Another Western Buddhist Monk's site


Suggested Reading

Hi All

I suggest reading anthologies, if you want, or someone new wants to read the Pali canon (early texts of Buddhism), such as: is a kind of anthology.

I discourage you from reading: the translator’s introductions, or at least do so, AFTER you do your own uninfluenced reading; the book of verses in, e.g. the Samyutta Nikaya or sections of verses thrown into prose discourses of the Buddha. It doesn’t mean there would be NO benefit from reading them, just less benefit than reading more authentic teachings and they can support wrong view.

Even anthologies will usually be influenced by traditional interpretations and can mislead, but at least a lot of very doubtful material is omitted.

One of the common ways to mislead is to translate, lobha, dosa and moha as desire, aversion and ignorance. This gives the idea, e.g. that there are no wholesome desires. Hinduism teaches that all desires are the cause of suffering. The Buddha realised that there are wholesome and unwholesome desires, the same with anger, and ignorance of certain facts of the external universe is not the cause of suffering. Delusion is eradicated with Right View and then work has to be done to eradicate confusion, which, as Dr Peter Masefield points out, is an apt translation for moha. So the three would best be translated, greed, hatred and confusion.

best wishes

Only One Path/Vehicle – Only One Teaching

Hi All

At the Buddha’s time there were probably just those disciples who had understood his teaching/the path (those on/in the stream to Awakening) and those who had not. They were both laypeople or mendicants (monks or nuns). There were probably no “vehicles” or sects, such as Mahayana, Hinayana… There was just Dhamma. There may have been junior monks staying with various accomplished monks, but they would have all looked to the Buddha as the teacher, not the monk they were staying with. This idea is even questionable, since the Buddha instructed monks to go and wander, no two in the same direction.

There is a story of the Buddha asking permission to stay in someone’s barn and they said yes, but told him that there was another monk there already. When the Buddha entered the barn, he saw the monk practising meditation very well. So he joined him. After some time they both stopped meditating and the Buddha asked him who was his teacher. The monk said “the Buddha is my teacher”. The Buddha asked, “but have you ever met or seen the Buddha?” and the monk said “no”. So the Buddha said, “attend carefully and I’ll teach you the Dhamma” and the monk said “ok”. After the talk the monk realised that this monk in front of him was the Buddha. This says two things. The Buddha didn’t look special and some people took him as the teacher, even though they had never met him.

I want to let you know, that all authentic teachings of the Buddha contain all other authentic teachings. We have seen that to some extent in what I shared about the teaching of Mindfulness of Breathing. There I pointed out that the Buddha showed that the Four Foundations of Mindfulness are covered by the practice of Mindfulness of Breathing. I also showed how Calm and Insight (Samatha, Vipassanaa) are also covered by it. Here I’d like to show how Dependent Origination is also covered by it.

Now you may be surprised to know that there are many versions of Dependent Origination. You can see a discussion of some in Dr Rod Bucknell’s article: But not all of them fit into other teachings, like Mindfulness of Breathing. The one that does fit into other teachings is the one found in this discourse: There it is put together with the “standard” Dependent Origination, but we notice that the standard one does not match Mindfulness of Breathing. This makes it questionable. In fact I haven’t found any teaching matches the standard Dependent Origination. That makes it VERY questionable.

Here they are together:


So now we can compare the side on the right, what I have called “The Way Out” with the teaching of Mindfulness of Breathing, which is just a different way to teach the Path, which is the way out of suffering.

16 ana and DO

So this is how the authentic teachings of the Buddha protect and support each other.

Best Wishes

“negative” emotions

This was a reply to a 25/10/2012 post from a Tibetan Buddhist monk on an online discussion group:

We have to be careful when we talk about “negative emotions”. Are we talking from reaction and judgement, which is harmful?

Throughout history, people have judged things, people, emotions and actions as bad, evil, negative. In other religions it is because GOD or some other external authority says they are so. It is called “demonising”. When we look deeper we usually find there is some good/useful/positive aspect to them all. This would be why “deities” have a wrathful face in Tibetan Buddhism. If we don’t understand the needs behind our emotions, then not following “negative” ones can turn on us and create suffering. They are suppressed and eventually explode. This is a danger in emphasising “calm and peace”. They must come from understanding and transcending, not pretending and suppressing. The latter comes when we are trapped in ego games of identity. Trying to prove we are not bad (in whatever way), that we are good. It is the belief itself that is the problem/false.

Truth is often not such a simple thing as our judgements suggest.

According to the early recorded teachings of the Buddha, there are only a very few ACTIONS that are evil/unwholesome (in themselves). These are reflected in the five/eight/ten precepts and the four fundamental rules of monks (which nuns have too). And they are taught as things to avoid in the major religions of the world. I believe they are called “evil/sin” because they cannot be done with a pure motivation. (This may go against later interpretations of the Bodhisattva ideal and skilful means.) The four are:

  1. Killing a human being
  2. Stealing to the value of which your society rules would execute, jail or banish
  3. Sexual misconduct, which varies according to the lifestyle of a mendicant or layperson. For a mendicant: intentional sexual activity with the opposite sex, human or animal; for a layperson: avoiding rape, pedophilia and sex with those who are dependent on others for their livelihood (which of course would be covered by the monks’ and nuns’ practice). (Crazy later explanations of the Buddha’s teaching only say “adultery” or “cheating”, so rape and pedophilia would be ok! Thus there is SO much sex between monks and novices in all traditions. No the Catholics are not the only ones to blame!)
  4. Spiritual fraud – claiming to be more advanced than one really is

All lesser variations of these are covered by all the other training rules. Those lesser ones may be subject to the situation and could be considered under “skilful means”, but I don’t believe a bodhisattva would break the four above, no matter what. This is basic morality or ethics, without which one cannot progress on the path (according to early teachings). Killing mosquitoes to prevent malaria could be considered out of compassion for suffering beings, but the wiser person would encourage preventing the growth of mosquitoes by avoiding standing water without fish! Maybe introduce fish!

