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Venerable U Thitilla

( Aggamahapandita )

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Lecture to the High Court Buddhist Association, Rangoon

Part One

        The title of our talk this afternoon is 'The Way to Nibbana the way to the highest happiness'.

        To sum up all the teachings of the Buddha. we have a stanza:

                To refrain from all evil

                To do what is good.

                To purify the mind

                This is the teaching of (all) Buddhas.

(Dhammapada 183; - Khuddakanikaya Dhammapadatthakatha. 14 Buddhavagga. 4-Anandatherapanha vatthu; Verse 183.)

        It is a very short stanza; yet it covers all the teachings of the Buddha. It embodies three stages on the Highway to the Highest Happiness Nibbana. I think most of you know that stanza in Pali and therefore I need not repeat it. There are three stages of developing ourselves towards this Highest Happiness. The order of development of ourselves in accordance with the Noble Eightfold Path (Attha Magganga-Majjhima Patipada) is classified into three groups, namely. Sila (Morality), Samadhi (Concentration) and Panna (Wisdom). The first two steps of the Noble Eightfold Path, Right Understanding. i.e. understanding of the nature of self, and the nature of the universe, and Right Thought are grouped under Panna Wisdom; the next three, Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood are grouped under Sila. Morality. Right Effort. Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration are grouped under Samadhi (Concentration).

        You may ask, as it has frequently been asked - Why three stages - why not one stage only as a basis? The reason is, we have three stages of defilements - Kilesas, (impurities) such as Lobha, Dosa and Moha, etc. Each of the 10 Kilesas (defilements) has three stages. For instance, greed or anger has three stages. The first stage, the root, is called in Pali, Anusaya. At this stage the defilements such as craving, anger, etc. are lying latent in each of us. They do not become manifest up to the level of thoughts. feelings and emotions, yet they lie latent in each of us. We can prove it. The fact that we can be made excited and angry shows that we have certain tendencies like anger, hatred - though for ordinary purposes we may be called 'good' people. We are good only when other people are good; otherwise we can be made angry and emotional. This proves that we have certain tendencies.

        If one's actions are according to the law of Morality, then that is Right Action. When your action not only is harmless but also helpful - of great service to you as well as to others, then you can say your action is right. There are many things which we think to be good but they are only good to us, good only from our own standpoint.

        In order to do right your mind must be free from selfishness, ill-will, hatred, jealousy. etc. When your mind is pure you can see and know things as they really are. Take for instance the case of a pot which is filled with water. It is filled in three stages - the bottom, the middle and the topmost parts. Anusaya is the first or the root stage where the evil tendencies are lying latent. The fact that you can provoke a person into anger clearly shows that there is anger, or the root of anger, lying latent within him. This first stage is very quiet - so quiet that we seem to be sacrosant.

        Even at the second stage - Pariyutthana. we are still in the realm of thoughts. feelings. The English saying 'Silence is Golden' is not always right. We may say that mere silence is sometimes far more dangerous than a big noise.

        Then in the final stage we become fierce, dreadful. uncontroll able both in words as well as in actions. (Vitikkama). That is the top part of our defilements. So Anusava. Pariyutthana and Vitikkama - these are the three stages of defilements.

        Buddhism teaches a method of how to control, how to overcome these evil tendencies lying latent in us. To exercise this control we need three stages of training towards development - Sila, Samadhi, and Panna - Morality. Concentration, Insight.

        First comes Sila. Morality, the observance of precepts. The observance of precepts would enable one to overcome only the last stage - the outward, visible stage of defilements and not the other two stages. It is like cutting a tree by the branches at the top. Morality can control only your words and actions, not your mind. It can only make us good ladies and gentlemen in the worldly' wise sense and not make us righteous people - don't you say' some times, when you are in the process of observing the Eight Precepts, 'When I am out of this observance, you will know what I am'? It is necessary for us to have three stages and the first is Morality to dispel the outward or visible stage of defilements that is in us.

