By the Late Venerable Ashin Thittila
( Agga Maha Pandita, Abhidhaja Maharatthaguru,
Abhidhaja Agga Maha Saddhamma Jotika )


A Brief Biography

Introductory Articles on Buddhism

Talks Involving Sila in Particular

Talks Involving Samadhi in Particular

Talks Involving Panna in Particular

Talks dealing with Buddhism in General


( Written By Mrs. Claudine W. Iggleden in 1985 )

Abhidhaja Maharatthaguru,
Abhidhaja Agga Maha Saddhamma Jotika, Agga Maha Pandita

Born: 1896

Passed away: 1997

        The Venerable Sayadaw U Thittila, Aggamahapandita, author of the following talks on the Buddhist Teaching, was born in 1896 in the town of Pyawbwe, central Burma, the centre of a rice growing district.

        His father died when he was only three years old. When he was nine his elder and only brother died, and when he was fourteen his elder and only sister also died. His mother married again, a physician, but his stepfather, too, died later. However, at the young age of seven or eight years he was even then regularly frequenting the local monastery, the Padigon Vihara, almost daily. where he and a friend were taught certain scriptures by the much respected and learned incumbent there, Sayadaw U Kavinda. By the age of ten he was learning to recite certain suttas, and by the age of fifteen when he was ordained a samanera he already knew by heart the primer to Abhidhamma studies, the Abhidhammatthasangaha, also the Mahasatipatthana Sutta and Kaccayana's Pali Grammar. It was, though, at the age of twelve when his teacher, the Ven. U Kavinda, took him to Mandalay to hear a sermon on Abhidhamma that he made the decision to become a bhikkhu. His full ordination at the age of twenty eventually took place much further south in lower Burma, at Moulmein in 1916, on which occasion Sayadaw U Okkantha was his preceptor. Prior to that, when he was still fifteen, he and three other young samaneras went with their same first teacher to live in the forest for the practice of meditation. They spent eight months there, and lived amongst wild creatures of many kinds including large snakes.

        It was not long after that he entered the Masoyein Monastery College at Mandalay. There, after intensive studies under the tuition of his second teacher and hard task master, Sayadaw U Adiccavamsa, he was selected from among an entry of five thousand candidates as the Pathamakyaw Scholar of all Burma in 1918. This success merely aroused in him the resolve to train and study for a further exceedingly strenuous long period in order to enter for the highest of all monastic examinations, the Pariyattisasanahita (Mandalay). In 1923, of the one hundred and fifty entrants for that examination only four passed, of which he was one. Over the years since then the questions set for that examination have gradually been modified so that the possibility of attaining a pass is slightly greater than in those earlier days, and there are fewer and fewer now who know of the extremely high qualifications required in order to have been successful in those previous times. As a result of his studies for that achievement he could memorize stanzas by hearing them read once, and he had of necessity to memorize a total of fifteen volumes from theTipitaka to enable entry for the oral section alone. His success accorded him the right to appointment as the head of a monastery of three hundred bhikkhus, even at that relatively young age, as the result of which he became head of the education department and school at a monastery specially founded in Rangoon for his teacher, the Ven. Adiccavamsa and himself.

        Some few years later, in 1933, he went to India where he spent a year at Santiniketan studying English and Sanskrit, following which period he journeyed to Ceylon with the aim of studying English. Unfortunately, however, due to ill health because of wrong feeding, coupled with the failure of his plans to come to fruit, he had to reconsider this original idea and in due course returned to India to stay at Adyar. It was at Adyar that he eventually had the opportunity to learn English from English people, and at the same time acquire a basic knowledge of some of the manners and customs with which he was not acquainted.

        During his time in India he was elected president of the South India Buddhist Associations, and he also undertook the management of the Buddhist Free Elementary School at Perambur. In an appreciation by members of the South India Buddhist Associations, dated 7th May 1938 at Madras, it records that since the founding of the Society in South India in 1903 many bhikkhus and missionaries had visited them, ' ...... but no one has evinced such selfless and untiring interest in the cause of the revival of Buddhism in South India as you have done in your short stay of four years.' The appreciation continues by saying that he was well known to Buddhists of Bangalore, Kolar, Wallajah, Wanniveda, Chakkra mallar, Konjeevaram, etc.

        To further improve his knowledge of English, and in particular to study English educational methods and family upbringing and training of English children, he left Adyar for England in the summer of 1938. Having all his life lived under British colonial rule he was interested to learn at first-hand how the English lived and behaved in their own land, and to observe whether any of the educational methods and training of children might be of benefit to Burmese children at home. His knowledge of English by the time of his arrival was fairly good, if limited, but sufficient for him to accept an invitation by the then secretary of the Buddhist Society in London to give a general talk on the Dhamma. This very first talk in England was also the very first time he had ever addressed an English audience. His second talk, however, entitled 'World Fellowship Through Buddhism'. was given in France at the invitation of Sir Francis Younghusband, president and founder of the World Congress of Faiths, and took place at the Sorbonne University in Paris. Following those two talks he decided that before accepting any further invitation to speak in public he should improve his English, and so he took steps to attend a course at the London Polytechnic until March 1939.

