E-mail: bdea@buddhanet.net
Web site: www.buddhanet.net
Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc.
Dr Peter Della Santina
Peter De//a Santina
rcc of
·n Introduction to the ´ajor
Traditions of Juddhism
Chico Dharma Study Foundation
Copyright C by Peter De//a Santina
iv v
About thc Author.................................................................................................................... viii
Author’s Notc..................................................................................................................................... x
Part One
he undamentals of uddhism
Chapter One
8uddhism: A Modcrn Pcrspcctivc......................................................................... .¡
Chapter Two
Tc Prc8uddhist 8ackground....................................................................................a·
Chapter ree
Tc Lilc ol thc 8uddha....................................................................................................... .6
Chapter Four
Tc Four Noblc Truths ....................................................................................................... ¡¡
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Mcntal Ðcvclopmcnt............................................................................................................. ·¡
Chapter Seven
Visdom.................................................................................................................................................. ·¡
Chapter Eight
Karma...................................................................................................................................................... o·
Chapter Nine
Rcbirth................................................................................................................................................. .c6
Chapter Ten
!ntcrdcpcndcnt Òrigination......................................................................................... ..o
iv v
Chapter Eleven
Tc Trcc Univcrsal Charactcristics.................................................................. .ao
Chapter Twelve
Tc Fivc Aggrcgatcs ............................................................................................................. .¡.
Chapter irteen
Tc Fundamcntals in Practicc .................................................................................. .¡·
Part Two
he ahayana
Chapter Fourteen
Tc Òrigins ol thc Mahayana Tradition........................................................ .·.
Chapter Fifteen
Tc Lotus Sutra......................................................................................................................... .6c
Chapter Sixteen
Tc Hcart Sutra......................................................................................................................... .6o
Chapter Seventeen
Tc Lankavatara Sutra....................................................................................................... .··
Chapter Eighteen
Tc Philosophy ol thc Middlc Vay.................................................................... .·6
Chapter Nineteen
Tc Philosophy ol Mind Ònly....................................................................................o·
Chapter Twenty
Tc Ðcvclopmcnt ol Mahayana Philosophy............................................ aco
Chapter Twenty-One
Mahayana 8uddhism in Practicc ........................................................................ aac
vi vii
Part ree
Thc îajrayana
Chapter Twenty-Two
Tc Òrigins ol thc \ajrayana Tradition..........................................................:.:
Chapter Twenty-ree
Philosophical and Rcligious Foundations...................................................:¡:
Chapter Twenty-Four
Mcthodology................................................................................................................................ :·c
Chapter Twenty-Five
Myth and Symbolism........................................................................................................ :6c
Chapter Twenty-Six
Psychology, Physiology, and Cosmology...................................................... :·.
Chapter Twenty-Seven
Tc Prcliminary Practiccs............................................................................................... :·.
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Tc \ajrayana !nitiation................................................................................................... :o:
Chapter Twenty-Nine
\ajrayana 8uddhism in Practicc............................................................................. .c:
Part Four
Thc ·bhidharma
Chapter irty
An !ntroduction to thc Abhidharma...................................................................c
vi vii
Chapter irty-One
Philosophy & Psychology in thc Abhidharma.........................................·
Chapter irty-Two
Mcthodology................................................................................................................................ .:¡
Chapter irty-ree
Analysis ol Consciousncss................................................................................................:
Chapter irty-Four
Tc Form and Formlcss Sphcrcs........................................................................... .¡c
Chapter irty-Five
Supramundanc Consciousncss................................................................................. .¡·
Chapter irty-Six
Analysis ol Mcntal Statcs.................................................................................................·6
Chapter irty-Seven
Analysis ol ToughtProccsscs................................................................................. .6¡
Chapter irty-Eight
Analysis ol Mattcr................................................................................................................... .·.
Chapter irty-Nine
Analysis ol Conditionality............................................................................................ .·o
Chapter Forty
Tc TirtyScvcn Factors ol ¡nlightcnmcnt .............................................··
Chapter Forty-One
Abhidharma in Ðaily Lilc............................................................................................ .o·
viii ix
·bout thc ·uthor
ctcr Ðclla Santina was born in thc USA. Hc has spcnt
many ycars studying and tcaching in South and ¡ast Asia.
Hc rcccivcd his 8A. in rcligion lrom Vcslcyan Univcrsity,
Middlctown, Connccticut, USA in .o·: and a MA in philoso
phy lrom thc Univcrsity ol Ðclhi, !ndia two ycars latcr. Hc did
his Ph.Ð. in 8uddhist Studics also lrom thc Univcrsity ol Ðclhi,
!ndia in .o·o.
Hc workcd lor thrcc ycars lor thc !nstitutc lor Advanccd
Studics ol world Rcligions, Fort Lcc, Ncw ]crscy as a rcscarch
scholar translating ·
ccntury 8uddhist philosophical tcxts lrom
thc Tibctan. Hc taught at scvcral Univcrsitics and 8uddhist ccn
tcrs in ¡uropc and Asia including, thc Univcrsity ol Pisa in !taly,
thc National Univcrsity ol Singaporc and Tibct Housc in Ðclhi,
!ndia. Hc was thc Coordinator ol thc 8uddhist Studics pro
jcct at thc Curriculum Ðcvclopmcnt !nstitutc ol Singaporc, a
dcpartmcnt ol thc Ministry ol ¡ducation lrom .o·. to .o··.
Morc rcccntly, hc was a scnior lcllow at thc !ndian !nstitutc
ol Advanccd Study, Simla, !ndia and taught Philosophy at thc
Fo Kuang Shan Acadcmy ol Chincsc 8uddhism, Kaohshiung,
For twcntynvc ycars Pctcr Ðclla Santina has bccn a studcnt
ol H.H. Sakya Trizin, lcadcr ol thc Sakya Òrdcr ol Tibctan
8uddhism and ol cmincnt abcts ol thc Sakya Tradition. Hc
has practiccd 8uddhist mcditation and has complctcd a num
bcr ol rctrcats.
viii ix
Hc has publishcd scvcral books and articlcs in acadcmic
journals including Nagarjuna’s Lcttcr to King Gautamiputra,
Ðclhi .o·· and .o·: and Madhyamaka Schools !n !ndia, Ðclhi
.o·6 and thc Madhyamaka and Modcrn Vcstcrn Philosophy,
Philosophy ¡ast and Vcst, Hawaii, .o·6.
x xi
·uthor’s ^otc
rom .o·. to .o·· whcn ! was in Singaporc cngagcd in thc
8uddhist studics projcct at thc Curriculum Ðcvclopmcnt
!nstitutc, ! was invitcd by thc Srilankaramaya 8uddhist Tcmplc
and a numbcr ol 8uddhist lricnds to dclivcr lour scrics ol lcc
turcs covcring somc ol thc major traditions ol 8uddhism. Tc
lccturcs wcrc popular, and thanks to thc cßorts ol Mr. Yco ¡ng
Chcn and othcrs, thcy wcrc rccordcd, transcribcd and printcd
lor limitcd lrcc distribution to studcnts ol thc Ðharma. !n thc
ycars sincc, thc lccturcs which originally appcarcd in thc lorm
ol lour scparatc booklcts havc rcmaincd popular and havc cvcn
bccn rcprintcd lrom timc to timc. Conscqucntly, it sccmcd to
mc to bc dcsirablc to collcct thc lour scrics ol lccturcs in onc vol
umc, and altcr appropriatc rcvision to publish thcm lor thc gcn
cral usc ol thc public.
!n kccping with thc original objcctivcs ol thc lccturcs, this
book is – as lar as possiblc – nontcchnical. !t is intcndcd lor ordi
nary rcadcrs not having any spccial cxpcrtisc in 8uddhist stud
ics or in 8uddhist canonical languagcs. Òriginal languagc tcrms
havc thcrclorc bccn kcpt to a minimum and loot notcs havc bccn
avoidcd. Namcs ol tcxts citcd arc somctimcs lclt untranslatcd,
but this is bccausc thc ¡nglish rcndcrings ol somc titlcs arc awk
ward and hardly makc thcir subjcct mattcr morc clcar. !n bricl
! hopc that this book will scrvc as thc bcginning ol its rcadcrs’
8uddhist cducation and not thc cnd ol it. Tc book can supply
a gcncral introduction to thc major traditions ol 8uddhism, but
x xi
it docs not prctcnd to bc complctc or dcnnitivc. Ncithcr can !
honcstly amrm that it is altogcthcr lrcc lrom crrors, and thcrc
lorc ! apologizc in advancc lor any that may rcmain in spitc ol
my bcst cßorts.
A numbcr ol original languagc tcrms and pcrsonal namcs
which havc by now cntcrcd thc ¡nglish languagc such as
‘Ðharma’, ‘karma’, ‘Nirvana’ and ‘Shakyamuni’ havc bccn uscd
throughout thc book in thcir Sanskrit lorms. As lor thc rcst, Pali
original languagc tcrms, tcxt titlcs and pcrsonal namcs havc bccn
rctaincd in parts ! and !\ which arc largcly bascd on Pali sourccs,
whilc Sanskrit original languagc tcchnical tcrms, tcxt titlcs and
pcrsonal namcs havc bccn uscd in parts !! and !!! which arc
largcly bascd on Sanskrit and Tibctan sourccs. Òccasionally, this
gcncral rulc has bccn ignorcd whcn thc namcs ol tcxts and pcr
sons rclcrrcd to in a givcn contcxt actually occur in anothcr onc
ol thc canonical languagcs. !n as much as Pali and Sanskrit arc
in most cascs quitc similar, ! trust thc avcragc rcadcr will havc
no dimculty in coping with this arrangcmcnt.
! owc a grcat dcbt to a vcry largc numbcr ol pcoplc lor thc
rcalization ol this book. First and lorcmost, ! would likc to thank
H.H. Sakya Trizin without whom my intcrcst in 8uddhism
might wcll havc rcmaincd supcrncial and mcrcly intcllcctual.
Ncxt ! would likc to thank Yco ¡ng Chcn and many othcr mcm
bcrs ol thc Singaporc 8uddhist community without whosc hclp
and cncouragcmcnt thc lccturcs would ncvcr havc bccn dclivcrcd
and thc original transcripts on which this book is bascd, ncvcr
madc. Tcn, ! would also likc to thank a grcat many lricnds
and studcnts in Asia, ¡uropc and Amcrica who cncouragcd mc
to think thc lccturcs might bc usclul lor an cvcn widcr rcadcr
ship. Finally, ! want to thank all thosc who havc bccn involvcd
in thc actual prcparation ol thc prcscnt book. Tcy includc, thc
mcmbcrs ol thc Chico Ðharma study group, spccially, ]o and
]im Murphy, \ictoria Scott lor hcr hclp with thc manuscript,
L. ]amspal lor his hclp with thc original languagc tcrms, my
wilc Krishna Ghosh lor thc many hours shc spcnt chccking thc
manuscript, and my son Siddhartha Ðclla Santina lor thc covcr
dcsign and lormatting ol thc manuscript.
!n conclusion, ! would likc to add that by oßcring this book
to thc public, thc Chico Ðharma Study Group hopcs to ini
tiatc a program whcrcby 8uddhist Studics matcrials may bc
madc availablc lrcc ol commcrcial considcrations to studcnts ol
8uddhism through a varicty ol mcdia. For thc timc bcing, thc
prcscnt book will bc availablc not only in hard copy, but also
ovcr thc intcrnct. !n thc luturc, thc Chico Ðharma Study Group
plans to producc and makc availablc important matcrials in thc
nclds ol 8uddhist philosophy, practicc and lolk lorc, including
matcrials lor childrcn and young adults. Vc wclcomc thc hclp
ol anyonc who would likc to contributc in any way to thc cdu
cational activitics ol thc group and wc invitc you to contact us
with your suggcstions.
Pctcr Ðclla Santina
· ]uly, .oo· Chico, Calilornia, USA.
Chico Ðharma Study Group
:6 Kirk Vay, Chico, CA. o·o:·
¡mail: dsantinaCccst.csuchico.cdu
www: http://www.ccst.csuchico.cdu/~dsantina/
art Onc
Te Tundamenta/s of Juddhism
.¡ .·
Æuddhism: · ´odcrn +crspcuivc
n Part Ònc ol this book, it is my intcntion to covcr what !
would likc to call thc lundamcntals ol 8uddhism, that is, thc
basic tcaching ol 8uddhism. Tis survcy will includc thc Lilc ol
thc 8uddha, thc Four Noblc Truths, thc Noblc ¡ightlold Path,
karma, rcbirth, intcrdcpcndcnt origination, thc thrcc univcrsal
charactcristics, and thc tcaching ol thc nvc aggrcgatcs. 8clorc
thc actual trcatmcnt ol thcsc basic topics, ! would likc to dcal
nrst with thc notion ol 8uddhism in pcrspcctivc, and that a mod
crn pcrspcctivc. Tcrc arc many ways in which pcoplc ol dißcr
cnt timcs and dißcrcnt culturcs havc approachcd 8uddhism, but
! bclicvc it may bc cspccially usclul to contrast thc modcrn atti
tudc toward 8uddhism with thc traditional attitudc toward it.
Tis kind ol comparativc considcration may provc usclul bccausc
undcrstanding how pcoplc ol dißcrcnt timcs and culturcs vicw a
particular phcnomcnon can bcgin to show us thc limitations ol
our own particular pcrspcctivc.
8uddhism has awakcncd considcrablc intcrcst in thc Vcst,
and thcrc arc many pcrsons who cnjoy positions ol somc notc
in wcstcrn socicty who arc cithcr 8uddhist or sympathctic to
8uddhism. Tis is pcrhaps most clcarly cxcmplincd by thc
rcmark said to havc bccn madc by thc grcat twcnticthccntury
scicntist Albcrt ¡instcin, that although hc was not a rcligious
man, il hc had bccn onc, hc would havc bccn a 8uddhist. At
nrst glancc it may sccm surprising that such a rcmark should
bc madc by onc rcgardcd as thc lathcr ol modcrn wcstcrn sci
.¡ .·
cncc. Howcvcr, il wc look morc closcly at contcmporary wcst
crn socicty, wc nnd a 8uddhist astrophysicist in Francc, a psy
chologist who is a 8uddhist in !taly, and a lcading ¡nglish
judgc who is onc, too. !ndccd, it would not bc too much to say
that 8uddhism is last bccoming thc lavoritc choicc ol wcstcrn
crs who bclong to thc clitc in thc arcas ol scicncc and art. ! will
look at thc rcasons lor this in a momcnt, but bclorc doing so, !
would likc to comparc this situation with that lound in tradi
tionally 8uddhist communitics and countrics. Takc, lor cxam
plc, thc situation among thc traditionally 8uddhist communi
tics ol Southcast and ¡ast Asia.
!n ¡uropc and Amcrica, 8uddhism is gcncrally bclicvcd to
bc morc than usually advanccd in its thought, rigorously ratio
nal, and sophisticatcd. ! will not attcmpt to conccal thc lact that
it camc as quitc a shock to mc whcn ! nrst wcnt to Southcast
Asia and lound that many pcoplc thcrc vicw 8uddhism as old
lashioncd, irrational, and bound up with outdatcd supcrstitions.
Tis is onc ol two prcvalcnt attitudcs that obstruct thc apprcci
ation ol 8uddhism in such traditionally 8uddhist communitics.
Tc othcr popular misconccption that amicts 8uddhism in such
communitics is thc notion that it is so dccp and so abstract that
no onc can cvcr possibly undcrstand it. Pcrhaps it is thc intcl
lcctual arrogancc ol thc Vcst that has savcd ¡uropcans and
Amcricans lrom this abcrration. !n short, whcn ! look at thc
common attitudcs prcvailing in thc Vcst and in thc ¡ast toward
8uddhism, ! nnd a radical contrast. Tis is why ! want to bcgin
our cxamination ol 8uddhism with a considcration ol altcrna
tivc pcrspcctivcs.
!n thc Vcst, 8uddhism has a ccrtain imagc in thc popular
.6 .·
mind, whilc in traditionally 8uddhist communitics, 8uddhism
has an altogcthcr dißcrcnt imagc. Tc dismissivc attitudc that
prcvails in such communitics has to bc ovcrcomc bclorc pcoplc
thcrc can rcally bcgin to apprcciatc thc tcaching ol thc 8uddha.
!n this way pcoplc cvcrywhcrc can acquirc thc balanccd pcrspcc
tivc nccdcd to approach 8uddhism without prcjudicc and prc
conccivcd idcas. Conscqucntly, this introduction to 8uddhism
is intcndcd not only lor pcoplc in thc Vcst but also lor pcoplc
in traditionally 8uddhist communitics who may havc bccomc
cstrangcd lrom thc rcligion lor a varicty ol social and cultural
rcasons. !t should also bc said, ol coursc, that thc imagc ol
8uddhism common in thc Vcst may bc limitcd in its own way,
but ! hopc that, in thc chaptcrs that lollow, a clcar and objcctivc
prcscntation ol thc traditions ol 8uddhism will, nnally, cmcrgc.
For thc momcnt, to turn again to thc wcstcrn attitudc
toward 8uddhism, onc ol thc nrst lcaturcs wc can apprcciatc
about it is thc lact that it is not culturcbound, that is to say, it
is not rcstrictcd to any particular socicty, racc, or cthnic group.
Tcrc arc somc rcligions that arc culturcbound: ]udaism is onc
cxamplc, Hinduism is anothcr. Howcvcr, 8uddhism is not sim
ilarly constraincd. Tat is why, historically, wc havc had thc
dcvclopmcnt ol !ndian 8uddhism, Sri Lankan 8uddhism, Tai
8uddhism, 8urmcsc 8uddhism, Chincsc 8uddhism, ]apancsc
8uddhism, Tibctan 8uddhism, and so on. !n thc ncar luturc,
! havc no doubt that wc will scc thc cmcrgcncc ol ¡nglish
8uddhism, Frcnch 8uddhism, !talian 8uddhism, Amcrican
8uddhism, and thc likc. All this is possiblc bccausc 8uddhism
is not culturcbound. !t movcs vcry casily lrom onc cultural con
tcxt to anothcr bccausc its cmphasis is on intcrnal practicc rathcr
.6 .·
than cxtcrnal lorms ol rcligious bchavior. !ts cmphasis is on thc
way cach practitioncr dcvclops his or hcr own mind, not on how
hc drcsscs, thc kind ol lood hc cats, thc way hc wcars his hair,
and so lorth.
Tc sccond point to which ! would likc to draw your attcn
tion is thc pragmatism ol 8uddhism, that is to say, its practical
oricntation. 8uddhism addrcsscs a practical problcm. !t is not
intcrcstcd in acadcmic qucstions and mctaphysical thcorics. Tc
8uddhist approach is to idcntily a rcal problcm and dcal with it
in a practical way. Again, this attitudc is vcry much in kccping
with wcstcrn conccptions ol utilitarianism and scicntinc prob
lcmsolving. \cry bricßy, wc might say thc 8uddhist approach
is cncapsulatcd in thc maxim, “!l it works, usc it.” Tis attitudc
is an intcgral part ol modcrn wcstcrn political, cconomic, and
scicntinc practicc.
Tc pragmatic approach ol 8uddhism is cxprcsscd vcry
clcarly in thc Chulamalunkya Sutta, a discoursc in which thc
8uddha himscll madc usc ol thc parablc ol a woundcd man. !n
thc story, a man woundcd by an arrow wishcs to know who shot
thc arrow, thc dircction lrom which it camc, whcthcr thc arrow
hcad is bonc or iron, and whcthcr thc shalt is onc kind ol wood
or anothcr bclorc hc will lct thc arrow bc rcmovcd. His attitudc
is likcncd to that ol pcoplc who want to know about thc ori
gin ol thc univcrsc – whcthcr it is ctcrnal or not, nnitc in spacc
or not, and so on – bclorc thcy will undcrtakc to practicc a rcli
gion. Such pcoplc will dic bclorc thcy cvcr havc thc answcrs to
all thcir irrclcvant qucstions, just as thc man in thc parablc will
dic bclorc hc has all thc answcrs hc sccks about thc origin and
naturc ol thc arrow.
.· .o
Tis story illustratcs thc practical oricntation ol thc 8uddha
and 8uddhism. !t has a grcat dcal to tcll us about thc wholc
qucstion ol prioritics and scicntinc problcmsolving. Vc will not
makc much progrcss in thc dcvclopmcnt ol wisdom il wc ask thc
wrong qucstions. !t is csscntially a mattcr ol prioritics. Tc nrst
priority lor all ol us is thc rcduction and cvcntual climination ol
sußcring. Tc 8uddha rccognizcd this and conscqucntly pointcd
out thc lutility ol spcculating about thc origin and naturc ol thc
univcrsc – prcciscly bccausc, likc thc man in thc parablc, wc havc
all bccn struck down by an arrow, thc arrow ol sußcring.
