PARABLE OF THE LOG
And Questions and Answers
Venerable Chanmyay Sayadaw U Janakabhivamsa
ISBN 974-8338-19-3, 1998
When the VenerableChanmyay Sayadaw Ashin Janakabhivamsa paid a visit to England in July, 1982 as part of his World Tour teaching Dhamma, he was requested by theVenerableDr. Saddhatissa Mahanayaka Thera to give an address at the Memorial Service being held for theVenerable Sumatipala and theVenerable Seevali at the London Buddhist Vihara. The Venerable Sayadaw gave such an inspiring discourse that the devotees in London , requested the Sayadaw to allow the transcript of the talk to be printed in their Journal, Buddhist Forum.With Sayadaw's permission, this Dhamma article was later published as a small paper-back by the Disciples of Chanmyay Sayadaw at Young Buddhist Association of Thailand in March 1998.
Sayadaw visited London in May 1998 again as part of his World Tour. We are very grateful to the Sayadaw for offering us a copy and also for allowing us to publish on the Internet.
It is a great pleasure for me to deliver this Dhamma-talk in commemoration of those two well-known meditation teachers, the Venerable Sumatipala Maha Thera and Venerable Sivali Thera. I was on friendly terms with the Venerable Sumatipala Maha Thera and I knew Sivali Thera very well. We all very much regret that they have passed away. It is a great loss to Buddhasasana.
On this significant occasion I would like to deal with a discourse of the Omniscient Buddha recorded in the Samyutta Nikaya. It is Darukkhandhopama Sutta, The Parable of the Log.
Once the Omniscient Buddha was sitting under a tree on the bank of the riverGanga (Ganges in English, but we pronounce it Ganga in Pali) near the city of Kosambi. Five hundred bhikkhus accompanied him. The Lord Buddha saw a very big log being carried down the river by the current.
He pointed to the log and said, "Oh Bhikkhus, do you see that big log which is being carried along by the current of the river?" The Bhikkhus replied, Yes Venerable Sir, we see it."
The Lord Buddha continued,
Here the Omniscient Buddha points out that if there is not any of these eight faults, the log will reach the ocean. Then, the Buddha said, "Why will this log reach the ocean? It is because the current of the river inclines towards the ocean. It will, therefore reach the ocean if it has none of these eight faults.
In the same way, Bhikkhus, you will reach Nibbana if you have none of these eight faults. Why? Because Sammaditthi (Right Understanding) inclines towards Nibbana, the cessation of dukkha. However, Bhikkhus, this is just a simile."
Then, one of the monks requested the Lord Buddha to explain the simile, which the Buddha did in this way.
The words near bank refer to the six sense doors-eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind.
The word far bank refer to the six sense objects- visible objects, sound or voice, smell or scents, taste, tangible things and mind objects.
Submerged under the water means being attached to any sentient being or inanimate thing.
Landing on a small island in the middle of the river means conceit, pride or haughtiness.
Taken away by a human being means that a Bhikkhu lives, mingling improperly with laity.
Taken away by a Deity means doing good deeds for the purpose of being reborn in heaven- the realm of Devas or Brahams.
Sinking into the whirlpool means indulgence in five kinds of sensual pleasures.
Becoming rotten means pretending to be virtuous when one is not actually virtuous.
Although the Omniscient Buddha addressed this discourse to Bhikkhus, it is for all irrespective of race and religion. Any one who has none of the eight faults can reach the ocean. When he has reach the ocean he has got free from the round of existence and got rid of suffering (Dukkha).
In some discourses of the Omniscient Buddha the ocean refers to the cycle of rebirths (Samsara) and in the others to Nibbana, the cessation of suffering. In this discourse what the Buddha refers to with the word 'ocean' is Nibbana.
Sense-doors and sense-objects
Then, what does the Buddha mean when he compares the near bank with six sense-doors and the far bank with six sense-objects?
Here I would like to say a few words about the word 'mind'. In the psychology of Buddhism 'Citta' which knows the object, does not last even for the blinking of an eye. Herein the word 'mind' is used in the sense ofcitta that knows the object and very instantly passes away. Cognition of the object does not last for even one millionth of a second. Occasionally we used the word 'consciousness' which may be better than the word 'mind'.
Consciousness or mind knows the object, but the eye does not know it. With the help of the eye, one of the six sense-doors, consciousness sees the object. For example you see a brand new Rolls Royce car. In this case there is a visible object and there is the eye that helps the mind or consciousness see the object. If you see that Rolls Royce you may feel how good it would be to own one. If it is your own car it will give you much pleasure. You are attached to it because you see it and take it to be a very nice car of yours. You do not regard it as just natural process of material phenomenon. Then, you are caught on the far bank, the eye, because your attachment arises dependent on the car, the visible object and the eye, one of the six sense-doors.
The eye is one of the six sense-doors. When the eye contacts the colour or the form of the car, there arises consciousness that sees the car but consciousness of seeing does not stop there. It goes further. It thinks, " Yes, it is my car, a very good car, a new car. I bought it yesterday; it cost a lot of money." In this way, you become attached to the Rolls Royce. That means that you are attached to a non-living thing because of its colour and form - a visible object - and because of the eye. So you are attached to the car.
Suppose you park it on the side of the road and a person carelessly drives his car past yours and scratches the door of your car. Then you feel angry because it is your car that is scratched. It means that you have attachment, Lobha and anger, Dosa. Do Lobha and Dosa bring you happiness? No, they bring you unhappiness, Dukkha. And what do you have this Dukkha? Your suffering or unhappiness arises because you yourself are stuck on the near bank as well as on the far bank. That attachment arises dependent on the visible object, the car, with the help of the eye consciousness that keeps you stranded on the near bank. If you are attached to the car with the help of your eyes, you will not reach the ocean, Nibbana. You will be clinging to the far bank as well as the near bank; you won't reach the ocean.
