THE QUESTIONS OF SAKKA
Translated by U Aye Maung
Edited by Bhikkhu Pesala, 1996
Buddha Sâsanânuggaha Organisation
Mahâsî Translation Committee, Rangoon
The Questions of Sakka
A Discourse on
The Venerable Mahâsî Sayâdaw
An English Abridged Translation by
First printed and published in the Socialist
Cover Illustration by Christine Fitzmaurice
The illustrations are copyright.
Permission to reprint this book must be sought from both the Association for Insight Meditation, who prepared this edition, and the Buddhasâsananuggaha Organisation, in Rangoon, who published the original 1980 edition.
© Copyright 1996
Association for Insight Meditation
A number of the late Ven erable Mahâsî Sayâdaw's discourses have been translated into English, and most of these have been reprinted before in Malaysia, but this new edition has been prepared for distribution in English speaking countries. Although many changes have been made to the original translation, they are only grammatical ones. The content of the Venerable Sayâdaw's discourse has been fully preserved and is now much easier to read than it was. I am indebted to Christine Fitzmaurice-Glendining for her meticulous work in correcting the grammar. She also checked the final proofs. If any errors have unwittingly been introduced into the translation then that responsibility is mine alone.
The Venerable Sayâdaw's discourses were addressed to meditators practising intensively at his meditation centre in Rangoon, so they contain many Pali words that, though familiar to those who have heard regular discourses, may be unfamiliar to others. In preparing this edition of the Sakkapañha Sutta I have replaced the Pali words with a translation wherever possible. However, since this book deals with advanced topics such as mental absorption (jhâna) and insight knowledge (vipassanâñâna), the use of Pali terms is sometimes preferable.
In the footnotes, references are to the page numbers of the Pali texts of the Pali Text Society, which in the translations are given [in square brackets] at the top of the page or sometimes in the body of the text. However, in the case of the Dhammapada or Sutta Nipâta, references are simply given to verse numbers.
The Sakkapañha Sutta is the twenty-first discourse of the Dîghanikâya, the long discourses.
This is the abridged translation of Venerable Mahâsî Sayâdaw's discourse on the Sakkapañha Sutta. The discourse was given in December 1977 at the request of U Pwin Kaung, the President of the Buddha Sâsanânuggaha Organisation, on the occasion of the annual gathering of Buddhist devotees from all over Burma, who came to pay their respects to the Sayâdaw and to hear his teaching.
The President requested the Venerable Sayâdaw to give a Buddhist discourse that would be universally applicable, so Mahâsî Sayâdaw chose to give a series of talks on the Sakkapañha Sutta, which was the subject of a manuscript that he had been preparing for publication. This discourse tells us about the Buddha's dialogue with Sakka, the king of the gods, and of his penetrating analysis into the causes of conflicts, frustrations and suffering that beset all living beings. The Sayâdaw rightly describes the discourse as the Buddha's teaching on world peace, and indeed it has an important message for people all over the world.
The Venerable Sayâdaw's discourse on the sutta is very informative and illuminating. Many of his observations are essential to the proper understanding and practice of the Dhamma. Thus, according to the Sayâdaw, the introduction to a sutta is not as important as its central teaching. It serves to establish the authenticity of the discourse but, as in the case of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, its absence does not necessarily cast doubt on the origin of a Buddhist teaching. Such practices as the melodious recitation of scriptures, which is customary among some Buddhist preachers, and the mass slaughter of animals for food at pagoda festivals are to be deprecated because they run counter to the Buddha's teaching. No less incompatible with the spirit of the Dhamma is the fondness for lengthy prayers. This probably stems from the tendency to rely on external help rather than on making the effort to attain one's objective.
As well as these passing remarks on matters of general interest to Buddhists, the Sayâdaw's discourse on the essence of the Buddha's teaching in the Sakkapañha Sutta is superb. It is based on rational observations, anecdotes and the teachings in the texts and commentaries. The Sayâdaw's clarification of wholesome sorrow, wholesome depression, etc., will inspire meditators who are discouraged by lack of spiritual progress. His other explanations will also enlighten those who do not have much knowledge of the Dhamma or much experience of insight meditation.
The importance of the Sakkapañha Sutta as expounded by Mahâsî Sayâdaw is not confined to Buddhists, nor for that matter to a particular segment of the world's population. It concerns the whole of humanity and also all other beings in the universe, and those who practise it diligently may rest well assured of an end to suffering.