        But as there remain two stages undispelled by morality, the defilements that we have got rid of will grow up again, and that very soon. Therefore, we need the second stage of training - Samadhi (Concentration or meditation) in order to enable us to dispel the second stage of defilements left undispelled by the practice of Samadhi - Morality. Concentration is mind-control and mental culture. It is like cutting a tree by the trunk, but as there remains the first or root stage undispelled the defilements will rise up again. But Concentration can clear away' the defilements for a considerable time so that they will not rise again so soon. Clearing away of defilements by Morality - Sila is called Tadanga Pahana in Pali (temporary suppression of defilements). Just like the temporary cutting away of the topmost branches of a tree. Putting away of defilements by means of Samadhi (concentration) is called Vikkhambhana Pahana. Concentration represents a more power ful and a higher mental culture, so it is far more effective than Sila.

        Coming to the third stage of development. Panna (Wisdom):

        By means of developing one's insight, Wisdom, one is able to dispel the first stage - the Anusaya stage. It is like cutting a tree by the root so that it will never grow again. If defilements are cut by means of Wisdom, such defilements will never rise again. This is called Samuccheda Panna.

        As these three stages are interdependent and interrelated. Sila, Samadhi and Panna should be practised at the same time and not separately. Only to put them in order in the Dhamma we put down three stages separately, but in practice we must practise them simultaneously. While trying to practise Concentration it is easier for you to live rightly' and understand things rightly. In the same way, practice of right understanding or insight enables one to live rightly and concentrate rightly. This applies not only during periods of meditation but in one's daily life as well.

        We should be rational beings. We should react to surroundings. circumstances and events of daily life reasonably and not instinc tively or emotionally.

        What we need in this world is to be rational - to try to exercise our reasoning powers - but it is rather bad for the world that in most cases human beings judge according to their emotions or instincts.

        The standard of mental development is very low because the method of public education is wrong, the method of upbringing of the children is also wrong. I can prove how wrong it is. Even the nursery rhymes taught to the infants portray stories full of cruelty and killings without an atom of love in them. Again, a group of moralists in the West went round the educational institutions in order to test the psychology of the children studying there. A child was asked to make a sentence comprising the words 'Mother', 'Baby' and 'Cat'. The child answered, 'The cat scratches the baby and the baby cries. Mummy gets angry and beats the cat'. The same question was asked in every school in the whole province and there was only one child who gave the following answer and was given a prize as it contained some love and affection that should exist between the different beings on earth. 'The cat plays with the baby. Mummy is so pleased with the cat that she gives some milk to the cat to drink'.

        I myself witnessed a woman who bought a cane from a seller and gave it to her little boy to play with. The boy instead beat her with it. Many parents do not train their children to be good, tame and docile, but encourage them to be cruel, quarrelsome and aggressive by giving them toy revolvers, toy swords and air rifles. So the method of training children in the present, scientific world is very wrong. In cinemas most of the pictures shown are all wrong - they encourage shooting and the telling of lies.

        What then is the Buddha's method? First. morality. These rules of morality are firstly explained in the Panca-sila: Not to kill, not to steal, not to have sexual misconduct, not to tell lies and not to take any intoxicating liquors and drugs. In Burma most people think that all is well if you observe these five precepts only negatively. To merely abstain from killing is not good enough; so we should emphasize the positive aspect of the principle of non-killing - to have compassion on all beings including animals.

        In the Discourse on Metta we said Adosa is the negative aspect of it. but having Adosa is not all. In the practice of Metta you have pity, compassion and loving-kindness towards all beings in the whole universe. So also in the case of practising the Five Precepts. Non-killing is understood by many as not taking life, but this term 'not to kill' is broad enough to include all kind and loving acts.

        The second precept - taking what is not given to you freely. The standard of mental development in the present world - even of adults- seems to be much lower than an intelligent child of twelve. It seems that modern man, because of his physical body, cannot be styled as an animal, but by actions many people nowadays behave worse than animals. The positive aspect of this second precept of Panca-sila is not only to refrain from stealing but to offer material help. Then we do not need to have a big police force or courts to try criminal cases or a Bureau of Special Investigation.

        Then comes 'sexual misconduct'.

        Then the next precept 'Musavada - to abstain from telling lies is very difficult to observe. Not to tell lies is the negative aspect. The positive aspect is not only to tell the truth but to use such words as are soothing, kindly and comforting to the people who hear them. As for telling lies, if the majority of our race do not tell lies, even these law courts might not be necessary.

