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What Buddhism Is

'Thray Sithu' U Ba Khin

Lecture No.3

Vol. X, No. 2, 1963

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          (This article was the last of three lectures given by Thray Sithu U Ba Khin, President of the Vipassana Association which founded the International Meditation Centre. He was then the Accountant-General of Burma and the lectures were given in the premises of the Methodist Church, Signal Pagoda Pond, Rangoon, at the request of a religious study Group headed by Messrser Gerald F. Winfield, Information Officer and Roger C. Thorpe, Economic & Finance Officer of the Special Technical and Economic Division of the United States of America—Editor.)

14th October 1951. Lecture No.3

          My talks on "What Buddhism Is" will not be complete without a reference, though in brief, to the Law of Paticca-samuppada (the Law of Dependent Origination) and the Law of Patthana (the Law of Relations, or Cause and Effect).

The Law of Dependent Origination

          It will be recalled that in summing up my first lecture, I mentioned how Prince Siddhattha, the wandering ascetic, realised the truth and became a Buddha. Lest you forget, I will repeat that portion again.

          Verily, Prince Siddhattha attained Samma-sambhodhi and became the Buddha, the Awakened One, the Enlightened One, the All-knowing One. He was awake in a way compared with which all others were asleep and dreaming. He was enlightened in a way compared with which all other men were stumbling and groping in the dark. He knew with a knowledge compared with which all that other men knew was but a kind of ignorance.

          All religions, no doubt, claim to show the way to Truth. In Buddhism, for so long as one has not realized the truth (i.e., the Four Noble Truths), one is in ignorance. It is this ignorance (Avijja) that is responsible for the generation of mental forces (Sankhara) which regulate the life continuum (or consciousness) (Vinnana) in all sentient beings. Just as the life continuum is established in a new existence, mind and matter (Nama and Rupa) appear automatically and correlatively. These, in turn, are developed into a vehicle or body with sense centres (Salayatana). These sense centres give rise to contact (Phassa) and contact of these sense centres with sense objects gives rise to sense impressions (Vedana) which have the effect of arousing desire (Tanha) followed closely by attachment or clinging to desire (Upadana). It is this attachment, or clinging to desire, which is the cause of becoming (Bhava) or of existence with the attendant birth (Jati), old age, illness, death, anxiety, agony, pains, etc. (Jara-marana, etc.), all of which denote suffering. In this way the Buddha traced the origin of suffering to ignorance.

          So the Buddha said: [12]

Ignorance is the origin of mental forces; Mental forces, the origin of the life continuum; The life continuum, the origin of mind and matter; Mind and matter, the origin of the sense centres; The sense centres, the origin of contact; Contact, the origin of impression; Impression, the origin of desire; Desire, the origin of attachment; Attachment, the origin of becoming (existence); Becoming (existence), the origin of birth; Birth, the origin of old age, illness, death, anxiety, agony, pains, etc. (which are all suffering).

          This chain of origination is called the Law of Dependent Origination and the root cause of all these is therefore Avijja, ignorance -- that is, ignorance of the Truth. It is true that superficially desire is the origin of suffering. This is so simple. When you want a thing, desire is aroused. You have to work for it or you suffer for it. But this is not enough. The Buddha said, "The five aggregates, which are nothing but mind and matter, also are suffering." The Truth of suffering in Buddhism is complete only when one realizes by seeing mind and matter as they really are (both within and without) and not as they seem to be.

          The Truth of Suffering is therefore something which must be experienced before it can be understood. For example, we all know from science that everything that exists is nothing but vibration caused by the whirling movement of infinite numbers of sub-atomic particles, but how many of us can persuade ourselves to believe that our own bodies are subject to the same Law? Why not then try to feel things as they really are in so far as they relate to yourself? One must be above physical conditions for this purpose. One must develop mental energy powerful enough to see things in their true state. With developed mental power, one can see through and through; one can see more than what one can see with the help of the latest scientific instruments. If that be so, why should one not see what exactly is happening in one's own self -- the atoms, the electrons and what not, all changing fast and yet never ending. It is, of course, by no means easy.

          Here is an extract from a diary of one of my disciples which will give you an idea of what Suffering Within is:

          21/8/51. As soon as I began to meditate I felt as if someone were boring a hole through my head and I felt the sensation of crawling ants all over my head. I wanted to scratch, but my Guru forbade me from doing it. Within an hour I saw the sparkling ra dium of blue light tinged with violet colour entering inside my body gradually. When I lay in my room continuously for three hours I became almost senseless and I felt a terrible shock in my body. I was about to be frightened but my Guru encouraged me to proceed on. I felt my whole body heated up and I also felt the induction of the electronic needle at every part of my body.