Tus wc must ask qucstions that arc dircctly rclatcd to thc
rcmoval ol thc arrow ol sußcring and not wastc our prccious
timc on irrclcvant inquirics. Tis idca can bc cxprcsscd in a vcry
simplc way. Vc can all scc that, in our daily livcs, wc constantly
makc choiccs bascd on prioritics. For instancc, supposc you arc
cooking and dccidc that, whilc thc pot ol bcans is boiling, you
will dust thc lurniturc or swccp thc ßoor. 8ut as you arc occu
picd with this task, you suddcnly smcll somcthing burning: you
thcn havc to choosc whcthcr to carry on with your dusting or
swccping or go immcdiatcly to thc stovc to turn down thc ßamc
and thcrcby savc your dinncr. !n thc samc way, il wc want to
makc progrcss toward wisdom, wc must clcarly rccognizc our
prioritics. Tis point is madc vcry niccly in thc parablc ol thc
woundcd man.
Tc third point ! would likc to discuss is thc tcaching on thc
importancc ol vcrilying thc truth by mcans ol rccoursc to pcr
sonal cxpcricncc. Tis point is madc vcry clcarly by thc 8uddha
in his advicc to thc Kalamas containcd in thc Kesaputtiya Sutta.
Tc Kalamas wcrc a community ol towndwcllcrs in somc ways
.· .o
vcry much likc pcoplc in thc contcmporary world, who arc
cxposcd to so many dißcrcnt and oltcn conßicting vcrsions ol
thc truth. Tcy wcnt to thc 8uddha and askcd him how thcy
wcrc to judgc thc truth ol thc conßicting claims madc by various
rcligious tcachcrs. Tc 8uddha told thcm not to acccpt anything
mcrcly on thc basis ol purportcd authority, nor to acccpt any
thing simply bccausc it is containcd in sacrcd tcxt, nor to acccpt
anything on thc basis ol common opinion, nor bccausc it sccms
rcasonablc, nor yct again bccausc ol rcvcrcncc lor a tcachcr. Hc
cvcn wcnt so lar as to advisc thcm not to acccpt his own tcaching
without vcrincation ol its truth through pcrsonal cxpcricncc.
Tc 8uddha askcd thc Kalamas to tcst whatcvcr thcy might
hcar in thc light ol thcir own cxpcricncc. Ònly whcn thcy camc
to know lor thcmsclvcs that such and such things wcrc harm
lul should thcy scck to abandon thcm. Altcrnativcly, whcn thcy
camc to know lor thcmsclvcs that ccrtain things wcrc bcncn
cial – that thcy wcrc conducivc to pcacc and tranquillity – thcn
thcy should scck to cultivatc thcm. Vc, too, must judgc thc
truth ol whatcvcr wc arc taught in thc light ol our own pcrsonal
!n his advicc to thc Kalamas, ! think wc can scc clcarly thc
8uddha’s doctrinc ol scllrcliancc in thc acquisition ol know
lcdgc. Vc ought to usc our own minds as a kind ol privatc tcst
tubc. Vc can all scc lor oursclvcs that whcn grccd and angcr arc
prcscnt in our minds, thcy lcad to disquict and sußcring. 8y thc
samc tokcn, wc can all scc lor oursclvcs that whcn grccd and
angcr arc abscnt lrom our minds, it rcsults in tranquillity and
happincss. Tis is a vcry simplc pcrsonal cxpcrimcnt that wc can
all do. Tc vcrincation ol thc validity ol tcachings in thc light ol
:c :.
onc’s own pcrsonal cxpcricncc is vcry important, bccausc what
thc 8uddha taught will only bc cßcctivc, will only rcally succccd
in changing our livcs, il wc can carry out this kind ol pcrsonal
cxpcrimcnt and makc thc tcaching our vcry own. Ònly whcn wc
can vcrily thc truth ol thc 8uddha’s tcachings by rccoursc to our
own cxpcricncc can wc bc surc that wc arc making progrcss on
thc path to thc climination ol sußcring.
Again wc can scc a striking similarity bctwccn thc approach
ol thc 8uddha and thc scicntinc approach to thc qucst lor know
lcdgc. Tc 8uddha strcsscd thc importancc ol objcctivc obscr
vation, which is in a scnsc thc kcy to thc 8uddhist mcthod lor
acquiring knowlcdgc. !t is objcctivc obscrvation that yiclds thc
nrst ol thc Four Noblc Truths, thc truth ol sußcring, it is obscr
vation that vcrincs onc’s progrcss along thc stcps ol thc path, and
it is obscrvation that connrms thc rcalization ol thc complctc
ccssation ol sußcring. Tcrclorc, at thc bcginning, in thc mid
dlc, and at thc cnd ol thc 8uddhist path to libcration, thc rolc ol
obscrvation is csscntial.
Tis is not vcry dißcrcnt lrom thc rolc playcd by objcctivc
obscrvation in thc scicntinc tradition ol thc Vcst. Tc scicn
tinc tradition tcachcs that whcn wc obscrvc a problcm, wc must
nrst lormulatc a gcncral thcory and thcn a spccinc hypothc
sis. Tc samc proccdurc obtains in thc casc ol thc Four Noblc
Truths. Hcrc thc gcncral thcory is that all things must havc a
causc, whilc thc spccinc hypothcsis is that thc causc ol sußcring
is craving and ignorancc (thc sccond noblc truth). Tis hypothc
sis can bc vcrincd by thc cxpcrimcntal mcthod cmbodicd in thc
stcps ol thc ¡ightlold Path. 8y mcans ol thc stcps ol this path,
thc soundncss ol thc sccond noblc truth can bc cstablishcd. !n
:c :.
addition, thc rcality ol thc third noblc truth, thc ccssation ol
sußcring, can bc vcrincd, bccausc through cultivating thc path
craving and ignorancc arc climinatcd and thc suprcmc happi
ncss ol nirvana is attaincd. Tis cxpcrimcntal proccss is rcpcat
ablc, in kccping with sound scicntinc practicc: not only did thc
8uddha attain thc cnd ol sußcring but so, too, wc can scc his
torically, did all thosc who lollowcd his path to thc cnd.
Tcrclorc, whcn wc look closcly at thc tcaching ol thc
8uddha, wc nnd that his approach has a grcat dcal in com
mon with thc approach ol scicncc. Tis has naturally arouscd
a trcmcndous amount ol intcrcst in 8uddhism among modcrn
mindcd pcoplc. Vc can bcgin to scc why ¡instcin was ablc to
makc a rcmark likc thc onc crcditcd to him. Tc gcncral agrcc
mcnt bctwccn thc 8uddhist approach and that ol modcrn sci
cncc will bccomc cvcn clcarcr whcn wc cxaminc thc 8uddhist
attitudc toward thc lacts ol cxpcricncc, which, likc that ol sci
cncc, is analytical.
According to thc tcaching ol thc 8uddha, thc data ol cxpc
ricncc arc dividcd into two componcnts, thc objcctivc compo
ncnt and thc subjcctivc componcnt, in othcr words, thc things
wc pcrccivc around us, and wc oursclvcs, thc subjcctivc pcrcciv
crs. 8uddhism has long bccn notcd lor its analytical approach in
thc nclds ol philosophy and psychology. Vhat is mcant by this
is that thc 8uddha analyzcd thc lacts ol cxpcricncc into vari
ous componcnts or lactors. Tc most basic ol thcsc componcnts
arc thc nvc aggrcgatcs: lorm, lccling, pcrccption, volition, and
consciousncss. Tcsc nvc aggrcgatcs can bc vicwcd in tcrms ol
thc cightccn clcmcnts, and thcrc is also an cvcn morc claboratc
analysis in tcrms ol thc scvcntytwo lactors.
:: :.
Tc proccdurc adoptcd hcrc is analytical inasmuch as it
brcaks up thc data ol cxpcricncc into thcir various compo
ncnts. Tc 8uddha was not satisncd with a vaguc conccption
ol cxpcricncc in gcncral, rathcr, hc analyzcd cxpcricncc, probcd
its csscncc, and brokc it down into its componcnts, just as wc
might brcak down thc phcnomcnon ol a chariot into thc whccls,
thc axlc, thc body, and so lorth. Tc objcct ol this cxcrcisc is to
gain a bcttcr idca ol how thcsc phcnomcna lunction. Vhcn, lor
instancc, wc scc a ßowcr, hcar a piccc ol music, or mcct with a
lricnd, all thcsc cxpcricnccs arisc as thc dircct rcsult ol a combi
nation ol componcnt clcmcnts.
Tis has bccn callcd thc analytical approach ol 8uddhism,
and again, it is not at all strangc to modcrn scicncc and philos
ophy. Vc nnd thc analytical approach vcry widcly applicd in
scicncc, whilc in philosophy thc analytical approach has char
actcrizcd thc thought ol many ¡uropcan philosophcrs, pcrhaps
most clcarly and rcccntly that ol 8crtrand Russcll. Studics havc
bccn donc comparing his analytical philosophy quitc succcss
lully with that ol carly 8uddhism. Conscqucntly, in wcstcrn sci
cncc and philosophy, wc nnd a vcry closc parallcl to thc analyt
ical mcthod as it is taught within thc 8uddhist tradition. Tis is
onc ol thc lamiliar and rccognizablc lcaturcs that has attractcd
modcrn wcstcrn intcllcctuals and acadcmics to 8uddhist phi
losophy. Modcrn psychologists, too, arc now dccply intcrcstcd
in thc 8uddhist analysis ol thc various lactors ol consciousncss:
lccling, pcrccption, and volition. Tcy arc turning in incrcasing
numbcrs to thc ancicnt tcaching ol thc 8uddha to gain grcatcr
insight into thcir own disciplinc.
Tis growing intcrcst in thc tcaching ol thc 8uddha – provokcd
:: :.
by thcsc many arcas ol amnity bctwccn 8uddhist thought and
thc major currcnts ol modcrn scicncc, philosophy, and psycholo
gy – has rcachcd its apcx in thc twcnticth ccntury with thc star
tling suggcstions advanccd by rclativity thcory and quantum
physics, which rcprcscnt thc vcry latcst dcvclopmcnts in cxpcr
imcntal and thcorctical scicncc. Hcrc, again, it is cvidcnt not
only that thc 8uddha anticipatcd thc primary mcthods ol sci
cncc (namcly, obscrvation, cxpcrimcntation, and analysis), but
also that, in somc ol thcir most spccinc conclusions about thc
naturc ol man and thc univcrsc, 8uddhism and scicncc actually
For cxamplc, thc importancc ol consciousncss in thc lor
mation ol cxpcricncc, so long ignorcd in thc Vcst, has now
bccn rccognizcd. Not long ago, a notcd physicist rcmarkcd that
thc univcrsc may rcally bc just somcthing likc a grcat thought.
Tis vcry clcarly lollows in thc lootstcps ol thc tcaching ol thc
8uddha cxprcsscd in thc Dhammapada, whcrc it is said that thc
mind is thc makcr ol all things. Likcwisc, thc rclativity ol mat
tcr and cncrgy – thc rccognition that thcrc is no radical division
bctwccn mind and mattcr – has now bccn connrmcd by thc most
rcccnt dcvclopmcnts in modcrn cxpcrimcntal scicncc.
Tc conscqucncc ol all this is that, in thc contcxt ol contcm
porary wcstcrn culturc, scicntists, psychologists, and philoso
phcrs havc lound in 8uddhism a tradition in harmony with somc
ol thc most basic principlcs ol wcstcrn thought. !n addition, thcy
nnd 8uddhism particularly intcrcsting bccausc, although thc
principal mcthods and conclusions ol thc wcstcrn scicntinc tra
dition oltcn closcly rcscmblc thosc ol 8uddhism, wcstcrn scicncc
has thus lar suggcstcd no practical way ol achicving an inncr
:¡ :·
translormation, whcrcas in 8uddhism such a way is clcarly indi
catcd. Vhilc scicncc has taught us to build bcttcr citics, cxprcss
ways, lactorics, and larms, it has not taught us to build bcttcr
pcoplc. Tcrclorc pcoplc in thc contcmporary world arc turn
ing to 8uddhism, an ancicnt philosophy that has many lcaturcs
in common with thc wcstcrn scicntinc tradition but that gocs
bcyond thc matcrialism ol thc Vcst, bcyond thc limits ol prac
tical scicncc as wc havc known it thus lar.
:¡ :·
Tc +rc-Æuddhist Æackground
lthough studics ol 8uddhism usually bcgin with thc lilc ol
thc 8uddha, thc historical loundcr ol thc laith, ! would likc
nrst to cxaminc thc situation that prcvailcd in !ndia bclorc thc
timc ol thc 8uddha, that is to say, thc prc8uddhist background
ol 8uddhism. ! pcrsonally bclicvc such an cxamination to bc
particularly hclplul bccausc it cnablcs us to undcrstand thc lilc
and tcaching ol thc 8uddha in a broadcr historical and cultural
contcxt. Tis sort ol rctrospcctivc cxamination can hclp us bcttcr
undcrstand thc naturc ol 8uddhism in particular, and pcrhaps,
too, thc naturc ol !ndian philosophy and rcligion in gcncral.
! would likc to bcgin our cxamination ol thc origin and
dcvclopmcnt ol !ndian philosophy and rcligion with a gco
graphical analogy. !n thc north ol thc !ndian subcontincnt arc
two grcat rivcrs, thc Gangcs and thc Yamuna. Tcsc two grcat
rivcrs havc scparatc sourccs in thc high Himalayas, and thcir
courscs rcmain quitc scparatc lor thc bcttcr part ol thcir grcat
lcngth. Gradually thcy draw ncarcr to cach othcr and cvcntually
unitc in thc plains ol northcrn !ndia, ncar thc city now known as
Allahabad. From thcir point ol conßucncc thcy ßow on togcthcr
until thcy cmpty into thc 8ay ol 8cngal.
Tc gcography ol thcsc two grcat rivcrs cxcmplincs thc ori
gin and dcvclopmcnt ol !ndian philosophy and rcligion bccausc
in !ndian culturc, as in !ndian gcography, thcrc arc two grcat
currcnts ol thought that wcrc originally quitc dißcrcnt and dis
tinct in charactcr. For many ccnturics thc coursc ol thcsc two
:6 :·
rcmaincd scparatc and distinct, but cvcntually thcy drcw closcr
togcthcr, mcrgcd, and continucd to ßow on togcthcr, almost
indistinguishablc lrom cach othcr, right up to thc prcscnt day.
Pcrhaps as wc procccd with our cxamination ol thc prc8uddhist
culturc ol !ndia, wc can bcar in mind thc imagc ol thcsc rivcrs
whosc origins wcrc scparatc, but which at a ccrtain point mcrgcd
and continucd togcthcr to thc sca.
Vhcn wc look into thc vcry carly history ol !ndia, wc nnd
that, in thc third millcnnium n.c.v., thcrc was a vcry highly
dcvclopcd civilization on thc subcontincnt. Tis civilization was
casily as old as thosc which arc callcd thc cradlcs ol human cul
turc, such as thc civilizations ol ¡gypt and 8abylon. !t ßour
ishcd lrom about :·cc to .·cc n.c.v. and was known as thc
!ndus \allcy, or thc Harappan, civilization. !t cxtcndcd lrom
what is now wcstcrn Pakistan south to a point ncar prcscntday
8ombay and cast to a point ncar Shimla, in thc loothills ol thc
!l you look at a map ol Asia, you will at oncc rcalizc that
thc gcographical cxtcnt ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization was
immcnsc. And not only was this civilization stablc lor a thou
sand ycars, it was also vcry advanccd, both matcrially and spiri
tually. Matcrially, thc !ndus \allcy civilization was agrarian and
cxhibitcd a grcat dcgrcc ol skill in irrigation and urban planning.
Tcrc is cvidcncc that thc pcoplc ol this civilization had cvolvcd
a systcm ol mathcmatics bascd on a binary modcl – thc samc
modcl cmploycd in modcrn computing. Tc !ndus \allcy civi
lization was litcratc and dcvclopcd a script that rcmains largcly
undcciphcrcd to datc. (Tc mcaning ol thc !ndus \allcy script is
onc ol thc grcat unsolvcd mystcrics ol linguistic archacology.) !n
:6 :·
addition, thcrc is amplc cvidcncc that thc civilization cnjoycd a
vcry highly dcvclopcd spiritual culturc. Archacological discov
crics at two major sitcs, Mohcnjodaro and Harappa, bcar wit
ncss to this.
Tc pcacclul unlolding ol thc lilc ol this grcat ancicnt civi
lization was rathcr abruptly intcrruptcd somctimc bctwccn .·cc
and .·cc n.c.v., cithcr by somc natural disastcr or by an invasion.
Vhat is ccrtain is that, simultancous with or vcry soon altcr thc
dcmisc ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization, thc subcontincnt was
invadcd lrom thc northwcst – just as, ccnturics latcr, Muslim
invadcrs wcrc to comc lrom that dircction. Tc invading pcoplc
wcrc known as Aryans. Tis tcrm dcsignatcd a pcoplc who orig
inally bclongcd to a rcgion somcwhcrc in ¡astcrn ¡uropc, pcr
haps thc stcppcs ol modcrn Poland and thc Ukrainc. Tc Aryans
wcrc vcry dißcrcnt lrom thc pcoplc ol thc !ndus \allcy civiliza
tion. Vhcrcas thc lattcr had bccn agrarian and scdcntary, thc
Aryans wcrc nomadic and pastoral. Tcy wcrc unuscd to urban
lilc. A warlikc and cxpansionist pcoplc, thcy livcd in largc part
on thc spoils ol conqucst won lrom thc pcoplcs thcy subjugatcd
in thc coursc ol thcir migrations. Vhcn thc Aryans arrivcd in
!ndia, thcy vcry soon bccamc thc dominant civilization, and
altcr thc middlc ol thc sccond millcnnium n.c.v., !ndian socicty
was largcly dominatcd by Aryan valucs.
Lct us now look at thc rcligious attitudcs ol thc pcoplc ol
thc !ndus \allcy civilization and ol thc Aryan civilization. Tis
is ol particular intcrcst to us. As ! havc said, thc !ndus \allcy
civilization had a writtcn languagc which wc havc thus lar bccn
unablc to dcciphcr. Noncthclcss, our knowlcdgc ol thc civiliza
tion is dcrivcd lrom two rcliablc sourccs: thc archacological dis
:· :o
covcrics at Mohcnjodaro and Harappa, and thc writtcn rccords
ol thc Aryans, who dcscribcd thc rcligious bchavior and bclicls
ol thc pcoplc thcy camc to dominatc.
Archacological cxcavations havc rcvcalcd a numbcr ol sym
bols important to thc pcoplc ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization.
Tcsc symbols havc rcligious signincancc and arc also sacrcd
to 8uddhism. Tcy includc thc pipal trcc (latcr known as thc
bodhi trcc, or fcus religiosa), and animals such as thc clcphant
and dccr. Pcrhaps most signincant, thc imagc ol a human ngurc
has bccn lound that is scatcd in a crosslcggcd posturc, hands
rcsting on thc knccs and cycs narrowcd – clcarly suggcstivc ol
thc attitudc ol mcditation. Vith thc hclp ol thcsc archacologi
cal discovcrics and othcr cvidcncc, cmincnt scholars havc con
cludcd that thc origins ol thc practiccs ol yoga and mcditation
can bc traccd to thc !ndus \allcy civilization. Morcovcr, whcn
wc study thc dcscriptions ol thc rcligious practiccs ol thc pco
plc ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization lound in thc writtcn rccords
ol thc carly Aryans, thc Vedas, wc nnd thc ngurc ol thc wandcr
ing ascctic lrcqucntly mcntioncd. Tcsc ascctics arc said to havc
practiccd mcthods ol mind training, to havc bccn cclibatc, nakcd
or clothcd in thc most mcagcr ol garmcnts, to havc had no nxcd
abodc, and to havc taught thc way bcyond birth and dcath.
Putting togcthcr thc cvidcncc gathcrcd lrom thc archaco
logical nndings at thc major sitcs ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization
and that lound in thc carly rccords ol thc Aryans, thc picturc
that cmcrgcs ol thc rcligious attitudcs and practiccs ol thc pco
plc ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization, whilc skctchy, is clcar cnough
in its csscntials. Tc rcligion ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization cvi
dcntly containcd scvcral important clcmcnts. First ol all, mcdi
:· :o
tation, or thc practicc ol training thc mind, was clcarly prcs
cnt. Sccond, thc practicc ol rcnunciation – that is to say, aban
doning houschold lilc and living thc lilc ol a homclcss ascctic,
or mcndicant – was also common. Tird, it is clcar that thcrc
was somc conccption ol rcbirth or rcincarnation occurring ovcr
thc coursc ol a countlcss numbcr ol livcs, and, lourth, a scnsc
ol moral rcsponsibility cxtcnding bcyond this lilc – that is to say,
somc lorm ol thc conccption ol karma. Last, thcrc was a par
amount goal ol rcligious lilc – namcly, thc goal ol libcration, ol
lrccdom lrom thc cndlcss cyclc ol birth and dcath. Tcsc wcrc
thc outstanding lcaturcs ol thc rcligion ol thc carlicst civiliza
tion ol !ndia.