The log is compared with Khandhas or human being. Khandhas mean the five aggregates of mental and physical phenomena. Because you do not see the five aggregates as the five aggregates of mentality and physicality, you take them to be a person, a being, a self or a soul and as a result you are attached to them; so you won't reach the ocean. If, however, you see the five aggregates as the five aggregates of mentality and physicality, you won't take them for a person etc. Then you will not be attached to them, and so you will reach the ocean. That Rolls Royce you bought yesterday, which was so expensive, if you see it as a Rolls Royce, then you are attached to it; but if you see it as a material process or rupakkhandha - aggregate of materiality, you won't be attached to it. Then you won't be unhappy when it is scratched because you won't take it as a valuable Rolls Royce. You are caught on neither of the two banks.
Attachment and Conceit
What the Lord Buddha means by submerged under the water is attachment - desire, craving, lust, love. If you are attached to any living being or inanimate object, you won't be able to reach the ocean. You are submerged under the water.
Then, landing on a small island means conceit, pride or haughtiness. If you are proud of or conceited about your work, your rank or your success in your business, you are landing on a small island. That conceit delays you in your attainment of Nibbana. If you are conceited, you are unable to realize the mental and physical process in their true nature and you will take your bodily and mental process to be a person, a being, an atta or a you. Then, there will arise many other defilement such as anger, lust, greed, hatred and so on. So, you, landing on a small island, won't be able to reach the ocean because you are not able to realize natural process as natural process, or five aggregates as just natural process.
If the log is taken away by a human being it won't reach the ocean. This refers to Bhikkhus. Supposing a Bhikkhu does not do his work of learning scriptures, practising meditation, delivering sermons, leading his disciples on the right path and encouraging them to meditate for their emancipation; instead, he mixes with the laity in an improper way. Such a Bhikkhu is taken away by a human being. He will be unable to reach the ocean. He will be attached to these people whom he is improperly associating with. He will be so attached to worldly affairs that he won't be able to realize the three characteristics of mental and physical phenomena, that is Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta - impermanence, suffering and no-soul, no-self or non-ego. If he unable to realize these three basic facts of existence, he will be so strongly attached to worldly things that he won't want to reach the ocean.
Desire for Better Existence
If the log is taken away by a Deva, it won't reach the ocean. This means that if you perform any wholesome or meritorious deeds such as giving or charity (dana), observing moral precepts (sila) and meditation (bhavana) with a view to rebirth in the realm of Devas or Brahmas, then you will be taken away by them to their realm. If this happen, you won't reach the ocean. You may achieve your am of a better rebirth because of the good you have done. You will be reborn as shining one, deva but you won't be able to reach the ocean.
Deva means a deity, one who shines. If you become Deva, you will be attached to yourself because you are shiny and very beautiful. Then, you won't be able to reach the ocean.
If the log sinks into a whirlpool, it won't reach the ocean. This means, if you are indulging in sensual pleasure, you won't reach the ocean. This is attachment. If you are attached to what you see, what you hear, what you smell, what you taste, what you touch, and what you think about, then you become caught in a very big whirlpool. You won't be able to reach the ocean. Because the doctrine of the Buddha is so very rational, logical and natural, I am sure that you agree with him on this point.
The attachment to any sensual pleasure leads you to repeated births in the cycle of existence; it does not lead you to Nibbana, the ocean.
Then, the last one, becoming rotten. If the log becomes rotten, it won't reach the ocean. That means that if you pretend to be a very virtuous person when you are not, you become rotten and will not reach the ocean. You won't reach Nibbana.
The Way out of Suffering
The Omniscient Buddha said, "If you have none of these eight kinds of fault, you are certain to reach the ocean because you will be carried by the Middle Current of the river." The Middle Current is the Noble Eightfold Path. If you develop the Noble Eightfold Path, you are not kept on the near bank or the far bank, you are not submerged under water, you won't land on a small island, you won't be taken away by human beings or devas, you won't be caught in a whirlpool, you won't become rotten. Then you are certain to reach the ocean of Nibbana.
You must strive to develop the Noble Eightfold Path so that you do not have any of these eightfold faults. What should you do to develop this Noble Eightfold Path? Sila (morality) is the foundation, the basic requirement. Samadhi (concentration) is built on the foundation of Sila.Panna (insight and enlightenment) comes with the proper application of the concentration is very easy to develop this Noble Eightfold Path which consists of Sila, Samadhi and Panna. Observe yourself or just observe your bodily and mental processes as they really are. That is all.
Watch any action or movement of your body and mind as it occurs without analyzing it, without thinking about it. Just pay bare attention to what is happening to your body and mind as it really is. That is all. If you use any intellectual knowledge or preconceptions in this awareness of your bodily and mental process, you go astray and your mind is not well concentrated, you will not be able to realize bodily and mental phenomena as they really are.
Purification of Mind
When you observe any activity of body and mind as they really occur, then gradually your mind becomes concentrated on any process that is observed. Then the concentration becomes deeper and stronger. Your mind is purified fromNivarana (hindrances) such as Kamacchanda, Vyapada, Thina-Middha, Uddhacca-Kukkucca and Vicikiccha.
Kamacchanda means sensual desire. Vyapada means ill-will. Thina-Middha means sloth and torpor. Uddhacca-Kukkucca means restlessness and worry or remorse. Vicikiccha means skeptical doubt.
If you have one of these hindrances in your mind, your mind is defiled. It is not pure. when your mind is not pure your insight is not penetrating. Only when the mind is purified of these five hindrances, can your insight knowledge become penetrating. when it is penetrating, you will be able to realize bodily and mental processes first in their specific characteristics and second in their general or common characteristics.
Realization at these two levels are called Right Understanding (Sammaditthi) in the course of Vipassana meditation. When it has reached its climax you attain to Nibbana, the cessation of suffering, through the first Enlightenment (Sotapattimagga) which realizes the Four Noble Truths. You have reached the ocean.
However, it is only through deep concentration, when you are mindful of bodily and mental phenomena, that you are able to realize them with the three levels of Right Understanding.
The first level of Right Understanding is the realization of the specific characteristics of materiality and mentality. The second is the realization of the general or common characteristic of materiality and mentality. The third is the realization of the Four Noble Truths - Dukkha, the origin ofDukkha, the cessation of Dukkha, and the way leading to the cessation of Dukkha.
