THE BUDDHIST WAY OF LIFE
Myanaung U Tin
(A broadcast from B. B, S. on 12th June 1961)
Vol. VIII, No. 3, 1961
Recently I was present at an interview given by the Venerable Masoyein Sayadaw, who is virtually the Sangha Raja or Thathanabaing of Burma, to some Buddhist monks of European origin. His advice to them is "Of course, you must learn the Dhamma during your stay there. But I would stress the importance of practice. Strive to be free from craving. If you succeed appreciably, you will be able to do a lot for your fellow-men when you return to your countries."
In the very first sermon, Dhammacakka pavattana Sutta,* the Buddha proclaims, "What, O monks, is the origin of suffering? It is that craving which gives rise to ever fresh rebirth and, bound up with pleasure and lust, now here, now there, finds ever fresh delight. It is the Sensual Craving (Kamma tanha), the Craving for Existence (bhava tanha), the Craving for Self-annihilation (vibhava tanha)."
In this talk, I do not propose to deal with the Craving for Existence, which is connected with the view of Eternalism, and the Craving for Self-annihilation, which is connected with the view of Nihilism. They require separate treatment.
So far as the Sensuous Sphere (kamma-loka) is concerned Sensual Craving is most harassing. There are six kinds of craving corresponding to the six sense objects: craving for sights, sounds, smells, tastes, bodily impressions and mental impressions.
To put an end to these cravings, at least to keep them under proper restraint, learning alone would not suffice. I can therefore understand fully why the Venerable Masoyein Sayadaw stresses the importance of practice of the Dhamma for the control and eradication of cravings.
The Buddha discovers and teaches us the Four Noble Truths.
(1) the universality of suffering, (2) the cause of suffering, (3) the cessation of suffering, and (4) the Path leading to the cessation of suffering.
Craving is the cause of suffering, and once the fact of suffering is recognised, effort must be made to remove its cause.
The Noble Eightfold Path, which forms the last of the Four Noble Truths, consists of eight links:
Right Speech, Right Bodily Action, and Right Livelihood constitute moral training (sila). Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration constitute mental training (Samadhi). Right Understanding and Right Thoughts constitute wisdom (Panna). In the enumeration, wisdom is placed first as it forms a really unshakable foundation of the Noble Path from the tiniest germ of faith and knowledge to the realisation of Nibbana.
In practice, however, moral training comes first. Moral training enables us to control and guide our verbal and bodily actions. The second stage is mental training. Right Effort means the effort of avoiding or over coming evil and unwholesome things, and of cultivating and developing wholesome things. Right Mindfulness is awareness on contemplating the body, feelings, mind and mental objects (four applications of Satipatthana.) Right Concentration is one-pointedness of the mind, which eventually may lead to the four Absorptions (Jhanas). The third stage is wisdom. Right Understanding is of two kinds: mundane and supramundane. In the mundane sphere, the understanding is that it is good to give alms and offering (dana), that both good and evil actions (kusala and akusala kamma) will bear fruit and be followed by results. The supramundane understanding, conjoined with the Noble Path, is the penetration of the Four Noble Truths. Right Thoughts are threefold: thoughts free from sensual cravings, from ill-will, and from cruelty, for example, thoughts of renunciation of sensual cravings (nekkhama), thoughts of loving-kindness (metta), and thoughts of compassion (karuna).
Now I have given you a brief sketch of the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Noble Path, which form the bedrock of the Buddha Dhamma. A considerable number of Western-educated friends of mine are keen to practise the Dhamma but they have practically no idea from where to start. They say that the books are so deep and the teachers so erudite that they find them very difficult to understand. It is all so confusing and confounding, they complain. Some of them seek my help to put them on the right track.
Having been myself in the same plight, I explain to them that the books are not at fault neither are we to blame. We are the victims of circumstances. It is true that we are Buddhists but we have never had a reasonably sound Buddhist education. Although we know a string of Buddhist terms and can recite several stanzas, they are for us almost empty of content for practical purposes.
As the creatures born of the encounter between two different civilizations, it appears that many of us have inherited the vices of both and the virtues of none. One distinguishing feature of our hybrid life is that many of us have much more craving for sensual pleasures than our forebears. I often feel that we are like an old woman who spent half of her life-time to collect lots of knick knacks, and has been busy ever since in trying to get rid of them. Now that we feel like settling down in our own cultural setting and lead a Buddhist way of life we find that we are off our moorings. Fortunately, some of us have a start over the rest and can be of service of them.
To those who are in the same plight as my Western-educated friends, I must avail myself of this opportunity to make a short address. You need not be disheartened, much less despair. The Buddhist way of life is not as hard as you think. In fact, it is simple and straightforward. It promises hope and happiness. I take it that you have an abiding faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha. We recite daily the formula; I take refuge in the Buddha. I take refuge in the Dhamma. I take refuge in the Sangha.
That is called Saddha, faith or trustful confidence. The Buddhists are not idol worshippers. The images of the Buddha and the pagodas constantly remind us of the holy qualities of the Buddha and the practical values of His Teaching. Lights and incense, fruits and flowers offered at the shrines are the symbols of our deep respect for them. They must not be misunderstood to be a form of ritual. The Buddhist way of life imposes monks, who are the members of the Sangha, carry on the Buddha's Teaching from generation to generation. They learn the Dhamma, practise it, and become our teachers. Knowing their noble attributes, we support them with four requisites: food, robes, dwelling and medicine. They are not priests appointed to perform rites and rituals.