Bhikkhu Eindaka (Nyaung gan)
In Buddhist literature, Sakka is the name given to the king of the gods (devas) and pañha means question. So the Sakkapañha Sutta is the discourse on the welfare of living beings that the Buddha gave to the king of the gods in response to his questions.
Sakka asked the Buddha as follows, "Lord, there are devas, human beings, asuras, nâgas, gandhabbas and many other living beings. These beings wish to be free from quarrels, armed conflicts, animosity and unhappiness. Yet they are not free from these evils of life. What is the fetter (samyojana) that makes them unable to fulfil their wishes?"
Here the devas referred to are probably the Catumahârâja and Tâvatimsa devas for these devas were well known to Sakka. We know that the Asura devas were originally the enemies of the Tâvatimsa devas, as their battles are mentioned in the Dhajagga and other suttas. Formerly they lived in Tâvatimsa heaven but, while they were drunk, they were hustled down to the foot of Mount Meru by Sakka. The nâgas are a species of serpent who can work wonders with their psychic powers. The gandhabbas are a kind of Catumahârâja deva who excel in dancing, playing music and the other cultural activities of the celestial world. Then there are yakkhas (a kind of demonic god), animals and so forth.
The gods, humans and other beings of the sensual world have their hearts in the right place. They want to be free from hatred, not wishing to bear grudges nor to ill-treat others, nor to be ill-treated or robbed themselves. They do not want to become the enemies of other people. In short, all living beings long for security, peace, freedom and happiness. Yet they are all beset with danger, misery and suffering. What is the fetter that causes this situation? Today we hear the universal clamour for world peace and for the welfare of humanity, but these hopes for a happy world are still far from being realised. This naturally raises the question about the cause of our frustration.
In his reply, the Buddha described envy (issâ) and meanness (macchariya) as the two fetters that lead to the unhappy plight of humanity.
Issâ is envy that generates ill-will towards those who excel us. Macchariya is meanness that makes us reluctant to see others become as prosperous as ourselves. These two fetters of envy and meanness frustrate us and cause quarrels, enmity, danger and misery. Those who envy a man because of his prosperity, influence or status will be unhappy, however much they may talk about their desire for inner peace. Their unhappiness stems from the evil designs they harbour against the object of their envy. Naturally, those whom one envies become ones enemies, and vice versa. Many people suffer from envy, and doubtless this envy will subject them to suffering beyond redemption throughout the cycle of existence.
Again, despite ones desire to avoid conflict, meanness leads to it. One chafes at any person acquiring or using ones property. One resents any intimacy between ones beloved and another person; this is obvious in the case of married couples. Officials are unhappy when they face the prospect of their jurisdiction passing on to others. So meanness leads to enmity, danger, anxiety and misery.
To sum up the Buddhas reply, the root causes of envy and meanness are the sense objects, which one either likes or dislikes, and discursive thinking about them. The remedy is to observe all phenomena arising from the six senses, to avoid unwholesome thoughts, and to entertain only wholesome thoughts.
This, then, is the substance of the discourse. Now a few words about the introduction to the discourse.
The introduction to a discourse tells us where, why, to whom and by whom the discourse was given. Thus it serves to establish the authenticity of the Buddhas teaching. Without it, the origin of a discourse is open to question, as in the Abhidhamma Pitaka, which has no such introduction.
The Abhidhamma was preached by the Buddha in Tâvatimsa heaven. At that time the Buddha went daily to the Himalayan forest, leaving his proxy, the Nimmita Buddha, to carry on his regular teaching. The Buddha gave Venerable Sâriputta a summary of the Abhidhamma that he had taught for the day, and the chief disciple in turn preached it to five hundred monks. So the Abhidhamma is ascribed to Venerable Sâriputta but, as the commentary says, since he heard it from the Lord, it is the teaching of the Buddha. The Abhidhamma Pitaka has no introductory statement such as, "Evam me sutam: Thus have I heard:" so, according to the commentary, some did not accept it as the true teaching of the Buddha.
So that posterity might have no doubt about the authenticity of the Buddhas teachings, most of those included in the canon at the First Buddhist Council have introductions based on the questions and answers of the leading elders of the assembly. The exceptions are the Dhammapada and a few other discourses.
The introduction to the Sakkapañha Sutta is superb as it makes the discourse impressive and highlights the substance of the Buddhas teaching. To record such an important event, Venerable Mahâkassapa asked Venerable Ânanda where, to whom and why the discourse was preached, and Venerable Ânanda answered as follows.