Yes, we should know of negative emotions ‘their deceptive nature, their true colors, and their harmful character,’ (quoted from the Tibetan Buddhist monk on the online discussion group)  but we should also know what needs are they trying to fulfil and how can they be fulfilled in a wholesome way. Once we know and deal with that, we have liberation. Thanks to the wisdom and compassion of the Buddha, who showed us the way.

Mindfulness of Breathing from the Buddha

The Buddha praised mindfulness of breathing as the general practice he developed on his path to enlightenment. Of course, he taught other practices also, but those other practices were to be used to deal with specific short-term problems. For example, the perception of loathsomeness of the body was to be used to overcome lust.

The Buddha taught a study method for his teaching in the following quote:

“… All you to whom I have taught these truths that I have realised by super-knowledge should come together and recite them, setting meaning beside meaning and expression beside expression, without dissension, in order that this holy life may continue and be established for a long time for the profit and happiness of the many…” (D 29 : D iii 127).

The Discourse on Mindfulness of Breathing, given by the Buddha, is an example of the Buddha applying this method himself. The Buddha would not give advice and then not follow it himself, that is, he would not be a hypocrite. How is this discourse an example? The discourse gives 16 steps, which details the practice of Mindfulness of Breathing, but then it compares the 16 steps to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (I’m sure the Buddha taught these, but there is a lot of evidence – a link to a 1.85MB PDF study – to show that the two discourses that elaborate the Four Foundations of Mindfulness have been changed a great deal over 2.5 millennia). The following table shows the comparison, also showing how Mindfulness of Breathing covers the two types of meditation: Calm and Insight. Some summaries of the discourse (as on Wikipedia linked to above as at 16th Feb 2012) miss the first step below and divide the second step into two parts.

Mindfulness of Breathing

It is healthy to doubt that the texts are 100% accurate. The Buddha does not expect blind faith and in applying his study method, one sees that his teaching is logical and consistent. The Stream-Enterer does not doubt the Buddha, Dhamma and Sa’ngha. Dhamma is not the same as the text or Buddhist Scripture (Tipi.taka) or the Words of the Buddha (Buddhavacana), just like speaking the word “water” into an empty glass, does not mean you can drink water from the glass. Dhamma is said to be timeless (akaaliko). Each new Buddha and Arahanta (perfected disciple) realise the same Dhamma, but Buddhist Scripture (Tipi.taka) or the Words of the Buddha (Buddhavacana) arise and pass away, along with Buddhism (Buddhasaasana). So they are kaaliko – affected by time.

I have faith that Dhamma can be found through studying Buddhist Scripture (Tipi.taka) or the Words of the Buddha (Buddhavacana), but I do not believe the Buddhist Scripture (Tipi.taka) has, or the Words of the Buddha (Buddhavacana) have been, maintained 100% purely. The main reason is, disciples have not applied the study method the Buddha gave above. The records of the Buddhist Councils do not even mention the study method, let alone apply it and the quote was the Buddha’s instruction to hold council to ensure his teaching would be maintained well. If we don’t study as he taught us to, how can expect to understand his teaching properly?

What we find in the discourse is a very neat comparison of the 16 steps and Four Foundations of Mindfulness. The 16 steps are put into four groups each with four steps and each group matches the consecutive Four Foundations of Mindfulness. I doubted various aspects of these 16 steps over the years and experimented with them, but in the end I think they have been maintained properly.

Traditionally it is understood that the topics of steps 11 and 12 are part of Calm practice and the topics of steps 13-16 are part of Insight practice. (The Theravadin commentator Buddhaghosa says Mindfulness of Breathing is ONLY Calm practice, which the evidence above shows to be wrong.) Some translators add the word “ever” to the first step to get “ever mindful s/he breathes in or out”. This word “ever” is not in the original text and it makes the practice impractical. One would STILL have wandering thought until one had mastered the eleventh step, which is unification of thought – samaadhi! Sometimes the third step is interpreted as “sensitive to the whole BREATH body (or whole body OF THE BREATH)”, but this cannot be so, because knowing that the breath is long or short, must involve knowing the whole breath (body). Therefore we can just understand it literally – “knowing the whole body”.

This links to the meditation practice, taught by S N Goenka, of scanning the whole body and shows this is only an elementary practice and NOT yet Insight (Vipassanaa). It is either only mindfulness of body, as indicated by the text, or additionally,  mindfulness of sensations. So the furthest that practice would go, is the second foundation of mindfulness, which are both in the realm of Calm practice only.

My explanation of the practice above is intended to make it very practical. Since the Buddha indicated this was his general practice, we need to know how it can be applied practically. I have taken “citta” to mean “thought”, as this makes the teaching more practical. Some evidence to support this from the texts and the tradition is the Discourse on the Benefits of Friendliness. There friendliness is said to be the practice for liberation of ‘citta’ (ceto-vimuttiyaa). The 12th step in this teaching of 16 steps, is about liberation of citta (ceto-vimutti). The practice of friendliness (mettaa) is traditionally taught as developing friendly thought (good or best wishes) towards all beings.

Insight about the teaching from comparing the Four Foundations of Mindfulness

As can be understood by the term “foundations”, one is not given up to move on the next, but each becomes established in our awareness, which gets deeper, so we can see subtler things. We see the body clearly, then, in the body we see sensations. Later related to sensations we see thoughts. Later related to the body, sensation and thought we see the underlying processes (dhammaa). In this way we see the Buddha’s teaching values the body (sensation – feeling) and mind (thought) unlike other philosophies or religions, which may blame the body for peoples’ suffering. (Some later interpretations of the Buddha’s teaching do this, when they say the Buddha attained the complete ending of suffering at the *end of his life* – not under the Bodhi Tree 45 years earlier – that earlier attainment is explained as only the *partial* ending of suffering due to *still having a body*.) The body is the basis of our practice. We are not trying to have an “out of body experience” but a fully embodied one, but one that clearly understands and values the mind/spirit/emotions also.