        As for the last of the five precepts - not to take intoxicating liquors and drugs - this has almost become an everyday habit taken at every meal in civilized society. Really, no drinking of any liquor is necessary to keep one healthy mentally, morally and spiritually. Once in England my audience argued that since I have not taken any liquor in my life, since I am complete teetotaller, I cannot know the benefits derived from drinking. Drinking makes you lose control of your mind at least temporarily, and those who drink to excess can be said to become quite mad. Taking liquor is against the law of nature and also the precept laid down by the Buddha. Drink causes distraction, dullness of mind. When done to excess you can become a stark lunatic. According to Buddhism, drink is the cause of all misery, all troubles. By taking drinks you become emotional and it is easy for any drunkard to tell lies or to commit murder, etc.

        To conclude, I would like to ask the audience and the Sayadaws as well as the Upasakas and Upasikas to emphasize the positive aspects of these five precepts, the Panca-sila. I would like to mention also that the Buddha's way of life is a system of cultivating ourselves - our higher consciousness. It is a way of a good, righteous and happy life. The Buddha says that when a good act is performed several times there is a definite tendency to repeat this act. So in time it becomes a habit. Men are creatures of habit. By habit they become slaves of drink, slaves of gambling, slaves of lust and scores of other vices. Also I would like to quote a Japanese proverb, 'Man takes drink first, then the drink takes a drink and finally drink takes the man'.

        Any physical action, if repeated for sometime becomes a habit. In the same way, any thought which is allowed to rise up again and again gives rise to a definite tendency to reproduce that type of thought and therefore becomes a habit. The Buddha's method is to use the reproductive power of the mind as well as the body for the development of ourselves. By cultivating good habits of mind and body we develop ourselves fully. It is called Parami in Pali. meaning fulfilment. In other words, to make counter habits whenever you have a tendency to be angry, and then you can develop mental states of loving-kindness and compassion so that these mental states will be repeated again and again. And in the end they will become habits so much so that you will never entertain thoughts of hatred, anger, jealousy and the like. These evil tendencies will disappear before the tendencies of loving- kindness, even as the darkness of the night fades away before the dawn of the rising sun. This is the method given by the Buddha. It is a practical system of changing and developing our inner selves.

Part Two

        It is a continuation of our discussion on the three stages of mental development. They are: Sila (conduct), Samadhi (concentration) and Panna (wisdom). We dealt with the first stage at the last lecture. This time I am going to deal briefly with concentration (Samadhi) which is meditation and also wisdom. These are rather serious, because when we come to practise concentration we usually find that it is a dull process. Meditation is not to be talked about, but to do, to practise. You are not willing to do things normally. To talk about things is very easy. To organize things is very easy. Some people think it needs a genius to organize; but to do is far more difficult even than to organize.

        This afternoon I am going to read from the book that I have written on the subject of concentration and how to go about meditation.


        The spiritual man, having been equipped with morality and mastery of the senses, is inclined to develop higher and more lasting happiness (i.e. than worldly happiness) by concentration (samadhi) control and culture of the mind, the second stage on the path to Nibbana.

        Concentration is mental culture without which we cannot attain Wisdom. By concentration we can acquire happiness - a happiness which is much higher than ordinary worldly happiness. Worldly happiness is dependent. It needs the support and co-operation of a partner. Higher mental happiness does not require any external help or any partner. This happiness can be attained through Jhanas. Jhana (Skr. dhyana) is derived from the root Jhe, to think closely of an object or to burn adverse things, nivarana, hindrances to spiritual progress. Jhana has been translated as trance, absorption or ecstacy, but it is a special ultramundane experience.

        In Burma we do not talk about jhana. We talk very much about Vipassana. Samatha (meditation: calm) or jhana, is not thought much of in Burma because the Burmans think that it is not the highest but only the second stage to Nibbana. That is one reason. Another reason is that those who are interested in Vipassana meditation think that it is a short cut to Nibbana. In some cases, it is thought that it is a matter of days or a few weeks' practice for one to attain Nibbana. They like to go to Nibbana straightaway without waiting for a long time. They' have three day courses, seven day courses for it. To attain jhana you have to prove it by performing a miracle - walk on water, sit on water, raise the dead. But to attain Nibbana in the stage of Sotapanna needs no proof. That is still another reason why people are interested in Vipassana.