Ncxt, lct us look at thc rcligion ol thc carly Aryan pcoplc,
which contrastcd sharply with that ol thc !ndus \allcy civili
zation. !ndccd, it would bc dimcult to nnd two rcligious cul
turcs morc radically dißcrcnt. Constructing a complctc picturc
ol thc rcligious attitudcs and practiccs ol thc carly Aryans is
much simplcr than doing so lor thc !ndus \allcy pcoplc. Vhcn
thc Aryans arrivcd in !ndia, thcy brought with thcm a rcligion
that was complctcly sccular in naturc. As ! havc said, thcy wcrc
an cxpansionist socicty – a pionccr socicty, il you likc. Tcir ori
gins lay in ¡astcrn ¡uropc, and thcir rcligion in many ways
rcscmblcd that ol thc ancicnt Grccks. !l you look at dcscrip
tions ol thc gods who composcd thc Grcck panthcon, you will
not lail to noticc striking parallcls bctwccn thc two. Tc Aryans
rcvcrcd a numbcr ol gods who wcrc pcrsonincations ol natural
phcnomcna, including !ndra (not unlikc Zcus), thc god ol thun
dcr and lightning, Agni, thc god ol nrc, and \aruna, thc god ol
watcr – to namc just a lcw.
.c ..
Vhcrcas in thc rcligion ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization thc
ascctic was thc prccmincnt rcligious ngurc, in thc Aryan rcli
gious cstablishmcnt thc pricst was by lar thc most important.
Vhcrcas in thc rcligious valuc systcm ol thc !ndus \allcy civi
lization rcnunciation was paramount, in thc valuc systcm ol thc
carly Aryans thc most worthy statc was that ol thc lamily man,
or houscholdcr. Vhcrcas in thc rcligious culturc ol thc !ndus
\allcy civilization thc valuc ol progcny was not cmphasizcd, lor
thc carly Aryans progcny, particularly sons, was thc highcst pri
ority. Tc rcligion ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization cmphasizcd
thc practicc ol mcditation, whilc thc Aryan laith rclicd on thc
practicc ol sacrincc, which was its primary mcans ol communi
cating with thc gods, sccuring victory in war, obtaining sons and
wcalth, and nnally rcaching hcavcn. Vhilc thc rcligion ol thc
!ndus \allcy civilization includcd thc conccptions ol rcbirth and
karma, thc carly Aryans had no such conccptions. Tc notion ol
moral rcsponsibility cxtcnding bcyond thc prcscnt lilc appcars to
havc bccn unknown to thc Aryans, lor whom thc highcst social
valuc was loyalty to thc group, a virtuc calculatcd to contributc
to thc powcr and cohcsion ol thc tribc. Finally, thc ultimatc goal
ol rcligious lilc lor thc pcoplc ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization was
libcration, a statc that transccndcd birth and dcath, whcrcas lor
thc carly Aryans thc goal was simply hcavcn – and a hcavcn that
lookcd vcry much likc a pcrlcctcd vcrsion ol this world, in lact.
!n bricl, whilc thc rcligion ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization
strcsscd rcnunciation, mcditation, rcbirth, karma, and thc nnal
goal ol libcration, thc Aryan rcligion strcsscd this lilc, ritual
sacrincc, loyalty, wcalth, progcny, powcr, and hcavcn. Tus it
is clcar that thc scts ol rcligious attitudcs, practiccs, and valucs
.c ..
prolcsscd by thcsc two ancicnt civilizations ol !ndia wcrc almost
diamctrically opposcd to cach othcr. And yct, ovcr thc coursc
ol ccnturics ol cohabitation, thcsc two rcligious traditions did
managc to mcrgc and bccomc, in many instanccs, practically
8clorc concluding our rcvicw ol thc salicnt lcaturcs ol thc
!ndus \allcy and carly Aryan rcligions, it should bc mcntioncd
that thc rcligious culturc ol thc Aryans was charactcrizcd by
two lurthcr clcmcnts unknown and lorcign to thc rcligion ol
thc !ndus \allcy pcoplc. Tc two clcmcnts ! havc in mind arc
castc – that is to say, thc division ol socicty into social strata – and
bclicl in thc authority and inlallibility ol rcvclation, in this casc
thc ancicnt scripturcs known as thc Vedas. Tc rcligious culturc
ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization did not acccpt thcsc conccptions,
and thcy rcmaincd constant points ol contcntion dividing thc
two major rcligious traditions ol !ndia.
Tc history ol !ndian rcligion lrom .·cc n.c.v. to thc sixth
ccntury n.c.v. (i.c., thc timc ol thc 8uddha) is thc history ol thc
intcraction bctwccn thcsc two originally opposcd traditions. As
thc Aryan pcoplc gradually movcd castward and southward, sct
tling and sprcading thcir inßucncc ovcr most ol thc !ndian sub
contincnt, thcy adoptcd a morc scdcntary pattcrn ol lilc. Littlc
by littlc, thc opposing rcligious culturcs ol thc two pcoplcs bcgan
to intcract, inßucncc, and cvcn mcrgc with cach othcr. Tis is
prcciscly thc phcnomcnon ! had in mind carlicr whcn ! rclcrrcd
to thc mcrging ol thc two grcat rivcrs ol !ndia, thc Gangcs and
thc Yamuna.
8y thc timc ol thc 8uddha, a vcry hctcrogcncous rcligious
culturc ßourishcd in !ndia. Tis is clcar cvcn lrom a supcrncial
.: ..
look at somc ol thc promincnt lacts about thc 8uddha’s lilc. For
cxamplc, altcr his birth, two distinct typcs ol pcoplc madc prc
dictions about his luturc grcatncss. Tc nrst prophcsy was pro
nounccd by Asita, who was a hcrmit and ascctic living in thc
mountains, although thc biographics ol thc 8uddha insist that
Asita was a 8rahmin, a mcmbcr ol thc pricstly castc ol Aryan
socicty. Tis in itscll is clcar cvidcncc ol thc intcraction ol thc
two ancicnt rcligious traditions, lor it indicatcs that, by thc sixth
ccntury n.c.v., cvcn 8rahmins had bcgun to abandon houschold
lilc and adopt thc lilc ol homclcss ascctics, somcthing unhcard
ol a thousand ycars bclorc. A littlc latcr, wc arc told that .c·
8rahmins wcrc invitcd to thc ccrcmony lor bcstowing a namc on
thc young 8uddha. Tcrc, thcy also prophcsicd thc luturc grcat
ncss ol thc child. Tcsc mcn wcrc cvidcntly pricsts who had not
rcnounccd houschold lilc and who thus rcprcscntcd thc original,
orthodox practicc acccptcd in thc Aryan lold.
How is it that two traditions initially so dißcrcnt wcrc ablc to
mcrgc: ! think thc answcr may bc lound in thc dramatic changcs
that occurrcd in thc lilc ol thc !ndian pcoplc bctwccn thc mid
dlc ol thc sccond millcnnium n.c.v. and thc timc ol thc 8uddha.
Aryan cxpansion camc to an cnd whcn thc Aryans had sprcad
across thc plains ol !ndia. Tc cnd ol this cxpansion brought
about many social, cconomic, and political changcs. First ol all,
thc tribal, nomadic, and pastoral way ol lilc ol thc carly Aryans
gradually changcd into a morc scdcntary, agrarian, and cvcn
tually urban pattcrn ol cxistcncc. 8clorc long, thc majority ol
thc population was living in urban scttlcmcnts whcrc thc pco
plc wcrc somcwhat rcmovcd lrom thc natural lorccs which had
bccn pcrsonincd in thc gods ol thc carly Aryans.
.: ..
Sccond, commcrcc bccamc incrcasingly important. Vhcrcas
pricsts and warriors had bccn thc dominant ngurcs in carly
Aryan socicty – pricsts bccausc thcy communicatcd with thc
gods, and warriors bccausc thcy wagcd war against thc cncmics
ol thc tribc and brought homc thc spoils ol battlc – now mcr
chants bccamc asccndant. !n thc timc ol thc 8uddha, this trcnd
is cvidcnt in thc lamous disciplcs who bclongcd to thc mcrchant
class – Anathapindika, to namc just onc cxamplc.
Last, thc organization ol socicty along tribal lincs gradu
ally bccamc obsolctc, and thc tcrritorial statc bcgan to cvolvc.
No longcr was socicty organizcd into tribcs within which thcrc
wcrc vcry closc scts ol pcrsonal loyaltics. Tc tribal pattcrn ol
social organization was rcplaccd by thc tcrritorial statc, in which
many pcoplc ol dißcrcnt tribcs cxistcd togcthcr. Tc kingdom
ol Magadha, rulcd by King 8imbisara, thc lamous patron and
disciplc ol thc 8uddha, is an cxamplc ol such an cmcrging tcr
ritorial statc.
Tcsc social, cconomic, and political changcs contributcd
to a growing willingncss on thc part ol thc Aryan pcoplc to
acccpt and adopt thc rcligious idcas ol thc !ndus \allcy civili
zation. Although thc Aryans had matcrially dominatcd thc car
licr, indigcnous civilization ol thc subcontincnt, thc ncxt thou
sand to two thousand ycars saw thcm comc incrcasingly undcr
thc inßucncc ol rcligious attitudcs, practiccs, and valucs adoptcd
lrom thc rcligion ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization. Conscqucntly,
by thc bcginning ol thc common cra, thc distinction bctwccn
thc Aryan tradition and that ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization was
morc and morc dimcult to draw. !n lact, this historical rcality
is rcsponsiblc lor thc misconccption cxprcsscd in thc claim that
.¡ .·
8uddhism was a protcst against, or an oßshoot ol, Hinduism.
8uddhism is a rcligion that draws most ol its inspiration
lrom thc rcligious culturc ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization. Tc
clcmcnts ol rcnunciation, mcditation, rcbirth, karma, and libcr
ation, which wcrc important componcnts ol thc rcligious culturc
ol thc !ndus \allcy pcoplc, arc also important in 8uddhism. Tc
8uddha himscll vcry probably mcant to indicatc that thc origins
ol thc rcligion hc proclaimcd lay in thc !ndus \allcy civilization
whcn hc said that thc path hc taught was an ancicnt path, and
that thc goal to which hc pointcd was an ancicnt goal. 8uddhism
also maintains a tradition ol six prchistoric 8uddhas who arc
bclicvcd to havc ßourishcd bclorc thc 8uddha Shakyamuni. All
this, ! bclicvc, points to a ccrtain continuity bctwccn thc rcli
gious culturc and traditions ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization and
thc tcaching ol thc 8uddha.
Vhcn wc cxaminc thc two rcligious phcnomcna wc call
8uddhism and Hinduism, wc nnd a grcatcr or smallcr propor
tion or prcpondcrancc ol clcmcnts inhcritcd lrom cach ol thc
two grcat rcligious traditions ol ancicnt !ndia. !n 8uddhism
thc grcatcr proportion ol signincant clcmcnts is clcarly inhcr
itcd lrom thc rcligion ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization, whilc a
lar smallcr proportion may bc traccd to thc rcligion ol thc carly
Aryans. Tcrc arc undoubtcdly clcmcnts in 8uddhism inhcritcd
lrom thc rcligion ol thc Aryans, such as thc prcscncc ol thc gods
ol thc Vedas, but thcir rolc is pcriphcral.
Convcrscly, many schools ol Hinduism rctain a grcatcr
proportion ol clcmcnts ol rcligious culturc inhcritcd lrom thc
Aryan tradition and a much smallcr proportion that can bc
traccd back to thc rcligion ol thc !ndus \allcy. Many schools ol
.¡ .·
Hinduism still cmphasizc castc, thc authority ol rcvclation in
thc shapc ol thc Vedas, and thc cmcacy ol thc practicc ol sacri
ncc. Notwithstanding thcsc clcarly Aryan clcmcnts, a placc is
also madc in Hinduism lor important clcmcnts ol thc culturc ol
thc !ndus \allcy civilization, such as rcnunciation, mcditation,
rcbirth, karma, and libcration.
.6 .·
Tc Iifc of thc Æuddha
cxt ! would likc to turn to thc lilc ol thc 8uddha Shakyamuni.
! shall not attcmpt to trcat this topic cxhaustivcly, nor to
covcr thc grcat majority ol thc biography ol Shakyamuni. Tc
accounts ol thc lilc ol thc 8uddha arc lor thc most part narra
tivc, and thcy havc bccn prcscntcd clscwhcrc by both ancicnt
and modcrn authors. !nstcad, ! would likc to usc this bricl con
sidcration ol thc lilc ol thc 8uddha to draw attcntion to a lcw
important 8uddhist valucs that arc strikingly illustratcd in thc
accounts ol thc lilc ol Shakyamuni.
!n Chaptcr :, ! discusscd thc origins and naturc ol thc two
ancicnt traditions ol !ndia, thc onc having its sourcc in thc rcli
gious culturc ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization and thc othcr asso
ciatcd with thc Aryan civilization. !n addition, ! indicatcd that
thcsc two ancicnt traditions, originally quitc dißcrcnt, in thc
coursc ol timc bcgan to intcract with and inßucncc cach othcr
until, by thc nrst millcnnium ol thc common cra, thcy bccamc
almost indistinguishablc onc lrom thc othcr. !t is, pcrhaps, no
coincidcncc that thc arca ol thc north ccntral Gangctic plain
and thc Ncpalcsc Tarai, which camc to bc known as “thc ccntral
country,” or Madhyadcsha, was onc ol thc rcgions in which thc
two traditions camc into activc contact, and cvcn conßict. Tc
pricsts who wcrc custodians ol thc Aryan tradition associatcd
thc castward movcmcnt ol Aryan civilization with thc thrcat ol
a dissipation ol thc purity ol Aryan culturc and with thc growth
ol unorthodox practiccs and attitudcs.
.6 .·
Tc history ol rcligions tcachcs that, whcn two vcry dißcr
cnt traditions likc thosc ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization and thc
Aryans comc into contact and conßict, a trcmcndous potcntial is
crcatcd lor thc growth ol ncw attitudcs and pattcrns ol rcligious
culturc. Tc lilc and tcaching ol thc 8uddha can bc usclully
vicwcd in thc contcxt ol this historical phcnomcnon. Morcovcr,
as mcntioncd in Chaptcr :, thcrc wcrc signincant social, cco
nomic, and political changcs aßccting thc livcs ol thc pcoplc ol
thc rcgion in thc sixth ccntury n.c.v. Tcsc naturally contributcd
to a hcightcncd lcvcl ol rcligious consciousncss. !t has consis
tcntly bccn thc casc that, in timcs ol major social, cconomic, and
political changc, pcoplc tcnd to look inward lor salcty and sccu
rity in an cvcr morc unccrtain world. Tcy instinctivcly look to
rcligion – and to thc ostcnsibly unchanging valucs cmbodicd in
rcligious bclicl and practicc – lor stability in thc midst ol unccr
tainty. Such pcriods havc almost always produccd grcat rcli
gious rcvolutions and rcvivals. Tis was most ccrtainly thc casc
in sixth ccntury !ndia, just as it was in China in thc sixth ccn
tury, and just as it was at thc bcginning ol thc Christian cra in
thc Mcditcrrancan world.
Tcrc arc thrcc valucs ol paramount importancc that cmcrgc
lrom thc lilc ol thc 8uddha: (.) rcnunciation, (:) lovc and com
passion, and (.) wisdom. Tcsc valucs stand out vcry clcarly in
many cpisodcs throughout his lilc. !t is no coincidcncc that thcsc
thrcc, takcn togcthcr, arc thc csscntial rcquisitcs lor thc attain
mcnt ol nirvana, or cnlightcnmcnt. According to thc tcaching ol
8uddhism, thcrc arc thrcc amictions which causc us to bc rcborn
again and again in thc wildcrncss ol cyclical cxistcncc – namcly,
attachmcnt, avcrsion, and ignorancc. Tcsc amictions arc clim
.· .o
inatcd by thc corrcctivcs ol rcnunciation, lovc and compassion,
and wisdom, rcspcctivcly. Trough cultivating thcsc thrcc atti
tudcs, thc 8uddhist practitioncr is ablc to rcmovc thc amictions
and attain cnlightcnmcnt. Conscqucntly, it is no accidcnt that
thcsc attitudcs should lcaturc so promincntly in thc lilc ol thc
8uddha Shakyamuni.
Lct us considcr thcsc csscntial attitudcs onc by onc, bcgin
ning with rcnunciation. As in thc casc ol lovc and compassion,
thc nrst signs ol rcnunciation manilcstcd thcmsclvcs vcry carly
in thc lilc ol thc 8uddha. 8asically, rcnunciation is thc rccog
nition that all cxistcncc is pcrmcatcd by sußcring. Vhcn you
rcalizc this, it lcads to what wc might call a turning about, that
is to say, thc rcalization that all ol common lilc is pcrmcatcd
by sußcring causcs us to look lor somcthing morc or somc
thing dißcrcnt. Tis is prcciscly why sußcring is countcd as
thc nrst ol thc Four Noblc Truths, and why thc clcar rccogni
tion ol thc rcality and univcrsality ol sußcring is thc csscncc
ol rcnunciation.
Now, as it happcns, Princc Siddhartha is bclicvcd to havc
participatcd, as wc might cxpcct, in thc annual plowing ccr
cmony ol his clan at thc tcndcr agc ol scvcn. !t was thcn that,
whilc watching thc procccdings, thc young princc noticcd a
worm that had bccn uncarthcd bcing dcvourcd by a bird. Tis
casual obscrvation lcd Siddhartha to contcmplatc thc rcalitics ol
lilc – to rccognizc thc incscapablc lact that all living bcings kill
onc anothcr to survivc, and that this is a grcat sourcc ol sußcr
ing. Alrcady, at this carly agc, wc nnd in thc 8uddha’s biography
thc bcginning ol thc rccognition that lilc as wc know it is pcr
mcatcd by sußcring.
.· .o
!l wc look again at thc biographical accounts ol Siddhartha’s
carly lilc, wc soon comc to thc lamous cpisodc ol thc lour sights
that movcd him to rcnouncc thc lilc ol a houscholdcr and adopt
thc lilc ol an ascctic in ordcr to scck thc truth. Sccing an old
man, a sick man, and a corpsc lcd him to considcr why it was
that hc should lccl unscttlcd by thcsc sights. Clcarly, hc himscll
was not immunc to thcsc conditions but was subjcct to thc incv
itablc succcssion ol old agc, sickncss, and dcath. Tis rccognition
lcd thc princc to dcvclop a scnsc ol dctachmcnt lrom thc cphcm
cral plcasurcs ol this world and promptcd him to scck thc ulti
matc truth about cxistcncc by way ol rcnunciation.
!t is important to rcmcmbcr at this stagc that thc princc’s rc
nunciation was not promptcd by dcspair occurring in thc ordi
nary coursc ol lilc. Hc cnjoycd thc grcatcst possiblc happincss
and privilcgc known in his day, and yct hc rccognizcd thc sul
lcring inhcrcnt in scnticnt cxistcncc and rcalizcd that, no mattcr
how much wc may indulgc oursclvcs in plcasurcs ol thc scnscs,
cvcntually wc must lacc thc rcalitics ol old agc, sickncss, and
dcath. Undcrstanding this – and cncouragcd by thc lourth sight,
that ol an ascctic – Siddhartha was movcd to rcnouncc thc lilc
ol a houscholdcr and to scck ultimatc truth lor thc bcncnt ol all
living bcings.
Lct us look ncxt at thc attitudc ol lovc and compassion,
which also appcars vcry carly in thc lilc ol thc 8uddha. Tc
most striking cxamplc is thc cpisodc ol thc woundcd swan.
Tc biographical accounts tcll us that thc princc and his cousin
Ðcvadatta wcrc wandcring in thc park that surroundcd thc royal
rcsidcncc whcn Ðcvadatta shot down a swan with his bow and
arrow. 8oth youths ran toward whcrc thc swan had lallcn, but
¡c ¡.
Siddhartha, bcing thc lastcr runncr, rcachcd thc placc nrst. Tc
young princc gathcrcd thc woundcd bird up in his arms and
sought to allay its sußcring. Ðcvadatta rcactcd angrily to this,
insisting that thc swan bclongcd to him, inasmuch as hc had
shot it down. Tc youths took thcir disputc to thc wisc man ol
thc court, who dccidcd to award thc bird to Siddhartha on thc
grounds that lilc rightly bclongs to him who would prcscrvc it
and not to him who would dcstroy it.