So, to purify the mind we need the Noble Eightfold Path. To realize mental and physical processes in their specific and general characteristics, we need the Noble Eightfold Path. To realize the Four Noble Truth we need the Noble Eightfold Path. This is the middle current of the river.
The Way to Freedom
On the night when the Omniscient Buddha was about to pass away, he was reclining on a bed prepared for him in Kusinara Park. In the first watch of the night Subhadda, a medicant, came to him and said, "Venerable Gotama Buddha I followed various doctrines taught to me by various teachers. They all say that they know all and that they are Arahants. Is what they say true?"
The omniscient Buddha left the questions unanswered and admonishedSubhadda; "Subhadda, whether they know all or not does not matter; it is not concerned with your deliverance; so I won't answer this question.
My time is approaching. I will teach you what is important for your emancipation. Listen to me attentively."
Then the Buddha said, "Subhadha, in any doctrine in which the Noble Eightfold Path is not found, there will not be any Samana." Here Samana means one who is calm as he has destroyed all defilement. It means that if there is no Noble Eightfold Path in a doctrine, then there is no one who has destroyed all defilement by following it.
If there is Noble Eightfold Path in a doctrine, there will be someone who has destroyed the defilement by following it and got rid of suffering. So, if you follow any doctrine in which you do not have to develop the Noble Eightfold Path you are certain not to destroyed defilement and get rid of suffering.
Here the Omniscient Buddha points out the criterion of the true Dhamma.
The Lord Buddha said, "Subhadda, only in my doctrine or in my sasana is there the Noble Eightfold Path to develop. Therefore, there is samana only in my doctrine." Discourse expounded by the Omniscient Buddha to Subhadda fit in with "The Parable of the Log" because a person who does not develop the Noble Eightfold Path will not reach the ocean ofNibbana. If he develops the Noble Eightfold Path, he is certain to reach the ocean ofNibbana as he will not be kept on the far bank or the near bank etc. The Omniscient Buddha taught us the way to develop this Noble Eightfold Path. That is the technique of Mindfulness Meditation.
The Omniscient Buddha taught us the way of mindfulness when he expounded the Discourse on the four foundations of Mindfulness (Mahasatipatthana). He teaches us to be mindful of bodily process, sensation, consciousness and mind-object as they really occur. So, the principle of mindfulness meditation is to observe, to be mindful of, to be aware of whatever arises in our body mind as it really occurs. Even unpleasant sensation of pain, aching, stiffening, itching and the like must be mindful of as they really are.
When you feel pain in your back or in your knee, you must observe as it really is, You must not try to make it go away. You must not make it disappear because the pain helps you attain Nibbana. In other words pain is the key to the door of Nibbana. So, if you feel a painful sensation you are very lucky. It will lead you to the cessation of suffering because it is one of the five aggregates to be thoroughly realized.
It is an aggregate of sensation, which is the truth of suffering and must be thoroughly understood. If we realize this painful sensation in its true nature -- in its specific as well as in its general characteristics - we see it as just as a natural process arising and passing away from moment to moment. It does not last for even a second. And through the realization of pain or aggregate of sensation, you can attain to enlightenment by which you can destroy defilement and get rid of suffering. That is why I say that if you feel a painful sensation, then you are very lucky. Why? Because you have a mental process together with the physical process to watch, to observe and realize. That pain gives you a very good opportunity to realize its true nature and so lead you to the cessation of Dukkha, Nibbana.
Specific and General Characteristics
It is here needed to explain the specific characteristics of mentality and physically and their general or common characteristics.
Every mental or physical process has its own distinctive features that have nothing in common with any other mental or physical process. You know lobha (greed, craving, desire, lust and attachment are all encompassed). Lobha has its own characteristic that does not belong to any other mental or physical process. If you have love or desire for that Rolls Royce you will become proud, possessive or covetous. You become attached to it. So the specific characteristic of lobha is clinging.
Dosa (anger) is different. It has the characteristic of rudeness. Whereaslobha draws things towards it, Dosa is aversion; it repels.
The Six Elements
Physical and mental process which constitute so called a person arepathavidhatu, apodhatu, tejodhatu, vayodhatu, akasadhatu, and vinnanadhatu. These six elements are those of earth, water, fire, air, space and consciousness.
Pathavidhatu, the element of earth, has hardness and softness as its characteristics. This characteristic belongs only to the earth element and to no other; it is, therefore, the specific characteristic of the earth element, while apodhatu, water element, has fluidity and cohesion as its specific characteristic, heat and cold are the specific characteristic of tejodhatu, fire element.
When a meditator has gained deep concentration of mind, his mind is purified. Then he begins to realize the specific characteristic of mental and physical processes. When you observe your abdomen rise and fall, a physical process, and your concentration becomes deep enough, you begin to realize the rising and falling movements very clearly in their true nature. Movement of motion is the specific characteristic of the wind or air element. When you rightly understand the true nature of the rising movement or falling movement very clearly, you are not aware of the form of your body or abdomen. What you are realizing at that moment, is just the movement - outward movement and inward movement. Then you begin to realize the specific characteristic of the air element (vayodhatu).
The general characteristics of material and mental phenomena are Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta - Impermanence, suffering and no-soul, no-self nature. Every mental state, emotional state and physical process has these three characteristics in common. They are called common characteristics because they belong to every mental and emotional state and physical process.
After you have passed two stages of insight knowledge - knowledge of differentiating between materiality and mentality and that of cause and effect - you come to realize these three genera characteristics of psychophysical phenomena. This insight knowledge is known as knowledge of comprehension, which comprehends all these general characteristics of material and mental phenomena.
When a meditator's insight knowledge becomes mature on account of diligent practice with continuous and constant mindfulness and deeper concentration growing naturally, he is certain to pass through all the stages of insight with his personal experience of them. His bodily and mental processes - the bodily process that is noted and the mental process that notes it - cease to exit. Then, he attains to Nibbana, the cessation of compounded things (Sankhara).