Once the Buddha was dwelling in a cave that lay to the east of the city of Râjagaha in the country of Mâgadha. At that time Sakka sought to see the Buddha. He had seen the Lord on the eve of His supreme enlightenment and at another time in Jetavana Monastery at Sâvatthi, but as he was then not yet spiritually mature, the Buddha did not grant him an interview. Now Sakka had decided to see the Lord, accompanied by his retinue of devas, because he hoped to hear a discourse that the Lord might teach to someone among his followers who was worthy of liberation. However, it was largely his fear of death that aroused his strong desire to see the Buddha. For, being aware that the end of his life was approaching, he was anxious for something to rely on for his salvation.
When a deva is about to pass away, five signs appear: 1) The flowers on his head wither, 2) His garments become dirty and worn out, 3) Though devas never normally sweat, he sweats from the armpits, 4) His youthful appearance gives way to signs of old age. 5) Finally, in the last week of his existence, he becomes weary of life. Having seen these five signs, Sakka reflected on his imminent death and became very depressed. To get over his depression, he decided to visit the Lord and listen to the Dhamma. Consequently, he appeared instantly near the Buddhas residence, with his retinue of devas.
According to the commentary on the Visuddhimagga, it took Sakka and his followers no longer than it takes to stretch or bend a hand for them to get from Tâvatimsa heaven to Mâgadha. As the famous commentary says, "Phenomena that arise in one place pass away just there, they do not pass on to another place." The meditator who watches the bending and stretching according to the Satipatthâna method is aware of the passing away of phenomena several times in an instant. Just as psycho-physical phenomena arise and pass away instantly, so too, the devas reached Mâgadha within a split second through the successive flux of mind and matter. This was due to the divine power (kammajiddha) that gives devas a speed far greater than that of modern rockets or spaceships.
Sakka wanted the Buddhas permission for his visit, so he told Pañcasikha deva to go and find out first whether the Lord was well disposed to welcome him. In Sakkas statement the word pasadeyyâsi occurs, which literally means to make one cheerful. According to the commentary, it means gratifying a person and seeking his consent. It is a Pâli expression that Indians of the time used in speaking politely. It is somewhat like the saying of the jackal to the elephant in the Sanskrit work Hitopadesa. The jackal said, "My Lord! Kindly make your eyes clear", which means, as the expositor says, "Kindly help me or do me the favour."
So in compliance with Sakkas request, Pañcasikha went to the Buddhas residence. Standing respectfully at a suitable distance from the Lord, he played his harp and sang songs about the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha and the Arahants. The Buddha would not have approved of the devas way of honouring him with songs and music any more than he would have approved of some modern Burmese Buddhist practices, such as the melodious recitation of Pâli scriptures, the holding of pagoda festivals on a big scale, the killing of lots of animals for food for celebrations and so forthpractices that do a disservice to the Buddhist religion. However, the Buddha said nothing as he knew that many people would benefit from his dialogue with Sakka. Some of Pañcasikhas songs were sensual in character, for they describe his infatuation with a beautiful goddess, which had made him almost crazy. His frustration shows that the deva world does not guarantee the fulfilment of all ones desires and that the life of a deva is not always a bed of roses. His songs also contain references to the Buddha, the Arahant, and to the good deeds he had done on earth. He speaks of the bodhisatta who is always mindful, absorbed in jhâna and bent on nibbâna.
Here jhâna means watching. The object that one watches may be the object of concentration, or it may be the nature of the mind and body such as impermanence, etc. After giving up self-mortification, the bodhisatta resorted to breathing exercises and attained jhâna. These jhânic attainments centre on a single object of attention and may last for a couple of hours. It was through the power of jhâna that the bodhisatta gained the knowledge of previous existences (pubbenivâsañâna), while sitting under the Bodhi tree in the early part of the night. At midnight he attained the divine eye (dibbacakkhu), which enabled him to see the passing away and coming into existence of all beings in the universe. In the last part of the night the bodhisatta reflected on dependent origination and attained insight into the arising and dissolution of mind and matter while seeing, hearing, etc. This constant mindfulness of the nature of existence is a mark of mature wisdom, but it does not seem to have been well known to Pañcasikha deva. He knew only that the bodhisatta reflected constantly and that he was intent on attaining the Deathless (amata) or nibbâna. The word amata comes from the Sanskrit amrita, which means deathlessness, and so amata refers to the deathless or nibbâna.
Questioned by the Buddha as to the origin of his songs, Pañcasikha said that he had composed them for serenading his beloved goddess. She was so delighted with his songs about the Buddha that she had allowed him to spend a day with her, a favour that she did not grant him again. Distraught and frustrated over his unrequited love, the deva gave vent to his feelings in his songs. Here the deva was no different from the ordinary person who is so overwhelmed with desire that he cannot think rationally.
