements akusala cittas are bound to arise again.
The fact that the sotåpanna has attained enlightenment does
not mean that he cannot continue all his daily activities. The
sotåpanna can live with husband or wife and lead a family life. Ariyans who have not attained the third stage of enlightenment, the stage of the “non-returner” or “anågåmí”, still have attachment to sense objects. As regards the arahat, he has no inclinations at all for the layman’s life.
The sotåpanna does not take any nåma or rúpa for self, but there is still attachment, aversion and ignorance; he still has conceit. Therefore, he has to continue with the development of vipassanå. We read in the Kindred Sayings (III, Khandhå-vagga, Last Fifty, II, § 122, Virtue) that Mahå-Koììhita asked Såriputta what would be the object of awareness for a virtuous monk who has not realized any stage of enlightenment yet, or for a sotåpanna, or for those who have realized the subsequent stages of enlightenment.
Såriputta explained that the object of paññå is the five “khandhas
, which are all the nåmas and rúpas in and around
oneself. Såriputta said:
khandhas of grasping, friend Koììhita, are the conditions
which should be
pondered with method by a virtuous monk, as being
suffering, sick, as a boil, as a dart, as pain, as ill-health,
1 Khandha is translated as “group” or “aggregate”. The five khandhas are: the
khandha of rúpas, of feelings, of perception, of “formations” or “activities” (all mental factors other than feeling and perception), and of consciousness. Thus, the five khandhas are all nåmas and rúpas of our life.
as alien, as
transitory, empty and not self....The
Sangha • 73 Indeed, friend, it is possible for a virtuous monk so
pondering with method these five khandhas of grasping to realize the fruits of
stream-winning.” “But, friend Såriputta, what are the things which should
be pondered with method by a monk who is a sotåpanna?”
“By a monk who is
a sotåpanna, friend Koììhita, it is these same five khandhas of grasping
which should be so pondered.
Indeed, friend, it
is possible for a monk who is a sotåpanna... by so
five khandhas... to realize the fruits of once-returning
“But, friend Såriputta,
what are the things which should be pondered with method by a monk who is a
“By one who is a
once-returner, friend, it is these same five khandhas which should be pondered
Indeed it is
possible, friend, for one who is a once-returner, by so
realize the fruits of non-returning
“But, friend Såriputta,
what are the things which should be pondered with method by one who is a non-returner?”
“By such a one,
friend Koììhita, it is these five khandhas of grasping which should be so
pondered. It is possible, friend, for a non-returner by so pondering to realize
the fruits of arahatship.”
“But what, friend
Såriputta, are the things which should be pondered with method by one who is an
“By an arahat,
friend Koììhita, these five khandhas should be pondered with method as being
impermanent, suffering, sick, as a boil, as a dart, as ill-health, as alien,
transitory, void and not self. For
the arahat, friend, there is nothing further to be done, nor is there return to
upheaping of what is done. Nevertheless, these things, if practised and
enlarged, conduce to a happy existence and to self-possession even in this
The ariyan of the second stage, the once-returner or
sakadågåmí, has not eradicated all attachment and aversion, but they have
become attenuated. He still has ignorance, which is only completely eradicated
by the arahat. The ariyan of the third stage, the non-1 The once-returner or sakadågåmí
has realized the second stage of enlightenment.
2 The non-returner or anågåmí has realized the third stage of enlightenment.
returner or anågåmí, has eradicated aversion and he has eradicated.74 • Buddhism in Daily Life attachment to the things experienced through the five senses, but he has not eradicated all forms of clinging; he still clings to rebirth and he still has conceit.
Ariyans who are not yet arahats can still have conceit, although they have no wrong view of self. They may be inclined to pride while they compare themselves with others. When a person thinks himself better than, equal to or less than someone else, there can, even if it is true, be conceit. Why should we compare ourselves with others? In the Khemaka-sutta (Kindred Sayings III, Khandhå-vagga, Middle Fifty, Part 4, § 89) we read that the monk Khemaka, who was staying in Jujube Tree Park, was afflicted by sickness. Some other monks who were staying near Kosambí in Ghosita Park, asked the monk Dåsaka to inquire after his health. After he gave the message that his health was not improving, the other monks told Dåsaka to ask Khemaka whether he still took anything for self. When Khemaka had told Dåsaka that he did not take anything for self, the other monks concluded that Khemaka must be an arahat. Khemaka answered Dåsaka:
I discern in the five khandhas of grasping no self nor anything pertaining to
the self, yet am I not arahat, nor one in whom the åsavas (cankers) are
destroyed. Though, friend, I see that I have got the idea of ‘I am’ in the
five khandhas of grasping, yet do I not discern that I am this ‘I am’.”
Then the venerable
Dåsaka returned to the monks with that message and reported the words of the
venerable Khemaka (and those monks sent this further message): “As to this
‘I am’, friend Khemaka, of which you speak, what do you mean by this ‘I
am’? Do you speak of ‘I am’ as body or as distinct from the body? As
feeling, or as distinct from feeling? As
perception... as the “activities”... as consciousness, or as distinct from
consciousness? As to this ‘I am’, what do you mean by it?” (So the
venerable Dåsaka went again and took the message in these words.) “Enough,
friend Dåsaka. What boots this running to and fro! Fetch my staff. I will go
myself to these monks.”