        The conditions for any bhikkhu in the West in those days were exceptionally hard, bhikkhu-life being unheard of and unknown to the inhabitants of that part of the world. With the outbreak of war in that year, apart from two most generous friends with whom he first became acquainted in Adyar, Ven. U Thittila was left unsupported in any way and quite penniless; he was in almost unheard of circumstances for any member of the Sangha. Still undeterred, however, he did everything he possibly could for the individuals suffering under wartime conditions, eventually finding support for himself in various ways which included broadcasting on the Burma Service of the B.B.C. and joining the Burmese / English Dictionary committee of which Dr. Stewart was the founder. During those war years, when the giving of public talks was impossible and his quest for information regarding educational methods and family training of children was at a standstill, he was friend and helper to very many, but few indeed ever knew of the sometimes acute privations he had on occasions to endure.

        As the war drew to a close he was gradually able to resume giving talks again under various different auspices, including two separate series of seventeen talks each to members of the Workers' Educational Association. He visited people in hospital, inmates in prison, and through some helpful contacts he was able to have at last the opportunity to visit certain schools, at some of which he was invited to give talks. His wish to observe how English children were brought up and trained by their parents was then also made possible by the readiness of a few different families, who upon introduction invited him to stay in their homes for that purpose. Of the children with whom he was associated he was able to study in depth their school life and home influence, and as he stayed with the families of differing religious backgrounds he was able to augment his knowledge of not only the Western way of life but the conditions to which many young people were subjected from a very early age.

        So far as the Dhamma is concerned, perhaps the most outstanding feature was his introduction of the Abhidhamma Pitaka (the psycho-ethical analysis of things in their ultimate sense as against their conceptual form) to the West by way of commencing to teach the small manual, Abhidhammatthasangaha, to a class of students interested in the Buddhist Teaching and who had specifically requested him to deal with that section. For the very first time in the West, the primer to the third Pitaka was systematically taught for a consecutive period of over four years, and this instruction became the bedrock and yardstick for those who sought to learn something of the fundamental teaching of the Buddha. His patience and skill, also his great care of his students in helping them to overcome their difficulties between the Western way of considering religious and philosophical matters in comparison with the Buddhist presentation of things, was evidence of the difference between a real teacher and an academic instructor. He helped them, too, in any facet of their lives, being frequently requested to give his advice which he never failed in offering.

        In March 1949, theSasana Kari Vihara in London was founded by a group of nine Burmese kappiyas for the purpose of supporting the work of Ven. U Thittila in England; thus for the first time since his arrival in the West he experienced something nearer to the Eastern traditional support of the Sangha, and became no longer dependent merely upon his own efforts for survival. His personal achievement in teaching continued unabated, and in the two years from March 1949 to March 1951 records show that he carried out in excess of two hundred and fifty teaching engagements, quite apart from fulfilling all the other types of duties which normally fall to a bhikkhu in the ordinary course of events. Being then the only resident bhikkhu in England, those other duties absorbed a very considerable proportion of his time.

        Unfortunately, because of the unavoidable floating nature of the Burmese community in England, constant support for the Sasana Kari Vihara was never certain, and in 1952 when Ven. U Thittila was invited to lecture on Abhidhamma at Rangoon University to M.A. and B.A. students he decided to accept at a time when funds for the vihara had become virtually insufficient to maintain even one bhikkhu. Thus his departure for Rangoon, after fourteen years in what must almost at times have seemed like wilderness conditions, left an irreplaceable gap in the lives of many of his English students. However, they continued his Abhidhamma classes, studying on a revisionary basis all that he had taught them since the commencement.

        Although originally he accepted the university appointment for one year only, his work there continued in the end for eight successive years. His very great learning and undoubted skills in teaching were acknowledged during this period when, in 1956, he received the highest government award in that field by the conferring upon him of the title Agga Maha Pandita. It was an honour which originally carried with it some small annual material benefits for the receiver.

        In 1959 he accepted an invitation from the Association for Asian Studies at the University of Michigan, U.S.A., to lecture in America. Travelling all over the U.S.A., unattended by any dayaka or helper, encountering climates ranging from extreme cold with deep snow to blazing sun with extreme heat, he spent nearly six months delivering well over a total of one hundred and sixty lectures at various universities and arranged meetings. This was the planned programme, but as a result of his talks he found himself constantly the guest of many of the hospitable American people who heard him speak, and the additional inquiries and personal questions arising from this extra dimension greatly extended what was already a very demanding schedule. His itinerary included a flight from Los Angeles to Hawaii, where at Honolulu University he was requested particularly to give twelve talks, ten of them on Abhidhamma. And it was while still in the American continent that he visited Toronto in Canada.

        Over the years he has accepted three invitations at different times to go to Australia, during which visits the practice of meditation and study of the text of Dhammapada ranked high in interest. He has journeyed to Japan where he had the opportunity to observe and discuss with Japanese Zen masters their methods and training of Zen meditation students, and has also visited both Singapore and Hong Kong. On other occasions he has travelled for specific purposes to Indonesia, Cambodia, Nepal, and more than once to Thailand, quite apart from passing through that country many times in the course of other longer travels.

        In Europe, prior to 1960, he had also upon invitation given talks in Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Holland. Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and yet again in France many years after his original first pre-war talk in 1938.

        In 1964, at the instigation of two of his English Abhidhamma students, he accepted an invitation to visit England again to continue teaching Abhidhamma. The form of teaching on that occasion, however, took on a dual purpose, and in the two years that followed, as well as teaching the subject he translated into English from the Pali, for the very first time that it had ever been done, the second of the seven books of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, Vibhanga. It was published by the Pali Text Society in 1969 under the title of 'The Book of Analysis.'