Once, the disciple of a famous Sayâdaw left the Holy Order after an affair with a woman. The Sayâdaws followers blamed the couple but he admonished them thus: "You should not blame them. They have fallen into this predicament under the pressure of their craving. So you should blame their craving." This is indeed a realistic teaching.
When the deva paid respect to the Buddha on behalf of his master, the Lord wished Sakka happiness in both body and mind. The Buddha expressed this wish because all living beings want happiness and that is the way that he blessed those who worshipped him. When Sakka expressed his adoration of the Buddha through the deva he was not uttering a prayer, but, by the Pâli words "abhivadeti abhivandati vandati" we are to understand that he expected to be assured of happiness. In other words, he hoped that the Buddha would say, "May you be happy!"
The Buddha blessed other devotees in the same way. This makes us question the modern practice of giving profuse blessings as a reward for mere devotion. The devotee prays for many things but his prayer is often at odds with the effusive blessing of the officiating monk. In fact, it is not necessary for the devotee to say anything further after expressing his reverence for the three gems (tiratana). Not that there are some things for which you should not pray, but there should be no incongruity between the prayer and the blessing. Since the monk usually mentions all the benefits accruing to one who does a good deed, all that he or she has to do is to express the desire to have them. In paying respect to the Buddha, Sakka did not pray for anything, but he was assured of the due benefits as mentioned in the words, "Abhivâdanasîlissa, niccam vuddhâpacâyino, cattâro dhammâ vaddhanti, âyu vanno sukham balam." 1 So it is well for devotees to pray for longevity, health and security, and the monk should bless them accordingly. He should not act as if he were decreeing the fulfilment of their wishes but only as someone contributing to it.
When Sakka and his followers came to pay respect to the Buddha, Sakka said that despite his ardent desire to see the Lord, he had been unable to do so because of his preoccupation with the affairs of the devas. He told the Lord how his experience accorded with what he had heard previously. It was said that the deva population increased when the Buddha appeared and he had found that this was true. After the Buddhas preaching of the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, some observed the five precepts, some gave alms, and most of them attained the deva world after death. At the very least, those who had faith in the Buddha were assured of rebirth in the deva world. This was the view that the Buddha did not reject when it was expressed by a brahmâ.
Faith in the Buddha means faith in the Dhamma and the Sangha, and as such it ensures protection from rebirth in the lower worlds. Moreover, even alms-giving to worthy disciples of the Buddha carries more kammic weight than any other act of generosity. Thus a deva who, as a lay follower of the Buddha in his previous existence, had given a spoonful of rice to an Arahant, was more powerful than another deva who, while on earth, had fed lots of people for many years as an act of charity.
Out of about 100 million people in the central Gangetic valley, the original home of Buddhism, about 80 million people might have been Buddhists. Except for the Arahants and those at the Anâgâmi stage, most of those Buddhists might have attained the deva world. This probably accounts for the increase in the deva population of those days.
Sakka went on to narrate the story of Gopaka. A princess in the city of Sâvatthi named Gopika was full of faith in the Buddha, and observed the five precepts strictly. She loathed womanhood, preferring to be a man, and so after her death she became the son of Sakka and was called Gopaka.
One day Gopaka saw three gandhabbas who came to entertain Sakka. He found out that they were formerly three monks whom he had supported. He wondered why they were now reborn as low-class devas despite their previous lives, whereas he himself, an ordinary woman in his past existence, had become the son of Sakka by virtue of faith and morality. The three gandhabbas then recalled their past lives and realised that their rebirth in the lower order of devas was due to their craving for the world of gandhabbas. Two of the devas practised meditation and attained the Anâgâmi stage in a moment. The other deva, however, was unable to overcome his sensual attachment and so remained stuck in his lowly life.
Here, renewal of existence as a gandhabba, resulting from attachment to a former life of the same kind, is especially noteworthy. People are likely to be reborn in their native place and environment, which have a special influence over them. The three monks mentioned above are no exception in this respect. King Bimbisâra, who adored the Buddha and gave alms to the Sangha liberally for 37 years, became a subordinate of a Catumahârâja deva after his death. He could have attained a higher deva world but for his attachment in previous lives, which leaves no doubt about the need to overcome attachment to ones native place.
The two devas attained jhâna because they reflected on their recent practice of the Dhamma, and through insight meditation they reached the Anâgâmi stage of the holy path. You need not be disheartened by lack of success in meditation, for persistent effort will lead to rebirth in heaven. There you are assured of unusual spiritual experiences if you remember and continue to practise the Dhamma. For, as a discourse in the Anguttaranikâya says, the physical body of a deva is pure and radiant and the Dhamma becomes clearly manifest to one who has practised in his previous life. It may take some time to recollect, but recollection is instantly followed by attainment of insight knowledge. Some may forget it because of heavenly pleasure, but as devas they are physically and mentally alert, and so, once they turn their attention to the Dhamma through reflection or discourses, they understand and attain insight in a short time. If meditators who strive for spiritual experience do not have it in this life, they will certainly have it in the deva world.
As the deva world teems with sensual pleasure, those who have attained the Anâgâmi stage cannot stay there and so they pass on to the brahmâ world instantly. For Sakka, the transformation of the two devas into brahmâs right before his eyes was very impressive. When he heard Gopakas explanation, he wished to share their spiritual experience. Moreover, the signs of his imminent death fuelled his desire for the life of a brahmâ. If he heard the Dhamma, he might have a better future life even if he did not attain any insight. Hearing the Dhamma is indeed the best thing a deva can do on his deathbed.
As getting permission before asking questions is customary for a highly cultured individual, Sakka first sought the Buddhas permission before asking the following:
"Lord! All living beings wish to be free from anger and ill-will. They do not want to quarrel or to be ill-treated, but pray instead for happiness, security, peace and freedom. Yet they are not free from danger and suffering. What is the cause of this situation?"
The Buddha answered, "O King of devas! All living beings long for happiness, security, peace and freedom. Yet they are not free from hatred, conflicts, danger and suffering. This unhappy condition is due to the fetters of envy (issâ) and meanness (macchariya)."
The characteristic of envy is aversion to the prosperity and welfare of others, which makes one malicious and destructive. These evil desires occasion suffering right now and also in the future for the person who harbours them, leading also to suffering for those who are envied. All over the world much suffering is caused by envy. The envious person hates to see happy or prosperous people. So the characteristic of envy is resentment of other peoples welfare, its function is to make the envious person miserable, and its manifestation is to shut ones eyes to another persons prosperity.
One who is dominated by envy does not want to see another person prosperous, successful, good-looking, educated or promoted to a high official position. Envy is an evil that does not benefit in any way the person who harbours it. It provides fertile soil for bad kamma and makes one miserable. A powerful man will seek to ruin the person whom he envies, and by so doing, he turns the other into his enemy who may pay him back in kind. Even if there is no danger of retaliation, he will surely suffer in an after life.
The Cûlakammavibhanga Sutta2 sums up the kammic consequences of envy as powerlessness and a lack of influence. Some men and women do not want to hear anything about the good fortunes of another personhis wealth, intelligence, good health, eloquence and popularity, and so they say or do things that are detrimental to the other persons interest. Propaganda in modern times is motivated by envy. The envy-ridden person suffers in hell for many years and after his release from there, if he is reborn in the human world, he becomes a low-class man with little influence and an insignificant reputation.
On the other hand, a man of goodwill rejoices at the good fortune of others. He is happy when he sees or hears of anothers prosperity and helps to promote others welfare as much as possible, thus cultivating much good kamma. He attains the deva world after death where he enjoys a happy life, and on return to the human world he is powerful and has many followers. So those who wish to prosper in this life and in the hereafter should overcome envy and cultivate sympathetic joy (muditâ). In other words, they should rejoice at the welfare of other people.
Macchariya is meanness to the point of keeping ones possessions secret. Its manifestation is not wanting others to share the object of ones attachment, and it is characterised by extreme possessiveness. It is of five kinds as it relates to: 1) dwellings, 2) friends and associates, 3) material things, 4) commendable attributes, and 5) learning.
The first kind of meanness is to be found among some monks who do not want to see other monks of good moral character dwelling in their monastery. A monk may not want his lay followers to give alms to other monks. Such envious monks, because of their ill-will, have to undergo many kinds of suffering after death.
Vanna-macchariya is the desire to possess exclusively a special quality, such as physical beauty, while resenting the same quality in others, and it may lead to ugliness.
Again, dhamma-macchariya means to begrudge a person his learning or to keep back any knowledge from him. This macchariya may make its victim a moron or an idiot in after lives. Thus meanness over the good fortune of other people makes a man unhappy, poor, friendless and subject to great suffering after death.
Âvâsa-macchariya largely concerns the bhikkhus. It is the tendency to regard a communal monastery as ones private residence. For lay people it is the tendency to have a similar attitude regarding public religious buildings such as temples, meditation centres and so forth.
Kula-macchariya dominates those monks who do not want their lay followers to have close relations with other monks. Some monks forbid their disciples to see other monks or to hear their discourses. As for lay people, it is macchariya to insist on the undivided and exclusive loyalty of ones relatives.
Lâbha-macchariya is the desire in some monks to have a monopoly of alms and to deny them to other good monks. As an example of the samsâric suffering rooted in this evil, there is the story of Losakatissa.
In the lifetime of Kassapa Buddha there lived a certain monk who was dependent on a lay disciple for the necessities of life. One day another monk came and stayed at his monastery. Fearing that his disciples reverence for the new arrival might become a threat to his security, the resident monk tried to get rid of his guest. When the disciple invited both of them to take meals at his house, he went there alone. On his return he dumped by the wayside the food offered for the visiting monk. On his death he suffered for aeons in hell and from there he passed on to the animal world where he suffered extreme hunger for many lifetimes.
In his last existence he was reborn in a fishermans village in the country of Kosala. From the time of his conception, misfortunes befell the villagers and his parents. At last, the pangs of hunger made his mother so desperate that she abandoned the child while he was out begging. Venerable Sâriputta saw the starving child. Moved with pity, the elder took him to his monastery where, some years later, he became a bhikkhu. He was called Venerable Losakatissa because he was so unlucky that he never got a substantial meal even at a great feast. All he got was barely enough to sustain life.
This kammic evil dogged him even when he attained Arahantship. Shortly before his death, Venerable Sâriputta took him into Sâvatthi to see to it that he had a proper meal on the last day of his life. It is said that there was no one to offer food to the elder so he sent his companion to a rest-house. Only then did the disciples offer the food, some of which he sent to Venerable Losakatissa, but the men who were supposed to take it to him ate it on the way there. So he had to bring more food himself and hold the bowl while Venerable Losakatissa ate the food. In this way Venerable Losakatissa had his last meal and passed away on that very day.
This story leaves no doubt about the frightful kammic consequences of meanness. Many kinds of meanness afflict lay people, as for example, lâbha-macchariya in those who seek to monopolize a lucrative business; vanna-macchariya in those who do not recognise the good attributes of others; and dhamma-macchariya in those who do not wish to share their knowledge with anyone else.
The Buddhas statement attributing mankinds unhappiness to envy and meanness was directly relevant to Sakka. For, in view of his approaching end, he was unhappy at the prospect of his wives falling into the hands of his successor, and at the thought of the latter outshining him. So from experience he realised the truth of the Buddhas answer and asked another question.
"Lord, what is the cause of envy and meanness? What must we remove to be free from them?"
The Buddha answered, "O King of devas! Envy and meanness are caused by the objects of love and hatred. If there were no such objects there would be no envy and meanness."
As the Buddha pointed out, the way to end suffering is to remove its cause, and the cause of mankinds unhappiness is love and hatred. It is like the treatment of a disease by a competent physician who seeks its cause and eliminates it.
The objects of love are the living and non-living things that please us, such as men, women, sights, sounds, etc., and the objects of hatred are those things that displease us. We envy someone we dislike who owns valuable objects. Ill-will plagues us when we do not want others to have the objects to which we are attached. So envy and meanness have their roots in hated and cherished persons and objects. It is usually someone we hate who is the object of our envy. However, if the person who excels us happens to be our loved one, it is a cause not for envy but for joy. A boy who outshines his parents does not arouse envy in themon the contrary they will pride themselves on his superior qualities.
The man who is mean wants to deny others the kind of wealth that he has, the use of his possessions and the opportunity to associate with his friends. So jealous men and women frown on their spouses when they have close relationships with members of the opposite sex or even engage in friendly conversation. In short, macchariya is the inclination to be excessively possessive, and to oppose any close contact between other people and the things one cherishes, and so it is rooted in love and hatred.
Sakka then asked the Buddha about the cause of love and hatred. The Buddha said that desire was the cause of love and hatred. Here, the desire the Buddha referred to is not wholesome desire but the desire associated with pleasure and craving (tanhâ chanda).
Desire is of five kinds:
These five kinds of desire lead to love and hatred. Those objects and living beings that help to fulfil our desires cause love to arise, while those that obstruct our desires cause hatred.
Sakka then asked the Buddha about the origin of desire. The Buddha answered that desire is caused by discursive thinking (vitakka). According to the commentary, vitakka means thinking and deciding. This vitakka is of two kinds: one is based on desire while the other has its origin in views. In other words, you think and decide when you regard a sense-object, or a person or another living being as pleasant and desirable. Thus, if you are not mindful at the moment of seeing, hearing, etc., you think and decide. This mental action leads to craving and attachment.