          22/8/51. Today also I lay down meditating for nearly three hours. I had the sensation that my whole body was in flames and I also saw sparkles of blue and violet rays of light moving from top to bottom aimlessly. Then my Guru told me that the changing in the body is Anicca (impermanence) and the pain and suffer ing following it is Dukkha and that one must get to a state beyond Dukkha or Suffering.

          23/8/51. My Guru asked me to concentrate on my breast without the radiation of light and added that we are reaching the stage of philosophy of our body. I did accordingly and came to the conclusion that our body is full of Sufferings.

          In reality, this Suffering Within is a sequel to the keen sense of feeling of the vibration, radiation and friction of the atomic units experienced through a process of introspective meditation called Vipassana with the aid of the powerful lens of Samadhi. Not knowing this Truth is indeed ignorance. Knowing this Truth in its Ultimate Reality means destruction of the root cause of suffering, that is, ignorance with all the links in the chain of causation ending with what we call "life" with its characteristics of old age, illness, anxiety, agony, pains, etc.

          So much for the Law of Dependent Origination and the root cause of suffering.

The Law of Cause and Effect

          Let us now turn our attention to the Causal Law of Relations as expounded by the Buddha in the Law of Patthana in the Abhidhamma Pitaka. This is the Law in the course of the analytical study of which six coloured rays emerged from the person of the Buddha during his non-stop meditation for 49 days soon after the attainment of Buddhahood. We have five volumes of about 500 pages each of Pali text on this very delicate subject. I will just give here only an idea of the Law. There are 24 types of Relations on which the fundamental principles of Cause and Effect in Buddhism are based. They are:

  1. Condition - Hetu
  2. Object - Arammana
  3. Dominance - Adhipati
  4. Contiguity - Anantara
  5. Immediate Contiguity - Samanantara
  6. Coexistence - Sahajata
  7. Reciprocity - Annamanna
  8. Dependence - Nissaya
  9. Sufficing Condition - Upanissaya
  10. Antecedence - Purejata
  11. Consequence - Pacchajata
  12. Succession - Asevana
  13. Action - Kamma
  14. Effect - Vipaka
  15. Support - Ahara
  16. Control - Indriya
  17. Ecstasy - Jhana
  18. Means - Magga
  19. Association - Sampayutta
  20. Dissociation - Vippayutta
  21. Presence - Atthi
  22. Absence - Natthi
  23. Abeyance - Vigata
  24. Continuance - Avigata

          I will explain to you now about the co-relation of Hetu (condition) and Kamma (action) and the effect produced by their causes, as I understand them.

          Hetu is the condition of the mind at one conscious moment of each Kamma (action) whether physical, vocal or mental. Each Kamma therefore produces a condition of mind which is either moral, immoral or neutral. This is what in Buddhism we call Kusala Dhamma, Akusala Dhamma and Abyakata Dhamma. These Dhammas are mere forces -- i.e., mental forces -- which collectively create the Universe of Mental Forces as explained in my first lecture.

          Moral (Kusala) Forces are positive forces generated from Kammas (actions, words and thoughts) motivated by such good deeds as alms-giving, welfare work, devotion, purification of mind, etc.

          Immoral (Akusala) Forces are negative forces generated from Kammas (actions, words, and thoughts) motivated by desire, greed, lust, anger, hatred, dissatisfaction, delusion, etc.

          Neutral (Abyakata) Forces are neither moral nor immoral. This is the case, for example, of an Arahat who has got rid of all traces of ignorance (Avijja). In the case of an Arahat, contact (Phassa) of sense objects with the sense centres produces no reaction to sense impressions (Vedana) whatsoever, just as no impression is possible on flowing water which is ever changing. To him, the whole framework of the body is but an ever-changing mass and any impression thereon automatically breaks away with the mass.

          Let us now adjust the moral and immoral forces generated by conditioned actions with the planes of existence. For this purpose, I will classify the planes of existence roughly as follows:

          (1) Arupa- and Rupa-Brahma Planes.

These are beyond the range of sensuality. Supreme Love, Supreme Compassion, Supreme Joy at others' success or greatness and Supreme Equanimity of Mind are the four qualities of mind which generate transcendentally pure, brilliant and extremely pleasing, cool, and light mental forces which find their location in the highest of the planes of existence. This is the reason that in these planes matter is superfine and there is nothing but radiance, and the vehicles or bodies of the Brahmas cannot be identified with matter but with radiation or light.