        Upon his return to Burma in 1966 he did not again leave for abroad until his two recent visits to England, one in 1982 and again in 1983. At the very considerable age of eighty-seven years, he yet again upon invitation conducted a course of weekly classes during the summer months of 1983, dealing with the application of Abhidhamma knowledge to ordinary everyday life.

        During the years from 1966-1982 in Burma, due to his knowledge, evident practice, practical experience and inevitable seniority in age, he became invited and accepted the position of Ovadacariya (spiritual adviser or instructor) to the central council of the Sangha Mahanayaka of the whole country, Burma; to the trustees of the Shwedagon Pagoda, Sule Pagoda, Kaba Aye Pagoda and to most other well known pagodas in Rangoon. He is also examiner for the well known Abhidhamma Propagation Society in Rangoon.

        The sparse information given in this extremely brief sketch of some of the main events in the Sayadaw's life, confirms a remark made one day by an astrologer in Mandalay who once happened to see the Sayadaw there when he was a young samanera. The astrologer commented that only one tenth of anything that that particular young bhikkhu did would ever become known.

        The difficulty in collecting information is compounded by the fact that the Sayadaw very seldom speaks of himself, or mentions his endless achievements in the vast field of his experiences. Beneath his quiet and retiring bearing lies a profound depth of knowledge of the Buddhist Teaching, and to spread this knowledge has been his great endeavour throughout his life. He has striven, often in the face of surprising opposition, to carry out his aim. Even his original idea to learn English and go to the West, met with an opposition that made his initial departure a very difficult thing.

        Over the years since the war he has taught and helped countless Western-born people, although of his English pupils from the actual war years and just after, so many are now no more. However, by those who still remember him during his fourteen years presence in England, from 1938-1952, and who on subsequent visits have continued to receive teaching and guidance from him, he is deeply regarded and with much gratitude.

        As a skilled teacher, in accordance with the order of pariyatti, patipatti and pativedha (learning, practice and realization), he has always been at pains to deal with first things first. He has always realized that strangers, newcomers to the word Buddhism, having been brought up and educated from childhood in a totally different religious environment, would have absolutely no concept at all of the Buddhist Teaching. His method, therefore, has been first to explain very simply and gradually exactly what and who a Buddha is. Once such people have become acquainted with some knowledge and a correct idea of the nature of a Buddha, he later, still in very simple terms, gains the further interest of his listeners by the very reasonableness and logic of what he has to say in connection with right living in ordinary everyday life, and what in accordance with Buddhist teaching is required if one is to improve oneself morally, intellectually and spiritually. He always speaks to people at their level of appreciation and interest, feeding them slowly with information that will build their confidence. Like a wise farmer, he tills the soil before sowing the seed. He prepares the ground; then, selecting suitable seed for the varying soils he plants carefully at the proper season, realizing that to use the same seed in all the differing soils would be unsuitable and unproductive.

        On recognizing some people's almost total ignorance of the Dhamma, the Sayadaw has never been dismayed; he has never ever considered abandoning any mission on encountering such utter lack of comprehension, but actually striven all the harder to offer to those individuals something which could act as a next step for them, something which could serve as an aid to movement in the right direction. Knowing that morality is the soil in which development and understanding grow, he has sought, always, to introduce, maintain and increase people's knowledge of, and tendency to practise, at least the basic five precepts in their ordinary life.

        And so, dealing with first things first, he will speak to the uninformed of right thought, right speech and right action in their ordinary everyday life. As he says, 'How we think, speak, behave and react when we have come away from meditation centres and returned to everyday life, is the clue as to how far, if at all, we have actually improved or advanced morally and mentally. Is our annoyance at things, our anger, less; are we more kindly, better behaved, more considerate towards others? Is our greed for the things we like and try to get hold of in everyday existence, is that greed really less?'

        Approaching his ninetieth year the Sayadaw is still active and teaching, at the same time making available to others his great knowledge and vast experience of practice under conditions which none but the most highly disciplined and principled could have ever emerged unscathed morally or mentally. The inflexibility of his determination as a very young person to learn every aspect of the Buddhist Teaching absolutely thoroughly, and his inflexibility to live always appealing to the highest within himself, has enabled the spreading of the true Dhamma to reach large numbers in the world who otherwise may never have heard of it, nor had the chance to meet one of its most genuinely humble, compassionate and dedicated exemplars, one of its most profoundly learned exponents.

C. W. Iggleden

England 1985

        P.S.: The Most Venerable Sayadaw passed away in Myanmar ( Burma ) , on January the 3rd , 1997, at the age of 100.

        We are most grateful to Mrs. C.W. Iggleden for allowing us to re-publish the Sayadaw's book, which is a collection of expanded notes prepared for talks on Buddhism given in the West over the period 1938-1983.


        The technique of salvation which is characteristic of Buddhism is very different from that of all other religions. They say, 'Turn to God, pray to him, give yourself utterly to him, become one with him.' Christianity, Hinduism, Islam. Zoroastrianism and Judaism, base their teachings on the idea of God. These religions say that until a man can believe in God he cannot begin to live a truly righteous or useful life.