An End of Suffering
There, at the moment he gets into the state of cessation of all Sankhara (compounded things) he has abandoned attachment, the cause of suffering, because he has rightly and perfectly understood dukkha. So, the truth of suffering has been perfectly understood. The cause of Suffering is abandoned at the moment. The Truth of the way leading to the cessation of Suffering (The Noble Eightfold Path) has been developed. You have reached the cessation of compounded things (Sankhara). Here he has attained the third level of right understanding, that is, the Enlightenment, by realizing the Four Noble Truths. Then he reaches the ocean because he has been carried away by the middle current, the Noble eightfold Path. He is not kept on the near bank nor the far bank. He is not submerged under the water. He is not stranded on an island. So, he has reached the ocean.
The Lord Buddha sitting under a tree on the bank of the river Ganga, delivered this discourse. A Cowherd named Nanda, who listened to the discourse, was so much inspired by it that he wanted to be carried away by middle current. So he approached the Lord Buddha and requested ordination as a Bhikkhu. "Venerable Sir, I am afraid of being caught on the near bank or the far bank or submerged into the river. I wanted to be carried away by the middle current and reach the ocean. Please ordain me a Bhikkhu so that I can develop the Noble Eightfold Path, the middle current."
The Omniscient Buddha said, "Boy, you are a cowherd. First you have a duty to drive your cows back home. You should entrust them to their owner. Unless you do that, I cannot ordain you."
So the cowherd did as the Omniscient Buddha urged. Then he returned to be ordained a bhikkhu. Bhikkhu Nanda went into the forest to a secluded place and developed the Noble Eightfold Path by being aware of all mental and physical phenomena that were arising from moment to moment. Because he was willing to be carried away by the middle current, he meditated diligently. In a very short time, he was carried away by the middle current and reached the ocean ofNibbana. He reached the ocean of Nibbana because he had none of those eightfold faults and was carried away by the middle current of the Noble Eightfold Path that runs towards the ocean. Nibbana.
The Lord Buddha repeatedly said: "Be mindful of what is happening at this moment as it really is, or be aware of whatever arises in your body and mind as it really is". Then all of you will be carried away by the middle current and attain Nibbana, the ocean.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
The Venerable Sayadaw Ashin Janakabhivamsa conducted four vipassana meditation retreats in Australia in 1990. One of them was conducted at a camp near Canberra City.
It is the Sayadaw's procedure in every retreat that a questions and answers session is arranged on the last day of retreats.
So these are Sayadaw's answers to the questions raised by his meditators at the Canberra retreat in January 1990.
Question: Venerable Sayadaw, today at lunch while chewing a mouthful of food I suddenly lost the desire to eat and the chewing motion stopped. With no desire, there was no movement. This I also noticed with other movements. It seems that the desire is the primary motivating force behind any kind of movement, action, deed, behaviour, etc. Could this be true? From what I understand from your teaching, desire is a defilement. So what is the motivating force?
Answer: Let us take the last point first: "From what I understand from your teaching desire is a defilement." Yes, desire is a defilement. Because I teach you so? Is that right? No? Then why is desire is called a defilement? When desire arises the mind gets defiled by desire. It is, therefore, called a defilement. The mind becomes impure because of desire; so desire is called a defilement. It is not because I teach you so.
"While chewing a mouthful of food I suddenly lost the desire to est." Good! Very Good! You see you are mindful of whatever arises in your mind and body in order that you may remove desire, or attachment, because desire, or attachment, is the cause of suffering. You know that. Say you feel a desire for food at about ten o'clock but you have to take it at eleven. Then you feel hungry. Because of that desire you feel suffering. What kind of suffering? The suffering of hunger. Hunger, the desire for food, makes you suffer.
When the desire to eat stop the chewing motion stopped. The first point is that you suddenly lost the desire for food. That is the purpose of mindfulness. What we are doing while we are taking a meal is practicing mindfulness. The purpose is to remove desire for, attachment to, food. Now she (the questioner) achieved this. Why did the desire stop? Because she was mindful of chewing, she was constantly making a mental node: chewing... chewing... chewing.
When she is not making such mental notes and is not watching the act of chewing, any kind of tastes, sweet, sour, salt or any other, will be manifested on her tongue. If she likes sweetness she will be attached to that taste, the sweet. Her attachment arises. Then she will feel a greater desire for food because of the sweetness. Thus more defilements arises. Why? Because she does not observed it continuously. When the continuous and powerful mindfulness overpowers the chewing movement as well as the taste, there is no taste at all. As she did not feel the taste of the food anymore she lost the desire for it. She has destroyed her attachment to it. But she has no aversion to it and continues to eat mindfully. That's her success. That is the purpose of mindfulness while we are taking food.
I will explain to you more about the purpose of mindfulness in the act of taking food, so that you can clarify your understanding of meditation and be more mindful of your actions during the act of taking food tomorrow at breakfast. She said that the chewing motion stopped because the desire stopped. If there is a desire there will be a chewing motion. She thinks that to act, to commit any action or deed, or any behaviour, the motivating force is desire. It is desire that causes any action, any deed, any behaviour to arise, so perhaps it is desire that is the cause of all action, deed or behaviour. Then she also said: "from what I understand from your teaching, desire is defilement." Every action, deed or behaviour is caused by defilement. What she said amounts to saying that, but she could not judge if that was correct. So she asks: "What is the motivating force?" How shall I answer this question? It is a very difficult one. Actually the desire is not the immediate cause of the action. If you desire to run away from this retreat you will have the intention to walk away. The desire is the cause, the intention is the effect. First you intend to walk, then you walk away. Therefore the intention is the immediate cause of the action. But it is the effect of the desire.
Desire is not the immediate cause of an action. from the point of view of the Buddhist philosophy intention is known as chanda in Pali. Chanda is usually translated as will or wish. When you feel the desire to take food, you acquire the wish to stretch out your arm, the wish to touch the food, the wish to grasp it, the wish to bring it to your mouth. That wish is called intention. We call it chanda. Chanda is one mental state, desire is another. Desire is called tanha, for example tanha for food. Because of tanha, you have the chanda to do, to act, to go, to run, to see and so on. The arising of chanda is dependent on desire.