Now that we looked at some background, let’s look at the practice.

Prior to enumerating the 16 steps, the Buddha provides the following preparatory advice:

  1. seek a secluded space (in a forest or at the foot of a tree or in an empty place) – this indicates the restraint of the senses, which is part of morality (which is taught to precede meditation practice), it is an expression of renunciation of the pleasures of the five senses, which is part of Right Aspiration.
  2. sit dow to meditate – this comes from the aspiration to be kind to oneself, non-ill-will is also part of Right Aspiration
  3. keep your body erect and cross your legs – this comes from the aspiration to not harm oneself, a poor posture and discomfort is not good for oneself, so this is also part of Right Aspiration.

So, as we see with other teachings about the Path, Right Aspiration precedes Right Action.

One should sit up straight, but relaxed. It can also be done sitting in a chair, but the floor would be best. It may take some time to train to do so. Western people are not used to sitting on the floor after a few years of primary school. One’s back may ache after a short time, then just rest back against the wall or the chair for a little while and try again. After some time the muscles in one’s back will strengthen and one can sit independently.

Having done this, we can follow the steps as they appear, sequentially. The first two are just noticing. From the third the discourse says “s/he trains…” So from step three starts the training of meditation. As we become more aware of the whole body in step three, we notice stress or tension in some places, so step 4 would be relaxing the body. At this time we may become more aware of the heat in the body and, or the heartbeat.

At step five one would feel energised and may have goose-bumps and some jolts of the body, like minor electric shocks, as we feel the breath go very deep and we are relaxed. The breath supplies oxygen to the body and that is a pleasant thing, but we are usually not aware of the body’s response. (If you doubt breathing is pleasant, just try to stop breathing for a while and see what it feels like! Later texts say breathing is “neutral” because they have not developed this practice and are speaking from theory.) After that one may automatically breath a deep sigh and a have a light smile (happiness – step 6). In steps 7 & 8 one gets a clearer sense of emotion.

It is in the next sextionthat we directly start to train thought (the mind). To give up the unwholesome and develop the wholesome in the realm of thought is purifying the mind. This becomes very interesting and empowering.

In step 9 one becomes more aware of one’s wandering mind. In step 10 one encourages oneself with the reflection that one is developing oneself (body and mind) in a wholesome way that one had not before, or simply that one had noticed the wandering mind in step 9 and let go of it, something one would not usually do. In step 11 one determines to give up unwholesome, distracted thinking. One turns the thought back to the breath, going through the steps up to 8 again.

How we focus on the breath is by using three aspects of experience (two of thought and one of body). We use the power of thinking by: 1. directing our internal vision to an area of the body where we feel the breath (visual) and 2. by making a mental note “in/out” – we think “in/out” to ourselves (audio). We try to integrate thinking with feeling by focusing on the sensations (of the movement) of breathing (kinesthetic). As one’s mind focuses, one will see a light. The Buddha told monks to “develop the perception on light”. So this refers to step 11 of the 16 steps. One should focus on the breath, not on the light. We can focus on the breath and see the light as a background, but we cannot have wandering mind and see the light. It is one or the other. This is like when the film ends in the cinema, if the projectionist is too slow, we see a white light on the screen. We can’t have the movie images, and the white light. It’s one or the other.

As we become more aware of wandering thought, we see it is like being in a lit room at dusk and standing in front of a window. You can see your reflection in the window (wandering thought), but you can also focus on the objects outside. Most of the time we only focus on things outside then slip into automatic pilot. Then we are focusing on the reflections in the window.

In step 12 one is aware of the calm body and mind and develops the wish that all beings be well and happy, just as one is right now.

Steps 13 to 16 are Insight practice. This is not restricted to sitting meditation. We take time out to review what we have seen about the body, sensations and thought. We reflect that they are impermanent and not useful to cling to, actually clinging to them IS suffering (not causes suffering) within ourselves and would lead us to harm others. We consider how these three and interrelated.

Here we try to develop understanding of the causes of both negative and positives states of body and mind. As we understand them more, we put our energy into the positive ones, those that do not harm oneself or others and we can skilfully give up the negative ones – not by suppression, but by understanding and disenchantment and they gradually lose their power. We start to question, for example, “Is there any pattern or relationship between wandering thought and the breath?”

These are the sixteen steps in summary:

16 steps only

As you become more aware of your wandering mind, you may see that it is practically continuous. Have you ever felt the calming effect of the sound of waves breaking on the sea-shore? Well such is the effect of awareness of breathing and the breath is with us all the time. Imagine if you could swap the incessant wandering-mind-background-noise, which is so stressful, as much of it is worry about the future or sadness about the past, for the calming to and fro of the breath!! It can be done and will best be done following the general principles of the teaching above. There must be awareness of the body posture, developing a good (relaxed) posture, either sitting, standing, walking or lying down. One should develop awareness of ones sensations, if one is getting tired or there is pain, one should respond appropriately, change posture.

We don’t just sit and watch the pain, as pain is a message that something is wrong. If we really believe the Buddha’s teaching is compatible with science, then we must listen to doctors who say just that. Sitting a long time when the body is not used to it, is a form of self punishment. The only pain we must “bear” is that pain of aging or that which is inflicted by others e.g. that of hearing unpleasant speech or being beaten. To show that the pain of sitting a long time is created by our intention to sit and is not intrinsic to life, we can just stand up and see if the pain lasts. That the pain goes away doesn’t prove it is harmless. People have suffered trouble with their sciatic nerve due to not listening to the body, to pain and acting appropriately.