          (2) The Sensuous Planes which are composed of:

(i) - the Planes of Celestial Beings

(ii) - the Human World

(iii) - the Planes of the Lower Forms of Existence

          The Planes of Celestial Beings. All good or meritorious deeds, words or thoughts which have a taint of desire for future well-being create moral mental forces which are very pure, luminous, pleasant and light. These find their location in the higher planes of celestial beings where matter is fine, luminous, pleasant and light. These celestial beings therefore have astral bodies varying in fineness, luminosity and colour according to the planes to which they belong. Ordinarily they live in heavenly bliss till their own moral mental forces are consumed, when they revert to the lower planes of existence.

          I will now pass on to (iii) the Planes of the Lower Forms of Existence. I will come to our Human World last.

          The Planes of the Lower Forms of Existence. All malicious, evil, demeritorious actions, words and thoughts create mental forces which by nature are impure, dark, fiery, heavy and hard. The most impure, dark, fiery, heavy and hard mental forces should therefore find their place in Hell, the lowest of the four planes of existence. The matter in all these planes must, therefore, be hard, crude, unpleasant and hot. The human world is just above the concentration of these forces, which are meant for consumption by those beings destined for these lower forms of existence. These beings, with the exception of those in the animal world, are invisible to the ordinary human eye but visible to those only who have developed the higher powers of Samadhi and secured the Divine Eye. Here, suffering, both physical and mental, predominates. This is just the reverse of what happens in the planes of celestial beings.

          The Human World. Now I come to the human world. This is a half-way house between heaven and hell. We experience pleasure and pain mixed together, in degrees as determined by our own past Kamma. From here, we can, by developing our mental attitude, draw in our own mental forces that are in the higher planes. It is also from here that we can go down to the depths of depravity and tune up with the forces of the Lower Order. There is no such constancy as in other planes of existence. One may be a saint today but one can be a rogue thereafter. One may be rich today but one may soon become poor. The vicissitudes of life here are very conspicuous. There is no man who is stable, no family which is stable, no community which is stable, no nation which is stable. All are subject to the Law of Kamma.

          As this Kamma comes out of Mind, which is ever-changing, the effects of Kamma must necessarily also be changing.

          It is the condition of the evil mental forces submerged in the Earth just under our feet which gives rise to the Law of Gravitation. For as long as man has inherent impurities in him which, prima facie, exist, he is subject to this gravitational pull and if he dies with the mental attitude tuned up with mental forces of a plane of lower existence at the last moment of his life, at the moment of death, the next existence is automatically in that plane, in order to clear, in a manner of speaking, his debit account of mental forces there. On the other hand, if at the moment of death his mental attitude is associated with forces in the human world, the next existence can be in the human world again. If, however, his mental attitude at the last moment of death is associated with the reminiscence of his good deeds, etc., the next existence will normally be in the celestial world, in order to enjoy the credit balance of his own mental forces there. One goes to the Brahma world if, at the moment of death, one's mind is not sensual, but is pure and tranquil. This is how Kamma plays its role in Buddhism, with mathematical precision.

          These, ladies and gentlemen, are the essential teachings of the Buddha. The way in which these teachings will affect the individual depends on how one takes it. The same applies to the family, the community or people in general. We have Buddhists in Faith and Buddhists in Practice. Yet there is another class of Buddhists who are just labelled Buddhists by Birth. Only Buddhists in actual practice can secure the change in mental attitude and outlook. Let them only observe the five precepts. They are the followers of the teachings of the Buddha. If this were followed by all the Buddhists in Burma, there would be no internecine strife such as we have here in Burma. But there is another disturbing factor: bodily requirements. One must have the bare necessities of life. Life is more precious to a person than anything else. The tendency, therefore, is for one to break laws of discipline, whether religious or governmental, for his self-preservation and for others depending on him.

          What is most essential is the generation of pure and good mental forces to combat the evil mental forces which dominate mankind. This is by no means easy. One cannot rise to a level of pure mental attitude without the help of a Teacher. If we want effective power to combat these forces, we must work for it Dhammically, i.e., according to the Dhamma. Modern science has given us for what it is worth the atomic bomb, the most wonderful and at the same time the most dreadful product of man's intelligence. Is man using his intelligence in the right way? Is he creating good or bad mental forces, according to the spirit of Buddhism? It is our will that decides how and upon what subject we shall use intelligence. Instead of using intelligence only for the conquest of atomic energy in matter without, why not use it also for the conquest of atomic energy within. This will give us the Peace Within and will enable us to share it with all others. We will then radiate such powerful and purified mental forces as will successfully counteract the evil forces which are all around us. Just as the light of a single candle has the power to dispel darkness in a room, so also the light developed in one man can help dispel darkness in several others.