But sometimes the desire is not the cause of the arising of chanda. Suppose you want to give something to a poor man, you want to give him a piece of cloth. Because you want to give, there arises the chanda to give. The chanda to give is the will or the intention to commit the act of giving. In that case the arising of chanda is dependent on your good cetana. Or we could call it your good volition - a motive. The good motive or volition is the cause of chanda, intention or will. It is the cause of your giving the cloth to the poor man. Here there is no room for desire to arise.
In some cases desire may be, let us say, the remote cause of the action, not the immediate cause. But in some cases it does not arise as a cause. Here let us say that you are a buddhist. When you bow down before a stature of the Buddha you will have in mind the virtuous qualities of the enlightened one, so you think of the Buddha as one worthy of salutation or bowing down. With that good volition you bow down. So between the volition and the act of bowing down there is a mental process - that is intention or will, chanda. So chanda or intention or will is the immediate cause of the action or deed or behaviour. In this case there is no room for desire.
In short, if you do wholesome deeds, good volition is the cause of the chanda or intention and chanda or intention is the cause of the action or deed. But when you do unwholesome deeds, evil deeds, the cause is desire. Desire causes the intention or chanda to arise and then intention causes the act, the evil deed. So in the case of evil deeds desire is the cause of action.
Desire and Dissatisfaction
Question: If the state of desire is the cause of dissatisfaction with the existing reality and should be avoided , how can we go on acting in our lives? If there is no desire to act in life, are we really living?
Answer: Yes, the state of the desire is the cause of dissatisfaction. The Buddha spoke of this in his first sermon, the Dammacakkapavattana Sutta, where he classified all kinds of dukkha, suffering. He said, "Birth is dukkha, decay is dukkha, death is dukkha, work isdukkha, lamentation is dukkha, grief is dukkha, despair is dukkha." After that he continued, "What one wants to get but does not get is dukkha." Do you follow? When one does not get what one desires, it is dukkha. To put it in another way, what one desires but does not get is dukkha. Here desire is the cause, dissatisfaction is the effect. So the state of desire is the cause of the dissatisfaction. That is why the Buddha said desire or attachment is the cause of suffering. Should we avoid it? Yes. Desire should be avoided, it must be eliminated. It is the cause of suffering.
The second part of this question is similar to the first question. If there is no desire to act in life, are we really alive? I've already explained to you about action that is not the result of desire but of intention or will, so this part of the question have been answered.
(The Sayadaw responded to the following four questions in one detailed answer.)
Rebirth, Kamma and Anatta
Question: Venerable Sayadaw, please tell us what the Buddha taught about how the experiences and kamma of a being are transferred from incarnation to incarnation. Also I would like to know the other way the Buddha told one of his disciples to stay awake after he had been walking through the forest for seven days.
Question: Please explain: What is rebirth? When the mind arises and passes away, what is rebirth?
Question: If there is no-self, I, being, person or soul, how does reincarnation and kamma from past lives work?
Question: Venerable Sayadaw, please talk about the principle of co-dependent origination if there is no-soul, how can one talk of a person's previous life? If there is no-soul, what is there that connects you to a previous life?
Answer: All these questions are in fact just one question: if there is anatta, if there is no-soul or permanent life force, how can one talk of a person, a previous life? What is there that can connect you to a previous life? This question is universally asked. Almost every one who does not have enough of Buddhism, especially with regard to rebirth, and who also has not had much experience in the practice of meditation, asks this question. One who has experienced the arising and the passing away of the mental and physical processes which are observed during meditation, will be able to understand. He doesn't need to think about.
All these questions are based on the idea of a self or soul which is taken to be everlasting and indestructible. Many of those who do not study Buddhism, almost all of them, have the idea that to be reborn again and again there must be something which transmigrates from one existence to another, and that thing must be everlasting. Unless it is everlasting it cannot transmigrate to another existence. In other words there must be an everlasting soul to reincarnate in another body; unless there is an everlasting entity there won't be another existence because there will be no connection between the first existence and the second one. That is what many people think.
First of all we should consider the mental process and the physical process. Hoe do they work? Before this question and answer session you may have been worrying about your daily life and worrying about worldly affairs. And some of you may having pleasure now. Do you have that worry now? No. Do you have that pleasure now? No. Where did it all go? Did someone take away that pleasure, happiness or worry? Who took it away? Nobody. Then where did that happiness go? Considering that you don't have that pleasure or worry, we can say that the pleasure or worry has stopped, it has disappeared. But after that pleasure or worry has stopped you have another mind. Let us say another mind after the disappearance of the pleasure or worry. You have been listening to the Dhamma and to the questions and answers. Unless you have a mind or a consciousness you could not have listened to the Dhamma.
If you do not have any mind or consciousness, what would you be? You would be unconscious, perhaps even dying. After the disappearance of the happiness, pleasure or worry, if you don't have any mental state, you will only have the physical process. And you would be lying down without moving. But now you are not lying down, you are sitting and listening to the questions and answers. Therefore it is evident that you have a mind or consciousness after that happiness, worry or pleasure has disappeared. You have a mind - is that mind the same one that experienced the pleasure or happiness? No. If it were the same happiness or pleasure you would always be happy. Now you may be happy, not because you are getting back to your family, but because you are listening to the questions and answers. So this mental state is different from the mental state of pleasure, happiness or worry that you felt previously.
We know that when one of the mental states has disappeared another mental state arises. Why? Because the other mental state has disappeared; that's the reason. Say that we have a manager or administrator in this place. if that manager dies, there won't be a manager here anymore. Is that true? No. Then what will happen? Another manager will come. Why? Because the other one has disappeared. So the disappearing or passing away of the previous one is the cause, the appearing of the following one is the effect. It is a natural law, the law of cause and effect. You cannot create it, the Buddha cannot create it, you cannot change it; it is a natural law, the law of cause and effect or dependent origination. The following mental state arises because the previous one has disappeared or passed away. This is the law of cause and effect: it cannot be changed, it cannot be destroyed.