Mindfulness of breathing does not have to stop with sitting, or only be done in sitting. There have been Buddhist teachers who teach it in all activities. I heard of a famous monk in Myanmar who did so, but I’ve forgotten his name. Of course there is also Ven Thich Nhat Hanh, who introduces the idea of bringing mindfulness of breath into everyday life with the use of the Mindfulness Bell (or mindfulness clock program – for PC, there is also an online version which is cross-platform and you can get it for Android Mobile Phones and for iPhone).

This bell rings every now and then during meetings or general activities in the Plum Village communities of Ven Thich Nhat Hanh. He teaches to stop what one is doing when one hears the bell and to breathe mindfully three times. That is a nice practice, but does not yet incorporate the practice of mindful breathing fully into everyday life. One must stop one’s everyday activity to mindfully breathe. We need to become aware of our breath while we continue to do the very same activity. (I don’t know if Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches this.) That way one can see very clearly that it is not the activity that causes the suffering, but the uncontrolled mind. When the body and mind are working together (whatever we are doing) we are relaxed and peaceful. (There are a few activities, that I believe cannot be done without suffering, such as killing another human being. That would be why the major religions and civilised societies teach against it.)

In walking meditation, one should be aware of sensations and make a mental note of one’s “left (step), right (step)”. One will start to notice how one is walking (quickly, heavily…), just like above, one started to notice how one was breathing (long, short). One should try to walk lightly not walking on one’s heals with a “thump, thump”. We might not be aware we are doing this in the start. This is actually not good for the body – jarring the joints. We should use our whole foot to cushion our step. One should become aware of the whole body walking, but we may start with the touch of the feet on the floor and increase to the touch of clothes, wind, sun etc. on one’s skin and one can progress through the steps as detailed above. The following table shows how the first four steps are different for walking:

the first four steps of mindful walking

So what would it mean ‘walking aware of the whole body’? It would mean walking and not only being aware of the foot touching the floor, but of other bodily functions, the most obvious being breathing. So, one would start to notice how long the in- and out-breaths last in relation to walking, e.g. now I’m walking and breathing in, now I’m walking and breathing out. The Buddha saw that we can be aware of more than one thing at a time, though we can think of only one thing at a time. It’s a bit like specific focus (which we label or make a mental note of, which is also the major physical activity) and background, which we can be aware of at the same time (but not focused on it).

There are some activities, such as typing on a computer (what I’m doing now Smile) that preclude making a mental note, because I am dealing with words, but I still can develop awareness of my posture and sensations in my body (the background). (And of course, I should place the computer screen, keyboard and mouse at the right (ergonomic) height and take proper breaks using such programs as: Workrave.)

Good luck in your practice. May you attain the total ending of suffering in this very life.

Abhidhamma the third collection of Buddhist texts

Greetings all

There are three (ti/tri) baskets (piṭaka) or collections of Buddhist texts (Tipiṭaka, Skt: Tripiṭaka): Sutta (Skt: Sūtra, Discourses), Vinaya (Discipline) and Abhidhamma (Skt: Abhidharma, Philosophy). These are the reasons I don’t accept the Abhidhamma as an original Buddhist text, though it may contain important ideas extracted from Sutta (Skt: Sūtra, Discourses) and Vinaya (Discipline).

  1. The Sutta and Vinaya collections in both major traditions of Buddhism      (Theravāda and Mahāyāna) are around 95% identical in wording. The      Abhidhamma is not identical in wording apart from the use of some similar      terms. It is only somewhat similar in approach and topic. This shows that      it developed independently in both traditions, after the separation of the      traditions around 200 years after the Buddha’s passing away.
  2. The First Buddhist Council (within one year of the Buddha’s      passing) and Second Buddhist Council (within 200 years of the Buddha’s      passing) do not mention the Abhidhamma at all. This is consistent with the      previous point.
  3. The science of language (Linguistics) shows that the language of      the first four collections (Nikāya) of the Sutta Piṭaka (Dīgha-nikāya,      Majjhima-nikāya, Saṅyutta-nikāya, Aṅguttara-nikāya) are generally of the      same early historical period, but the language of the Abhidhamma (and most      books of the fifth nikāya of the Sutta Piṭaka, the Khuddaka-nikāya) are      from a later (commentarial) period. This is consistent with the above.
  4. The book of Abhidhamma called Kathāvatthu says clearly that it was      written by the president, Moggallaputtatissa Thera, of the Third Buddhist      Council (about 350 years after the Buddha’s passing). Therefore it is      clearly not the words of the Buddha. He also was the first person to use      the term “Tipiṭaka”.
  5. The Abhidhamma is used by scholars to argue the worth or      superiority of the Buddha’s teaching over others’, e.g. as a competition      for conversion. The Buddha did not argue in such general terms, but argued      about specific doctrines/views/behaviours to show they were helpful or not      in ending suffering in this very life and he recognised that others also      taught good things. E.g. “Now I give this Dhamma, Nigrodha, not wishing to      win pupils, not wishing to make you fall from your religious studies, not      wishing to make you give up your lifestyle, not to establish you in things      accepted by you and your teacher as evil and unwholesome, nor to make you      give up things regarded by you and your teacher as good and wholesome. NOT      SO. But Nigrodha, there are evil and unwholesome things not put away,      things that have to do with defilements, conducive to re-becoming,      harassing, productive of painful results, conducive to birth, aging and      death in the future. It is for the rejection of these things that I teach      this Dhamma. If one lives according to this Dhamma, things concerned with      defilements shall be put away and wholesome things that make for purity      shall be brought to increase and one may attain, here and now, the      realization of full and abounding insight.” D 25: D iii 56. Dhamma does      not belong to anyone, not the Buddhists, not the Buddha. Anyone can      realise Dhamma, if they know how. We should only try to help others give      up harmful thought, word and deed. It doesn’t matter what religious label      they give themselves.
  6. The tradition says the Buddha taught the Abhidhamma to his mother      in heaven after she had passed away and been reborn there. This is      superstition and based on the theory of soul, that is, that consciousness      moves from life to life.
  7. If the Abhidhamma was taught to gods in heaven, then it was      designed for gods, not human beings. Do those who study it think they are      equal to gods in morality, meditation and intellect?