So the venerable
Khemaka, leaning on his staff, came to those monks. When he got there, he greeted them, and exchanging the
courtesies of civil words, sat down at one side. As he thus sat, the elders thus
spoke to the venerable Khemaka:—
“As to this ‘I
am’, friend Khemaka, of which you speak, what do you.The Sangha • 75 mean
by it? Do you speak of it as body or as distinct from body... as consciousness,
or as distinct from consciousness?”
“No friends, I do
not say, ‘I am body or feeling, or perception, or the ‘activities’ or
consciousness, or as distinct from these and from conscious-ness.
’ Though, friends, I see that I have got the idea of ‘I am’ in the
five khandhas of grasping, yet I do not discern that I am this ‘I am’. Just
as, friends, in the case of the scent of a blue lotus, or a white lotus,— if
one should say: ‘The scent belongs to the petals or the colour or the fibres
of it’, would he be rightly describing the scent?”
“Then how would
he be right in describing it?”
by speaking of the scent of the flower.”
friends, I do not speak of the ‘I am’ as a body, or as feeling and so forth.
Nevertheless I see that in these five khandhas of grasping I have got the idea
of ‘I am’; yet I do not discern that I am this ‘I am’.
Though, friends, an ariyan disciple has put away the
five lower fetters
yet there remains
in him a subtle remnant from among the five khandhas of grasping, a subtle
remnant of the I am-conceit, of the I am-desire, of the lurking tendency to
think ‘I am’, still not removed from him. Later on he lives contemplating
the rise and fall of the five khandhas of grasping, seeing thus: ‘Such is
body, such is the arising of body, such is the ceasing of it. Such is feeling...
perception... the activities... such is consciousness, the arising of it and the
ceasing of it’. In this way, as
he lives in the contemplation of the five khandhas of grasping, that subtle
remnant of the I am-conceit, of the I am-desire, that lurking tendency to think
‘I am’, which was still not removed from him–that is now removed.
there is a dirty, soiled cloth, and the owners give it to
a washerman, and he
rubs it smooth with salt-earth, or lye or cowdung,
and rinses it in
pure clean water. Now, though that cloth be clean,
yet there hangs about it, still unremoved, the smell of
the salt-earth or
lye or cowdung. The washerman returns it to the
owners, and they
lay it up in a sweet-scented coffer. Thus that smell... is
1 Fetters or saóyojanas are a group of defilements. The non-returner or
anågåmí has eradicated the five lower fetters, which include wrong views,
clinging to sense objects and aversion. The arahat has eradicated the five higher
fetters which include conceit, craving for rebirth which is the result of jhåna,
restlessness and ignorance.
utterly removed...”.76 • Buddhism in Daily Life
Further on we read:
Now when this
teaching was thus expounded the hearts of as many as sixty monks were utterly
set free from the åsavas, and so was it also with the heart of the venerable
The arahat has eradicated all defilements and latent tendencies.
He will not be reborn when his life is terminated.
How can we find out who is an ariyan? There is no way to know who is an ariyan, unless we have become enlightened our-selves. It cannot be known from someone’s outward appearance whether he is an ariyan or not. People who are very amiable and peaceful are not necessarily ariyans. However, we can take our refuge in the ariyan Sangha even if we do not personally know any ariyans. We can think of the virtues of the ariyans, no matter whether they are in this plane of existence or in other planes. The ariyans prove that there is a way to the end of defilements. We should know what the condition is for the end of defilements: the development of wisdom. The monks, nuns, men and women lay-followers who were ariyans in the Buddha’s time proved that what the Buddha taught can be realized in daily life. The Buddha did not teach abstract ideas, he taught reality. Should those who want to realize the truth not walk the same Path the ariyans walked, even if they still have a long way to go?
The ariyans understood very clearly that we cannot seek deliver-ance
from our defilements outside ourselves. Defilements can only
be eradicated where they arise: within ourselves. If we want to
eradicate defilements we should follow the eightfold Path which
is the “Middle Way”. In order to follow the “Middle Way” we do
not have to change our daily life, we do not have to follow a
particular life-style or difficult practices. We can be aware of
nåma and rúpa during our daily activities. We will experience that this may be more difficult than the practices of an ascetic. It is harder to overcome the clinging to a self when we are seeing, hearing or thinking, than to endure bodily hardship. The develop-ment of wisdom is a lifetask. We need much courage and perse-verance in order to continue to be aware of realities of daily life.
When we take our refuge in the ariyan Sangha we are expressing
our confidence in the Buddha’s Path, through which we
may.The Sangha • 77
realize what the Sangha has realized. We take our refuge in the
Sangha also when we pay respect to the monks, no matter whether
they are ariyans or not, because the goal of monkhood is to apply
what the Buddha taught in order to realize the truth and to try to
help other people as well to realize the truth. Thus the monks
remind us of the “Three Gems”: the Buddha, the Dhamma and
Sangha..78 • Buddhism in Daily Life.• 79