Suppose someone has died. When he is dead does he have any mental state? No. And any physical process? Yes. Where does that mind go when he dies? Please consider the law of cause and effect. When a person dies the last consciousness of this existence has disappeared. Every moment appears and disappears, arises and passes away. When you note: "intention, lifting; intention, pushing; intention, dropping" during walking meditation what you know is that with one intention, one movement arises. Then another intention and another movement arises. In that way within a millionth os a second over one hundred thousand mental states arise. If your concentration is good enough you will be able to realize that any consciousness or mental state does not last even a millionth of a second. It arises and instantly passes away. If you note any movement, the mind that notes it instantly passes away. When you note the following movement it is not the same mind that noted the previous movement. You will be able to realize this when your concentration is good enough.
It is very clear that when a person is dead his mental state or consciousness has disappeared. Which mental state has disappeared? The last consciousness of the present life has disappeared. What happens when the previous one has disappeared? Another one has to arise according to the law of cause and effect. So, after the last conscientiousness of an existence has disappeared, another consciousness arises. That is the law of cause and effect. The passing away of the previous one is the cause, the arising of the following one is the effect. After the last consciousness of an existence has disappeared there arises another consciousness. Can that new consciousness be said to be the previous existence? No, that consciousness is another existence. This, then, is rebirth. Very easy to understand.
But you need to practice meditation os that you can realize the arising and passing away of mental states very swiftly one after another. Then you can understand: ah, this is so! Then you do not need any everlasting entity to transmigrate to another existence? You don't need any. The whole existing world is dependent on the law of cause and effect. The Buddha very clearly explained this law of cause and effect in his doctrine. Do I need to explain further? No. Because you are very intelligent and bright, you have understood. There is no-soul or self which is an everlasting entity to transmigrate to another existence, to reincarnate in another body.
We have answered one question. Then there is another one, about kamma. How does kamma produce results in another existence if there is nothing to transmigrate. You have not met your friend for about ten years. By chance you meet him on the road. You're very happy, so you say that you are very happy to meet him. What is that? That is loving-kindness (metta). He feels: "My friend loves me." He feels that. Then you go your way, he goes his way. But when he lies down to sleep at night he happens to think about you who love him. What does he feel? Is he happy or unhappy? He is happy. Why does that happiness arise? Is there an everlasting connection between the happiness and the loving-kindness he felt earlier that evening? No. But though there is no connection between the two mental states, the mental state of loving-kindness has produced the mental state of happiness. So do we need any connection for any cause to produce any effect? No.
When a person commits an action or deed, he is moved to do it by the the force of volition or motive. The consciousness, with which that volition or motive arises, and the event it self, pass away but the force of the volition doesn't disappear and remains in the process of the following consciousness.
When the time and circumstances are ripe for producing an effect, an effect is produced. There will be no perceptible connection between the cause and the effect. In the case of reincarnation or rebirth we don't have anything which is everlasting transmigrating from one existence to another, but the two existences are related in a certain way. Thus good kamma or wholesome actions, or bad kamma or unwholesome actions are manifested; wholesome actions guide the current of consciousness to arise in a good existence. Unwholesome actions guide the consciousness to arise in a bad existence. And so we go on.
Then we come to another question about anatta, 'no-soul'. Anatta means there is no-soul that is an everlasting entity apart from physical and mental processes. That is what the Buddha said. In 1979 when I was conducting a meditation retreat in a hotel in Switzerland with the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw, one of the meditators, a young German about twenty-four years old, came to me for an interview. He said: "I cannot meditate. I feel despair." I asked him why. The technique is very easy, very simple to practice, no complications. Just observe things as they are, that's all He said: "Because of your Dhamma talk." "Very well, what do you find in my Dhamma talk?" He said: "No, it is not in your Dhamma talk, it is in the Mahasi Sayadaw's Dhamma talk: 'Anatta, no-soul, no-soul.' That talk about no-soul hits me in the chest. I couldn't stand it" Then I said: "Did you find the words no-soul, no-self in my Dhamma talk?" "No. I didn't find any of that in your Dhamma talk." "Well, the Venerable Sayadaw does not teach you meditation What he is doing is just giving a discourse on Dhamma. I teach you meditation and I don't say anything about no-soul. You should just practice Then he was satisfied: I'll do", he said and continued the practice.
The next morning he came again for the interview. He seemed to be very unhappy. I asked: "What did you experience?" He said he could not practice. "Why?" "Last night Mahasi Sayadaw talked about no-self I couldn't stand it. I couldn't practice meditation." Well, that could not be helped. The Mahasi Sayadaw had to deliver a discourse every night because he had been invited by the meditators to teach meditation; and to do that he had to deliver the teachings of the Buddha to the meditators. In the teachings of the Buddha, anatta, no-self, is repeatedly mentioned. The Venerable Sayadaw could not avoid talking about it. But I could avoid it because I delivered the Dharnma talk like this, impromptu. I did not talk about anatta, no-self so that he would not get upset. But he went away.
When a Buddhist meditation retreat is conducted those who cannot stand the anatta doctrine go away because the Buddhist doctrine is based on the idea of no-soul, no-self In the Buddha's own experience and the experience of all the other arahants, they did not find anything that was everlasting. What they discovered was that every mental and physical phenomenon is impermanent. It arises and passes away each instant. If you continue meditation for a month or two you are also sure to realize the impermanence of every mental or physical process. Then you will not find anything that is everlasting or permanent. Then you will judge that there is no-soul or self that is taken to be everlasting, and that there is everchanging phenomena of mentality and physicality. Therefore there is no everlasting entity such as soul or self to transmigrate to next existence. Life is just the processes of mental and physical phenomena. Passing away of the phenomenon in the previous existence gives rise to another phenomenon in the present existence. The cause in the previous life produces its effect in the present life. The only connection between the two existences is cause and effect. There is no connection of any everlasting entity such as soul, self or any other thing.
A Monk's Life
Question: Is a monk's life in the monastery composed of constant practice of Vipassana?