Since it is not the Word of the Buddha, putting more emphasis on it is dangerous. Buddha taught that he taught all that was necessary ( and warned against putting disciples’ words above his, in Aṇi Sutta ( and other places). We should study the Suttas to understand Dhamma and we should know the method the Buddha gave to study them:

“… All you to whom I have taught these truths that I have realised by super-knowledge should come together and recite them, setting meaning beside meaning and expression beside expression, without dissension, in order that this holy life may continue and be established for a long time for the profit and happiness of the many…” (D 29: D iii 127).

People, even monks usually do not follow any of this advice, or at least not all of it, especially the last one. After I declared that I did not accept Abhidhamma as an original Buddhist text, a traditional monk said “you have wrong view, you can’t understand Dhamma without Abhidhamma” and he asked me “how does consciousness arise” and I told him “dependent on the sense organ and the sense object, consciousness arises, for example, with eye as sense organ and a visual object, seeing arises”. He said “that is correct, how did you know that”. I said “It is taught in many, many suttas”. He asked “which suttas”. I told him “Ven. I cannot remember right now, but if you give me your email address I can send some references later.” He said “ok” but didn’t give me his email address. This shows that the traditional monks often do not know the suttas and they put them second to later works by scholars, which is opposite to the warning the Buddha gave. They study Abhidhamma and don’t realise that the best things of Abhidhamma are from the suttas.

Vinaya indicates that is part of Sutta, e.g. the end of the Pāṭimokkha says it comes from the sutta-vibhaṅga. So it would seem originally there was only Sutta, which contained Dhamma and Vinaya. This is confirmed by Buddhaghosa in his commentary to the First Council, where he says Vinaya was included in the Khuddaka-nikāya –the fifth nikāya- and was recited by Ven. Upāli. The Mahāyāna includes all later texts in the fifth nikāya, including commentaries.

I think the Abhidhamma and other later texts can be useful in finding evidence to show the development of Theravāda Philosophy (History of Buddhism), but such studies are not directly related to Dhamma and are not necessary for the ending of suffering in this very life.

Kind Regards

The Buddha’s Code Clearly Shown in the Discourses and A Lack in Buddhist Studies?

A variation of this was sent to Venerable Dr Anaalayo Bhikkhu who was giving an online course in comparative studies of the Chinese Madhyama Aagama and the Paali Majjhima Nikaaya Apr-July 2011. They are different sources of the Buddha’s middle length discourses. A variation was also sent to Steven Batchelor, the well known lay Dharma teacher, on the 29th of May, 2011.

The Buddha had his own meanings for key terms he used:

It can be found in the discourses that the Buddha encouraged the acceptance of local dialects and not insisting on one’s own. He acknowledged, for example, that “a pot” may be called different names in different areas and we should just adopt the name used in the area we stay [when in Rome do as the Romans do] (Ref: PTS M iii 235 = M 139). On the other hand we find him saying that he uses common expression without misapprehending them (Ref: PTS D i 202 = D 9). One may notice that only concrete or common nouns are referred to in the first quote, not abstract nouns. So that there would be no contradiction in the Buddha giving new definitions to things like, kamma, jhaana etc. and sticking to them. We often find “in the Discipline of the Noble Ones” leading a definition and this indicates to me that such definitions should be applied consistently.

There are well known examples of the Buddha’s  different definitions of terms, which all seem to shift the meaning from an external/physical focus to an internal/psycho-somatic/spiritual focus. I list the ones that come to mind as well as not-well know ones that I have encountered in my 20+ years of studying the discourses:

1. The “world” [loka] “In this fathom (~2m) long body with its perceptions and mind (mano), lies the world (loka), the origin of the world, the cessation of the world and the path leading to the cessation of the world.” (Ref: PTS S i 61 = S 2.26; PTS A ii 49 = A 4.46)

2. “Action” [kamma] “Monks, I call intention action. Having intention one acts by body, speech and thought.” (Ref: PTS A iii 415 = A 3.3; PTS A i 104, (292) = A 3.141) I avoid saying “intention is action” as I think that is not an accurate translation and it can have the implication that there is no other action apart from intention, but the Buddha acknowledges three types of action: mental, verbal and bodily.

3. A “Brahmin” is not by birth, but by action. Ref: Dhammapada Ch 26. (There’s probably a better reference somewhere.)

4. A “Bhikkhu” (mendicant/fully ordained monk/fully ordained nun) is known not simply known by the wearing of the robe, but by right livelihood. Ref: Dhammapada Ch 25. (There’s probably a better reference somewhere.)

5. “Death” [] “For this, mendicants, is death in the Noble One’s Discipline: that one gives up the training and returns to the lower life.” (Ref: PTS S ii 271 = S 20.10) “Death” is not used for the end of an arahant’s life, that is called the “breaking-up of the body” [kaayassa bhedaa] (Ref: PTS D i 46 = D 1).

6. “Being” [satta] does not refer to physical form, but to mental states with certain defilements. The well known story of the Brahmin Dona’s conversation with the Buddha illustrates this well. There the Buddha said he was not various types of “being(s)” including human being because he had eradicated the defilement that could enable identifying him as such. (Ref: PTS A ii 37 = A 4.36). Also this term is clearly given a internal/psychological meaning at PTS S III 190 = SN 23.2:

Venerable sir, it is said, ‘a being, a being.’ In what way, venerable sir, is one called a being?