        We know that thousands in these religions do live lives of charity, purity and holiness, but the strange fact is that lives of charity, purity and holiness are also lived by thousands who follow the Buddha who never asked men to worship any god as the first step towards their salvation. The Buddha taught men to rely upon themselves in order to achieve their own salvation, and not to look to any external saviour. He never put himself forward as a mediator between us and our final salvation, but he could tell us what to do because he had done it himself and so knew the way. However, unless we ourselves act, the Buddha cannot take us to our goal.

        Though we may 'take refuge in the Buddha', the Buddhist phrase in the simple ceremony of pledging ourselves to live a righteous life, it is not through any blind faith that he can save us. He can point the way, he can tell us of its difficulties and the beauties which we shall find as we tread the way, but he cannot tread it for us, we must tread the way ourselves.

        Yet we are not left alone and unaided in this difficult task, for in order to help us to tread the way to our goal, Nibbana. the Buddha has mapped out the moral life which must be lived. Like an engineer who constructs a pathway up a difficult mountain, so the Buddha has constructed a code of morality. First come the panca sila, the five precepts as they are called, namely, not to kill, not to steal, not to commit sexual misconduct, not to lie, and not to take any intoxicating liquor or drug. These are not the Buddha's commandments, the breaking of which entails sin, but they represent the preliminary ideals of a virtuous life which a man is to accept wholeheartedly if he is to call himself a Buddhist. He does not promise to the Buddha not to break the precepts, he gives the promise to himself, for the phrase is, 'Panatipata, etc..', I undertake the precept to refrain from taking life, and so on in respect of the other precepts. Each man, as he repeats the precepts, puts himself upon his own honour to do his best not to break them.

        And if he breaks them? Then the only repentance which is constructive is to make the pledge to himself again, indeed, as many times as are necessary, day after day, month after month, year after year, until he wins the struggle against his lower nature. A man must win the goal of purity and nobility by himself; not the Buddha, nor the angels, nor any god can bring a man to salvation.

        So you see, the practice of the moral life is the very core and essence of Buddhism; character is the product of daily, hourly actions, daily acts of kindness, charity and unselfishness. By doing just actions we come to be just, and we judge strength by the power of action. In the same way as a musician is not one who merely loves music, but is one who is able to blend and combine sounds in a manner pleasing to the ear, so also it is the quality of our actions that determines our character.

        According to Buddhism there is a spark of bodhi (wisdom) in the heart of every sentient being, but in ordinary beings it has not been developed into its power by the weakening of selfish desire, anger and ignorance. Each life is a stage in the pilgrimage from small to great, from less to more, and from ignorance to enlightenment. Everyone is the architect of his own fate. We shall reap in the future, in this life or the next, what we are sowing now. As we had the power in the past to make our present what it is, so we have equal power now to create a happy and useful future. To win the final victory of perfection it is necessary for each one of us to defeat the three great internal enemies, namely, selfish desire, anger and delusion. To defeat these three great enemies it is necessary for each one of us to live a life of charity, to extend his love towards all beings and to develop the spark of wisdom into its fullest power.

        It is only when these three great enemies are defeated, and the final victory of salvation is won, that there will be no war, and we shall have real and everlasting peace and happiness.


        What is Buddhism, is it a philosophy or a religion or an ethical system? Strictly speaking it is not a philosophy, for it does not contain an elaborate system of theories and facts exclusively for cogitation, although it must be admitted that the Buddha has anticipated much modern speculation.

        What is known as Buddhism consists of three aspects, the doctrinal (pariyatti), the practical (patipatti) and the realizable (pativedha), which are interdependent and interrelated. The doctrine is preserved in the Tipitaka. This Tipitaka, which contains the word of the Buddha, is estimated to be about eleven times the size of the Christian bible. As the word itself implies, it consists of three baskets, namely: the Basket of Discipline (Vinaya Pitaka), the Basket of Discourses (Sutta Pitaka) and the Basket of Ultimate Things (Abhidhamma Pitaka).

        The Vinaya Pitaka, which is sub-divided into five books, deals with the rules and regulations of the Order of monks and nuns, and gives a detailed account of the life and ministry of the Buddha. The Sutta Pitaka consists of discourses preached by the Buddha. and also, in some instances, by his distinguished disciples such as the Ven. Sariputta, Moggallana, Ananda, etc. Divided into twenty-six books it is rather like a collection of prescriptions, for the sermons were propounded to suit the occasion and the temperament of different individuals. The Abhidhamma Pitaka, however, is the most important and the most interesting because it elaborates the four ultimate things, i.e., consciousness (citta), mental properties (mental concomitants, cetasika), matter (material qualities, rupa) and Nibbana.

        Thus we see that Buddhism is concerned with truth and facts, and has nothing to do with theories and philosophies which may be accepted as gospel truth today and may be thrown overboard tomorrow. The Buddha has presented us with no new astounding philosophical theories, nor did he venture to create any new material science, rather did he explain to us what is within and without so far as it concerns our emancipation, and ultimately he laid out a path of deliverance which is unique.

        It should be understood that the Buddha did not preach all that he knew. On one occasion while he was passing through a forest the Buddha took a handful of leaves and said to some bhikkhus, 'O bhikkhus, what I have taught is comparable to the leaves in my hand, and what I have not taught is comparable to the amount of leaves in the forest', for he taught us only that which is necessary for our emancipation. Incidentally, though, he has made some statements which are accepted as scientific truths today.

        Buddhism is not merely to be preserved in books, nor is it a subject to be studied only from an historical or literary point of view, on the contrary, it is to be learned and put into practice in the course of one's daily life, for without actual practice one cannot appreciate truth. Study and practice come first, but above all it is realization, self-realization, which is its ultimate goal. As such, Buddhism is comparable to a raft which is meant for the sole purpose of escaping from the ocean of samsara; Buddhism, therefore, cannot strictly be called a philosophy.

        Is it then a religion? Neither is it a religion in the sense in which that word is commonly understood, for it is not a system of faith and worship. Buddhism does not demand blind faith from its adherents; here, mere belief is dethroned and replaced by confidence, saddha, as it is known in Pali, based on knowledge of truth. The confidence placed by a follower in the Buddha is like that of a sick man towards the physician, or that of a student towards his teacher. A Buddhist seeks refuge in the Buddha because it is he who discovered the path of deliverance. A sick man should use the remedy which the physician prescribes in order to be cured, and the pupil should study what his teacher says in order to become learned. In just the same way, a Buddhist who possesses saddha should follow the Buddha's instructions in order to gain deliverance.

        The starting point of Buddhism is reasoning, or understanding, or in other words sammaditthi. To seekers after truth the Buddha says, 'Do not believe in anything on mere hearsay; do not believe in anything that is traditional just because it is old and handed down through generations; do not believe in rumours or anything because people talk about it; do not believe simply because the written testimony of some ancient sage is shown to thee; never believe in anything because the custom of many years leads thee to regard it as true; do not believe in anything on the mere authority of thy teacher or priests. According to thine own experience, and after thorough investigation, whatever agrees with thy reason and is conducive to thine own well-being and to that of all other living beings, accept that as truth and live accordingly.'

        Is Buddhism, then, an ethical system? It no doubt contains an excellent code of morals which is adaptable to all climes and ages, but it is much more than ordinary morality. The Singala Sutta (Sigalovada Sutta), Mangala Sutta, Metta Sutta, Vasala Sutta, Dhammika Sutta, etc., should be read carefully to understand the high standard of morality; but morality, or sila, is only the A.B.C. of Buddhism.

        Buddhism, therefore, is neither a philosophy nor a religion, nor an ordinary ethical code, it is the doctrine of actuality, a means of deliverance: or, as it is called in Pali, the Dhamma.


        If a man is to build up a successful, healthy and happy life, a life that will stoutly resist the fiercest storms of adversity, it must be based on sound moral principles such as the five precepts laid down by the Buddha.

        Our life is what we make it by our own thoughts and deeds, thus it is through his own thoughts that a man rises or falls. To think habitually of a certain virtue is to become that virtue, and to allow the mind to dwell on thoughts of vice for any length of time is to become guilty of that vice.

        There is a common delusion that man's failings and lapses in conduct are due to other people about him, and not to himself, but this delusion arises from the error of believing that others can be responsible for a man's misdeeds and errors. All a man's weaknesses and sins arise within his own mind and heart, he alone is responsible for them, and those who succumb to being induced, persuaded or excited by tempters, become co-operators in sin and vice. Tempters are quite powerless against those who refuse to respond. Any weakness lies in a man's own mind, and if he has given in to others' promptings, the real source of his troubles, his failures and miseries, is his own weakness; he is responsible for his every action.

        A common excuse for wrong-doing is that right action would lead to failure, loss and unhappiness: thus immature-minded people concern themselves less with the deed than with the consequences of the deed. The longing to obtain pleasant results is the cause of much mental confusion. making men incapable of distinguishing between good and evil, worthy and unworthy, right and wrong. Right action is very simple, whereas wrong action is inextricably mixed, one falsehood often requiring the concoction of several others to hide it. Just one act of dishonesty, corruption or fraud needs a dozen other wrongs to fortify it, which means the creation of complications that bring trouble and unhappiness to oneself and to others.

        The right-minded man concerns himself with the act, and not with the consequences; he considers not what is pleasant or unpleasant, but what is good and right according to the rules of morality. When he does right, and does not seek any result, he is relieved of all the burdens of doubt, fear and perplexity, he never becomes involved in an inextricable tangle or difficulty. His mind is at peace, his conscience serene; these are the requisites for health, happiness and long life.


        One often hears the expression, 'I do not feel like doing it'. Such a man is in bondage to self when he is under the sway of his feelings, habits and inclinations, he is not free from servility in respect of his feelings. Those who wish for freedom in this way must be guided by reason and willpower, bringing calm, deliberate judgment to bear on all things, being mindful at all times that, 'This is a matter of right or wrong, good or bad, it is needful or needless, my feelings have nothing to do with it. It is not how one feels. but what is the proper thing to do'. If our life and conduct are ordered by our likes and dislikes, we are weaklings, puppets and bondslaves, apt to be overwhelmed by indolence and incompetence, ill-health and frustration.

        There are two kinds of emotion, (1) negative or destructive, and (2) positive or constructive.

        Negative emotion such as ill-will, jealousy, bitterness, malice, anger, spitefulness, hatred, despair, fear, impatience, worries, anxieties, should be guarded against, for they poison the warm current of life and often cause troubles in the heart, brain and blood vessels. They invariably cause weakness, failure, folly, misery or untimely death.

        Positive or constructive emotion such as pity, sympathy for others, appreciation of the good, kindness, goodwill and altruistic motives are to be encouraged and cultivated. They react through the mind on the vital glands of the body to build up robust health, happiness, prosperity and long life.

        Right mindfulness, right attention, is the seventh step in the Noble Eightfold Path that leads to the overcoming of sorrow and to the attainment of moral purity, and it includes: 1. Concentration on the body, 2. concentration on one's feelings, 3. concentration on one's thoughts, and 4. concentration on mental objects. In the Majjhima Nikaya we read of ten great blessings which are assured to the person who practises them. None who desire good health. happiness and wisdom can dispense with meditation in Buddhism; moral culture through meditation is a fundamental step in deliverance from suffering and unhappiness. By means of meditation one learns to reason through every situation, instead of reacting emotionally according to likes and dislikes, according to prejudice, custom or tradition; one learns to rationalize the experience of life. When this lesson is learnt one becomes supreme over every circumstance, happening or event.

        Take as an illustration two persons who meet financial disaster. One reacts emotionally and falls into a stormy sea of bitterness, loses all hope and sinks in health, vigour and resolution, or he kills himself to end it all. The other man, who has learnt to think over the problems of life, to meditate, to rationalize, applies every available method to overcome the problem and finds a satisfactory solution, for he has exercised his mind just as the athlete exercises his muscles. He is the master, while the other is a slave. Many disappointments and breakdowns would not exist if people were to live according to the Dhamma.

        So you see, Buddhism is a philosophy of hope and of certainty of achievement. It is the gospel of attainment, of deliverance from unhappiness and suffering. The Buddha explained that in every mortal, however humble or lowly he may be, there is a grain of worth, a little of goodness, a spark of wisdom which he can kindle into a flame, which he can develop by conscious human effort. The Buddha encouraged everyone to strive for spiritual development, declaring that every right effort is sure of a reward here and .now, in this life, or in a future one.

        The Buddha also proclaimed that every low desire, every longing for ignoble things, every unworthy feeling that we conquer and trample down, and every difficulty we meet heroically and victoriously, with righteousness according to the rules of morality, becomes another rung on the ladder by which we can climb towards a nobler, higher life. This is the law of progressive development, the Buddhist doctrine of evolution, of attainment, of accomplishment.

        The Buddha drew for us the picture of progressive existence, a growth from small to great, from less to more, from ignorance to knowledge, of development depending upon inward strength, diligence and effort put forth from life to life. This is the doctrine of human perfection won through altruism, discipline and wisdom.


        The name of the founder of what is known in the West as Buddhism, was Gotama, this being the name of the clan or family to which he belonged. The word 'Buddha' means 'awakened', or 'enlightened one', and is not a name but a title of honour bestowed upon the sage Gotama who attained enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree at Buddhagaya in India.

        Gotama was born as the son of an Indian king on the border of modern Nepal six hundred and twenty-three years before Christ, and to mark the spot as the birthplace of the great teacher of mankind, and as a token of reverence for him, the Emperor Asoka in 239 B.C. erected a pillar bearing the inscription, 'Here was the Enlightened One born'. At the time of his birth the wise men of the kingdom said that the signs showed that he would become either a very great ruler or a very great religious teacher. His father, wanting him to be a very great ruler, kept his son's mind turned towards worldly things instead of the religious life, and tried to arrange that his son should never see anything of an unpleasant nature that might set him thinking seriously about the world and life. In his twenty-ninth year, however, while on his way to the royal park, Gotama for the first time saw an old man, a sick man and a dead man, and he learned that all men without exception were subject to birth, old age and death, and that all worldly pleasures were only a prelude to pain. It was when he saw a monk that he realized that in order to learn the way to overcome man's universal sorrow he must give up worldly pleasures, and accordingly he renounced his kingdom and became an ascetic.

        Gotama wandered about the countryside as a seeker after truth and real peace, approaching many a distinguished teacher of his day, but nobody was competent to give him what he earnestly sought. He strenuously practised all forms of severe austerities, and made a superhuman effort for six long years until eventually his delicate body was reduced to almost a skeleton, but the more he tormented his body, the further away he was from his goal. Finally, having realized the utter futility of self-mortification, he decided to follow a different course, avoiding the two extremes of self-mortification and self-indulgence. The new path which he discovered was the Middle Way, the Eightfold Path, which subsequently became one of the salient characteristics of his teachings. By following this path his wisdom grew to its fullest power, and he discovered the Four Noble Truths, understood things as they truly are and finally attained full enlightenment.

        As a man Prince Gotama, by his own will, effort, wisdom and love, attained Buddhahood, that highest possible state of perfection, and he revealed to mankind the only straight path that leads thereto. A special characteristic of Buddhism is that anybody may aspire even to the state of the Buddha himself if he makes the necessary exertion, it is a sort of evolutionary process and is achieved by' one's own effort.

        The Buddha laid stress on human dignity, and taught the worth of the human being. A Buddha in the making is a Bodhisatta, and as a Bodhisatta through countless births he suffered all, sacrificed all, and fulfilled every perfection, so that on some distant day he might achieve this unique goal, the goal of winning - not only for himself, but for all beings - deliverance from the heavy burdens of birth, old age, disease and death. The Buddha himself tells us of his origin, and how it started with an inflexible, aspiring resolve; he tells us of the gradual perfection of the flux that made that aspiration, and how finally he won full enlightenment. In this way, instead of disheartening his followers and reserving that exalted state only for himself, the Buddha encouraged and induced them to follow his noble example.