Answer: If a monk's life in a monastery were devoted only to the constant practice of Vipassana I would not be here. I would have to be practicing Vipassana constantly. In the Buddha's sasana there are two things for a monk to do: firstly, learning the scriptures and teaching the disciples; Secondly, practicing the Dhamma. We have to do both. If a monk's life were devoted solely to practicing Vipassana~ he would reach the fourth stage of enlightenment, become an arahant and then pass away. After the monk had passed away. nothing would remain of the doctrines of Buddhism as there would be no monk left to teach those doctrines to any disciple. So what should we do? Practice the Dhamma while learning the scriptures and teaching disciples - hence my presence here teaching this course to Australians. If I were just to live in my monastery and practice the Dhamma, I could not have come here and would never have gained the opportunity of teaching you the Dhamma. And you would not nave had the chance to practice Vipassanaby being mindful of all daily activities as you now do. So there are two things: to study and teach the Dhamma, and to practice the Dhamma
Question: What can be done about the apparent division between groups purporting to teach the Vipassana and Samatha forms of meditation?
Answer: The purpose of the Samatha meditation is to attain higher concentration of the mind. For this the Samatha meditator has to lake a single subject as the object of his meditation. When the mind wanders away he brings it back to the object. In this way after practising for one, two or three months, he can attain the highest concentration of the mind. The single subject he takes as the object of meditation can be respiration or some other device. Whenever the mind goes out he must not follow it or observe it. He must bring the mind back to the object and focus it on the object.
In the technique of the Vipassana meditation which you have practiced for about ten days, how many objects do you have? One or two? In fact you have many different objects of mental and physical phenomena. Then what is the purpose of Vipassana meditation? It is to realize the mental and physical processes as they really are with some degree of concentration. That is the difference. Having observed these processes you gain the realization of both their general and specific characteristics. This means that when the mind wanders there is no need to bring it back, Why? Because the mind itself has to be observed and realized. It has to be observed as it is. The purpose of the observation is to realize it in its true nature. The aim is not to make it go away or disappear. Painful sensations too have to be observed, not with the aim of making them disappear but rather to realize their true nature. What is that true nature? It is general and specific characteristics. This is the difference between the two types of meditation. You can judge it for yourself The two groups should practice both samatha and vipassana and teach both. Then meditators will gain more benefit out of the two types of meditation.
How We Can Help Others
Question: How can one reconcile the path of service to others through social work and the path of the full-time meditator? In other words which comes first, one's own personal salvation or the salvation of others?
Answer: As a full-time meditator you are not in a position to do service to others as you are always engaged in meditation. But if you constantly render service to others you cannot meditate. So which should come first, one's own personal salvation or the salvation of others? It depends on you, but I can give you an answer from the Buddha's point of view. Two friends went off on a journey on foot and by chance they entered a quagmire, they got stuck in the mud up to their waists. One friend decided to save the other, and to do this he had to struggle to free himself from the mud. Having done that he could look for a wooden plank or plant help his friend out of the mud. So which came first? Obviously his own salvation, and this accords with the Buddha's doctrine. The Omniscient Buddha said that when one is from all manner of suffering then can one try to free others from similar suffering.
Question: What is nibbana?
Answer: The word nibbana is made up literally of ni, "absence", and vana, "attachment", that is "absence of attachment". When you have attachment you experience dukkha. suffering. When you have no attachment you do not experience suffering at all Absence of attachment causes the dukkha to cease From where does dukkha arise? From the sky or the hushes? Only from attachment. When the attachment has been destroyed there ceases to arise any suffering linked to mental state or physical process. That is the state of an arahant.
In buddhism we have two stages of nibbana The first of these is to be attained in this existence. It is attained by an arahant when he has completely eliminated all attachment through the fourth enlightenment. Since then he has no longer experienced any mental suffering. However, his psychophysical processes continue to arise and pass away. So there may be some physical suffering at times, but he does not take it to be unpleasant; he sees it as just a process of phenomenon. When he has destroyed all attachment to living beings or inanimate objects he has no desire to be reborn. When he dies, all mental and physical phenomena cease to exist. They do not continue since all motivation, desire and attachment have been destroyed. That state of nibbana is the second stage.
What you should remember is the firststage, which can be attained through the destruction or overcoming of attachment. It is desirable, and you should have chanda to attain
Question: Please define sexual misconduct.
Answer: If a husband or wife commits adultery, that is sexual misconduct or illegal sexual conduct. However, the precept to avoid it does not cover all situations in the East and West. For instance in Burmese villages there are no offices where marriages are registered. When they marry and society recognizes that, then they are considered husband and wife. If either the husband or wife commits adultery, that is sexual misconduct though they are not legally married.
In this regard there is an interesting story in the scriptures. I shall tell you. It is somewhat long. The story took place before the time of the Lord Buddha. There was a very pretty and very virtuous prostitute who observed all the five precepts. A man came to her and gave her a thousand coins to spend a night with her, saying: "Madam, since I am very busy today I cannot come. Maybe I'll come to you tomorrow or the day after." The prostitute agreed and the man went away. He did not come the following day or the day after. In a month he did not come. Although many men came to woman and offered her money, she rejected them. She would accept money from no one until the first man had come to her because she had first taken his thousand coins. Had she accepted money from others for her favours she knew she would have been guilty of violating the third precept, which prohibits sexual misconduct. After three years had passed and the man still had not come, her money was exhausted and she was on the point of dying from starvation.
So she went to the court and asked for the judgement of the judge. He considered all the facts of the case and passed his judgement: "You have waited three years for this man and he has not come. You have, therefore, discharged you duty, it is now finished, and you may henceforth accept the offerings of others." As she was leaving the court another man came up to her and offered her a thousand coins. However, she felt a sense of guilt about accepting the offer even though the judge had ruled in favour of her doing so. At that moment the man who gave her a thousand coins three years previously, suddenly appeared and she refused the offer of the second man. It was only when the first man absolved her from her obligation, saying he had no connection with her any more, that she accepted the offerings of others. In this way in ancient times even such a lady observed the third precept. That is the moral of the story
In short a man must refrain from having sex with a woman under the guardianship of a person or an organization. A woman must refrain from having sex with a man who is recognized as a husband of someone by the society.
Condition of Sleep
Question: How does one go to sleep or rest mindfully? Does watching the rising and falling of the abdomen condition the mind to fail asleep?