One is stuck (satta), tightly stuck (visatta), in desire, lust, delight, and craving for form; therefore one is called a being (satta). One is stuck tightly stuck, in desire, lust, delight, and craving for sensation … for conception … for emotions … for consciousness therefore one is called a being. Suppose some little boys or girls are playing with sand-castles. So long as they are not devoid of lust, desire, affection, thirst, passion, and craving for those sand-castles, they cherish them, play with them, treasure them and treat them possessively. But when those little boys or girls lose their lust, desire affection, thirst, passion, and craving for those sand castles, then they scatter them with their hands and feet, demolish them, shatter them, and put them out of play.

7. A “god” or “angel” [deva/devii] The Buddha called ‘god/goddess’ (devo/devi) those people who are moral. (Ref: PTS A ii 57-61 = A 4.53-54)

8. “Sangha” means the ones on the path, whether monk, nun, layman or laywoman. That is, the Noble Ones. (Ref: PTS M i 37 = M 7; PTS A iii 285 = A 6.10 etc. – reflection on qualities of the Sangha)

9. “Refuge” [] Action is our refuge (Ref: PTS A iii 71-4 = A 5.57 – the five reflections for all followers of the Buddha), definitely not the Bhikkhu Sangha; for the idea of the Bhikkhu Sangha as refuge see the probably corrupted text: PTS M I 24 = M 4 – note that they are not the words of the Buddha. Venerable Ananda’s words are: “We have a refuge; we have the Dhamma as our refuge” at PTS M III 10 = M 108. This is in agreement with the instruction from the Buddha on his deathbed. There is no occurrence of “” or any variant in the first four Nikaaya according to a search I did with VRI CSCD using “tisara.n*”.

10. “The Three Knowledges” [Skt: tri-vidyaa/trayii vidyaa; Pali: te-vijjaa] for the Brahmins it was knowledge of the Three Vedas which was available only to men of high caste, but the Buddha said: “in the noble discipline the three knowledges mean something different than the three knowledges of the Brahmins” and made clear what that meaning was. These three were open to anyone to realise as he had done. (Ref: PTS A i 163-166 = A 3.58 and PTS M ii 144 = M 91)

I think it is essential in understanding the Buddha’s teaching to know and consistently apply his definitions. This links with Ven. Anaalayo’s statement during his online course that it is important to understand the early discourses based on other material in the early discourses, not later material. I see letting the Buddha explain his own teaching, partly by taking note of and applying his definitions, as really taking the Buddha as the teacher, not someone else.

There can be at least these two approaches:

1. The Buddha used terms with many meanings, one word points to many things. This is the reverse of the example given above about “a pot”, many words point to one thing. It essentially means we need the commentaries to tell us which meaning the Buddha intended. Thus, we have a secret teaching and must rely on others to understand/interpret it. The Buddha said he did not have a secret teaching and that it was realisable by the wise each by themselves. I followed the “many meanings” approach for many years and can no longer do so, as I see it causes suffering.

2. The Buddha used terms and stuck to his definitions and he makes clear those definitions in the discourses. This is the approach I now follow and have found it cuts proliferation [papa~nca, in this case, of meanings] which the Buddha indicated is not a quality of his teaching (Ref: PTS A iv 228 = A 8.30 – 8 Thoughts of a Great Man). It seems to me, that it is only in applying his definitions consistently that the following qualities are realised for his teaching: svaakkhaato (well-spoken), sandi.t.thiko (visible), akaaliko (timeless), ehipassiko (verifiable), opanaayiko (progressive) and paccatta.m veditabbo vi~n~nuuhi (to be realised by the wise for themselves) Ref: PTS M i 37 = M 7; PTS A iii 285 = A 6.10 etc.

A very clear example, that I think is not appreciated, is the Buddha’s discussion with Angulimaala (Ref: PTS M ii 103 = M 86), which matches his avoidance of “death” for fully enlightened practitioner mentioned above:

“In that case, Angulimaala, go into Saavatthii and say to that woman: ‘Sister, since I was born, I do not recall that I have ever intentionally deprived a living being of life. By this truth, may you be well and may your infant be well!’ “

“Venerable sir, wouldn’t I be telling a deliberate lie, for I have intentionally deprived many living beings of life?”

“Then, Angulimaala, go into Saavatthii and say to that woman: ‘Sister, since I was born with the noble birth, I do not recall that I have ever intentionally deprived a living being of life. By this truth, may you be well and may your infant be well!’ “

Here I believe the Buddha showed that he uses terms “without misapprehending them”. Those who don’t understand his teaching properly, misinterpret what he says, as Venerable Angulimaala did. The Buddha said “birth” but I believe he did not mean physical birth and he knew clearly what he was saying. I don’t think he made a mistake by omitting “noble” the first time, but that birth was an internal/psycho-somatic/spiritual event, was his change in its meaning, which is consistent with all the other changes we have seen in the examples above.

I think that “birth” was “spiritual” was intrinsic to his definition. (By the way, this teaching is echoed in the Bible, as so many other Buddhist teachings are, at: John 3:1-6.) This, of course, would be quite challenging to anyone who had decided what the Buddha meant by certain terms and the whole philosophical/metaphysical interpretation that is common, but it makes “birth” relevant to this very life, here and now and ending suffering. “My teaching has one taste, that of liberation” (Ref: PTS A iv 200 = A 8.19; Ud 5.5, PTS pg 56) and I believe the Buddha meant liberation “in this very life” as this phrase is often found in the discourses to refer to the benefits of his teaching (Ref: many times in Diigha Nikaaya, e.g. PTS D i 157 = D 6).

This example added to the list above makes 11:

11. “Birth” [jaati] in line with the others above, is not meant to be understood as physical in the Noble One’s Discipline, as the conversation with Ven. Angulimaala makes very clear. (Ref: PTS M ii 103 = M 86)

If we look at the Paali text describing the first of the three knowledges (paragraph 371) realised on the night of the enlightenment, which deals with the PAST, we can notice that the words rebirth [puna-jaati] and life [jiivita.m] do not occur at all. What does occur is “birth”, many births. If we apply the definition identified above, then what I think becomes clear is, the Buddha saw in the past [of his current life] the repeated process of birth and death, which I can only understand as a psychological process: ego’s arising and passing. Buddhadaasa Bhikkhu of Thailand tended to this understanding.