!n this simplc story, wc havc an cxccllcnt cxamplc ol thc
8uddha’s carly manilcstation ol thc attitudc ol lovc and com
passion, an attitudc whosc objcct is to lostcr as lar as possiblc
thc happincss ol othcrs and to allay thcir sußcring. Latcr, also,
altcr his cnlightcnmcnt, thc 8uddha continucd to dcmonstratc
this attitudc in rcmarkablc ways. Tcrc is, lor instancc, thc wcll
known cpisodc whcrcin thc 8uddha took it upon himscll to nursc
thc ailing monk Tissa. Tc lattcr’s illncss was such as causcd all
thc othcr mcmbcrs ol thc Òrdcr to shun him. Howcvcr, thc
8uddha, rcsolvcd to lcad by cxamplc, pcrsonally clcancd and
carcd lor Tissa’s discascd and dccaying body, thcrcby allcviating
his sußcring.
Last, lct us takc a long look at thc attitudc ol wisdom, which
is thc most important ol thc thrcc, bcing commcnsuratc with
cnlightcnmcnt itscll. !t is wisdom that nnally opcns thc door
to lrccdom, and wisdom that rcmovcs ignorancc, thc lunda
mcntal causc ol sußcring. !t is said that whilc onc may scvcr thc
branchcs ol a trcc and cvcn cut down its trunk, il thc root is not
rcmovcd, thc trcc will grow again. !n a similar way, although
onc may rcmovc attachmcnt by mcans ol rcnunciation, and avcr
sion by mcans ol lovc and compassion, as long as ignorancc is
¡c ¡.
not rcmovcd by mcans ol wisdom, attachmcnt and avcrsion arc
liablc to arisc again.
Tc principal instrumcnt through which wisdom may bc
gaincd is mcditation. Again, thcrc is an cvcnt carly in thc
8uddha’s lilc in which his prccocious skill in conccntrating
thc mind is cvidcnt. According to thc accounts ol thc lilc ol
Shakyamuni, immcdiatcly altcr witncssing thc unhappy inci
dcnt involving thc worm and thc bird at thc plowing ccrcmony,
thc princc sat undcr a ncarby roscapplc trcc, and thcrc sponta
ncously bcgan to mcditatc, achicving thc nrst lcvcl ol mcdita
tion by conccntrating his mind on thc proccss ol inhalation and
cxhalation. !n this cvcnt wc havc cvidcncc ol a vcry carly cxpc
ricncc ol mcditation in thc lilc ol thc 8uddha.
Latcr, whcn hc rcnounccd thc lilc ol a houscholdcr and wcnt
lorth to scck thc ultimatc truth, onc ol thc nrst disciplincs hc
dcvclopcd was that ol mcditation. Tc accounts tcll us that thc
ascctic Gotama (as hc was known during his six ycars ol striv
ing lor cnlightcnmcnt) studicd undcr two rcnowncd tcachcrs ol
mcditation, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta. Undcr thc
tutclagc ol thcsc tcachcrs hc studicd and mastcrcd thc various
tcchniqucs ol conccntrating thc mind. !n Chaptcr : ! mcntioncd
that thcrc is cvidcncc which suggcsts that thc origins ol mcdi
tation go back to thc dawn ol !ndian civilization, to thc goldcn
agc ol thc !ndus \allcy civilization. !t is vcry likcly that thc two
tcachcrs mcntioncd in thc biographics ol thc 8uddha wcrc cxpo
ncnts ol this vcry ancicnt tradition ol mcditation, or mcntal con
And yct, rcmarkably, thc ascctic Gotama lclt thc two tcach
crs in qucstion bccausc hc lound that mcditation alonc could not
¡: ¡.
pcrmancntly put an cnd to sußcring, cvcn though it might sup
ply tcmporary rclicl. Tis lact is important, bccausc although thc
tcaching ol thc 8uddha cmphasizcs thc practicc ol mcntal dcvcl
opmcnt and is thcrclorc clcarly in thc tradition ol thc !ndus \allcy
civilization, thc 8uddha transccndcd thc limitcd goals ol mcrc
mcditation and brought a ncw dimcnsion to rcligious cxpcricncc.
Tis is what distinguishcs thc 8uddha’s tcaching lrom thc tcach
ing ol many othcr !ndian schools, particularly thosc which, in onc
lorm or anothcr, cmbracc thc practicc ol yoga, or mcditation.
!n short, what distinguishcs 8uddhism lrom thc contcmpla
tivc traditions ol Hinduism and othcr rcligions is thc lact that,
lor 8uddhism, mcditation by itscll is not cnough. Vc might
say that, lor 8uddhism, mcditation is likc sharpcning a pcncil.
Vc sharpcn a pcncil lor a purposc, lct us say, in ordcr to writc.
Similarly, by mcans ol mcditation wc sharpcn thc mind lor a dcl
initc purposc – in this casc, thc purposc is wisdom. Tc rclation
ship bctwccn mcditation and wisdom has also bccn cxplaincd
with thc hclp ol thc cxamplc ol a torch. Supposc wc want to scc
a picturc on thc wall ol a darkcncd room with thc aid ol a torch.
!l thc light cast by thc torch is too dim, il thc ßamc is disturbcd
by dralts ol air, or il thc hand holding thc torch is unstcady, it
is impossiblc to scc thc picturc clcarly. Similarly, il wc want to
pcnctratc thc darkncss ol ignorancc and scc into thc rcal naturc
ol cxistcncc, wc will bc unablc to do so il our minds arc wcak,
distractcd, and unstcady as a conscqucncc ol habitual indolcncc
and cmotional and intcllcctual disturbanccs. Tc 8uddha put
this discovcry into practicc on thc night ol his cnlightcnmcnt.
Tcn, wc arc told, hc madc his mind conccntratcd, oncpointcd,
and supplc by mcans ol mcditation, dircctcd it to thc undcr
¡: ¡.
standing ol thc rcal naturc ol things, and comprchcndcd thc
truth. Tcrclorc, thc cnlightcnmcnt ol thc 8uddha was thc con
scqucncc ol thc combination ol mcditation and wisdom.
Tcrc arc also othcr dimcnsions ol wisdom cxcmplincd in
thc lilc ol thc 8uddha. Ònc ol thcsc is thc undcrstanding ol
thc Middlc Vay. Tc conccption ol thc Middlc Vay is ccntral
in 8uddhism and has many lcvcls ol mcaning, all ol which it is
not possiblc to considcr hcrc. Howcvcr, this much may bc said
at oncc: Tc most lundamcntal mcaning ol thc Middlc Vay is
thc avoidancc ol thc cxtrcmcs ol indulgcncc in plcasurcs ol thc
scnscs and, altcrnativcly, tormcnting thc body. Tis lundamcntal
aspcct ol thc Middlc Vay is illustratcd in thc lilc ol thc 8uddha
by his vcry own carccr and cxpcricncc. 8clorc his rcnunciation ol
thc lilc ol a houscholdcr, Siddhartha cnjoycd a lilc ol luxury and
scnsual plcasurc. Latcr, whcn hc had bccomc an ascctic in scarch
ol thc truth, hc spcnt six ycars practicing all manncr ol physical
dcprivations and scllmortincation. ¡vcntually, hc undcrstood
thc lutility ol such practiccs as wcll as thc mcaninglcssncss ol his
lormcr lilc ol indulgcncc, and discovcrcd thc Middlc Vay that
avoids both cxtrcmcs.
Tcrc arc, ol coursc, many othcr important cpisodcs in thc
lilc ol thc 8uddha that would bc intcrcsting and valuablc to dis
cuss, but my point in choosing to conccntratc on thcsc lcw clc
mcnts is simply that wc can bcgin to look at thc 8uddha’s lilc as
a lcsson in conduct and conccpt, and not simply as a biography
containing a numbcr ol namcs and placcs. Tcn wc can apprcci
atc thc attitudcs cxcmplincd in Shakyamuni’s carccr. !n this way,
a grcatcr and morc gcnuinc insight into thc rcal signincancc ol
thc lilc ol thc 8uddha bccomcs possiblc.
¡¡ ¡·
Tc Tour ^oblc Truths
ith this chaptcr, wc cntcr thc rcal hcart ol thc tcaching ol
thc 8uddha. Tc Four Noblc Truths arc onc ol thc most
lundamcntal ol thc schcmcs dclincatcd by thc 8uddha. !n many
important particulars, thcy virtually coincidc with thc wholc
ol thc doctrinc ol Shakyamuni. Tc undcrstanding ol thc Four
Noblc Truths is synonymous with thc attainmcnt ol thc goal
ol 8uddhist practicc. Tc 8uddha himscll indicatcd as much
whcn hc said that it is lailurc to comprchcnd thc Four Noblc
Truths that has causcd us to run on so long in thc cyclc ol birth
and dcath. Tc importancc ol thc Four Noblc Truths is simi
larly indicatcd by thc lact that thc 8uddha’s nrst discoursc, dcliv
crcd to thc nvc ascctics at thc Ðccr Park, ncar 8cnarcs, was thc
Dhammachakkappavattana Sutta, which had as its subjcct thc
Four Noblc Truths and thc Middlc Vay. !n thc lormula ol thc
Four Noblc Truths – that is, thc truth ol sußcring, thc truth ol
thc causc ol sußcring, thc truth ol thc ccssation ol sußcring, and
thc truth ol thc path – wc havc a summary ol thc tcaching ol thc
8uddha in thcory and in practicc.
8clorc turning to a considcration ol thc Four Noblc Truths
individually, ! would likc to draw your attcntion to a lcw lacts
about thc lormula in gcncral. !n this contcxt, it is appropriatc
to rccall that thc ancicnt scicncc ol mcdicinc had cnjoycd a ccr
tain dcgrcc ol dcvclopmcnt by thc timc ol thc 8uddha. Ònc ol
thc lundamcntal lormulas cvolvcd by practitioncrs ol thc scicncc
ol mcdicinc in ancicnt !ndia was thc lourlold schcmc ol discasc,
¡¡ ¡·
diagnosis, curc, and trcatmcnt. !l you considcr carclully thcsc
lour stagcs in thc practicc ol thc scicncc ol mcdicinc, it will bc
apparcnt that thcy corrcspond vcry closcly to thc lormula ol thc
Four Noblc Truths: (.) thc truth ol sußcring clcarly corrcsponds
to thc nrst clcmcnt ol discasc, (:) thc truth ol thc causc just as
clcarly corrcsponds to thc clcmcnt ol diagnosis, (.) thc truth ol
ccssation corrcsponds to thc achicvcmcnt ol a curc, and (¡) thc
truth ol thc path just as clcarly corrcsponds to thc coursc ol
trcatmcnt ol a discasc.
Having said this about thc thcrapcutic naturc ol thc lor
mula ol thc Four Noblc Truths and its rcscmblancc to thc lor
mula cvolvcd by ancicnt practitioncrs ol thc scicncc ol mcdicinc
in !ndia, ! would likc to makc anothcr point which, although
conccptual, is noncthclcss vcry important lor a corrcct undcr
standing ol thc Four Noblc Truths. Vhcn Sariputta, who was
to bccomc onc ol thc 8uddha’s most outstanding disciplcs, camc
upon Assaji, onc ol thc nrst nvc ascctics to cmbracc thc 8uddha’s
tcaching, hc askcd him about it. Assaji is said to havc rcplicd that
hc could not tcll Sariputta much about thc 8uddha’s tcaching
bccausc hc was rclativcly ncw to it. Noncthclcss, Assaji wcnt on
to givc a summary ol thc tcaching ol thc 8uddha that gocs somc
thing likc this: “Òl things that procccd lrom a causc, thcir causc
thc Tathagata has told, and also thcir ccssation, thus tcachcs thc
grcat ascctic.” Tc accounts rcport that Sariputta was grcatly
imprcsscd by thc lcw words spokcn by Assaji. Hc wcnt to nnd
his lricnd and lcllow scckcraltcrtruth Moggallana, and thc two
ol thcm sought out thc 8uddha and bccamc his disciplcs.
Assaji’s vcry bricl summary ol thc tcaching ol thc 8uddha
tclls us somcthing about thc ccntral conccption that lics bchind
¡6 ¡·
thc lormula ol thc Four Noblc Truths: it indicatcs thc impor
tancc ol thc rclationship bctwccn causc and cßcct. Tc con
ccpt ol causc and cßcct lics at thc hcart ol thc tcaching ol thc
8uddha, and it also lics at thc hcart ol thc lormula ol thc Four
Noblc Truths. !n what way: Tc lormula ol thc Four Noblc
Truths bcgins with a problcm, namcly, thc nrst ol thc lour noblc
truths, thc truth ol sußcring. Tc problcm ol sußcring ariscs
lrom causcs, causcs cxprcsscd in thc sccond noblc truth, thc
truth ol thc causc ol sußcring. Similarly, thcrc cxists an cnd ol
sußcring cxprcsscd in thc third noblc truth, thc truth ol ccssa
tion, and a causc ol thc cnd ol sußcring, that is to say thc path,
which is thc last ol thc lour truths. !n thc lourth noblc truth thc
causc is abscncc: in othcr words, whcn thc causcs ol sußcring
arc rcmovcd, thc abscncc ol such causcs is thc causc ol thc ccs
sation ol sußcring.
!l you look morc closcly at thc Four Noblc Truths, you will
scc that thcy dividc quitc naturally into two groups. Tc nrst
two truths, thosc ol sußcring and its causc, bclong to thc rcalm
ol birth and dcath. Symbolically, thcy can bc picturcd in thc
lorm ol a circlc, bccausc thcy opcratc in a circular manncr. Tc
causcs ol sußcring producc sußcring, and sußcring in turn pro
duccs thc causcs ol sußcring, which in thcir turn again producc
sußcring. Tis is thc cyclc ol birth and dcath, or samsara.
Tc lattcr two truths, thc truth ol thc ccssation ol sußcring
and thc truth ol thc path, do not bclong to thc rcalm ol birth and
dcath. Tcy can bc rcprcscntcd ngurativcly through thc imagc
ol a spiral, in which thc movcmcnt is no longcr mcrcly circular
but is now dircctcd upward, so to spcak, toward anothcr planc
ol cxpcricncc.
¡6 ¡·
To rcturn lor a momcnt to thc conccption ol causc and cßcct
in thc contcxt ol thc Four Noblc Truths, it is clcar that thcsc lour
truths stand in a causal rclationship, onc to anothcr, within cach
ol thc two groups just indicatcd: thc nrst ol thc lour (thc truth
ol sußcring) is thc cßcct ol thc sccond (thc truth ol thc causc),
whilc thc third (thc truth ol ccssation) is thc cßcct ol thc last ol
thc truths (thc truth ol thc path).
!l wc rcmcmbcr thc importancc ol thc rclationship bctwccn
causc and cßcct whcn wc considcr thc Four Noblc Truths, !
bclicvc wc will nnd thcm casicr to undcrstand. Likcwisc, il wc
rccall thc importancc ol thc principlc ol causc and cßcct, it will
bc ol grcat hclp to us as wc procccd in our survcy ol thc lunda
mcntal tcaching ol thc 8uddha, whcthcr in thc contcxt ol thc
study ol karma and rcbirth or that ol intcrdcpcndcnt origina
tion. !n short, wc will nnd that thc principlc ol causc and cßcct
runs likc a thrcad throughout thc wholc ol thc tcaching ol thc
Lct us now turn our attcntion to thc nrst ol thc Four Noblc
Truths, thc truth ol sußcring. Many non8uddhists and cvcn
somc 8uddhists nnd thc choicc ol sußcring as thc nrst ol thc
lour truths disturbing. !t is said that such a choicc is indicativc
ol pcssimism. ! havc oltcn had pcoplc ask mc why 8uddhism
is so pcssimistic. Vhy docs it choosc to bcgin with thc truth
ol sußcring: Tcrc arc a numbcr ol ways this qucstion may bc
answcrcd. Lct us considcr, lor a momcnt, thc attitudcs ol pcssi
mism, optimism, and rcalism. !n practical tcrms, lct us supposc
that somconc is sußcring lrom a scrious illncss but rcluscs to rcc
ognizc thc truth ol his condition. His attitudc may bc optimistic,
but it is also surcly loolish, inasmuch as it prccludcs taking any
¡· ¡o
mcasurcs to rcmcdy thc discasc. Such an attitudc is analogous
to that ol thc ostrich who, it is said, burics its hcad in thc sand
and so convinccs itscll that no dangcr thrcatcns it. !l a problcm
cxists, thc only scnsiblc coursc ol action is to rccognizc thc prob
lcm and thcn do whatcvcr is ncccssary to climinatc it.
Tc 8uddha’s insistcncc on thc nccd to rccognizc thc truth
ol sußcring is thcrclorc ncithcr pcssimistic nor optimistic: it is
simply rcalistic. 8csidcs, il thc 8uddha had taught only thc truth
ol sußcring and had stoppcd thcrc, thcn thcrc might bc somc
truth in thc chargc that his tcaching is pcssimistic. Howcvcr, thc
8uddha only bcgan with thc truth ol sußcring. Hc wcnt on to
tcach thc truth ol thc causc ol sußcring and, cvcn morc impor
tantly, thc truths ol its ccssation and ol thc mcans to achicvc its
! am quitc surc that, il wc arc honcst with oursclvcs, all ol us
will admit that thcrc is a lundamcntal problcm with lilc. Tings
arc not quitc as thcy should bc. No mattcr how much wc may try
to run away lrom this lact, at somc timc or othcr – pcrhaps in thc
middlc ol thc night, in a crowd ol pcoplc, or lor just a momcnt
during an ordinary working day – wc do comc lacc to lacc with
thc rcality ol our situation. Vc rcalizc that somcthing, altcr
all, is wrong somcwhcrc. Tis cxpcricncc is what impcls pco
plc to scck solutions to thc lundamcntal problcms ol unhappi
ncss and lrustration. Somctimcs thcsc solutions arc only appar
cnt, likc thc attcmpt to climinatc unhappincss by accumulat
ing morc and morc posscssions. Altcrnativcly, pcoplc may scck
solutions to thc lundamcntal problcms ol lilc in various lorms ol
thcrapy. !n 8uddhism, thc truth ol sußcring can bc dividcd into
two catcgorics. Tcsc arc, broadly spcaking, physical and mcntal.
¡· ¡o
Physical sußcring includcs thc sußcrings ol birth, old agc, sick
ncss, and dcath. You will rccall that in Chaptcr . wc mcntioncd
Princc Siddhartha’s cncountcr with thc lacts ol old agc, sick
ncss, and dcath in thc shapc ol thc thrcc sights ol an old man, a
sick man, and a corpsc. Hcrc, wc nnd a lourth lorm ol sußcring
addcd, thc sußcring ol birth. 8irth is sußcring both bccausc ol
thc physical pain cxpcricnccd by thc inlant and bccausc it is lrom
birth that thc othcr lorms ol sußcring, such as old agc, incvita
bly lollow. 8irth may bc said to bc a gatcway through which thc
othcr sußcrings naturally lollow. ! think wc nccd hardly spcnd
much timc on thc sußcrings ol old agc, sickncss, and dcath. Vc
havc all obscrvcd thc sußcring ol old agc, thc inability to lunc
tion cßcctivcly and think cohcrcntly. Most ol us havc cxpcri
cnccd lor oursclvcs thc sußcring ol sickncss, and cvcn il wc havc
had thc good lortunc always to bc hcalthy, wc havc sccn thc sul
lcring ol othcrs amictcd by discasc. Again, wc havc all obscrvcd
thc sußcring ol dcath, thc pain and thc lcar cxpcricnccd by thc
dying pcrson. Tcsc sußcrings arc an unavoidablc part ol lilc.
No mattcr how happy and contcntcd wc may bc at a particular
momcnt, thc sußcrings ol birth, old agc, sickncss, and dcath arc
!n addition to thcsc physical sußcrings, thcrc arc mcntal
sußcrings: thc sußcring ol scparation lrom what is dcar to us,
thc sußcring ol contact with what wc dcspisc, and thc sußcr
ing ol lrustratcd dcsircs. Òltcn, in thc coursc ol our livcs, wc
arc scparatcd lrom thc pcoplc and placcs wc lovc. Tc rcquirc
mcnts ol carccr or country somctimcs lorcc us to lcavc our homcs
and lovcd oncs. Changc and dcath can bring about scparation
lrom thc pcoplc and placcs wc lovc. Again, thc coursc ol our
·c ·.
livcs oltcn brings us into contact with pcoplc and situations wc
would rathcr avoid, such as a collcaguc or supcrior at work who
is antagonistic toward us. Such a situation can makc our timc
at our placc ol work a gcnuinc tormcnt. Tc sußcring ol contact
with what wc dcspisc can also takc morc cxtrcmc lorms, such as
thc cxpcricnccs ol ßood, nrc, laminc, pcrsccution, war, and othcr
natural and manmadc disastcrs. Finally, most ol us, somc timc
or othcr, cxpcricncc thc sußcring ol lrustratcd dcsircs. Vc cxpc
ricncc such lrustration whcn, lor instancc, wc cannot obtain thc
things wc want, bc it a job, a car, a housc, or cvcn a partncr.