Answer: Yes, when you are about to sleep you should observe the rising and falling superficially and lightly. That means you concentrate your mind to a certain degree without thinking about anything that makes you worry or feel sorry, simply by the power of holding mindfulness to the rising and falling. Because that form of concentration is not deep or attentive, it gradually slips into sloth and torpor and you fall asleep: a very good medicine for insomnia! But be careful not to observe attentively.
Teacher Not Needed
Question: At what stage of the meditation process does a person no longer need a teacher?
Answer: When a meditator has reached the eleventh stage of meditational experience he needs no teacher. He can proceed by himself. This is the eleventh stage of insight knowledge, just below the twelfth and final stage.
Question: Is the experience of enlightenment permanent? Does it arise and then pass away? Is it sustained in life by samadhi?
Answer: Because it is a mental state the experience of enlightenment is not permanent. It arises and passes away, but it can be sustained by samadhi. When we attain any stage of enlightenment the consciousness of enlightenment is only a moment long. It arises and then passes away. But there remains the result of that enlightenment and that is called the Fruition Knowledge, attainable by means of samadhi. When your samadhi is good enough you can enter the Fruition state (phalasamapatti) repeatedly and also for very long periods. So you need a good samadhi even though you have attained enlightenment.
Question: The concept of impermanence is stressed in Buddhism. Is there also a concept of permanence? If so, what is there that is permanent? Since cause and effect are basic to the Buddhist teachings, what is the cause of permanence and what is its effect?
Answer: All these questions can be answered in a single sentence: there is no concept of permanence in the Buddhist doctrine. Everything is impermanent.
Question: I am aware that theoretical knowledge gained from books can be a hindrance to meditational progress. What part, if any, should reading play in the continuation of practice at home?
Answer: Yes, theoretical knowledge gained from books is sometimes a hindrance to progress in your meditation. This is because we cannot help comparing our own experiences with the knowledge gained from books. It leads us to think about analysis and criticism, and we then lose mindfulness of the experience. If you know that this thinking, analyzing, criticizing, logical reasoning and philosophizing are hindrances to your concentration as well as your gaining of insight knowledge, then you must observe them, you note them, watch them - and having done so the hindrances will go away. Because you understand the nature of these hindrances, you make up your mind not to think about any experience or technique. With that determination, you practice Vipassana meditation; though these things come up in your mind you can easily overcome them simply by noting them. The danger lies in not understanding that these are hindrances to your progress. If you do not realize that you must watch it when it comes up in your mind, then it becomes a hindrance. If you understand that it is a hindrance and refuse to accept it, whenever it arises you will observe it and then it will disappear. So there is no problem in continuing your Vipassana meditation at home. You must continue to practice at home as much as possible. The authentic knowledge you gained from books is inspiring but you should not apply it to the practice during your meditation. When you are not engaged in meditative practice you should consult your meditative experience with your book- knowledge.
Question: Of the five aggregates, what are the specific characteristics of perception, sanna and of mental formation, sankhara? Volition seems to operate separately from thought. Thought can lead volition, and volition can lead the thought. Do volition and thought belong to the same group? Or, put a different way, how do said and sankhara interrelate, or how are they distinguished?
Answer: There are five aggregates in every living being. The first is the aggregate of physical process, rupa. The second is the aggregate of feeling or sensation, vedana. The third is the aggregate of perception, sanna. The fourth is the aggregate of mental formations, sankhara. The fifth is the aggregate of consciousness, vinnana. Of these five aggregates, the specific characteristic of perception is recognizing the object; that of mental formation is of a different nature. Because the aggregate of mental formation is comprised of fifty mental states, each of these has its own specific characteristics. It would be very difficult to explain all these to you in just an hour.
As to your point that volition seems to operate separately from thought, in fact volition is not separate from thought: it is included in thought. Thought can lead to volition and volition can lead to thought.
Do both volition and thought belong to a single group? Yes, they belong to the aggregate of mental formation, sankhara.
How do sanna and sankhara interrelate? How are they distinguished? When you recognize something, say a beautiful flower there arises an attachment to get the flower, that attachment is sankhara. Recognizing the flower is sanna. In this way sanna and sankhara are interrelated.
Question: There have been a number of claims for omniscience. Some individual pronouncements about the nature of reality have subsequently been shown to be false. For example, Christian and Buddhist cosmology or Christian theory of creation. Why should I or anybody else follow a path that generates much pain though it promises a peaceful conclusion? It seems that different practices lead to different experiences of reality. How can one distinguish the real from the false?
Answer: It is natural that pronouncements on the nature of reality will subsequently be shown to be false or seriously flawed if the path is not the right one. As to Buddhist and Christian cosmology and the Christian theory of creation, Buddhism does not include ideas on creation; only the Christians have a theory of creation. Nor did the Buddha give any discourse on cosmology. What lie stressed was the Four Noble Truths, that was all.
Why should I follow a path that generates much pain though it promises a peaceful conclusion? I hardly need to answer it: because, although the path gives much pain in the beginning, there will be peace at the conclusion. Let us suppose that you are surrounded here by a bush fire. You know that if you stay here the fire will overwhelm you and you will die. What must you do? You must run through the fire. While you are in the fire you may get burnt but you will not die. You have to suffer this little burning by running through the fire so that you will not be overwhelmed by the big fire and die. Having come out of the fire you will be safe and sound.
Another example: you have studied from primary school until university. During that time you went through a lot of suffering, learning, memorizing, calculating and so on. Why did you do that? You wanted to get a degree and after that you wanted to get a well- paid job. Anticipating those benefits you suffered fourteen years at school. You suffered very happily because you were anticipating a good job. It is very clear.
Now the matter of different practices leading to different experiences of reality, each claiming to be valid. If there is such a thing as the absolute truth, how can we distinguish the real from the false? If you have followed any system or doctrine fully, not just a quarter or a half, but practiced it in full, and if you find peace and happiness at the end of the practice, then that is reality. But if you practice only half of a doctrine or system, you cannot judge whether it is the right practice. You will not enjoy any benefit that expresses reality. You have to undertake the full practice, the whole course. Then you will benefit from it. Then by considering the benefit you can judge whether it is real or false. If the benefit is happiness and peace, it is real. If benefit is suffering it is false. But before you finish the practice you cannot judge. You must bring the practice to an end.