        he Buddha himself was highly qualified in the jhanas. I would like to say something about these jhanas. Some people suggest that if we are going to spread Buddhism effectively throughout the world, we must do something different from what we have done now. By Jhana you are able to fly up in the sky. You can appear and disappear in the air. So, some people say that Buddhism can be spread far quicker than otherwise if we can prove Buddhism through the Jhanas. Any way, these Jhanas are a part of the Buddha's teaching. Jhana means to think, to concentrate on the object to overcome Hindrances. Jhana also means to burn the adverse things, nivarana, Hindrances to spiritual progress. From this same derivative we have 'Jhar-pa-na' in the case of death, decay (funeral). Jhana has been translated as trance, absorption or ecstacy, but it is a kind of spiritual experience, ultra-mundane experience.

        The spiritual man selects one of the forty objects enumerated in the Visuddhi-magga. The object which he selects should appeal most to his temperament. such as emotion, anger and so on. Those forty objects are divided into six groups, according to the types of temperament of the people. So if you are going to practise concentration, meditation, for the attainment of Jhana you will have to choose one of the objects suitable for your temperament.

        The method is fully explained in the Visuddhi-magga. This object is called Parikammanimitta, preliminary object. He concentrates on this object for some time, may be some days. weeks, months, some years, until he is able to visualize the object without any difficulty. When he is able to visualize the object without looking at it. he is to continue concentration on this visualized object, Uggahanimita, until he develops it into a conceptualized object, Patibhaganimitta. At this stage the experienced spiritual man is said to be in possession of proximate concentration, Upacara-samadhi, and to have overcome temporarily the five Hindrances (nivarana), namely, sensual desire, hatred, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubts.

        To illustrate what we have said. If you are going to take our Pathavi-kasina (device of earth) as your object, you get hold of a circle made of clay which is called Kasina. In English it is translated as a hypnotic circle which is not very correct. So you get a circle of clay about one span and four fingers. You can make it as smooth as possible and paint it with the colour of the dawn. This circle is placed before you about two and a half cubits away. Some people do this practice even in the West at present. In India it was done long ago and therefore it is very common. The people in the West try to practise it just to see if it works. By this practice some have acquired a very strong power of concentration. So you prepare that circle, place it in front of you at a convenient distance so that you can look at it at your ease. While looking at it you must keep your head, neck, and back erect. The purpose is to keep your mind with the circle. Ordinarily, without concentration you do not know where your mind is. Any way you try to concentrate on it, on this physical object, Parikammanimitta. As explained in the book, it may take day after day, month after month, year after year, until you are able to visualize it without the physical object.

        The Buddha advised us not to take anything too seriously. You must not strain your mental faculty. You must consider yourself as if you are at play, enjoying it with a cheerful mind just as some young people enjoy witnessing a cinema show. At the same time the Buddha advised us not to keep our minds in a very light spirit. You do it for the sake of helping other people, to add your happiness to the happiness of others. Taken in this spirit, even the sweeping of the floor can become interesting. So also in meditation you must think of it as if you are at play so that it becomes interesting, because it is a good thing to do, a necessary thing to do. Unless we clear our minds like this we can never practise the first stages of the Dhamma, let alone attain Nibbana, the highest goal in Buddhism.

        So you concentrate on this physical object until you can visualize it without the object. This visualization in Pa!i is called Uggahani mitta. It is the exact replica of the object seen. When you come to this stage you do not require the physical object. Then continue your concentration on the visualized object. The difference between the first object and the second object is the first being physical and the other mental. But it is exactly the, same object. You carry on concentrating until this object becomes bright, shining like a star. The difference between the second and the third stages is that in the second you see the object with certain defects, but in the third stage there is no defect whatsoever. It is like a shining star. It is called Patibhaganimitta, conceptualized object. At this stage the experienced spiritual man is said to be in possession of promixate concentration, Upacara-samadhi and to have overcome temporarily the five Hindrances (nivarana); namely, sensual desires, hatred, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubts.