        The word of the Buddha is called Dhamma, which in the Sanskrit form becomes Dharma. It means truth, that which really is; it also means law, the law which exists in a man's own heart and mind. It is the principle of righteousness, therefore the Buddha appeals to man to be noble, pure and charitable, not in order to please any god, but in order to be true to the highest in himself.

        Dhamma, this law of righteousness, exists not only in a man's heart and mind, but it exists in the universe also; all the universe is an embodiment or revelation of Dhamma. The laws of nature which modern science has discovered are revelations of Dhamma; if the moon rises and sets, it is because of Dhamma, for Dhamma is that law within the universe which makes matter act in the ways studied in physics, chemistry, zoology, botany and astronomy; Dhamma exists in the universe just as Dhamma exists in the heart and mind of man. If a man will live by Dhamma he will escape misery and come to Nibbana, the final release from suffering.

        Thus Buddhism is not a religion in the sense in which that word is commonly understood, it is not a system of faith or worship, Buddhism begins as a search for truth. It does not begin with unfounded assumptions concerning any god or first cause, and it does not claim to present the whole truth of the absolute beginning and end of mankind's spiritual pilgrimage in the form of a divine revelation. The Buddha himself searched and discovered with direct insight the nature of the cosmos, the cause of its arising and of its passing away, and the real cause of suffering together with the way in which it could be brought to an end, for the sake of all living beings. Having done so, he proclaimed the principles on which he had conducted his research, so that all who wished to do so could follow his system and know the final truth them selves.

        The Buddha taught men to rely upon themselves in order to achieve their own deliverance, and not to look to any external saviour. He never puts himself forward as a mediator between us and our final deliverance, but he can tell us what to do because he has done it himself and so knows the way; however, unless we ourselves act, the Buddha cannot take us to our goal. He can point out the way, he can tell us of its difficulties and of the beauties which we shall find as we tread the way, but he cannot tread it for us, we must tread the way ourselves.

        The life process of the universe is governed by the natural law of cause and effect. The cause ever becomes the effect, and the effect becomes the cause, and so birth is followed by death, and death on the other hand is followed by birth; birth and death being two phases of the same life process. In this circle of cause and effect, or of birth and death, known in Buddhism as samsara, a first beginning is not discoverable; it is said, 'The origin of phenomena is not discoverable, and the beginning of beings obstructed by ignorance and ensnared by craving is not to be found.' (Samyutta Nikaya II).

        According to Buddhism the universe evolved, but it did not evolve out of nothingness, it evolved out of the dispersed matter of a previous universe; and when this universe is dissolved, its dispersed matter, or its residual energy which is continuously renewing itself, will in time give rise to another universe in the same way. The process is therefore cyclic and continuous, and the universe itself is composed of millions of world systems such as that which we know as our own solar system, each with its various planes of existence.

        What of the soul? That which we call 'man' is composed of mind and matter. According to Buddhism, apart from mind and matter (nama and rupa) which constitute the so-called man, there is no such thing as an immortal soul,atta, which lies behind them. Matter (rupa) is the visible form of invisible qualities and forces, and there are altogether twenty-eight types of material qualities which constitute the physical body of an animate being. Mind (nama) is the most important part of a being, and consists of the four mental aggregates, namely:

  1. Feeling, of whatever kind (vedana)
  2. Perception, of sense objects, or reaction to the senses (sanna)
  3. Mental Properties, the fifty types of mental formations including good and evil tendencies and faculties (sankhara)
  4. Consciousness, which is the fundamental factor of all the other three (vinnana)

        Thus the combination of the five aggregates, or of the material and mental forces, is called a being which may assume as many names as its types, shapes, forms and so on may vary, according to the mode of physical and mental changes. Man is, therefore, a moral being of good and evil tendencies, of qualities and forces. who has unlimited powers physically. mentally and morally; and in the heart of every human being there is a spark of wisdom, but in ordinary mortals it is dormant or crippled by its unenlightened intercourse with selfish desire, hatred and ignorance. As a Buddhist the purpose of a man's life should be to grow from small to great, from less to more, from ignorance to enlightenment and from imperfection to perfection. Man is the architect of his own fate, and he will reap what he sow.

        Thus the material and mental forces combine and re-combine with no underlying substance or soul to make them permanent, and this process of becoming, the wheel of life, continues indefinitely until its main cause, craving or selfish desire for existence, is totally annihilated. It is this desire which sets the wheel of life in motion, and it is manifested in action which is in reality volition or will-power. It is called 'kamma' in Pali, but karma' in Sanskrit, and it is this kamma, this volitional action which is responsible for the creation of being..

        Kamma means all kinds of intentional actions, whether mental, verbal or physical; that is, all thoughts, words and deeds. Every action produces an effect; it is cause first and effect afterwards. We therefore may say that kamma is 'the law of cause and effect', and that man is the master of his own destiny, child of his past and parent of his future.Kamma, however, is not determinism, nor is it an excuse for fatalism; the past influences the present but does not dominate it. The past is the background against which life goes on from moment to moment, and the past together with the present influences the future; but one should remember that only the present moment exists, and the responsibility for using the present moment for good or ill lies with each individual. Man has a certain amount of free will and can therefore modify his actions and affect his future, so if a man does a good deed or utters a good word or thinks a good thought, the effect upon him will be to increase the tendencies towards goodness in him. The practice of good kamma. when fully developed, will enable man to overcome evil and thus bring him to his goal Nibbana.