If we look at the Paali text describing the second of the three knowledges (paragraph 372) realised on the night of the enlightenment, which is about the PRESENT, we can notice that the word “being” is used. There is no “other” before “being”. If we apply the definition identified above, then I can only understand it as a psychological process again: the Buddha took the knowledge of the patterns he saw in his past and then mindfully watched for them in the present. He saw the being [ego] arise in the present moment, due to defilement and pass due to the ending of the supportive conditions. I have to interpret this as beings within himself, which is quite the opposite of “other beings”, otherwise this knowledge is not relevant to me ending suffering in this very life.

If we look at the Paali text describing the last of the three knowledges (paragraph 373) realised on the night of the enlightenment, which is about the FUTURE, it says he could see the future was free of the taints which caused that whole process. So what I understand is, the Buddha cut the causes of the patterns as they were about to arise and freed himself of them.

Thus the three knowledges become very (only) relevant to me for ending suffering in this very life. I would discourage anyone who interprets the Buddha’s teaching in a way that is not relevant to this very life from doing so, as they may be misrepresenting the Buddha and heaping up a lot of negative effects [akusala vipaaka].

It is well known that the Buddha changed the meanings of words he used. Maybe some or many of the examples above are not so well known. Having understood the relevance of applying the Buddha’s definitions consistently, I think we should examine a related issue, the possible relevance of semantic shift. Semantic shift deals with the possible changes in meanings of words, AFTER the Buddha passed away, changes that I think he would not have agree to and which make his teaching ineffective.

Buddhist studies seems not to have yet completely incorporated impermanence as a working principle, though this is an essential principle of the Buddha’s teaching. It is well known in linguistics that language changes over time, most quickly in meanings of words, much more slowly in grammar. The former is called semantic change or semantic shift, but this has not been addressed in Paali studies, as far as I know. I recently obtained a copy of the only book which may start to look at this topic, “Linguistics in Pali” and have yet to read it. Semantic shift can happen as quickly as one or two generations. As you know, Paali’s history, before being written down, covers nearly 400 years from the time of the Buddha. So, many generations, but where is the research on changes in the meanings of Paali words?

One possible example of semantic shift: I have a theory that the current “translation” of sati as “mindfulness” is the result of semantic change, where the meaning of “mindfulness” has been transferred to sati and the original meaning of sati as “memory” has been all but lost. Semantic shift in Linguistics acknowledges that an earlier meaning can be totally lost. I think there has been great change in the meaning of sati and jhaana. Whereas we find the Buddha talking about jhaana much and sati little, in the modern Theravaada Vipassanaa meditation tradition, it is the other way round. I have written an article about this analysing the Paali texts using the study method reportedly given by the Buddha in those texts themselves. During the time I studied with Dr Rod Bucknell, he pointed out that the position of sati in the Chinese lists of the Enlightenment Factors changes. I take this as evidence of the change of meaning (semantic shift).

The commentarial traditions holds there were different meanings the Buddha used for one word and its evidence is that one definition cannot be used in all occurrences of the word. On the other hand, it may be that as the meaning of another related word changed/developed a new meaning, it replaced certain other words in the texts. For example:

Possible original text:

The Buddha’s teaching [Buddha-saasana] has one taste, that of liberation.

May have been changed to:

The Buddha’s teaching [Buddha-dhamma] has one taste, that of liberation.

as “dhamma” came to be understood as “teaching” rather than another original meaning. Thus the original meaning becomes just one of many possible meanings, or is totally lost.

So coupled with the change in the meanings of words, would be changes in the texts as a result of the former. This would result in the situation that one meaning cannot be applied to all occurrences. This makes it a quite difficult or challenging field of study.

For the average person coming to the Buddha’s teaching, I’d suggest, just put aside things that do not seem relevant to ending suffering in this very life. That’s what I did with the three knowledges  mentioned above for a long time, but now they make sense, because I applied the Buddha’s code. Smile

Kind Regards

Rethinking “re-birth”

Recently I was trying to explain the difference between re-becoming and re-birth, as I understand the terms. The latter term, in my opinion, is from a misunderstanding of the Buddha’s teaching, but it has become generally accepted, without reflection. The Paali term in question is “punabbhava”. You will not find the Buddha talking about “puna-jaati” at all in the Paali Canon. These days you can search the whole text for particular words or phrases using digital copies. Puna-jaati would be the Paali translation of “re-birth”. Punabbhava on the other hand, is often spoken about by the Buddha in the Paali texts and I think would be best translated “re-becoming”.

Due to all conditioned things being impermanent, it is impossible that something could experience the same birth again. No, each birth is different, or the being born each time, is different. Therefore a being could not have a “re-birth”. Of course one could be born as a human, angel, demon etcetera many times, but one would be (the birth would be) different each time.

If we understand “becoming” as a process which leads to birth, each time a different birth, we could see that the process of becoming could be the same each time. Therefore we can undergo the process many times, again and again, thus “re-becoming” or “again-becoming” leading to a different birth each time.

This can be likened to the process of cooking a cake. The process has to be repeated each time one wants to cook a cake. The ingredients may change a little depending on the type of cake one wanted, but even if we wanted to cook a banana cake every time, the resulting cake would never be the same as the one before. Though of course there would be basic similarities, otherwise we couldn’t call it a “banana” cake.

Thus we would have “re-becoming” leading to a different birth each time and many births [and deaths] in the cycling within Sa.msaara.