        His concentration gradually becomes so enhanced that he is about to attain jhana. At this stage he is said to be in possession of Appana Samadhi. He eventually attains the five stages of jhana step by step, and it is when he reaches the fifth stage of jhana that he can easily develop the five supernormal powers (Abhinna - Celestial Eye (Dibbacakkhu), Celestial Ear (Dibbasota), reminiscence of past births (Pubbenivasanussati-Nana), reading thoughts of others (Paracitta-vijanana) and various physic powers (iddhi vidha). By these powers you can see things which the naked eye is not capable of seeing - no matter how far the objects are, there is no barrier which can prevent you from seeing them. You can see through mountains, you can see long, long distances without any obstructions in between. Even today there are Yogis in India who possess these supernormal powers, for this Jhana practice is not necessarily confined to Buddhism, Hindus also practise it. In Buddhism the practice of Jhana is a great help toward the attainment of Nibbana. Those who have reached such high a level of experience as jhanas have their minds highly refined and it is easier for them to attain the lokuttara stages of development, yet they are not entirely free from all evil tendencies - the reason is that concentration, as has been stated above, can overcome only the second stage of defilements temporarily. As there remains the first stage untouched, undispelled, the passions which have been inhibited by concentration would arise again.

The five supernormal powers (Abhinna) are sometimes called occult, or hidden, or secret power in English. In Buddhism they cannot be called occult powers because these powers are for every one to possess, if they practise hard enough.

        Morality makes a man gentle in his words and deeds, concentration controls the mind, makes him calm, serene and steady. Wisdom or Insight (Panna), the third and final stage, enables him to overcome all the defilements completely. As a tree which is destroyed by the root will never grow, even so the defilements which are annihilated by Wisdom (Panna) will never rise again.

        The spiritual man who has reached the third stage of the path to Nibbana tries to understand the real nature of his self and that of the things of the world in general. With his highly purified mind he begins to realize that there is no ego-principle or persistent identity of a self' in either internal or external phenomena. He perceives that both mind and matter which constitute his personality are in a state of constant flux, and that all conditioned things are impermanent (Anicca), subject to suffering (Dukkha), and void of self-existence (Anatta). To him then comes the knowledge that every form of worldly pleasure is only a prelude to pain, and that everything that is in a state of flux cannot be the source of real, permanent happiness.

        The aspirant then concentrates on the three characteristics of existence, namely, transiency (Anicca), suffering (Dukkha). and being void of ego or self-existence (Anatta). Having neither attachment nor aversion for any worldly things, he intensely keeps on developing insight into both internal and external phenomena until he eliminates three fetters, namely. Self-illusion (Sakkaya ditthi), Doubts (Vicikiccha) and Clinging to vain rites and rituals (Silabbata paramasa). It is only when he destroys completely these three fetters that he realizes Nibbana, his ultimate goal for the first time in his existence. At this stage he is called a Sotapanna. one who has entered the stream, the Path that leads to Nibbana. The Buddha has described this stage as follows:

  • More than any earthly power,
  • More than all the joys of heaven:
  • More than rule over all the world.
  • Is the entrance to the Stream.(Dhammapada, Verse 178)

        Symbolically one who has reached the first Aryan stage is said to have entered the stream, because just as the water of a river never comes backwards towards its source, but flows steadily and inevitably towards the ocean, so, rapidly and with certainty, the aspirant will attain his final enlightenment. As, however, he has not eradicated the remaining seven fetters, he may be reborn seven times at the most.

        When the aspirant develops deeper insight and weakens two more fetters, namely, Sensual Craving (Kamaraga) and Ill-will (Patigha), he becomes a Sakadagami, Once-Returner. He is so called because he is reborn in the world of desires (Kamaloka) only once if he does not obtain final release in this present life,

        The third stage is that of Anagami, Non-returner, who completely discards the above two fetters. He will not be reborn in this world or any of the realms of sense-pleasure, but he, if he does not attain his final enlightenment in this life, will be at death reborn in one of the higher, suitable planes, and from thence pass into Nibbana.

        The fourth stage is that of Arahat, perfected saint, who completely annihilates the remaining five fetters, namely, Craving for existence in the world of form (Rupa-raga), Craving for existence in the immaterial world (Arupa-raga), Pride and Conceit (Mana), Restlessness (Uddhacca) and Ignorance (Avijja). He then realizes that rebirth is exhausted, the holy life is fulfilled and what was to be done has been done. This is the highest, holiest peace. The Arahat stands on heights more than celestial realizing the unutterable bliss of Nibbana.


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