At the root of man's trouble is his primal state of ignorance, and from ignorance comes desire which sets the kammic force in motion. The Buddhist ascends to Nibbana through the Middle Way, the path of wisdom, morality and mind-control, or meditation; he ascends through the cycle of rebirths, and perfects himself by conquering his cravings through wisdom and love. The attainment of the perfect type involves the utmost development of all the faculties of man by the persistent effort of one's own reasoning, understanding and right living.

        Buddhism teaches that with the practice of meditation and mind culture one can acquire the five supernormal powers, i.e.. celestial eye, celestial ear, memory of past births, reading the thoughts of others and various psychic powers. Not only this, but Buddhism also teaches that with the attainment of Nibbana in this life itself, through enlightenment and wisdom, one can reach the end of this chain of rebirths

        Nibbana is not annihilation, neither is it a kind of nothingness, it is the state free from any possibility of the re-arising of conditioned existence, the ultimate peace and happiness. In the Buddhist scriptures it is always described in positive terms such as the highest refuge, safety, emancipation, peace and so on.

        Buddhism consists of three aspects: doctrinal, practical and realizable. The doctrinal aspect is preserved in the scriptures called Tipitaka, or 'Three Baskets', the canon which contains the words of the Buddha, and which has been estimated by English translators to be eleven times the size of the Christian Bible.

        All the teachings of the Buddha can be summed up in one verse:

  • 'To refrain from all evil,
  • To do what is good,
  • To purify the mind.
  • This is the teaching of the Buddhas.'

        This verse embodies the three stages on the grand highway that leads to enlightenment, the three stages of morality, concentration and wisdom. Morality regulates word and deed, concentration controls the mind, but it is wisdom, the final stage, that enables the spiritual man to annihilate completely the passions which are ever creating a turmoil within him.

        Soon after the attainment of enlightenment the Buddha founded the Order of monks (Sangha) containing both the community of those noble disciples who have reached the ariyan noble stages, of which the last is perfect sainthood (arahat). and also the community of Buddhist monks who are striving to reach the ariyan noble stages. The Order of monks increased, and within the forty- five years of the Buddha's ministry it had spread throughout India and beyond, and the gospel of liberation became known to all whose eyes were but lightly covered with dust. A similar order was established by the Buddha for nuns, with all the same rules and such additional ones as were required for women. The Buddhist Sangha, which historically is the earliest monastic institution to be governed by perfectly democratic principles, continues to the present day.

        On the seventh day after the Buddha had passed away Maha Kassapa, who was head of the Sangha, decided to hold a convocation to establish the authoritative teachings of the Buddha. They then held a great council at Rajagaha under the patronage of King Ajatasattu, and the Buddhist canon was collected and recited in chants.

        During the first century after the demise of the Buddha, there was only one schism among Buddhists, but at the end of the first century during the reign of King Kalasoka a community of monks attempted to introduce ten new indulgences into the discipline of the Sangha, pronouncing them to be allowable to the Sangha. To suppress this heresy, and for the purpose of securing the permanency of the doctrines of the Buddha, seven hundred leading arahats having Revata for their chief, protected by King Kalasoka, held the Second great council at Vesali in precisely the same manner as the previous one.

        The Third great council was held in the third century after the Buddha, under the patronage of the Emperor Asoka. On the advice of Moggaliputta Tissa, who headed the third great council, Emperor Asoka sent messengers of the Dhamma to the various foreign countries known at that time.

        The Fourth great council was held in Ceylon early in the sixth century after the Buddha, headed by Maha Agga and supported by King Vattagamini. At that council the Tipitaka, which had been transmitted in Pali by memory from the time of the Buddha, was committed to writing for the first time.

        The Fifth great council was held in Mandalay, Burma. early in the twenty-fifth century after the Buddha, headed by Jagara Thera with the support of King Mindon. At that time the whole Tipitaka was inscribed on seven hundred and twenty-nine marble slabs placed at the foot of Mandalay Hill.

        The Sixth great council was held in Rangoon, Burma, commencing at the full moon of May, 2498 years after the demise of the Buddha, and ending on the 2500th anniversary (May 1956). At that council the Tipitaka was recited in Pali, and steps were taken toward translating it into some more modern languages.

        In modern times there are mainly two schools of Buddhism, i.e., Theravada. which is practised chiefly in Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos; andMahayana, which is practised in China, Tibet and Japan.

        Theravada, the Way of the Elders, was the original and only tradition from the earliest times to the time of the second great council when the Mahasangika school, a precursor of Mahayana, was formed. Sarvastivada then arose as the second major school which differed from Theravada, although in only minor details at first, after which it divided into several sub-sects, many of which eventually developed intoMahayana.

        The main differences between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism are the concepts in regard to the Buddha himself, as well as in regard to the Bodhisatta ideal, the canon of scriptures, the development of doctrine, the celibacy of the monks and the form of ceremony.

        The similarities between the two schools of Buddhism are: the Four Noble Truths, which relate human suffering to the attachment of what is only transient and impermanent; the anatta (non-ego) doctrine and the doctrine of the chain of causation, although variously interpreted; the Noble Eightfold Path, as the way of deliverance which involves a moral discipline as well as the practice of meditation; the virtue of metta, loving-kindness, as being fundamental; the acceptance of the Buddhist Teaching as being universal in its application; and the Middle Way of life to the goal of Nibbana, the highest of all happiness.

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