Tcsc mcntal and physical sußcrings arc wovcn into thc lab
ric ol our human cxistcncc. 8ut what about happincss: !s thcrc
no happincss at all in lilc: Òl coursc thcrc is, howcvcr, thc hap
pincss wc cxpcricncc in thc coursc ol our livcs is impcrmancnt.
As long as wc still cnjoy youth and hcalth, wc may nnd happi
ncss in a comlortablc situation or in thc company ol somconc
wc lovc, yct all thcsc cxpcricnccs ol happincss arc conditioncd,
and thcrclorc impcrmancnt. Sooncr or latcr, wc will cxpcricncc
Now, il wc rcally want to solvc thc problcm ol sußcring,
rcducc and cvcntually climinatc it, wc must idcntily its causc. !l
thc lights go out and wc want to climinatc thc darkncss, wc must
idcntily thc causc ol thc problcm. !s it a short circuit, has a lusc
blown, or has thc powcr supply bccn cut oß: Similarly, oncc wc
havc rccognizcd thc problcm ol sußcring, wc must look lor its
causc. Ònly by undcrstanding thc causc ol sußcring can wc do
somcthing to solvc thc problcm.
Vhat is thc causc ol sußcring according to thc 8uddha: Tc
8uddha taught that craving is thc grcat causc ol sußcring. Tcrc
·c ·.
arc various kinds ol craving: craving lor plcasant cxpcricnccs,
craving lor matcrial things, craving lor ctcrnal lilc, and craving
lor ctcrnal dcath. Vc all cnjoy good lood, our lavoritc music,
plcasant company, and thc likc. ¡njoying such things, wc want
morc and morc ol thcm. Vc try to prolong such plcasant cxpc
ricnccs and to cxpcricncc thcm morc and morc oltcn. Yct somc
how wc arc ncvcr complctcly satisncd. Vc nnd, lor instancc, that
whcn wc arc vcry lond ol a particular typc ol lood and cat it
again and again, wc soon gct borcd with it. Vc try anothcr kind
ol lood, likc it, cnjoy it, and still, altcr a whilc, wc bcgin to gct
borcd with it. Vc go on to look lor somcthing clsc. Vc cvcn gct
tircd ol our lavoritc piccc ol music. Vc gct tircd ol our lricnds.
Vc look lor morc and morc. Somctimcs this chasc altcr plcas
ant cxpcricnccs lcads to vcry dcstructivc lorms ol bchavior, likc
alcoholism and drug addiction. All this is craving lor thc cnjoy
mcnt ol plcasant cxpcricnccs. !t is said that trying to satisly our
craving lor plcasant cxpcricnccs is likc drinking saltwatcr whcn
thirsty: it only incrcascs our thirst.
Not only do wc cravc plcasant cxpcricnccs, wc also cravc
matcrial things. You can scc this vcry clcarly in childrcn, although
wc all sußcr lrom it. Takc any small child into a toy shop and
hc or shc will want cvcry toy in thc shop. ¡vcntually pcrsuadcd
by his parcnts, hc will scttlc lor onc ol thc toys. Almost as soon
as hc has gottcn it, hc bcgins to losc intcrcst in it. Vithout lail,
within a lcw days thc toy lics ncglcctcd in a corncr ol thc room
and thc child wants anothcr toy. 8ut arc wc rcally vcry dißcr
cnt lrom young childrcn: Almost immcdiatcly altcr buying that
ncw car, don’t wc bcgin to want anothcr, cvcn bcttcr onc: Vhcn
wc movc into a good housc, don’t wc oltcn think, “Tis housc is
·: ·.
all right, but it would bc still bcttcr il ! could nnd a biggcr onc,
say onc with a gardcn, or onc with a swimming pool:” !t gocs
on and on, whcthcr it is a sct ol trains, a bicyclc, a vidco rccordcr,
or a Mcrccdcs 8cnz.
!t is said that thc craving lor acquiring wcalth and matcrial
things involvcs thrcc major problcms that causc sußcring. Tc
nrst is thc problcm ol gctting thcm. You havc to work hard, pcr
haps skimp and savc, to buy thc ncw car you wantcd. Ncxt, you
havc to look altcr it and protcct it. You worry that somconc may
damagc your car. You worry that your ncw housc may catch nrc
or bc damagcd by thc wind or rain. Finally, thcrc is thc problcm
ol losing posscssions, bccausc sooncr or latcr thcy will lall apart
or wc oursclvcs will dic.
Craving lor cxistcncc or ctcrnal lilc is a causc ol sußcring.
Vc all cravc cxistcncc, lilc. Ðcspitc all thc sußcring and lrustra
tion wc cxpcricncc, wc all cravc cxistcncc, and it is this craving
which causcs us to bc born again and again. Tcn thcrc is thc
craving lor noncxistcncc, that is to say, thc craving lor annihila
tion, which wc might call a dcsirc lor ctcrnal dcath. Tis crav
ing cxprcsscs itscll in nihilism, suicidc, and thc likc. Craving lor
cxistcncc is onc cxtrcmc, whilc craving lor noncxistcncc is thc
At this point you may bc asking yourscll, “!s craving alonc a
sumcicnt causc ol sußcring: !s craving alonc cnough to cxplain
sußcring: !s thc answcr as simplc as that:” Tc answcr is no.
Tcrc is somcthing that gocs dccpcr than craving, somcthing
that is, in a scnsc, thc loundation or ground ol craving – namcly,
!gnorancc is not sccing things as thcy rcally arc. !t is lailing
·: ·.
to undcrstand thc truth about lilc. Tosc who considcr thcm
sclvcs wcll cducatcd may nnd it oßcnsivc to bc told thcy arc
ignorant. !n what scnsc arc wc ignorant: Lct mc say this: with
out thc right conditions, without thc right training and thc right
instrumcnts, wc arc unablc to scc things as thcy rcally arc. Nonc
ol us would bc awarc ol radio wavcs wcrc it not lor thc radio
rcccivcr. Nonc ol us would bc awarc ol bactcria in a drop ol watcr
wcrc it not lor thc microscopc, or ol subatomic rcality wcrc it not
lor thc latcst tcchniqucs ol clcctron microscopy. All thcsc lacts
about thc world in which wc livc arc obscrvcd and known only
bccausc ol spccial conditions, training, and instrumcnts.
Vhcn wc say that ignorancc is lailing to scc things as thcy
rcally arc, what wc mcan is that, as long as wc havc not dcvcl
opcd our minds – and, through thcm, wisdom – wc rcmain igno
rant ol thc truc naturc ol things. Vc arc lamiliar with thc lcar
that wc cxpcricncc whcn wc scc an unidcntincd shapc in thc
darkncss by thc sidc ol thc road whilc walking homc alonc latc
at night. Tc shapc may actually bc a trcc stump, yct it is our
ignorancc that causcs us to quickcn our stcps. Pcrhaps thc palms
ol our hands bcgin to pcrspirc, wc may rcach homc in a panic.
!l thcrc had bccn a light, thcrc would havc bccn no lcar and no
sußcring bccausc thcrc would havc bccn no ignorancc about thc
shapc in thc darkncss. Vc would havc sccn thc trcc stump lor
what it is.
!n 8uddhism wc arc conccrncd with ignorancc about thc
naturc ol thc scll, soul, or pcrsonality. Such ignorancc mcans
rcgarding thc scll as rcal. Tis is thc lundamcntal causc ol sul
lcring. Vc takc our bodics or lcclings or idcas to bc a scll, soul,
or pcrsonality. Vc takc thcm to bc a rcal, indcpcndcnt cgo, just
·¡ ··
as wc takc thc trcc stump to bc a potcntial assailant. 8ut oncc
you assumc this conccption ol a scll, thcrc naturally ariscs thc
conccption ol somcthing apart lrom or othcr than your scll. And
oncc thc conccption ol somcthing dißcrcnt lrom your scll occurs,
you automatically rcgard it as cithcr hclplul to and supportivc ol
your scll or as hostilc to it. Tus clcmcnts ol thc rcality that you
assumc is dißcrcnt lrom your scll arc cithcr plcasant or unplcas
ant, dcsirablc or undcsirablc.
From thc conccptions ol scll and somcthing othcr than thc
scll, craving and avcrsion naturally arisc. Òncc wc bclicvc in thc
rcal cxistcncc ol thc scll – in thc rcal, indcpcndcnt cxistcncc ol
thc soul or pcrsonality apart lrom all thc objccts wc cxpcricncc
as bclonging to thc cxtcrnal world – wc thcn want thosc things
wc think will bcncnt us and shun thosc things wc think do not
bcncnt us or may cvcn bc harmlul to us. 8ccausc ol thc lailurc to
undcrstand that in this body and mind thcrc is no indcpcndcnt
or pcrmancnt scll, attachmcnt and avcrsion incvitably thrivc.
From thc root ol ignorancc grows thc trcc ol craving, attach
mcnt, grccd, avcrsion, hatrcd, cnvy, jcalousy, and thc rcst. Tis
cntirc trcc ol cmotional amictions grows lrom thc root ol igno
rancc and bcars thc lruit ol sußcring. !gnorancc is thc undcrly
ing causc ol sußcring, whilc craving, attachmcnt, avcrsion, and
thc rcst arc thc sccondary or immcdiatc causcs ol sußcring.
Having idcntincd thc causcs ol sußcring, wc arc now in a
position to rcducc and cvcntually climinatc sußcring. ]ust as
idcntilying thc causcs ol a physical pain puts us in a position to
climinatc that pain by mcans ol climinating its causcs, so whcn
wc idcntily thc causcs ol mcntal sußcring, wc arc thcn ablc to
rcducc and cvcntually rcmovc that sußcring by rcmoving its
·¡ ··
causcs – ignorancc, attachmcnt, avcrsion, and so on. Tis brings
us to thc third ol thc Four Noblc Truths, thc truth ol thc cnd ol
Vhcn wc bcgin to talk about thc cnd ol sußcring, thc nrst
obstaclc wc must ovcrcomc is thc doubt that cxists in somc
minds about whcthcr or not thc cnd ol sußcring is rcally possi
blc. Can sußcring rcally bc cndcd: !s a curc rcally possiblc: !t
is in this contcxt that conndcncc, or laith, plays an important
rolc. Vhcn wc spcak ol conndcncc or laith in 8uddhism, wc do
not mcan blind acccptancc ol any particular doctrinc or crccd.
Rathcr, wc spcak ol laith in thc scnsc ol admitting thc possibil
ity ol achicving thc goal ol thc cnd ol sußcring.
Unlcss wc bclicvc that a doctor can curc us ol a physical pain,
wc will ncvcr scck his advicc, ncvcr undcrgo thc appropriatc
thcrapy, and may conscqucntly dic ol an illncss that could havc
bccn curcd had wc only had sumcicnt conndcncc to scck hclp.
Similarly, conndcncc in thc possibility ol bcing curcd ol mcn
tal sußcring is an indispcnsablc prcrcquisitc to cßcctivc prac
ticc. Hcrc, too, you may say, “How can ! bclicvc in thc possibil
ity ol nirvana – thc complctc cnd ol sußcring, suprcmc happi
ncss – il ! havc ncvcr cxpcricnccd it:” 8ut as ! rcmarkcd carlicr in
this chaptcr, nonc ol us would bc ablc to hcar radio wavcs wcrc
it not lor thc dcvclopmcnt ol radio rcccivcrs, or scc microscopic
lilc wcrc it not lor thc invcntion ol thc microscopc. ¡vcn now,
most ol us havc ncvcr obscrvcd subatomic rcality, yct wc acccpt
its cxistcncc bccausc thcrc arc thosc among us with thc spccial
training and appropriatc instrumcnts to obscrvc it.
!n this casc, also, thc possibility ol attaining thc complctc
cnd ol sußcring – namcly, nirvana – ought not to bc rcjcctcd sim
·6 ··
ply bccausc wc havc not cxpcricnccd it oursclvcs. You may bc
lamiliar with thc old story ol thc turtlc and thc nsh. Ònc day
thc turtlc lclt thc pond to spcnd a lcw hours on thc shorc. Vhcn
hc rcturncd to thc watcr, hc told thc nsh ol his cxpcricnccs on
dry land, but thc nsh would not bclicvc him. Tc nsh could not
acccpt that dry land cxistcd bccausc it was totally unlikc thc
rcality with which hc was lamiliar. How could thcrc bc a placc
whcrc crcaturcs walkcd about rathcr than swam, brcathcd air
and not watcr, and so on: Tcrc arc many historical cxamplcs
ol this tcndcncy to rcjcct inlormation that docs not tally with
what wc alrcady arc lamiliar with and bclicvc. Vhcn Marco
Polo rcturncd to !taly lrom thc ¡ast, hc was imprisoncd bccausc
his accounts ol his travcls did not corroboratc what was thcn
bclicvcd about thc naturc ol thc world. And whcn Copcrnicus
advanccd thc thcory that thc sun docs not circlc thc carth but
vicc vcrsa, hc was disbclicvcd and ridiculcd.
Hcncc wc ought to bc carclul not to dismiss thc possibility
ol a complctc cnd ol sußcring (thc attainmcnt ol nirvana) just
bccausc wc havc not cxpcricnccd it oursclvcs. Òncc wc acccpt
that thc cnd ol sußcring is possiblc, that a curc lor our ills docs
cxist, wc can procccd with thc stcps ncccssary to achicvc that
curc. 8ut unlcss and until wc bclicvc that a curc is possiblc, thcrc
is no qucstion ol succcsslully complcting thc nccdcd thcrapy.
Tcrclorc, in ordcr to rcalizc progrcss on thc path and – gradu
ally, cvcntually – thc complctc cnd ol sußcring, wc must at lcast
havc initial conndcncc in thc barc possibility ol achicving our
Vhcn wc rclcr to thc third noblc truth, thc truth ol thc ccs
sation ol sußcring, wc havc in mind this goal ol thc 8uddhist
·6 ··
path. Tc 8uddha oncc said that, just as thc occan, although vast,
is ol onc tastc, thc tastc ol salt, so also his tcaching, although
manylacctcd and vast as thc occan, is ol onc tastc, thc tastc ol
nirvana. As you will scc, thcrc arc many laccts to thc tcaching
ol 8uddhism – thc Four Noblc Truths, thc thrcc ways ol prac
ticc, intcrdcpcndcnt origination, thc thrcc charactcristics, and so
on – but all havc onc goal in vicw, and that is thc ccssation ol sul
lcring. Tis is thc goal that givcs all thc various laccts ol tcach
ing that wc nnd in 8uddhism thcir purposc and dircction.
Tc cnd ol sußcring is thc goal ol 8uddhist practicc, and
yct thc ccssation ol sußcring is not cxclusivcly transccndcntal or
supra mundanc. Tc point at issuc hcrc is an intcrcsting onc. !l
wc considcr, lor instancc, thc qucstion ol thc nnal goal ol othcr
laiths, such as thc Scmitic rcligions, Christianity, ]udaism, and
!slam, wc nnd that thcrc arc two goals. Ònc has its cxprcssion in
this lilc and this world, in tcrms ol building a kingdom ol lovc,
prospcrity, and justicc hcrc and now, thc othcr, highcr goal con
sists ol attaining hcavcn in thc altcrlilc. !n 8uddhism, in con
trast, thc conccption ol thc goal ol practicc is morc comprchcn
sivc. Tc ccssation ol sußcring ol which thc 8uddha spokc is
vcry broad in scopc. Vhcn wc spcak ol thc cnd ol sußcring in
8uddhism, wc can mcan (.) thc cnd ol sußcring hcrc and now,
cithcr tcmporarily or pcrmancntly, (:) happincss and good lor
tunc in luturc livcs, and/or (.) thc cxpcricncc ol nirvana itscll.
Lct us scc whcthcr this can bc cxplaincd in grcatcr dctail.
Supposc wc happcn to bc in dirc povcrty, with insumcicnt lood,
shcltcr, clothing, mcdicinc, cducation, and so lorth. Such condi
tions constitutc sußcring just as surcly as do birth, old agc, sick
ncss, dcath, scparation lrom what wc lovc, and so on. Vhcn wc
·· ·o
rcmcdy thc situation hcrc and now, through grcatcr prospcr
ity and improvcd standards ol living, our sußcring is rcduccd.
8uddhism tcachcs that thc particular happincss or sußcring that
wc cxpcricncc in this lilc is thc conscqucncc ol actions wc havc
donc in thc past. !n othcr words, il wc nnd oursclvcs in lortunatc
conditions now, thcsc advantagcs arc thc rcsult ol good actions
donc in thc past. Similarly, thosc who nnd thcmsclvcs in lcss
lortunatc conditions arc sußcring thc conscqucnccs ol unwholc
somc actions donc in thc past.
Vhat docs 8uddhism oßcr in thc way ol thc cnd ol sußcr
ing: Practicing 8uddhism in thc short tcrm rcsults in rclativc
happincss in this lilc. Tis happincss can bc ol a matcrial naturc,
in thc scnsc ol improvcd physical conditions, it can bc ol an inncr
naturc, in thc scnsc ol grcatcr pcacc ol mind, or it can bc both.
All this can bc achicvcd in this vcry lilc, hcrc and now. Tis is
onc dimcnsion ol thc cnd ol sußcring. 8cing ol this lilc, it might
bc roughly cquatcd with what Christianity calls “thc kingdom
ol God on carth.”
!n addition to this, thc cnd ol sußcring in 8uddhism mcans
happincss and good lortunc in thc ncxt lilc. Tis implics rcbirth
in lortunatc circumstanccs, whcrc wc cnjoy happincss, prospcr
ity, hcalth, wcllbcing, and succcss, whcthcr as a human bcing
on this carth or as a cclcstial bcing in thc hcavcns. Vc can likcn
this dimcnsion ol thc cnd ol sußcring to thc hcavcn ol which
thc monothcistic rcligions spcak. Tc only dißcrcncc is that, in
thcsc rcligions, hcavcn oncc attaincd is pcrmancnt, whcrcas in
8uddhism onc’s right to cnjoy happincss has to bc sustaincd
and rcncwcd. Tc goal oßcrcd by 8uddhism docs initially mcan
happincss and prospcrity in this lilc and in luturc livcs. 8ut it is
·· ·o
also morc than that, and hcrc it dißcrs lrom thc othcr rcligions
in qucstion. Not only docs 8uddhism promisc happincss and
prospcrity in this lilc and thc ncxt, it also oßcrs libcration – nir
vana, or cnlightcnmcnt. Tis is thc total ccssation ol sußcring.
!t is thc ultimatc goal ol 8uddhism and it is also attainablc hcrc
and now.
Vhcn wc spcak ol nirvana wc cncountcr ccrtain problcms
ol cxprcssion, bccausc thc cxact naturc ol an cxpcricncc cannot
bc communicatcd mcrcly by spcaking about it – rathcr, it must
bc cxpcricnccd dircctly. Tis is truc ol all cxpcricncc, whcthcr
it bc thc cxpcricncc ol thc tastc ol salt, sugar, or chocolatc or
ol onc’s nrst swim in thc occan. All thcsc cxpcricnccs cannot
bc dcscribcd cxactly. To makc this point, supposc ! havc just
arrivcd in Southcast Asia and am told ol a vcry popular local
lruit callcd durian. ! can qucstion pcoplc who livc in thc arca
and who rcgularly cat and cnjoy durian, but how can thcy cvcr
cxplain to mc prcciscly what it is likc to cat it: !t is simply not
possiblc to dcscribc accuratcly thc tastc ol a durian to somconc
who has ncvcr catcn onc. Vc might try comparison or, altcr
nativcly, ncgation, wc might say, lor instancc, that durian has
a crcamy tcxturc or that it is swcct and sour, and add that it is
somcthing likc jack lruit and not at all likc applc. 8ut it rcmains
impossiblc to communicatc thc cxact naturc ol thc cxpcricncc ol
cating durian. Vc nnd oursclvcs conlrontcd with a similar prob
lcm whcn wc try to dcscribc nirvana. Tc 8uddha and 8uddhist
tcachcrs through thc agcs uscd similar dcviccs to dcscribc nir
vana – namcly, comparison, and ncgation.
Tc 8uddha said that nirvana is suprcmc happincss, pcacc.
Hc said that nirvana is immortal, uncrcatcd, unlormcd, bcyond
6c 6.
carth, watcr, nrc, and air, thc sun and moon, unlathomablc
and immcasurablc. Hcrc wc can scc thc various dcviccs that
8uddhism uscd to dcscribc nirvana, such as thc sort in which
nirvana is likcncd to somcthing wc cxpcricncc in this world. For
cxamplc, occasionally wc arc lucky cnough to cxpcricncc grcat
happincss accompanicd by prolound pcacc ol mind, and might
imaginc that wc arc cxpcricncing a laint glimpsc ol nirvana. 8ut
a jack lruit is not rcally likc a durian, and nirvana is not rcally
likc anything in this world. !t is not likc any cvcryday cxpcri
cncc, it is bcyond all thc lorms and namcs wc might usc, and in
tcrms ol which wc cxpcricncc thc world.