The common “translation” of the three knowledges includes such terms as “re-birth” and “past lives.” (See my previous post.) We should look closely at the text and put aside extra ideas, avoid reading our interpretations into the text. This is what a translator tries to avoid. When we avoid doing that we will see that “re-“ is not mentioned regarding “birth” and “lives” is not mentioned at all. Making such (minor?) changes or adjustments is very dangerous, because the Buddha said his teaching is very subtle. It is certainly not correct to translate the idea of “many past births”, which the Buddha spoke of in the first of the three knowledges, as “many past lives”. Even a renowned Paali scholar uses the term “re-birth” in translations dated 2005.

I’d encourage you all to stop practising Parrot Buddhism and start making a “thorough investigation” as the Buddha encouraged intelligent people to do. Of course, we may generally be doing so, but slip up on certain occasions, but if we have a highly respected position we must be very careful, as we could easily mislead people. Thus, I think it is always best to keep in mind, that we are not experts in Dhamma, even if we have PhD’s, until we are fully enlightened. Even then, the discourses say that those on the path only take the Buddha as the teacher. That leaves all the rest, including ourselves as good friends helping each other to understand the Buddha’s teaching.

Insight into Morality, the first training on the path–Part 1

Morality or Ethics [Paali: siila]

The purpose of Morality is twofold. It brings benefit to oneself and others, as all practices in the Buddha’s teaching would do. The benefit for oneself is, one avoids a guilty conscience and depression and one’s mind can be relatively bright and clear. The benefit for others is, people who maintain the five precepts are safe to be around. They make society that little bit safer because they are moral people. The Buddha said those who are moral are “devaa” which is translated as “gods”, but for those with a Christian upbringing “angels” would give a closer understanding. Have you ever called someone an angel due to their kindness? Well that is the kind of thing the Buddha meant.

This gives a very different understanding to the chant Asian monks recite very often as a blessing, which says “may all the gods protect  you”. You have to understand that blessing with the advice from the Buddha “don’t associate with fools, but associate with the wise, this it a high blessing”. The wise are moral, they are gods/angels and a blessing is the result of our action, not the speech or wish of others. The Buddha said wishes are not just obtained by wishing, but by acting also. On the other hand, acting without making a clear wish or intention would not be very effective.

The Buddha’s teaching is summarised as:

  1. Not to do evil,
  2. To do good and
  3. To purify the mind.

The first of these three points refers to Morality. It is avoiding serious unwholesome actions of thought, word and deed. Yes, all three.

The common explanation of the Path is the Noble Eightfold Path:

  1. Right Understanding
  2. Right Aspiration
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Concentration

Right Understanding and Right Aspiration come first and these are not Wisdom. These are part of the training in Morality. The Buddha taught that mind is most important when we consider suffering.  So the first thing we need to avoid is unwholesome aspects of thought: wrong understanding and wrong aspiration. These two are the most obstructive things for progress on the path. Being established in Right Understanding and Right Aspiration, we can then go to the next steps of avoiding serious unwholesome aspects of speech and deed. Our speech and deeds will not be ritualistic, they will be realistic and practical. They will be effective in purifying our lives and bringing happiness.

When we consider the five precepts for laypeople, moral thinking is assumed, or we can say the first two steps of the Noble Eightfold Path are assumed, because the five precepts are given to those on the path, who have proper understanding, right thinking. Therefore the five precepts only cover Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood, that is speech and deed.

People with right thinking know that the five precepts are not Morality. They know the difference between precepts and Morality. Precepts are a guide, usually from others, originating externally, but Morality is a quality of character, a quality of mind, an inner quality. The precepts are only the path to Morality, or the trainings for Morality. After training, we develop Morality. If the five precepts were Morality, then we could say we get Morality by doing the religious ceremony of receiving the five precepts from monks. That would mean that monks give us Morality, but this is totally against the teaching of the Buddha. Morality is the first training that we undertake as part of the path. We do the training, we walk the path. No one can do it for us, no one can give us inner qualities. They can only show the way for us to develop those qualities ourselves. This is what happens when we get the five precepts from monks.

The five precepts have two levels that are usually not understood.

The five precepts are:

  1. Avoid murder
  2. Avoid stealing
  3. Avoid sexual misconduct
  4. Avoid lying
  5. Avoid intoxication

The Buddha said to compare the Discourses and the Discipline when we are trying to understand his teaching. When it comes to understanding Morality, the monk’s Discipline explains it as avoiding serious actions (the first two groups of monks precepts totalling 17 precepts). Of course the other not so serious actions should be avoided too, but breaking them is not called immorality. Avoiding the other less serious actions is called good habits (Mv IV.16.12 = V i 172). Breaking the less serious actions would be called “bad habits”. Avoiding “bad habits” is not defined as part of “ethics” and vice versa. So we have two levels of prohibition. This can be seen as the principle that should be applied to the lay training in Morality also.

The serious precepts for the monks are: the four defeats and the thirteen offences requiring a meeting of the community of monks. If a monk commits any of the four defeats, he is no long a monk, automatically. Breaking the first four precepts cannot be reversed. That shows how serious they are. If any of the thirteen others have been done, the monk must undergo a period of probation and rehabilitation. He temporarily does not have full status as a monk. That shows how serious they are, but that situation can be repaired. The thirteen are not relevant to laypeople.

The five precepts can be seen to cover both the serious and not serious rules of the monks. Here we must use our intelligence. If, for example, killing a mosquito is a “bad habit” that a monk should avoid, but it is not being immoral (like killing another human being), then it must be similar for the laypeople. The lay peoples’ training cannot be more strict than the monks’! It cannot be that killing a mosquito is a bad  habit for a monk but immoral for a layperson!


To be continued…

Hello World

I will start writing about my insights soon.

If you would like to subscribe to these posts then you can use one of the links below (but please first have a look at the “About This Blog” page, the link is next to “Home” at the top right). The one with the red and white image is for RSS feeds, for the more technically advanced. The other one is for email updates.

That’s it for now.

Kind Regards


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 393 other followers

%d bloggers like this: