By Sithu U San Thein
(Translated from The Burmese by the Editors of' The Light of the Dhamma)
Vol. IV, No. 4, 1957
You have made some advancement in the attainment of Perfections in your past existences during the Sasanas* of the Buddhas in this world-cycle and the previous ones. Had it not been for this, you would have no belief or confidence in the Teaching of Gotama Buddha. You sense some mental impulse to such confidence arising in your mind. The reason for your possession of such a mentality is because of your repeated progression in your past existences and the resultant effects of this. It is now time for you to make to grow these seeds of Paramitas (Perfections) which you have in hand.
The Light of the Sasana is shining more brightly than the rays of the sun. Let all the people who have advanced sufficiently in the Perfections, whether they are big or small, quick-witted, of mediocre intelligence, or dull, receive the Light of the Dhamma while the Buddha-Sasana exists, allow the seeds of Paramitas to blossom, and strive their best to become the real disciples of the Buddha.
COMPASSION OF THE BUDDHA
The Buddha gave His Teaching through great compassion to allow those who have advanced sufficiently in the Perfections to inherit it. His compassion for all beings was of the same degree. The compassion which He had for His son Rahula or for Yasodhara, Rahula's mother, did not exceed the compassion He had for any other being.
For a period so long that it is not within the range of thought, during which world systems arose, perished and decayed, the Compassionate One strove to attain Omniscience by which He could bring the worldlings from the world of unsatisfactoriness, and lead them to Freedom. Countless times had the Buddha-to-be sacrificed his health, his life, his property and his wife and children in fulfilling the Paramitas. Yet the 'Omniscience' he gained far outweighed these sacrifices. Did he undergo so much pain and trouble merely to attain his own Freedom? No. During his Sumedha existence, if he wished, he could have become a fully purified Arahat and attained Nibbana, but as he desired to save fellow beings from this Samsara (Round of Rebirth), he made a solemn declaration in the presence of the Buddha Dipankara that he would strive to become a Buddha and having undergone much suffering he advanced sufficiently in the Paramitas. How great was the Buddha's compassion is clearly discernible. While there are people who have advanced sufficiently in the Paramitas in the past existences, it is now time for them to follow the Teaching of the Buddha, practise it and realise it, so as to become the real heirs of the Buddha.
The late Venerable Ledi Sayadaw once pointed out "Even if persons have advanced sufficiently in the Paramitas, present day people who are aniyata-neyya-puggala (persons who must be instructed and who are not "men of spiritual genius") are able to attain Freedom, only when they strive with utmost diligence, so that they are fit to attain Freedom. During the lifetime of the Buddha, Mahadhana the son of the banker, passed his time enjoying sensuous pleasure during his early youth, and when he grew up he had no time to pay his homage to the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, not to speak of attaining Freedom. When the Buddha saw this state of affairs, He spoke to Ananda 'This banker's son, had he become my follower during the first period of his life, would have become an Arahat and attained Parinibbana in this very life ; or had he become a monk in the Order during the second period of his life, he would have become an Anagamin, and on his death he would be reborn in Suddhavasa Brahma Plane where he would attain Parinibbana; or had he become a monk in the Order during the third period of his life, he would have become either a Sakadagamin or Sotapanna and would never be reborn in the Four Lower Worlds.' Even if a person be of the paccima-bhavika type (one in whom exists the possibility of attaining Freedom in this very life), he will not attain if he indulges in sensuous pleasures and neglects the further striving. Again, if for the unwholesome actions done by him in this very life, he were to be reborn in the Apaya state of suffering and were to remain there for a great length of time, he might have no opportunity to encounter the next Buddha, the Buddha Metteyya. After that, too, he might be in world-cycles in which no Buddha would arise, and wait uncountable ages for an opportunity to hear a Buddha's Teaching, just as the banker's son who had an opportunity, to attain Freedom during his lifetime missed that opportunity.
Now in saying that the light of the Buddha Sasana is shining more brightly than that of the sun, 'the light of the Sasana' means 'the light of yathabhuta panna (penetrating knowledge of the truth)'. These realities or truths cannot be seen with the naked eye. A person who possesses 'the eye of wisdom' will be able to realise these truths, or see things as they really are, much more than he sees the brightness of the sun with his naked eyes. Just as it would not be right for a blind person to say that there are no sun, moon and stars, because he is not able to see them with his eye, it would not be proper for one to say that the Sasana does not shine, because he is not able to see the light of the Sasana.
The light of the Sasana is shining brilliantly and is doing good to those who have 'eyes of wisdom' and to those who are trying to acquire the eyes of wisdom'. Since people possess different degrees of knowledge, at present we have different grades of the practices of the Dhamma' which the Buddha so compassionately taught for the people to practise and attain knowledge grade by grade. A person of no wisdom sees all things wrongly owing to hallucinations. It is therefore highly important to cultivate this higher knowledge in order to dispel these hallucinations.
In order to understand it better, let us discuss the word "gratefulness", for example. About thirty years ago a certain Ko Nyo Thee of Upper Burma and another person Ko Mya Gyi of Lower Burma earned their living by jointly trading in a boat along the river. One day the boat was caught in a gale on the wide river and capsized. Both Ko Nyo Thee and Ko Mya Gyi fell into the river. Ko Mya Gyi knew how to swim; but as Ko Nyo Thee could not swim and was thus helpless, Ko Mya Gyi, with the greatest difficulty, helped Ko Nyo Thee towards the river bank, thus saving his life. Twenty years later, Ko Mya Gyi, in order to avoid the dangers of war, went to his old friend Ko Nyo Thee's place in Upper Burma and resided there as a war refugee. Ko Mya Gyi was rich and so had brought some jewels and personal property, with him, whereas Ko Nyo Thee was poor. During the troubled time, Ko Mya Gyi greatly relied on his old friend Ko Nyo Thee, and at the same time was very anxious about the security of his valuable properties. People are tempted to become greedy during a period of unsettled government, and Ko Nyo Thee had at times attachment for Ko Mya Gyi's properties through his lobha (greed). During such a war time it was very easy to get rid of Ko Mya Gyi under pretence of an attack by robbers etc. and get all of his valuable properties. Looking with the eyes of hallucination, they were good to look at, valuable and would command a great rank in wealth and position. These thoughts were born of delusion. He was not able to see the 'gratitude' — the kindness which Ko Mya Gyi had done him some 20 years before. As that 'gratitude' was not of a tangible nature, he had not been able to store it. While Ko Nyo Thee had a greedy eye on Ko Mya Gyi's properties, his 'eye of wisdom' was blind. Then, owing to a certain impulse, he suddenly remembered the incident when his life had been saved by Ko Mya Gyi. At first this cognition was very feeble. When he contemplated on the inherent qualities of Ko Mya Gyi in that respect, the greed that obliterated the real qualities of gratitude gradually waned. Ko Nyo Thee then paid more regard to his benefactor Ko Mya Gyi and treated the latter better than before. A band of insurgents came to the district and Ko Mya Gyi, being very uneasy in mind about his personal properties, one day early in the morning went to a place not very far from his temporary residence carrying the bundle containing his jewels. Thinking that none was present in his neighbourhood he dug a hole near a big tree and hoarded his properties there. At that moment Ko Nyo Thee, who happened to be nearby, saw Ko Mya Gyi's movements. When later the insurgents attacked their village they had to leave the village and run away for safety. Ko Mya Gyi had to take refuge in a Buddhist rest-house together with Ko Nyo Thee, and there he was taken ill. One day when Ko Nyo Thee went to the village to look at the condition of his house, he went to the place where Ko Mya Gyi had hidden his treasures. He unearthed them and had a look at them. The jewels were very beautiful and very valuable. But when, he mentally weighed them in the 'balance of wisdom', the 'gratitude', which could not be seen with the eye but could be realised only by means of wisdom, became heavier than the valuable properties. This showed that Ko Nyo Thee could overcome greed in that respect. Without leaving the properties in an insecure place. Ko Nyo Thee brought them to Ko Mya Gyi, and they then kept them in a new and more secure place. Ko Mya Gyi later on recovered his health and his properties were also intact. While the properties remained in Ko Mya Gyi's hands as valuable things, to Ko Nyo Thee they seemed to be a poison, and this incident shows the importance of 'the sense of gratitude'. This is only an instance to show how important a single Dhamma such as 'gratitude' is. There are many and higher units of Dhamma, and in order to see them as they really are, it is now time to practise the Dhamma and thus increase our power of understanding the Truth step by step.
Ko Nyo Thee had knowledge enough to know the Truth to some extent. Thus, he did not get the precious jewels, but obtained a priceless Dhamma which was more valuable. Persons who are able to understand the truth more than Ko Nyo Thee, possess various grades of 'ascending' knowledge. Those who do not understand as much as Ko Nyo Thee possess various grades of 'descending' ignorance. Although the resultant effects of dana (alms-giving), sila (morality) and bhavana (mental development) clearly exist in this world, different persons view these from different angles; that is to say that the grades of knowledge of these persons in relation to dana, sila and bhavana also vary according to their respective calibre. These variations are by way of 'ascent' and 'descent'. Although jewels and precious things which we see with our eyes are said to be beautiful, useful or valuable, naturally their values are not equal. For example, Maung Pyu and Maung Ni had each ten thousand kyats, one having gained them lawfully and the other illegally, Though, in ordinary parlance, their values might be equal, the amount that was procured lawfully would carry more real weight than that obtained illegally.
The rays of the Sasana are radiating the Realities. Those who have gradually seen things as they really are, step by step, have reached the highest step and got rid of dukkha (suffering) and finally attained santi-sukha (Absolute Peace —Nibbana). The Buddha Sasana now exists as an instrument to differentiate between the Real and the Unreal. The Buddha-Sasana does not appear as a mere religious creed; it is the Truth, of universal application, leading to Enlightenment after allowing us to eradicate all grades of ignorance, thus paving the way to the field of Enlightenment. Only when one realises the wrong, step by step, will he be able to realise the right, step by step. Only if one sees things as they really are, will he be able to dispel ignorance, and go steadily towards Realities. The end of all the Supramundane knowledges is Omniscience.
During the lifetime of the Buddha, when Vakkali gazed at the various supernormal physical characteristics of the Buddha and the hale round His body, and was inspired with great admiration, the Buddha declared: 'Vakkali, one who does not see the Dhamma does not see me; one who sees the Dhamma sees me also. You have not seen me in the Ultimate sense. Only when you practise the Dhamma taught by me and realise it yourself, will you be able to see me in the Ultimate sense. You will then be able to realise the inherent qualities of the Buddha and have strong faith in them.' The real meaning of this Declaration is that only by following the Teaching of the Buddha and practising it, could Vakkali reach the stage where he could realise the truth. In the matter of paying one's veneration to the Buddha, Vakkali should be ranked among the foremost. Though he possessed such a high mundane morality, his wholesome action in this respect was not sufficient to allow him to realise the truth. He abandoned his inferior type of merit, and having practised the Dhamma to his utmost, finally attained Freedom. This is an important point to note.
If one is not able to see the light of the Sasana and realise the Dhamma just as the Noble Ones did, it is certain that for him the world of suffering will be lengthened. By whatever means one may try to enjoy sensuous pleasures, he is sure to experience the 'Unsatisfactoriness of life'. However wealthy and high-ranking a person may be, brought up in the lap of luxury, it is evident that his enjoyment is not a pleasure in the Ultimate sense, since this too must pass. The Dhamma alone can lead one to see things as they really are, realise the origin of dukkha, and attain absolute peace.
Anamatagga-samsara means 'Round of Rebirth', the beginning of which is unattainable to thought. The Mind and Body have arisen and vanished, all the elements dying and being reformed in rapid succession in the past existences, do so in the present existence, and will, too, do so in the future existences. Let me give you an example. Follow it with your mind's eye. Suppose there is an instrument which can be propelled continually for days, months and years. Send it up to the sky; when will it come to a final destination ? Will it reach the end of the journey after it has travelled ten million miles, one billion miles or more than that ? Will it approach a destination ? Again, in your mind's eye, send several of such instruments in all directions in such a way that there is not a single interspace. Now, after these instruments have travelled for a hundred years, can you say that they will be nearing their destinations ? Or is the destination nearer than it was 50 years earlier ? Can you call the place whence you sent these instruments as the starting point of this infinite expanse of space ? What is the starting point and what will be the destination ? When did it start and when will it stop ? These are the things to be considered in connection with time and space.
Will you take the time of your birth in this very life as the beginning or take the time of your death after enjoying sensuous pleasures, as the end? The sphere of 'Unsatisfactoriness of life' with its space and time will not come to an end ; nor will they approach the end. The sphere of suffering (dukkha) is becoming wider and wider and the end be comes farther and farther away. Worldly pleasures are dukkha because they are not permanent. If they were permanent, we would not grumble; but as they are impermanent, we shall have to work out our own salvation with diligence. Most beings having delusively taken time and space as one complete whole, wandered in the Round of Rebirth, the beginning of which is both unattainable to thought, by arising at times in a Happy Course of Existence and at others in an Unhappy Course of Existence. Though a billion of existences might have been passed, do you think that you will get out of this Round of Rebirth ?
No, you will not; far from it. Even if more existences be passed in the future, Freedom will be far, far away too. The animal world, ghost world, demon-world, hell, worlds of men, Devas and Brahmas are all involved in Samsara, the beginning of which is beyond the range of thought. Whether the light emitted from the sun and reflected from the moon, stars and other shining celestial bodies exists or not, in the Ultimate sense, the world is covered with the darkness of ignorance. One plane of existence is interrelated with another by way of space and time. It is for this reason that a being who took rebirth in one plane will take rebirth in another plane after his death; in one existence he was reborn in a noble family, and in another in an ignoble one. If he has performed a great many wholesome actions, he will arise in the worlds of men, Devas and Brahmas and if he has performed unwholesome actions he will arise in the 4 Lower Worlds. The 'worlds of men, Devas and Brahmas are connected with the 4 Lower Worlds; because all these planes are involved in Samsara. Men, Devas and Brahmas on their dissolution or death may arise in the Lower Worlds, and those in the Lower Worlds may, on their death, arise in the higher planes. When a world system comes nearly to an end, all beings except some who hold very wrong views are reborn in the world of men where they have to practise Samatha-bhavana (Development of mental concentration), and after death they arise in the Brahma-planes. Even these Brahmas on their death may again be reborn in the lower planes. Although aeons may come and go, time and space are never destroyed, and they will always be governed by the principle of "arising and vanishing". Even if a being has been reborn in the planes of men and Brahmas for a billion times will he be approaching the portals of emancipation ? Certainly not. Even if he has been reborn as virtuous men and Devas for a hundred million times, will he be nearing the real sukha (Happiness) ? No, he will still be far away and because of his delusion there exists the possibility to be reborn in the 4 Lower Worlds in his future births.
Thus we find that both in the lower and ,higher planes of existence there are time and space. Is the life-span of a man, Deva or Brahma long ? It is infinitesimally short if it be compared with 'anamatagga' (the beginning of which is unattainable to thought).
From the above explanations we can clearly see how great the Compassion of the Buddha was. The Omniscience which the Buddha attained after fulfilling His Paramitas with great sacrifices, enabled Him to show to the world a Path leading to the Extinction of Delusion and Suffering. He taught that all suffering and all rebirth is produced by Craving, and that by practising the Noble Eightfold Path, Craving, which is the cause of suffering and rebirth, can be extinguished. By Buddha-Dhamma only will one be able to get rid of dukkha (suffering). You should now see that the ordinary whole some and unwholesome actions cannot help one to get rid of dukkha, and so contemplating the benefits of the Sasana, one should practise the Dhamma so as to dispel all cravings and attachments and to realise Nibbana.
Therefore, in this anamatagga-samsara, it is highly important to realise the Dhamma while we are still so fortunate as to be able to see the light of the Sasana, in order to pass over the boundary of the sphere of dukkha, rather than to try and achieve power and glory.
KNOWLEDGE OF THE TRUTH
If one possesses a knowledge that penetrates the truth, he will be able to dispel evils. Some people say 'Everybody seems to have some knowledge of the Dhamma, and yet they are foolish ; they still follow sensuous pleasures in the "Spheres of Greed", in spite of their knowledge of the Dhamma'. Here, 'knowledge' does not relate to ultimate truths, but it relates to Conventional truths. For example, a child in his infancy plays with faeces discharged by him as pleasurable things and does not consider them abhorrent. But when grown up, he sees the faeces as detestable things and does not touch them, taking care not to get his body dirty. So seekers of truth when their 'Eyes of Wisdom' become clearer and clearer avoid evils step by step according to their degrees of knowledge, and practise the Dhamma so that they may achieve higher grades of knowledge. Just as a person who has put on new and better clothes will keep himself away from dirty objects which will spoil his clothes, those who reach the 'Sphere of the light of the Sasana' have extended their light of vision to a wider and wider degree and they have left behind them the 'Sphere of Ignorance'. It is highly important to exert oneself to realise Ultimate truth, and not to be content with the conventional, general knowledge.
Some people are under the impression that the practice of the Dhamma is advantageous only to the practiser, and has nothing to do with the welfare of other beings. They say so because they do not comprehend Suffering and other delusive phenomena. For example, vultures are creatures of foul type. They take bloated corpses as agreeable things and live on them with the greatest pleasure. If one could possibly say to them: 'Friends, the dead body of the dog which you are now eating, is bad indeed, and is much to be abhorred. The existence in which you arise is really low'; would you call that man selfish ? If some of these vultures, realising their condition, gave up the filthy food and tried to find more wholesome food, would you call those birds selfish ?
The act of striving to get out of the sphere of 'wrong' and arrive at the 'right', is very certainly not a selfish act, but will be important to those who have realised their error in the sphere of 'wrong'. Just as the saying 'If a tree be splendid, ten thousand birds can take refuge in it', the distinguished benefactors who realise the truth by climbing the ladders of knowledge, cause their disciples and followers to climb up the ladder of knowledge step by step, by practising the Dhamma.
Although we say that the Buddha-Sasana will last for another 2500 years, we are able to come within its light only while we arise in the world of men, or, if we consider more deeply, only when we possess a virtuous mind and practise the Dhamma. It means that as the period in which one is able to come in contact with the Buddha-Sasana is very short, we should strive to practise the Dhamma with zeal and fervour and without wasting time,
During that period also, it is highly important that in practising the Dhamma, one is able to reach the topmost. It is a grievous loss if one makes a mistake by whiling away the time without practising to realise the truths
In the Buddha-Sasana there really exists the opportunity of practising the Teaching of the Buddha, which is able to put an end to all Suffering and which can bring Absolute Peace to the practiser. Pariyatti (Learning of the Doctrine) exists as the trunk root of the Sasana and we have the opportunity to practise the Dhamma. This practice is called Patipatti Sasana. The knowledges pertaining to the Holy Paths and the Fruitions thereof exist, because one is able to attain them by Patipatti. Only the Omniscient Buddha is the Knower of All Things. He knows in the Ultimate sense. The Buddha's disciples, Arahats knew the mental and physical phenomena as they really are, but did not know all things in the manner of the Buddha. They knew things by degrees, and their knowledge cannot be compared to the Buddha's Omniscience which is infinite, boundless and not within the range of thought. The Buddha having attained the highest insight-knowledge was able to eradicate all defilements along with their natural dispositions. As regards the Arahats they are able to eradicate the defilements only, but are not able to dispel some of their individual dispositions. Anagamins are not yet able to eradicate Conceit, Inclination to Existence in higher realms, and Ignorance. Sakadagamins and Sotapannas are not yet able to dispel kama-raga (Sensuality), patigha (Ill-will), Conceit, Inclination to Existence, and Ignorance. Although they cannot dispel all these latent inclinations they have come out of 'darkness' into the light. As they are emerging out of ignorance and have entered the sphere of knowledge, they are able to enjoy safely the essence of the Dhamma which is the heritage of the Sasana. They become the real disciples of the Buddha, and will be reborn in higher and higher realms, where they will attain Nibbana.
* Periods during which Teachings of the Buddha exist.
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