Five moral rules to be observed daily and eight moral rules that may be observed on Uposatha days are not precepts or commands. The Buddhist lay followers voluntarily take a vow that they will observe them, knowing that moral training is the foundation of the whole Buddhist practice. Alms can be offered to the Buddha and the Bhikkhus, and gifts can be made to all right down to the animals. Morality (sila) and almsgiving (dana) constitute two of the three meritorious activities, the last being mental development (bhavana).
I take it that you observe five moral rules every day, and give alms and tell beads occasionally. But most of us do these things in a customary manner, without or little knowing the essentials of the Buddha's Teaching.
Verse No. 183 of the Dhammapada summarizes the Buddha's Teaching: -
"Not to do evil, to cultivate good, and to purify one's mind, this is the teaching of the Buddhas."
What is associated with the roots of 3 craving (lobha), ill-will (dosa) and delusion (moha) is evil; what is associated with their opposites; generosity (alobha), good-will (adosa) and wisdom (amoha) is good.
How shall we avoid doing evil? How shall we cultivate good? How shall we purify our mind?
Let us start with moral training (sila). Buddhist morality is not, as it may appear from the negative formulations in the Sutta texts, something negative. It does not meant merely not-committing of evil actions, but is at each instance the clearly conscious and intentional restraint from the bad actions in question, and corresponds with the simultaneously arising volition (cetana). Moral training enables us to keep under control and guide our verbal and bodily actions. In other words, moral training enables us to avoid doing evil and to cultivate good. But moral training is not enough.
Just as we must clean our body daily, so must we cleanse our mind. To purify our mind we must have mental training (samadhi) It is of two kinds: Samatha bhavana Development of Tranquility and Vipassana bhavana (Development of Insight). These are the two parts in the system of Buddhist meditation. The Development of Tranquility aims at the full concentration or one-pointedness of the mind, attained in the meditative absorptions (Jhana). It must be borne in mind that in the Buddhist teaching, the Development of Tranquility or the Meditative Absorptions are only means to an end, and cannot lead, by themselves, to the highest goal of liberation which is attainable only through Insight.
The Development of Insight is therefore necessary. Here the mental phenomena present in the Absorptions and the bodily processes on which they are based, are analysed and viewed in the light of the three Characteristics of life: Impermanence (anicca), Suffering (dukkha), and Impersonality (anatta). Insight is the direct and penetrative realization of these three characteristics. It is in the nature of Insight to be free from craving (lobha), ill-will (dosa), and delusion (moha). To put it in the language of Anatta Lakkhana Sutta,** the Buddha's second sermon, the noble disciple sees things as they really are. He becomes disgusted with form, disgusted with feeling, disgusted with perception, disgusted with mental formations, and disgusted with consciousness. Becoming disgusted with all that, he gets detached, and from detachment he attains deliverance. And there is no more rebirth for him; he has led the holy life.
Even if we do not, or cannot as yet, reach the final liberation or deliverance, mental training enables us to keep under proper control our volitions and mental actions. Mental training leads us to wisdom (panna).
I have drawn your attention to the grouping of the eight links of the Noble Eightfold Path under three heads: Morality, (Sila),) Concentration, Samadhi) and Wisdom Panna). These three subjects are fully dealt with in the Venerable Buddhaghosa's Visuddhi Magga. Professor Pe Maung Tin's English translation "The Path of Purity" is out of print, but can be borrowed from International Institute of Advanced Buddhistic Studies and big libraries. Bhikkhu Nanamoli's English translation "The Path of Purification" is available in Ceylon. The Burmese translation is available at Union of Burma Buddha Sasana Council Press. With particular reference to meditation, I should like to refer you to Satipatthana Sutta,*** the Burmese and the English translations of which are available. The Buddha declares, "Satipatthana is the only way that leads to the attainment of purity, to the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, to the end of pain and grief, to the entering of the right path, and to the realization of Nibbana". From my own experience I may say that these two books are quite enough to guide us in the practice of the Dhamma, in our leading the Buddhist way of life. Of course, we also need at least a good teacher (monk or laymen) who will have a sympathetic understanding of our dual background.
Let us make right effort to see things as they really are. Then we shall become disgusted, at least, with sensual craving. Then we shall be able to cultivate detachment; detachment that will sooner or later lead us to deliverance.
The Buddha's final exhortation in His last sermon, Maha Parinibbana Sutta,**** is:
"Subject to change are all compounded things. Strive on with diligence"
* Vinaya Pitaka, Mahavagga, Pancavaggiyakatha, p. 14, 6th Syn. Ed.
** Samyutta Nikaya, Khandhavagga Pali, 1. Khandha Samyutta, 1. Upaya-vagga, 7. Anatta-lakkhana Sutta, p. 55, 6th Syn. Edn. See the Light of the Dhamma, Vol. No. 4, p. 36.
***Digha Nikaya, Mahavagga Pali, 99. Mahasatipatthana Sutta, p. 231, 6th Syn. Edn.
**** Digha Nikaya, Mahavagga, Maha-parinibbana Sutta, p. 61, 6th Syn. Edn,
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