Then Sakka asked the Buddha about the cause of discursive thinking. The Buddha replied that discursive thinking is due to perception, which tends to expand or diffuse (papañca-sañña). There are three such kinds of perception: craving (tanhâ), conceit (mâna) and wrong-view (ditthi). Like a small photograph that can be enlarged, every mental image or thought lends itself to expansion. An unmindful person usually falls prey to one of these agents of expansion. He expands every sense-object that he perceives and remembers because of his attachment, conceit or wrong-view.
At the moment of seeing one sees only visible form, but then reflection brings into play craving, conceit and wrong-view. Craving makes the form appear pleasant and amplifies it. The same happens with conceit and wrong-view.3 So later, every recollection of the moment of seeing leads to thinking and decision, which in turn causes desire. Again, desire leads to love and hatred that make a man prey to envy and ill-will. These cause the frustration and suffering of humanity.
In response to Sakkas request, the Buddha explained the practice for overcoming craving, conceit and wrong-view. According to him, there are two kinds of pleasant feeling and two kinds of unpleasant feeling: the pleasant or unpleasant feeling that we should harbour and the pleasant or unpleasant feeling that we should avoid. Then there is neutral feeling that we have when we are neither happy nor unhappy. This is also of two kinds.
Pleasant, unpleasant or neutral feeling is to be harboured if it leads to wholesome states of consciousness; it should be avoided if it leads to unwholesome states of consciousness. The commentary describes this teaching as insight practice on the noble path.
The Pâli text of the Buddhas teaching may be translated as follows:
"Sakka, I teach two kinds of pleasant feeling: the pleasant feeling that is to be harboured and the pleasant feeling that is to be avoided. If you know that a pleasant feeling helps to develop unwholesome states of consciousness and to hamper wholesome ones, you should not harbour such a feeling. If you know that a pleasant feeling helps to develop wholesome states of consciousness and to hamper unwholesome ones, you should harbour such a feeling. The pleasant feeling is of two kinds: one, which is bound up with thinking and reflection4 and the other, which is unconnected with these mental activities. Of these two the pleasant feeling that has nothing to do with thinking and reflection is far superior."
Pleasant feelings that lead to unwholesome thoughts are rooted in sensual things. Most people are preoccupied with such things as sex and food. If they get what they want, they rejoice. However, their joy leads to more desire, and so for many people their so-called happiness is founded on desire. If this desire is not fulfilled they are frustrated and unhappy. This means the emergence of unwholesome thoughts, which bring the agents of expansion, namely craving, conceit and wrong-view, into play. The pleasant feelings that we should avoid are mentioned in the Sâlâyatanavibhanga Sutta of the Majjhimanikâya. The discourse likens sense-objects to human dwellings because they keep people in confinement. People derive pleasure from contact with them or from memories of that contact. There are six kinds of pleasant feelings rooted in the six sense-objects and their respective sense-organs.
The way to avoid pleasant, but unwholesome, feelings is to be mindful at the moment of seeing, etc. If sensual thoughts cause pleasure, the meditator must note and reject them. However, one who is a beginner cannot follow and note all the mental processes, so he starts with the object of contact and becomes aware of one of the primary elements: solidity, cohesion, temperature and motion (pathavî, âpo, tejo, vâyo).
In the Satipatthâna Sutta the Buddha says, "When walking he [the meditator] knows, I am walking (Gacchanto vâ gacchâmi ti pajânâti)." This saying refers to clear awareness of rigidity and motion (vâyo), but as he notes walking, the meditator is also aware of the hardness and softness (pathavî), the warmth and coldness (tejo) and the heaviness and dampness (âpo) in the feet and the body. Though the element of âpo is intangible it can be known through contact with the other elements that are bound up with it.
Meditators at our meditation centre in Rangoon begin with contact and motion in the abdomen, which are the easiest and most obvious to note while sitting. The tenseness and motion in the abdomen are the marks of the vâyo element. They practise noting (in their own language) the rising and falling of the abdomen. This practice has helped many meditators to attain insights and make significant progress on the holy path.
In the beginning, the meditator constantly watches the abdominal rising and falling. He notes any mental event that occurs while engaged in such concentration. A feeling of joy may arise but it disappears when it is noted and usually does not intrude if the meditator keeps on watching the rising and falling. When the Buddha speaks of unwholesome joy, this means that we should focus on mind and matter in order to head off sensual joy, and that if such joy arises we should note it and reject it at once.