Tc point is that, to undcrstand what nirvana is rcally likc,
you must cxpcricncc it lor yourscll, just as to know what durian
is rcally likc, you must cat it. No numbcr ol cssays or poctic
dcscriptions ol durian will cvcr approach thc cxpcricncc ol cat
ing onc. Similarly, wc havc to cxpcricncc thc cnd ol sußcring lor
oursclvcs, and thc only way wc can do this is by climinating thc
causcs ol sußcring – thc amictions ol attachmcnt, avcrsion, and
ignorancc. Vhcn wc havc climinatcd such causcs ol sußcring,
thcn wc will cxpcricncc nirvana lor oursclvcs.
How, thcn, can wc rcmovc thcsc causcs ol sußcring: Vhat
arc thc mcans by which wc can rcmovc thc amictions that arc thc
causcs ol sußcring: Tis is thc path taught by thc 8uddha – thc
Middlc Vay, thc path ol modcration. You will rccall that thc
lilc ol thc 8uddha bclorc his cnlightcnmcnt lalls into two dis
tinct pcriods. Tc timc bclorc his rcnunciation was onc in which
hc cnjoycd cvcry possiblc luxury, lor cxamplc, thc accounts tcll
us that hc had thrcc palaccs, onc lor cach scason, nllcd with
sourccs ol plcasurc to an cxtcnt scarccly imaginablc in his day.
6c 6.
Tis pcriod ol cnjoymcnt was lollowcd by six ycars ol cxtrcmc
asccticism and scllmortincation, whcn hc did without thc basic
amcnitics ol normal lilc, livcd out in thc opcn, worc thc poor
cst garmcnts, and lastcd lor long pcriods ol timc. !n addition to
such dcprivations, hc tormcntcd his body through various prac
ticcs likc slccping on bcds ol thorns and sitting in thc midst ol
nrcs undcr thc crucl hcat ol thc midday sun.
Having cxpcricnccd thc cxtrcmcs ol luxury and dcpriva
tion – and having rcachcd thc limits ol thcsc cxtrcmcs – thc
8uddha saw thcir lutility and thcrcby discovcrcd thc Middlc
Vay, which avoids both thc cxtrcmc ol indulgcncc in plca
surcs ol thc scnscs and thc cxtrcmc ol scllmortincation. !t was
through rcalizing thc naturc ol thc two cxtrcmcs in his own lilc
that thc 8uddha was ablc to arrivc at thc idcal ol thc Middlc
Vay, thc path that avoids both cxtrcmcs. As wc shall scc in thc
chaptcrs to comc, thc Middlc Vay is capablc ol many signincant
and prolound intcrprctations, but most lundamcntally it mcans
modcration in onc’s approach to lilc, in onc’s attitudc toward all
Vc can usc thc cxamplc ol thc thrcc strings ol a lutc to illus
tratc what wc mcan by this attitudc. Tc 8uddha had a disciplc
by thc namc ol Sona who practiccd mcditation with such zcal
that hc cncountcrcd nothing but obstaclcs. Sona bcgan to think
ol giving up his vows and abandoning thc lilc ol a monk. Tc
8uddha, who undcrstood his problcm, said to him, “Sona, bclorc
you bccamc a monk, you wcrc a musician.” Sona rcplicd, “Tat
is truc.” Tcn thc 8uddha said, “8cing a musician, you should
know which string ol a lutc produccs a plcasant and harmonious
sound: thc string that is ovcrly tight:” “No,” rcplicd Sona, “thc
6: 6.
ovcrly tight string produccs an unplcasant sound and is likcly to
brcak at any momcnt.” “Tcn,” said thc 8uddha, “is it thc string
that is slack:” “No,” rcplicd Sona, “thc slack string docs not
producc a plcasant and harmonious sound. Tc string that pro
duccs a plcasant and harmonious sound is thc string that is not
too tight and not too loosc.” !n this casc, a lilc ol indulgcncc and
luxury may bc said to bc too loosc, without disciplinc or appli
cation, whcrcas a lilc ol scllmortincation is too tight, too hard
and tcnsc, and likcly to causc a brcakdown ol thc mind and body,
just as thc ovcrly tight string is likcly to brcak at any timc.
Morc spccincally, thc path to thc 8uddhist goal ol thc ccs
sation ol sußcring is likc a mcdical prcscription. Vhcn a com
pctcnt doctor trcats a paticnt lor a scrious illncss, his or hcr prc
scription is not only physical but also psychological. !l you arc
sußcring, lor instancc, lrom a hcart condition, you arc not only
givcn mcdication but arc also askcd to control your dict and
avoid strcsslul situations. Hcrc, too, il wc look at thc spccinc
instructions lor lollowing thc 8uddhist path to thc cnd ol sul
lcring, wc scc that thcy rclcr not only to onc’s body – actions and
words – but also to onc’s thoughts. !n othcr words, thc Noblc
¡ightlold Path, thc path lcading to thc cnd ol sußcring, is a
comprchcnsivc path, an intcgratcd thcrapy. !t is dcsigncd to curc
thc discasc ol sußcring through climinating its causcs, and it
docs so by mcans ol trcatmcnt that applics not only to thc body
but to thc mind as wcll.
Right undcrstanding is thc nrst stcp on thc Noblc ¡ightlold
Path. !t is lollowcd by right thought, right spccch, right action,
right livclihood, right cßort, right mindlulncss, and right con
ccntration. Vhy do wc bcgin with right undcrstanding: Vc
6: 6.
do so bccausc, to climb a mountain, wc must havc thc sum
mit clcarly in vicw. !n this scnsc, thc nrst stcp on our journcy
dcpcnds on thc last. Vc havc to kccp thc goal clcarly in vicw il
wc arc to travcl a path which can takc us surcly to that goal. !n
this way, right undcrstanding givcs dircction and oricntation to
thc othcr stcps ol thc path.
Vc can scc hcrc that thc nrst two stcps ol thc path, right
undcrstanding and right thought, rclcr to thc mind. Trough
right undcrstanding and right thought, ignorancc, attachmcnt,
and avcrsion can bc climinatcd. 8ut it is not cnough to stop
thcrc bccausc, to achicvc right undcrstanding and right thought,
wc also nccd to cultivatc and purily our minds and bodics, and
thc way to do this is through thc othcr six stcps ol thc path. Vc
purily our physical bcing so that it will bc casicr to purily our
minds, and wc purily and dcvclop our minds so that it will bc
casicr to attain right undcrstanding.
For thc sakc ol convcnicncc, thc Noblc ¡ightlold Path has
bccn dividcd into thc thrcc ways ol practicc: (.) morality, or good
conduct (:) mcntal dcvclopmcnt, and (.) wisdom. Tc cight stcps
ol thc path arc dividcd into thcsc thrcc ways ol practicc as lollows:
(.) right spccch, right action, and right livclihood bclong to thc
way ol morality, (:) right cßort, right mindlulncss, and right con
ccntration bclong to thc way ol mcntal dcvclopmcnt, and (.) right
undcrstanding and right thought bclong to thc way ol wisdom.
8ccausc it is ncccssary to purily our words and actions
bclorc wc can purily our minds, wc bcgin our progrcss along
thc path with morality, or good conduct. And bccausc thc Noblc
¡ightlold Path is thc mcans ol rcaching thc goal ol 8uddhism, !
will dcvotc Chaptcrs ·, 6, and · to thcsc thrcc ways ol practicc.
6¡ 6·
n Chaptcr ¡ wc discusscd thc Four Noblc Truths, our last topic
bcing thc lourth truth, which consists ol thc Noblc ¡ightlold
Path to thc cnd ol sußcring. Tcrc wc uscd thc analogy ol climb
ing a mountain, whcrc thc vcry nrst stcp dcpcnds on kccping
thc summit nrmly in vicw, whilc thc last stcp dcpcnds on bcing
carclul not to stumblc at thc outsct. !n othcr words, cach part ol
thc way dcpcnds on thc othcr parts, and il any part ol thc path is
not complctcd, thc summit will not bc gaincd. !n thc samc way,
in thc casc ol thc Noblc ¡ightlold Path, all thc stcps arc intcrrc
latcd and dcpcnd on onc anothcr. Vc cannot do away with any
onc stcp.
Noncthclcss, as mcntioncd at thc cnd ol Chaptcr ¡, thc cight
stcps ol thc path havc bccn dividcd into thrcc ways ol practicc:
(.) morality, (:) mcntal dcvclopmcnt, and (.) wisdom. Although,
conccptually and structurally spcaking, thc nrst stcp ol climb
ing a mountain dcpcnds on thc last and thc last dcpcnds on thc
nrst, practically spcaking, wc do havc to climb thc lowcst slopcs
nrst. Vc may bc attractcd to thc summit, but to gct thcrc wc
must cross thc lowcr slopcs nrst, only thcn can wc procccd to thc
highcr rcachcs. !t is lor this vcry practical rcason that thc stcps
ol thc Noblc ¡ightlold Path havc bccn dividcd into thcsc thrcc
ways ol practicc.
Tc nrst ol thcsc thrcc ways ol practicc is morality. Morality
lorms thc loundation ol lurthcr progrcss on thc path, ol lurthcr
pcrsonal dcvclopmcnt. !t is said that, just as thc carth is thc basis
6¡ 6·
ol all animatc and inanimatc things, so morality is thc basis ol
all positivc qualitics. Vhcn wc look around us, wc can scc that
cvcrything rcsts on thc carth, lrom buildings to bridgcs, ani
mals to human bcings. Tc carth supports all thcsc things, in
thc samc way, morality is thc loundation ol all qualitics, all vir
tucs, all attainmcnts, ranging lrom thc mundanc to thc supra
mundanc, lrom succcss and good lortunc to skill in mcditation
and, ultimatcly, wisdom and cnlightcnmcnt. 8y mcans ol this
analogy, wc can casily undcrstand thc importancc ol good con
duct as a lundamcntal prcrcquisitc lor lollowing thc path and
achicving rcsults on it.
Vhy do wc takc thc troublc to strcss thc importancc ol good
conduct as thc loundation ol progrcss on thc path: Tc rcason
is that thcrc is a tcndcncy to think ol good conduct as rathcr
dull and boring. Mcditation sounds morc cxciting and intcrcst
ing, and philosophy and wisdom, too, havc a kind ol lascina
tion about thcm. Tcrc is a dangcrous tcmptation to ncglcct thc
importancc ol morality and want to go straight on to thc morc
cxciting parts ol thc path. 8ut il wc do not crcatc this lounda
tion ol good conduct, wc will not succccd in lollowing thc othcr
stcps ol thc path.
!t is ncccssary to undcrstand how thc rulcs ol good conduct,
or thc prcccpts, arc cstablishcd in 8uddhism, bccausc thcrc arc
dißcrcnt ways in which moral or cthical codcs can bc prcscntcd.
!l you look at thc moral tcachings ol thc major rcligions ol thc
world, you will nnd that thcrc is a surprising dcgrcc ol agrcc
mcnt among thcm. !l you look, lor instancc, at thc moral tcach
ings ol Conlucius or Lao Tzu, at thosc ol thc 8uddha and ol
Hindu tcachcrs, and at thosc ol ]cws, Christians, and Muslims,
66 6·
you will nnd that thc basic rulcs ol good conduct arc almost
idcntical. Howcvcr, although thc rulcs in most cascs corrcspond
almost cxactly, thc attitudcs toward thcsc codcs and thc ways
thcy arc prcscntcd, undcrstood, and intcrprctcd dißcr considcr
ably lrom laith to laith.
!n gcncral, thcrc arc two ways moral codcs can bc cstab
lishcd – what wc might call thc authoritarian way and thc dcmo
cratic way. A good cxamplc ol thc lormcr is God handing down
thc tablcts ol thc Tcn Commandmcnts to Moscs on thc moun
tain. 8y contrast, in 8uddhism wc havc what ! think wc can call
a dcmocratic way ol cstablishing thc basic rulcs ol good conduct.
You may wondcr why ! say this whcn, altcr all, wc do havc rulcs
ol morality laid down in scripturcs. You might ask, “!sn’t this
similar to God handing down thc commandmcnts to Moscs:”
! think not, bccausc il wc look morc closcly at thc mcaning ol
8uddhist scripturcs, wc can scc what lics bchind thc rulcs ol good
conduct – namcly, thc principlcs ol cquality and rcciprocity.
Tc principlc ol cquality holds that all living bcings arc thc
samc in thcir basic oricntation and outlook. !n othcr words, all
living bcings want to bc happy, to cnjoy lilc, and to avoid sußcr
ing and dcath. Tis is just as truc ol othcr living bcings as it is
ol us. Tc principlc ol cquality is at thc hcart ol thc univcrsality
ol thc 8uddha’s vision. Undcrstanding thc principlc ol cquality,
wc arc cncouragcd to act in light ol thc additional awarcncss ol
thc principlc ol rcciprocity.
Rcciprocity mcans that, just as wc would not likc to bc
abuscd, robbcd, injurcd, or killcd, so all othcr living bcings
arc unwilling to havc such things happcn to thcm. Vc can put
this principlc ol rcciprocity quitc simply by saying, “Ðo not act
66 6·
toward othcrs in a way you would not want thcm to act toward
you.” Òncc wc arc awarc ol thcsc principlcs ol cquality and rcci
procity, it is not hard to scc how thcy lorm thc loundation ol thc
rulcs ol good conduct in 8uddhism.
Lct us now look spccincally at thc contcnts ol morality in
8uddhism. Tc way ol practicc ol good conduct includcs thrcc
parts ol thc Noblc ¡ightlold Path: (a) right spccch, (b) right
action, and (c) right livclihood.
Right spccch constitutcs an cxtrcmcly important aspcct ol
thc path. Vc oltcn undcrcstimatc thc powcr ol spccch. As a
conscqucncc, wc somctimcs cxcrcisc vcry littlc control ovcr our
laculty ol spccch. Tis should not bc so. Vc havc all bccn vcry
grcatly hurt by somconc’s words at somc timc or othcr in our
livcs, and similarly, wc havc somctimcs bccn grcatly cncouragcd
by thc words somconc has said. !n thc arca ol public lilc, wc can
clcarly scc how thosc who arc ablc to communicatc cßcctivcly
arc ablc to inßucncc pcoplc trcmcndously, lor bcttcr or lor worsc.
Hitlcr, Churchill, Kcnncdy, and Martin Luthcr King wcrc all
accomplishcd spcakcrs who wcrc ablc to inßucncc millions with
thcir words. !t is said that a harsh word can wound morc dccply
than a wcapon, whcrcas a gcntlc word can changc thc hcart and
mind ol cvcn thc most hardcncd criminal. Pcrhaps morc than
anything clsc, thc laculty ol spccch dißcrcntiatcs humans lrom
animals, so il wc wish to crcatc a socicty in which communi
cation, coopcration, harmony, and wcllbcing arc goals to bc
attaincd, wc must control, cultivatc, and usc our spccch in hclp
lul ways.
All thc rulcs ol good conduct imply rcspcct lor valucs loundcd
on an undcrstanding ol thc principlcs ol cquality and rcciprocity.
6· 6o
!n this contcxt, right spccch implics rcspcct lor truth and rcspcct
lor thc wcllbcing ol othcrs. !l wc usc our laculty ol spccch
with thcsc valucs in mind, wc will bc cultivating right spccch,
and through this wc will achicvc grcatcr harmony in our rcla
tionships with othcrs. Traditionally, wc spcak ol lour aspccts ol
right spccch – namcly, thc avoidancc ol (a) lying, (b) backbiting
or slandcr, (c) harsh spccch, and (d) idlc talk.
Somc ol you may alrcady bc lamiliar with thc 8uddha’s
instructions to his son Rahula about thc importancc ol avoid
ing lying. Hc uscd thc cxamplc ol a vcsscl. Tc vcsscl had a lit
tlc bit ol watcr in thc bottom, which hc askcd Rahula to look
at, commcnting, “Tc virtuc and rcnunciation ol thosc who arc
not ashamcd ol lying is small, likc thc small amount ol watcr in
thc vcsscl.” Ncxt, thc 8uddha thrcw away thc watcr in thc vcsscl
and said, “Tosc who arc not ashamcd ol lying throw away thcir
virtuc, just as ! havc thrown away this watcr.” Tcn thc 8uddha
showcd Rahula thc cmpty vcsscl and said, “]ust as cmpty is thc
virtuc and rcnunciation ol thosc who habitually tcll lics.”
!n this way thc 8uddha uscd thc vcsscl to makc thc point
that our practicc ol wholcsomc actions, our good conduct and
charactcr, arc intimatcly aßcctcd by lying. !l wc arc convinccd
that wc can act in onc way and spcak in anothcr, thcn wc will not
hcsitatc to act badly, bccausc wc will bc conndcnt that wc will
bc ablc to covcr up our harmlul actions by lying. Lying thcrclorc
opcns thc door to all kinds ol unwholcsomc acts.
Slandcr is divisivc. !t crcatcs quarrcls bctwccn lricnds, and it
crcatcs pain and discord in socicty. Tcrclorc, just as wc would
not likc to havc our lricnds turncd against us by somconc’s slan
dcrous talk, so wc ought not to slandcr othcrs.
6· 6o
Similarly, wc ought not to abusc othcrs with harsh words.
Òn thc contrary, wc should spcak courtcously to othcrs, as wc
would likc thcm to spcak to us.
Vhcn wc comc to idlc talk, you may wondcr why wc can
not cvcn cngagc in a littlc chitchat. 8ut thc prohibition against
idlc talk is not absolutc or gcncral. Tc kind ol idlc talk mcant
hcrc is malicious gossip – that is, divcrting oursclvcs and othcrs
by rccounting pcoplc’s laults and lailings.
!n short, why not simply rclrain lrom using thc laculty ol
spccch – which, as wc havc sccn, is so powcrlul – lor dcccp
tion, crcating divisions among othcrs, abusing othcrs, and idling
away timc at thcir cxpcnsc: !nstcad, why not usc it constructivc
ly – lor communicating mcaninglully, uniting pcoplc, cncourag
ing undcrstanding bctwccn lricnds and ncighbors, and impart
ing hclplul advicc: Tc 8uddha oncc said, “Plcasant spccch is as
swcct as honcy, truthlul spccch is bcautilul, likc a ßowcr, and
wrong spccch is unwholcsomc, likc nlth.” So lct us try, lor our own
good and thc good ol othcrs, to cultivatc right spccch – namcly,
rcspcct both lor truth and lor thc wcllarc ol othcrs.
Tc ncxt part ol thc Noblc ¡ightlold Path that lalls into
thc catcgory ol morality is right action. Right action implics
(a) rcspcct lor lilc, (b) rcspcct lor propcrty, and (c) rcspcct lor
pcrsonal rclationships. You will rccall what ! said a momcnt
ago about lilc bcing dcar to all. !t is said in thc Dhammapada
that all living bcings trcmblc at thc prospcct ol punishmcnt, all
lcar dcath, and all lovc lilc. Hcncc, again kccping in mind thc
principlcs ol cquality and rcciprocity, wc ought not to kill living
bcings. You might bc rcady to acccpt this lor human bcings but
dcmurc with rcgard to somc othcr living crcaturcs. Hcrc, how
·c ·.
cvcr, somc ol thc dcvclopmcnts in rcccnt ycars in thc nclds ol
scicncc and tcchnology ought to givc thc most skcptical lrcc
thinkcr lood lor thought. For instancc, whcn wc dcstroy a par
ticular strain ol inscct, arc wc absolutcly ccrtain ol accomplish
ing thc grcatcst, longtcrm good ol all, or do wc, morc oltcn
than not, instcad contributc unwittingly to an imbalancc in thc
ccosystcm that will crcatc cvcn grcatcr problcms in thc luturc:
Rcspcct lor propcrty mcans not to rob, stcal lrom, or chcat
othcrs. Tis is important bccausc thosc who takc what is not
givcn by lorcc, stcalth, or trcachcry arc guilty ol brcaking this
prcccpt. Tc cmploycr who docs not pay his cmploycc an honcst
wagc, commcnsuratc with thc work pcrlormcd, is guilty ol tak
ing what is not givcn, thc cmploycc who collccts his salary but
shirks his dutics is cqually guilty ol lack ol rcspcct lor propcrty.
Finally, rcspcct lor pcrsonal rclationships mcans, nrst ol all,
to avoid scxual misconduct. Put most simply, it mcans avoiding
adultcry. 8cyond that, it mcans avoiding scxual liaisons with
pcoplc who arc liablc to bc harmcd by such rclations. Morc gcn
crally, it mcans avoiding abusc ol thc scnscs. You can casily scc
how, il thcsc guidclincs arc lollowcd in a givcn community, such
a community will bc a bcttcr placc in which to livc.