          To imagine that "good" can be done by means of an "evil" is an illusion, a nightmare. The case in point is that of Korea. For all the loss of lives on both sides, now over a million, are we nearer to or further away from Peace? These are the lessons which we have learnt. A change of the mental attitude of mankind through religion alone is the solution. What is necessary at the moment is mastery over mind and not only mastery over matter.

          In Buddhism we differentiate Loka Dhatu from Dhamma Dhatu. By Dhatu is meant the nature elements or forces. Loka Dhatu is therefore matter (with its nature elements) within the range of the physical plane. Dhamma Dhatu, however, comprises mind, mental properties and some aspects of the nature elements which are not in the physical but in the mental plane. Modern science deals with what we call Loka Dhatu. It is just a base for Dhamma Dhatu in the mental plane. A step further and we come to the mental plane; not with the knowledge of modern science but with the knowledge of Buddha- Dhamma in practice.

          At least Mr H.A. Overstreet, author of The Mature Mind (New York: W.W. Norton) is optimistic about what is in store for mature minds. He said:

          The characteristic knowledge of our century is psychological. Even the most dramatic advances in physics and chemistry are chiefly the application of known methods of research. But the attitude toward human nature and human experience that has come in our time is new. This attitude could not have come earlier. Before it came, there had to be long preparation. Physiology had to be a developed science; for the psychological person is also physiological. His mind, among other things, is a matter of brain tissue, of nerves, of glands, or organs of touch, smell and sight. It was not until about seventy years ago that physiology was sufficiently developed to make psycho-physical research possible, as in the laboratories of the distinguished German psychologist, William Wundt. But before physiology there had to be a developed science of biology. Since brain, nerves, glands and the rest all depend upon processes, the science of the living cell had to have its maturing before a competent physiology could emerge. But before biology there had to be chemistry; and before chemistry, physics; and before physics, mathematics. So the long preparation goes back into the centuries. There is, in short, a time clock of science. Each science has to wait until its hour strikes. Today, at least, the time clock of science strikes the hour of psychology, and a new enlightenment begins. To be sure, the interests explored by this latest of the sciences are themselves old; but the accuracy of research is new. There is, in brief, a kind of iron logic that is in control. Each science has to wait for its peculiar accuracy until its predecessor has supplied the data and tools out of which its accuracy can be made. The time clock of science has struck a new hour: a new insight begins to be at our service.

          May I say that it is the Buddha-Dhamma which should be studied by one and all for a new insight into the realities of human nature. In Buddhism we have the cure for all the mental ills that affect mankind. It is the evil forces of the mind (past and present) that are responsible for the present state of affairs all over the world. By inspiring a strong sense of Buddhism in the minds of the people during the most critical days of Burma some two years ago, we have been able to get over the crisis.

          Nowadays, there is dissatisfaction almost everywhere. Dissatisfaction creates ill-feeling. Ill-feeling creates hatred. Hatred creates enmity. Enmity creates war. War creates enemies. Enemies create war. War creates enemies and so on. It is now becoming a vicious circle. Why? Certainly because there is lack of proper control over the mind.

          What is man? Man is after all mental forces personified. What is matter? Matter is nothing but mental forces materialized, a result of the reaction of moral (positive) and immoral (negative) forces. The Buddha said, "Cittena niyyati loko," "The World is mind-made."[13]

          Mind, therefore, predominates over everything. Let us then study the mind and its peculiar characteristics and solve the problem that is now facing the world.

          There is a great field for practical research in Buddhism. Buddhists in Burma will always welcome whoever is anxious to have the benefit of their experience.

          Ladies and gentlemen, I have made an attempt to give you the best of what I know about Buddhism. I shall be glad to give any interested person such further explanation on any point that he may wish to discuss. I am grateful to you for your kind attendance and the interest taken in my lectures. May I again thank the clergy of the church for the permission so kindly given for this series of lectures on their premises.

          Peace to all beings.


          [12] See Kindred Sayings, II, pp. 23f.

          [13] Kindred Sayings, I, p 55; Gradual Sayings, II, p. 185.


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