Then there is wholesome joy, which the Buddha describes in the same discourse as follows. Having realised the impermanence and dissolution of matter, the meditator knows that all matter that he has seen before and is seeing now is subject to impermanence (anicca) and unsatisfactoriness (dukkha). This insight knowledge causes joy, and such joy may be described as the pleasant feeling that is rooted in liberation from sensual desire.
This is part of the teaching in the discourse. The commentary adds that the meditator is joyful because he attains insight into impermanence, etc., as a result of his mindfulness of the six sense-objects. Such joy is wholesome and desirable.
The commentary describes four kinds of wholesome joy:
Some people are joyful when they think of their renunciation of worldly affairs, their ordination as bhikkhus and the practice of the monastic discipline, concentration and so forth. Feelings of joy also arise when they hear a discourse on the Dhamma or when they go to a meditation centre for the practice of insight meditation. This joy is wholesome since it is dissociated from secular life.
The joy dependent on insight may be the joy that arises while one is being mindful. In particular the highest joy is the joy associated with the emergence of insight into the arising and passing away of phenomena (udayabbayañâna).
The joy that we have when we contemplate the Buddha, etc., is obvious. The commentaries say that concentration on the joy derived from the six contemplations on the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, on ones morality, on ones generosity, and on heavenly beings, can bring about knowledge and fruition of the path. Even Arahantship may be attained if the meditator notes and reflects on the dissolution and cessation of joy (pîti) that is born of these six contemplations. Pîti means joy and obviously the joy derived from the six contemplations is wholesome. So, too, is the joy based on the three jhânas or their access concentration (upacâra samâdhi).
Of the four kinds of renunciation, joining the Sangha means freedom from marital responsibilities. One who practices insight meditation (vipassanâ) is also aloof from attachment and all sensual objects. So the commentary on the Itivuttaka describes ordination, the first jhâna, nibbâna, vipassanâ and all wholesome dhammas as renunciation (nekkhamma).
The joy that is marked by thinking and reflection is of two kinds: happiness (sukha) that is associated with access-concentration (upacâra samâdhi) and happiness associated with the first jhâna. Then, as mentioned before, there are various types of mundane joy: joy over ones ordination, joy that results from insight practice, the joy of contemplating the Buddha, etc. Again, we have four kinds of supramundane joy associated with the four paths of the first jhâna.
Superior to these types of joy are those that have nothing to do with thinking and reflection (vitakka-vicâra). This is the attribute of the second jhâna; which is marked by joy (pîti), bliss (sukha) and one-pointedness of mind (ekaggatâ); and the attribute of the third jhâna, which is also marked by joy and one-pointedness. Such jhânic joy is mundane joy. The joy derived from the four supramundane paths and from the second and third jhânas is free from thinking and reflection and is therefore wholesome. These second and third jhânic joys are far superior to the first jhânic joy or the joy associated with wholesome thoughts in the sensual sphere; and so too is the joy of insight resulting from attentiveness to the second and third jhânic joy.
A discussion of these joys that are with or without thinking and reflection, is beyond the comprehension of those who have little knowledge of the scriptures. It can be understood thoroughly only by those who have attained jhâna.
According to the commentary, when Sakka asked the Buddha how to overcome desire, conceit and wrong-view (tanhâ, mâna, ditthi), he was asking the Buddha about the practice of insight on the noble path. The Buddha stressed wholesome pleasure, wholesome displeasure and wholesome indifference as the remedy. It may be hard for unenlightened people to understand this but the Buddhas answer is relevant to the question.
For the devas, mind is more obvious than matter, and among the elements of mind, feeling is more obvious than the others. So the Buddha told Sakka to contemplate his feelings (vedanâ). In many of the Buddhas teachings on insight meditation, contemplating matter takes precedence over contemplating consciousness. This is also true of the Sakkapañha Sutta but here no mention is made of matter since it is implicit in the contemplation of feeling.
1 Dhp. v.109."For one who always respects and honours those who are older and more virtuous, four benefits: longevity, beauty, happiness and strength, will increase."(Editor's note).
2 M.iii. p.204
3 In the Anattalakhana Sutta one finds the standard phrase,"This is mine, I am this, this is myself." "This is mine" is deciding based on craving, "I am this" is decing based on conceit, and "This is myself" is deciding based on views. (Editor's note).
4 Vitakka and Vicara are translated as thought-conception and discursive thinking in Nyanatiloka's 'Buddhist Dictionary'.
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