Right livclihood is thc third stcp ol thc Noblc ¡ightlold
Path includcd in thc way ol practicc ol morality. Right livcli
hood is an cxtcnsion ol thc rulcs ol right action to our rolcs as
brcadwinncrs in socicty. Vc havc just sccn that, in thc cascs ol
right spccch and right action, thc undcrlying valucs arc rcspcct
lor truth, lor thc wcllarc ol othcrs, and lor lilc, propcrty, and
pcrsonal rclationships. Right livclihood mcans carning a living
in a way that docs not violatc thcsc basic moral valucs.
·c ·.
Fivc kinds ol livclihood arc discouragcd lor 8uddhists: trad
ing in animals lor slaughtcr, slavcs, arms, poisons, and intox
icants (drugs and alcohol). Tcsc nvc arc not rccommcndcd
bccausc thcy contributc to thc ills ol socicty and violatc thc val
ucs ol rcspcct lor lilc and lor thc wcllarc ol othcrs. Ðcaling
in animals lor slaughtcr violatcs thc valuc ol rcspcct lor lilc.
Ðcaling in slavcs violatcs both rcspcct lor lilc and right action in
pcrsonal rclationships. Ðcaling in arms also violatcs thc valuc ol
rcspcct lor lilc, whilc dcaling in poisons or intoxicants also docs
not rcspcct thc livcs and wcllarc ol othcrs. All thcsc tradcs con
tributc to insccurity, discord, and sußcring in thc world. How
docs thc practicc ol good conduct, or morality, work: Vc havc
said that, in thc contcxt ol socicty at largc, lollowing thc rulcs
ol good conduct crcatcs a social cnvironmcnt charactcrizcd by
harmony and pcacc. All our social goals can bc achicvcd within
thc rulcs ol good conduct bascd on thc lundamcntal principlcs
ol cquality and rcciprocity. !n addition, cach pcrson bcncnts
lrom thc practicc ol good conduct. !n onc ol his discourscs, thc
8uddha said that somconc who has obscrvcd rcspcct lor lilc and
so lorth lccls likc a king, duly crowncd and with his cncmics
subducd. Such a pcrson lccls at pcacc and at casc.
Tc practicc ol morality crcatcs an inncr scnsc ol tranquil
lity, stability, sccurity, and strcngth. Òncc you havc crcatcd that
inncr pcacc, you can succcsslully lollow thc othcr stcps ol thc
path. You can cultivatc and pcrlcct thc various aspccts ol mcntal
dcvclopmcnt. You can thcn achicvc wisdom – but only altcr you
havc crcatcd thc ncccssary loundation ol morality both within
and without, both in yourscll and in your rclationships with
·: ·.
\cry bricßy, thcsc arc thc origin, contcnts, and goal ol good
conduct in 8uddhism. Tcrc is just onc morc point ! would
likc to makc bclorc concluding our rcvicw ol 8uddhist moral
ity. Vhcn pcoplc considcr thc rulcs ol good conduct, thcy oltcn
think, “How can wc possibly lollow thcm:” !t sccms to bc tcr
ribly dimcult to obscrvc thc prcccpts. For instancc, cvcn thc
prohibition against taking lilc, which is thc most lundamcntal,
appcars vcry dimcult to lollow absolutcly. ¡vcry day, as you clcan
thc kitchcn or puttcr about thc gardcn, you arc vcry likcly to kill
somc inscct that happcns to gct in your way. Also, it appcars vcry
dimcult cvcn to avoid lying in all cascs. How arc wc to dcal with
this problcm, which is a gcnuinc onc:
Tc point is not whcthcr wc can obscrvc all thc rulcs ol
morality all thc timc. Rathcr, thc point is that, il thc rulcs ol
morality arc wcll loundcd (i.c., il thc principlcs ol cquality and
rcciprocity arc worth bclicving in, and il thc rulcs ol morality
arc an appropriatc way ol cnacting thcm), thcn it is our duty to
lollow thcsc rulcs as much as wc possibly can. Tis is not to say
that wc will bc ablc to lollow thcm absolutcly, but only that wc
ought to do our bcst to lollow thc way ol practicc indicatcd by
thc rulcs ol good conduct. !l wc want to livc at pcacc with our
sclvcs and othcrs, thcn wc ought to rcspcct thc lilc and wcllarc
ol othcrs, thcir propcrty, and so on. !l a situation ariscs in which
wc nnd oursclvcs unablc to apply a particular rulc, that is not thc
lault ol thc rulc, but simply an indication ol thc gap bctwccn our
own practicc ol morality and thc idcal practicc ol it.
Vhcn, in ancicnt timcs, scalarcrs navigatcd thcir ships
across thc grcat occans with thc aid ol thc stars, thcy wcrc not
ablc to lollow cxactly thc coursc indicatcd by thosc hcavcnly
·: ·.
bodics. Yct thc stars wcrc thcir guidcs, and by lollowing thcm,
howcvcr approximatcly, marincrs rcachcd thcir dcstination. !n
thc samc way, whcn wc lollow thc rulcs ol good conduct, wc do
not prctcnd that wc can obscrvc all ol thcm all thc timc. Tis is
why thc nvc prcccpts arc callcd “training prcccpts”, it is also why
wc rcncw thcm again and again. Vhat wc havc in thc rulcs ol
good conduct is a lramcwork through which wc can try to livc
in accord with thc two lundamcntal principlcs that illuminatc
thc tcaching ol thc 8uddha: thc principlc ol thc cquality ol all
living bcings, and thc principlc ol rcciprocal rcspcct.
·¡ ··
´cntal Æcvclopmcnt
n this chaptcr wc will look at thc stcps ol thc Noblc ¡ightlold
Path that lall into thc group known as mcntal dcvclopmcnt.
Vc havc alrcady notcd thc intcrdcpcndcnt naturc ol thc stcps
ol thc path, and in this contcxt it is particularly important to
undcrstand thc position ol mcntal dcvclopmcnt. Placcd as it is
bctwccn good conduct and wisdom, mcntal dcvclopmcnt is rcl
cvant and important to both. You may ask why this should bc so.
!ndccd, pcoplc somctimcs think simply lollowing thc prcccpts ol
morality is sumcicnt lor lcading a good lilc.
Tcrc arc scvcral answcrs to this qucstion. First ol all, in
8uddhism thcrc is morc than just onc goal ol thc rcligious lilc.
8csidcs thc goal ol happincss and good lortunc, thcrc is also thc
goal ol lrccdom. !l you want to attain lrccdom, thc only way is
through wisdom, and wisdom can only bc gaincd by mcans ol
mcntal purincation, which is achicvcd through mcditation. 8ut
cvcn lor thc sound practicc ol good conduct, mcntal dcvclop
mcnt is hclplul il not ncccssary. Vhy: 8ccausc it is rclativcly
casy to lollow thc rulcs ol morality whcn things arc going wcll.
!l you havc a good job, livc in a stablc socicty, and carn cnough
to support yourscll and your lamily, it is rclativcly casy to obscrvc
thc moral prcccpts. 8ut whcn you nnd yourscll in situations ol
strcss, instability, and unccrtainty – whcn, lor instancc, you losc
your job, nnd yourscll in circumstanccs whcrc lawlcssncss prc
vails, and so lorth – thcn obscrvancc ol thc rulcs ol good conduct
comcs undcr attack.
·¡ ··
!n such circumstanccs, only mcntal dcvclopmcnt can salc
guard your practicc ol good conduct. 8y strcngthcning thc
capacity ol thc mind and by attaining control ovcr it, mcntal
dcvclopmcnt scrvcs as a guarantor ol thc obscrvancc ol thc prc
ccpts, and at thc samc timc it assists in thc rcal objcctivc ol scc
ing things as thcy rcally arc. Mcntal dcvclopmcnt prcparcs thc
mind to achicvc wisdom, which opcns thc door to lrccdom and
cnlightcnmcnt. Mcntal dcvclopmcnt thcrclorc has a distinctly
important rolc in thc practicc ol thc Noblc ¡ightlold Path.
8uddhism’s cmphasis on thc importancc ol mcntal dcvcl
opmcnt is not surprising whcn wc rcmcmbcr thc importancc ol
mind in thc 8uddhist conccption ol cxpcricncc. Mind is thc sin
glc most important lactor in thc practicc ol thc Noblc ¡ightlold
Path. Tc 8uddha himscll put this vcry clcarly whcn hc said
that thc mind is thc sourcc ol all things and that all things arc
crcatcd by thc mind. Similarly, it has bccn said that thc mind is
thc sourcc ol all virtucs and othcr bcncncial qualitics. To obtain
thcsc virtucs and qualitics, you must disciplinc thc mind. Tc
mind is thc kcy to changing thc naturc ol cxpcricncc. !t is said
that, il wc had to covcr thc wholc surlacc ol thc carth with somc
solt yct rcsilicnt substancc to protcct our lcct lrom bcing hurt
by sticks and stoncs, it would bc a vcry dimcult undcrtaking
indccd. 8ut mcrcly by covcring thc solcs ol our lcct with shocs,
it is as il thc wholc surlacc ol thc carth wcrc thus covcrcd. !n thc
samc way, il wc had to purily thc wholc univcrsc ol attachmcnt,
avcrsion, and ignorancc, it would bc vcry dimcult indccd, but
simply by purilying our own minds ol thcsc thrcc amictions, it
is – lor us – as il wc had purincd thc wholc world ol thcm. Tat
is why, in 8uddhism, wc locus on thc mind as thc kcy to chang
·6 ··
ing thc way wc cxpcricncc things and thc way wc rclatc to othcr
Tc importancc ol thc mind has also bccn rccognizcd by sci
cntists, psychologists, and cvcn physicians. You may bc awarc ol
a numbcr ol visualization tcchniqucs now bcing uscd by thcra
pists in thc Vcst. Psychiatrists and physicians arc succcsslully
cmploying mcthods vcry similar to wcllknown tcchniqucs ol
mcditation to hclp paticnts ovcrcomc mcntal disordcrs, chronic
pain, and discascs. Tis approach is now an acccptcd practicc
within thc thcrapcutic community.
Vc can all apprcciatc thc inßucncc thc mind has on our own
statc ol bcing by looking at our cxpcricncc. Vc havc all cxpcri
cnccd happincss and know how it has a bcncncial inßucncc on
our activitics. Vhcn in such a statc ol mind, wc arc cmcicnt,
wc rcspond appropriatcly, and wc arc ablc to lunction in thc
bcst possiblc way. Òn othcr occasions, whcn our minds arc dis
turbcd, dcprcsscd, or othcrwisc pcrvadcd by harmlul cmotions,
wc nnd that wc cannot cvcn dischargc simplc tasks with carc. !n
this way, wc can all scc how important thc mind is in whatcvcr
sphcrc ol our livcs wc carc to considcr.
Trcc stcps ol thc Noblc ¡ightlold Path arc includcd in
mcntal dcvclopmcnt: (a) right cßort, (b) right mindlulncss, and
(c) right conccntration. Togcthcr, thcsc thrcc cncouragc and
cnablc us to bc scllrcliant, attcntivc, and calm.
!n its most gcncral scnsc, right cßort mcans cultivating a
conndcnt attitudc toward our undcrtakings. Vc can call right
cßort “cnthusiasm,” also. Right cßort mcans taking up and pur
suing our tasks with cncrgy and a will to carry thcm through to
thc cnd. !t is said that wc ought to cmbark on our tasks in thc
·6 ··
samc way an clcphant cntcrs a cool lakc whcn amictcd by thc
hcat ol thc midday sun. Vith this kind ol cßort, wc can bc suc
ccsslul in whatcvcr wc plan to do, whcthcr in our studics, carccrs,
or practicc ol thc Ðharma.
!n this scnsc, wc might cvcn say that right cßort is thc prac
tical application ol conndcncc. !l wc lail to put cßort into our
various projccts, wc cannot hopc to succccd. 8ut cßort must bc
controllcd, it must bc balanccd, and hcrc wc can rccall thc lun
damcntal naturc ol thc Middlc Vay and thc cxamplc ol thc
strings ol a lutc. Tcrclorc, cßort should ncvcr bccomc too tcnsc,
too lorccd, and, convcrscly, it should not bc allowcd to bccomc
lax. Tis is what wc mcan by right cßort: a controllcd, sustaincd,
and buoyant dctcrmination.
Right cßort is traditionally dcnncd as lourlold: (.) thc cßort
to prcvcnt unwholcsomc thoughts lrom arising, (:) thc cßort to
rcjcct unwholcsomc thoughts oncc thcy havc ariscn, (.) thc cßort
to cultivatc wholcsomc thoughts, and (¡) thc cßort to maintain
wholcsomc thoughts that havc ariscn. Tis last is particularly
important, bccausc it oltcn happcns that, cvcn whcn wc havc
succcsslully cultivatcd somc wholcsomc thought, it is shortlivcd.
8ctwccn thcm, thcsc lour aspccts ol right cßort locus thc cncrgy
ol thc mind on our mcntal statcs. Tcir objcct is to rcducc and
cvcntually climinatc thc unwholcsomc thoughts that occupy our
minds, and to incrcasc and cstablish nrmly wholcsomc thoughts
as a natural, intcgral charactcristic ol our mcntal statc ol bcing.
Right mindlulncss is thc sccond stcp ol thc Noblc ¡ightlold
Path includcd in mcntal dcvclopmcnt, and is csscntial cvcn in
our ordinary, daily livcs. Likc thc othcr tcachings ol thc 8uddha,
this can bcst bc illustratcd with cxamplcs lrom cvcryday lilc
·· ·o
itscll. !ndccd, il you look at thc discourscs ol thc 8uddha, you
will nnd that hc consistcntly uscd cxamplcs that wcrc lamiliar to
his audicncc. Tus wc might do wcll to look at thc importancc
ol mindlulncss in our ordinary, mundanc activitics.
Mindlulncss is awarcncss, or attcntion, and as such it mcans
avoiding a distractcd or cloudy statc ol mind. Tcrc would bc
many lcwcr accidcnts at homc and on thc road il pcoplc wcrc
mindlul. Vhcthcr you arc driving a car or crossing a busy strcct,
cooking dinncr or doing your accounts, it is donc morc salcly
and cßcctivcly whcn you arc attcntivc and mindlul. Tc practicc
ol mindlulncss incrcascs our cmcicncy and productivity, at thc
samc timc, it rcduccs thc numbcr ol accidcnts that occur duc to
inattcntion and gcncral lack ol awarcncss.
!n thc practicc ol thc Ðharma, mindlulncss acts as a kind
ol rcin upon our minds. !l wc considcr lor a momcnt how our
minds normally bchavc, wc will clcarly undcrstand thc nccd lor
somc kind ol rcin, or control, in this contcxt. Supposc that, as
you arc rcading this book, a gust ol wind suddcnly causcs a win
dow to slam shut somcwhcrc in thc housc. ! am surc most ol
you would immcdiatcly turn your attcntion to thc sound and,
at lcast lor an instant, locus your mind on it. At lcast lor that
instant, your mind would bc distractcd lrom thc pagc. Similarly,
at almost cvcry momcnt ol our conscious livcs, our minds arc
running altcr objccts ol thc scnscs. Òur minds arc almost ncvcr
conccntratcd or still. Tc objccts ol thc scnscs that so capti
vatc our attcntion may bc sights, sounds, or cvcn thoughts. As
you drivc down thc strcct, your cycs and mind may bc capturcd
by an attractivc advcrtiscmcnt, whilc walking along thc strcct,
catching thc sccnt ol a woman’s pcrlumc, your attcntion may bc
·· ·o
momcntarily drawn to it, and pcrhaps to thc wcarcr. All thcsc
objccts ol thc scnscs arc causcs ol distraction.
Tcrclorc, to managc thc cßccts ol such distractions on our
minds, wc nccd a guard that can kccp our minds lrom bccom
ing too cntanglcd with such scnsc objccts and with thc unwholc
somc mcntal statcs thcy can somctimcs arousc. Tis guard is
mindlulncss. Tc 8uddha oncc told a story about two acrobats,
mastcr and apprcnticc. Òn onc occasion, thc mastcr said to thc
apprcnticc, “You protcct mc, and ! will protcct you. !n that way
wc will pcrlorm our tricks, comc down salcly, and carn moncy.”
8ut thc apprcnticc said, “No, mastcr, that will not do. ! will pro
tcct myscll, and you protcct yourscll.” !n thc samc way, cach onc
ol us has to guard his or hcr own mind.
Somc pcoplc may say this sounds rathcr sclnsh. Vhat about
tcamwork: 8ut ! think such doubts rcsult lrom a lundamcntal
misundcrstanding. A chain is only as strong as its wcakcst link.
A tcam is only as cßcctivc as its individual mcmbcrs. A tcam ol
distractcd pcoplc, incapablc ol discharging thcir own rcsponsi
bilitics cmcicntly, will bc an incßcctivc tcam. Similarly, to play
an cßcctivc rolc in rclation to our lcllow bcings, wc must nrst
guard our own minds. Supposc you havc a nnc car. You will
bc carclul to park it in a placc whcrc it will not bc damagcd by
anothcr motorist. ¡vcn at work or at homc, you will occasion
ally look out thc window to makc surc thc car is all right. You
will wash it oltcn, and you will bc ccrtain to takc it into thc shop
lor scrvicing at rcgular intcrvals. You will probably insurc it lor
a grcat dcal ol moncy. !n thc samc way, cach ol us posscsscs onc
thing lar morc valuablc than anything clsc hc or shc may havc:
a mind.
·c ·.
Rccognizing thc valuc and importancc ol our minds, wc
ought to guard thcm. Tis is mindlulncss. Tis aspcct ol mcn
tal dcvclopmcnt can bc practiccd anywhcrc and at any timc.
Somc pcoplc think mcditation is too dimcult to practicc. Tcy
may cvcn bc alraid to try it. Usually, such pcoplc arc thinking
ol lormal mcditation, that is, conccntrating thc mind whilc sit
ting in mcditation. 8ut cvcn il you arc not rcady to practicc thc
tcchniqucs ol mcntal conccntration, ccrtainly right cßort and
right mindlulncss can and should bc practiccd by cvcryonc. Tc
nrst two stcps ol mcntal dcvclopmcnt arc simply (.) cultivat
ing a conndcnt attitudc ol mind, bcing attcntivc and awarc, and
(:) watching your body and mind and knowing what you arc
doing at all timcs.
As ! writc, at this vcry momcnt, with onc corncr ol my mind
! can kccp an cyc on my mind. Vhat am ! thinking ol: !s my
mind locuscd on thc mcssagc ! am trying to convcy, or am !
thinking about what happcncd this morning, or last wcck, or
about what ! will do tonight: ! oncc hcard a tcachcr rcmark that
il you arc making a cup ol tca, thcn at that momcnt, 8uddhism
mcans making it wcll.
Tc hcart ol mcntal dcvclopmcnt is locusing thc mind prc
ciscly on what you arc doing at this vcry momcnt, whcthcr it bc
going to school, clcaning thc housc, or convcrsing with a lricnd.
No mattcr what you arc doing, you can practicc mindlulncss.
Tc practicc ol mindlulncss can bc univcrsally applicd.
Traditionally, thc practicc ol mindlulncss has playcd an
important rolc in 8uddhism. Tc 8uddha callcd mindlulncss
thc onc way to achicvc thc cnd ol sußcring. Tc practicc ol
mindlulncss has also bccn claboratcd with rcgard to lour spc
·c ·.
cinc applications: (i) mindlulncss ol thc body, (ii) mindlulncss
ol lcclings, (iii) mindlulncss ol consciousncss, and (iv) mindlul
ncss ol objccts ol thc mind. Tc lour applications ol mindlulncss
continuc to play an important rolc in thc practicc ol 8uddhist
mcditation to this vcry day.
8ut lct us go on to considcr thc third stcp ol mcntal dcvcl
opmcnt, namcly, conccntration, which is also somctimcs callcd
“tranquillity,” or simply mcditation. You will rccall that wc traccd
thc origins ol mcditation all thc way back to thc !ndus \allcy
civilization. Mcditation, or conccntration, has nothing to do
with lrcnzy or torpor, much lcss with a scmiconscious or coma
tosc statc. Conccntration is mcrcly thc practicc ol locusing thc
mind singlcpointcdly on an objcct. Tis objcct can bc cithcr
physical or mcntal. Vhcn complctc, singlcpointcd conccntra
tion on an objcct is achicvcd, thc mind bccomcs totally absorbcd
in thc objcct to thc cxclusion ol all mcntal activity – distraction,
torpor, agitation, and vacillation. Tis is thc objcctivc ol thc
practicc ol right conccntration: to conccntratc thc mind singlc
pointcdly on an objcct. Most ol us havc had intimations ol this
kind ol statc ol mind in our cvcryday livcs. Òccasionally, somc
thing approaching singlcpointcdncss ol mind occurs spontanc
ously, whcn listcning to a piccc ol music or watching thc sca or
sky. At such timcs you may cxpcricncc a momcnt whcn thc mind
rcmains singlcpointcdly absorbcd in an objcct, sound, or lorm.
Conccntration can bc practiccd in a numbcr ol ways. Tc
objcct ol conccntration may bc visual (likc a ßamc, an imagc,
or a ßowcr) or it may bc an idca (such as lovc and compassion).
Vhcn you practicc conccntration, you locus thc mind rcpcatcdly
on thc sclcctcd objcct. Gradually, this lcads to thc ability to rcst
·: ·.
thc mind on thc objcct without distraction. Vhcn this can bc
maintaincd lor a protractcd pcriod ol timc, you havc achicvcd
singlcpointcdncss ol thc mind.
!t is important to notc that this aspcct ol mcntal dcvcl
opmcnt is bcst practiccd with thc guidancc ol an cxpcricnccd
tcachcr, bccausc a numbcr ol tcchnical lactors can condition your
succcss or lailurc. Tcsc includc attitudc, posturc, and duration
and occasion ol practicc. !t is dimcult to gct all thcsc lactors
right just by rcading a book. Noncthclcss, you nccd not bccomc
a monk to practicc this kind ol mcditation. You nccd not livc
in a lorcst or abandon your daily activitics. You can bcgin with
rclativcly short pcriods ol mcditation, as short as tcn or nltccn
minutcs a day.
Proncicncy in this kind ol mcditation has two principal bcn
cnts. First, it lcads to mcntal and physical wcllbcing, comlort,
joy, calm, and tranquillity. Sccond, it turns thc mind into an
instrumcnt capablc ol sccing things as thcy rcally arc. Tus it
prcparcs thc mind to attain wisdom.
Tc gradual dcvclopmcnt ol thc ability to scc things as thcy
rcally arc through thc practicc ol mcditation has bccn likcncd to
thc dcvclopmcnt ol spccial instrumcnts by mcans ol which wc
can now scc subatomic rcality and thc likc. !n thc samc way, il
wc do not dcvclop thc potcntial ol our minds through thc culti
vation ol right cßort, right mindlulncss, and right conccntration,
our undcrstanding ol thc rcal statc ol things will rcmain at bcst
intcllcctual knowlcdgc. To turn our undcrstanding ol thc Four
Noblc Truths lrom mcrc book knowlcdgc into dircct cxpcricncc,
wc havc to achicvc singlcpointcdncss ol thc mind.
!t is at this point that mcntal dcvclopmcnt is rcady to turn
·: ·.
its attcntion to wisdom. Now wc can clcarly scc thc particular
rolc ol mcditation in 8uddhism. ! touchcd on this bricßy whcn
! spokc about thc 8uddha’s dccision to lcavc thc two tcachcrs ol
mcditation, Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, and ol his
combination ol conccntration and wisdom on thc night ol his
cnlightcnmcnt. Hcrc, too, singlcpointcdncss ol mind by itscll
is not cnough. !t is likc sharpcning a pcncil bclorc procccding to
writc, or sharpcning an ax that wc will usc to cut oß thc trunk
ol attachmcnt, avcrsion, and ignorancc. Vhcn wc havc achicvcd
singlcpointcdncss ol thc mind, wc arc thcn rcady to join con
ccntration with wisdom in ordcr to gain cnlightcnmcnt.
·¡ ··
ith this chaptcr wc will complctc our survcy ol thc stcps
ol thc Noblc ¡ightlold Path. !n Chaptcr · and Chaptcr 6
wc lookcd at thc nrst two groups, or ways, ol practicc, thosc ol
good conduct and mcntal dcvclopmcnt. Hcrc wc will look at thc
third way ol practicc, which is wisdom. At this point wc nnd
oursclvcs laccd with an apparcnt paradox: in thc list ol cight
stcps ol thc path, right undcrstanding and right thought occur
nrst, yct in thc contcxt ol thc thrcc ways ol practicc, thc wisdom
group comcs last. Vhy should this bc:
¡arlicr, wc uscd thc analogy ol mountainclimbing to hclp
cxplain thc rclationships among thc stcps ol thc path. Vhcn
you sct out to climb a mountain, you must havc thc summit in
vicw. !t is thc sight ol thc summit that imparts thc gcncral dircc
tion to onc’s stcps. For this rcason, cvcn at thc vcry bcginning
ol a climb, you must kccp your cycs on thc summit. Tcrclorc,
right undcrstanding is listcd at thc vcry bcginning ol thc stcps
ol thc path. Yct in practical tcrms, you havc to climb thc lowcr
slopcs and scalc thc intcrmcdiatc rcachcs bclorc you can gain thc
summit, which is thc attainmcnt ol wisdom. !n practical tcrms,
thcrclorc, wisdom comcs only at thc cnd ol your practicc ol thc
Visdom is dcscribcd as thc undcrstanding ol thc Four Noblc
Truths, thc undcrstanding ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination, and thc
likc. Vhat wc mcan whcn wc say this is simply that thc attain
mcnt ol wisdom is thc translormation ol thcsc doctrinal itcms
·¡ ··
lrom mcrc objccts ol intcllcctual knowlcdgc into rcal, pcrsonal
cxpcricncc. !n othcr words, wc want to changc our knowlcdgc
ol thc Four Noblc Truths and thc likc lrom mcrc book lcarning
into actual, living truth. Tis goal is accomplishcd nrst through
thc cultivation ol good conduct, and thcn spccially through thc
cultivation ol mcntal dcvclopmcnt.
Anyonc can rcad in a book about thc mcaning ol thc Four
Noblc Truths, intcrdcpcndcnt origination, and so lorth, but this
docs not mcan hc or shc has attaincd wisdom. Tc 8uddha him
scll said that it was through lailing to undcrstand thc Four Noblc
Truths and intcrdcpcndcnt origination that wc havc all gonc on
in this cyclc ol birth and dcath lor so long. Òbviously, whcn hc
said this, hc mcant somcthing dccpcr than simplc lailurc to bc
acquaintcd intcllcctually with thcsc itcms ol doctrinc.
Tc tcrm “undcrstanding” must thus bc takcn in thc scnsc ol
right undcrstanding, that is to say, dircct and immcdiatc undcr
standing. !t can bc likcncd to a simplc act ol pcrccption, likc
sccing a patch ol bluc color. Pcrhaps this is why thc languagc
ol sccing is so oltcn uscd to dcscribc thc attainmcnt ol wisdom.
Vc spcak ol wisdom in tcrms ol “sccing thc truth” or “sccing
things as thcy rcally arc” bccausc thc attainmcnt ol wisdom is
not an intcllcctual or acadcmic cxcrcisc: it is undcrstanding, or
“sccing,” thcsc truths dircctly. Vhcn this kind ol dircct undcr
standing ol thc naturc ol rcality is gaincd, it is cquivalcnt to thc
attainmcnt ol cnlightcnmcnt. Tis opcns thc door to lrccdom
lrom sußcring and to nirvana.
!n 8uddhism, wisdom is thc kcy to thc rcalization ol thc
goal ol thc rcligion. !n somc rcligions, wc nnd that laith is
paramount, in othcr traditions, mcditation is suprcmc. 8ut in
·6 ··
8uddhism, laith is prcliminary and mcditation is instrumcntal.
Tc rcal hcart ol 8uddhism is wisdom.
Two stcps ol thc Noblc ¡ightlold Path arc includcd in thc
wisdom group: (.) right undcrstanding, and (:) right thought.
Right undcrstanding can bc said to mcan sccing things as thcy
rcally arc – undcrstanding thc rcal truth about things, rathcr
than simply sccing thcm as thcy appcar to bc. Vhat this mcans
in practical tcrms is insight, pcnctrativc undcrstanding, or scc
ing bcncath thc surlacc ol things. !l wc wantcd to cxplain this in
doctrinal tcrms, wc would havc to spcak about thc Four Noblc
Truths, intcrdcpcndcnt origination, impcrmancncc, impcrsonal
ity, and so lorth. 8ut lor thc momcnt, lct us just talk about thc
mcans ol gaining right undcrstanding, lcaving thc contcnts ol
that undcrstanding lor anothcr occasion. Hcrc, again, thc scicn
tinc attitudc ol thc 8uddha’s tcaching is cvidcnt, bccausc whcn
wc cxaminc thc mcans ol acquiring right undcrstanding, wc nnd
that wc bcgin with objcctivc obscrvation ol thc world around us
and ol oursclvcs. Morcovcr, objcctivc obscrvation is joincd by
inquiry, cxamination, and considcration.
!n thc coursc ol acquiring right undcrstanding, wc nnd that
thcrc arc two typcs ol undcrstanding: (i) undcrstanding that
wc acquirc by oursclvcs, and (ii) undcrstanding that wc acquirc
through othcrs. Tc lattcr consists ol truths that wc arc shown
by othcrs. Ultimatcly, thcsc two typcs ol undcrstanding mcrgc
bccausc, in thc nnal analysis, rcal undcrstanding (or, lct us say,
right undcrstanding) has to bc our own. !n thc mcantimc, wc
can, howcvcr, distinguish bctwccn thc undcrstanding wc achicvc
through simplc obscrvation ol thc data ol cvcryday cxpcricncc and
thc undcrstanding wc achicvc through study ol thc tcachings.
·6 ··
]ust as, in thc casc ol our pcrsonal situations, wc arc cncour
agcd to obscrvc objcctivcly thc lacts with which wc arc prcscntcd
and thcn considcr thcir signincancc, so, whcn wc approach thc
tcachings ol thc 8uddha, wc arc cncouragcd nrst to study and
thcn to considcr and cxaminc thcm. 8ut whcthcr wc arc talk
ing about obscrvation and inquiry into thc truth about our pcr
sonal cxpcricncc or about thc study and considcration ol tcxts,
thc third and nnal stcp in this proccss ol acquiring knowlcdgc is
mcditation. !t is at this point in thc proccss ol acquiring know
lcdgc that thc two typcs ol undcrstanding ! alludcd to carlicr
bccomc indistinguishablc.
To summarizc, thc mcans ol acquiring right undcrstand
ing arc as lollows: (.) on thc nrst stagc, you havc to obscrvc and
study, (:) on thc sccond stagc, you havc to cxaminc intcllcctually
what you havc obscrvcd and studicd, and (.) on thc third stagc,
you havc to mcditatc on what you havc cxamincd and dctcr
mincd intcllcctually carlicr. Lct us usc a practical cxamplc. Say
wc intcnd to travcl to a ccrtain dcstination. To prcparc oursclvcs
lor thc journcy, wc acquirc a road map that shows thc routc wc
must lollow to rcach our dcstination. First wc look at thc map
lor dircctions, thcn wc havc to rcvicw what wc havc obscrvcd,
cxamining thc map to bc surc wc havc undcrstood thc indica
tions it givcs. Ònly thcn can wc actually makc thc journcy to our
intcndcd dcstination. Tc nnal stcp in this proccss – making thc
actual journcy – may bc likcncd to mcditation.
Altcrnativcly, supposc you havc bought a ncw piccc ol cquip
mcnt lor your homc or omcc. !t is not cnough to rcad thc instruc
tions lor its usc oncc through. Tcy must bc rcrcad and cxam
incd closcly to bc ccrtain you undcrstand what thcy mcan. Ònly
·· ·o
whcn you arc surc you havc undcrstood thcm propcrly can you
procccd to opcratc thc ncw piccc ol cquipmcnt. Tc act ol opcr
ating thc cquipmcnt succcsslully is analogous to mcditation. !n
thc samc way, to attain wisdom wc must mcditatc on thc know
lcdgc that wc havc acquircd through obscrvation or study and
lurthcr vcrincd intcllcctually by mcans ol cxamination. Òn thc
third stagc ol thc proccss ol acquiring right undcrstanding, thc
knowlcdgc wc havc gaincd prcviously bccomcs part ol our liv
ing cxpcricncc.
Ncxt, wc might spcnd a lcw momcnts considcring thc appro
priatc attitudc to cultivatc whcn approaching thc tcaching ol thc
8uddha. !t is said that, in doing so, wc must avoid thrcc ßaws,
which arc cxplaincd with thc cxamplc ol a vcsscl. !n this contcxt,
wc arc thc vcsscl, whilc thc tcaching is what has to bc pourcd
into it.
Now, supposc nrst that thc vcsscl is covcrcd with a lid: obvi
ously, wc will not bc ablc to pour anything into it. Tis is anal
ogous to thc situation ol somconc who listcns to thc tcaching
with a closcd mind, that is to say, a mind that is alrcady madc
up. !n such circumstanccs, thc Ðharma cannot cntcr into and
nll his mind.
Again, supposc wc havc a vcsscl with a holc in thc bottom:
il wc try to nll it with milk, thc liquid simply runs out thc holc.
Tis is analogous to somconc who docs not rctain what hc hcars,
so that no amount ol tcaching is ol any usc.
Finally, supposc wc nll thc vcsscl with lrcsh milk bclorc
chccking to scc that it is clcan, and thcrc is somc spoilcd milk
lclt in it lrom thc prcvious day: thc lrcsh milk that wc pour into
thc vcsscl will naturally spoil as wcll. !n thc samc way, il somc
·· ·o
onc listcns to thc tcaching with an impurc mind, thc tcaching
will bc ol no bcncnt. For cxamplc, somconc who listcns to thc
Ðharma lor sclnsh purposcs, say bccausc hc wants to gain honor
and rccognition, is likc a vcsscl alrcady taintcd with impuritics.
Vc must all try to avoid thcsc thrcc ßaws whcn wc approach
thc tcaching ol thc 8uddha. Tc corrcct attitudc to adopt in lis
tcning to thc Ðharma is that ol a paticnt who pays carclul attcn
tion to thc advicc ol his physician. Hcrc thc 8uddha is likc thc
physician, thc tcaching lunctions as thc mcdicinc, wc arc thc
paticnt, and thc practicc ol thc tcaching is thc mcans by which
wc can bc curcd ol thc discasc ol thc amictions (attachmcnt,
avcrsion, and ignorancc), which is thc causc ol our sußcring.
Vc will surcly achicvc somc dcgrcc ol right undcrstanding il wc
approach thc study ol thc Ðharma with this attitudc.
Right undcrstanding itscll is oltcn dividcd into two aspccts,
or lcvcls: an ordinary lcvcl, and a highcr onc. !n Chaptcr ¡,
! mcntioncd thc goals that 8uddhism oßcrs, which also bclong
to two dißcrcnt lcvcls: thc goal ol happincss and prospcrity
bclongs to this lilc and thc ncxt, whilc thc goal ol lrccdom, or
nirvana, is thc ultimatc aim ol practicc. Tc ordinary lcvcl ol
right undcrstanding corrcsponds to this nrst, mundanc goal ol
thc practicc ol 8uddhism, whilc thc highcr lcvcl ol right undcr
standing corrcsponds to thc ultimatc goal ol 8uddhist practicc.
Tc nrst, ordinary aspcct ol right undcrstanding is con
ccrncd with corrcct apprcciation ol thc rclationship bctwccn
causc and cßcct, and pcrtains to moral rcsponsibility lor our
bchavior. 8ricßy statcd, this mcans that wc will cxpcricncc thc
cßccts ol our actions sooncr or latcr. !l wc act wcll – prcscrving
thc valucs ol rcspcct lor lilc, propcrty, truth, and so lorth – wc
oc o.
will cxpcricncc thc happy cßccts ol our good actions: in othcr
words, wc will cnjoy happincss and lortunatc conditions in this
and in thc ncxt lilc. Convcrscly, il wc act badly, wc will cxpc
ricncc unhappincss, miscry, and unlortunatc conditions in this
lilc and in luturc livcs.
Tc sccond, highcr aspcct ol right undcrstanding is con
ccrncd with sccing things as thcy rcally arc, and pcrtains to thc
ultimatc goal ol thc tcaching ol thc 8uddha. Vhat do wc mcan
whcn wc say “scc things as thcy rcally arc”: Again, doctrinal
answcrs can bc givcn: to scc things as thcy rcally arc can mcan
sccing things as impcrmancnt, as intcrdcpcndcntly originatcd, as
impcrsonal, and so lorth. All thcsc answcrs arc corrcct. All havc
somcthing to say about sccing things as thcy rcally arc. 8ut to
arrivc at an undcrstanding ol this nrst stcp – and, in a scnsc, thc
last stcp – ol thc Noblc ¡ightlold Path, wc must look lor somc
thing that all thcsc doctrinal cxprcssions ol right undcrstanding
havc in common. Vhat wc nnd is that all thcsc dcscriptions ol
thc mcaning ol right undcrstanding arc opposcd to ignorancc,
bondagc, and cntanglcmcnt in thc cyclc ol birth and dcath.
Tc 8uddha’s attainmcnt ol cnlightcnmcnt was csscntially
an cxpcricncc ol thc dcstruction ol ignorancc. Tis cxpcricncc
is most lrcqucntly dcscribcd by thc 8uddha himscll in tcrms ol
undcrstanding thc Four Noblc Truths and intcrdcpcndcnt orig
ination, both ol which arc conccrncd with thc dcstruction ol
ignorancc. !n this scnsc, ignorancc is thc ccntral problcm lor
8uddhism. Tc kcy conccption in both thc Four Noblc Truths
and intcrdcpcndcnt origination is ignorancc, its conscqucnccs
and climination.
Lct us look again, lor a momcnt, at thc lormula ol thc Four
oc o.
Noblc Truths. Tc kcy to translorming our cxpcricncc lrom thc
cxpcricncc ol sußcring to that ol thc cnd ol sußcring is undcr
standing thc sccond noblc truth, thc truth ol thc causc ol sul
lcring. Òncc wc undcrstand thc causcs ol sußcring, wc can act
to achicvc thc cnd ol sußcring. As mcntioncd in Chaptcr ¡, thc
Four Noblc Truths arc dividcd into two groups: thc nrst, which
includcs thc truth ol sußcring and thc truth ol thc causc ol
sußcring, is to bc abandoncd, thc sccond, which includcs thc
truth ol thc cnd ol sußcring and thc truth ol thc path, is to bc
Undcrstanding thc causc ol sußcring cnablcs us to accom
plish this. Tis can bc sccn clcarly in thc 8uddha’s own dcscrip
tion ol his cxpcricncc on thc night ol his cnlightcnmcnt. Vhcn
thc 8uddha pcrccivcd thc causcs ol sußcring – whcn hc undcr
stood that attachmcnt, avcrsion, and ignorancc wcrc thosc
causcs – this opcncd thc door to lrccdom and cnlightcnmcnt lor
him. Attachmcnt, avcrsion, and ignorancc arc thc causcs ol sul
lcring. 8ut il wc want to rcstrict our cxamination to thc most
csscntial componcnt, wc must locus on ignorancc, bccausc it is
duc to ignorancc that attachmcnt and avcrsion arisc.
!gnorancc is thc idca ol a pcrmancnt, indcpcndcnt pcrsonality,
or scll. !t is this conccption ol an “!,” scparatc lrom and opposcd
to thc pcoplc and things around us, that is thc lundamcntal causc
ol sußcring. Òncc wc havc thc idca ol such an “!,” wc havc a natu
ral inclination toward thosc things in our cxpcricncc that sustain
and support this “!,” and a natural inclination away lrom thosc
things that wc imaginc thrcatcn this “!.” !t is this conccption ol
an indcpcndcnt scll that is thc lundamcntal causc ol sußcring,
thc root ol thc various harmlul cmotions: attachmcnt, avcrsion,
o: o.
grccd, angcr, cnvy, and jcalousy. !t is ignorancc ol thc lact that
thc socallcd !, or scll, is just a convcnicnt namc lor a collcction
ol cvcrchanging, intcrdcpcndcnt, contingcnt lactors that is at thc
bottom ol all such cmotional cntanglcmcnts.
8ut is thcrc a lorcst apart lrom thc trccs: Tc “!,” or scll, is
just a common namc lor a collcction ol proccsscs. Vhcn thc
scll is takcn to bc rcal and indcpcndcnt, it is a causc ol sußcring
and lcar. !n this contcxt, bclicving in an indcpcndcnt scll may
bc likcncd to mistaking a ropc lor a snakc in thc scmidarkncss.
!l wc comc upon a ropc in a darkcncd room, wc may assumc
thc ropc to bc rcally a snakc, and that assumption is a causc ol
lcar. Similarly, bccausc ol thc darkncss ol ignorancc, wc takc thc
impcrmancnt, impcrsonal proccsscs ol lccling, pcrccption, and
so lorth to bc a rcal, indcpcndcnt scll. As a rcsult, wc rcspond
to situations with hopc and lcar, dcsirc ccrtain things and arc
avcrsc to othcrs, arc lond ol somc pcoplc and dislikc othcrs.
Tcrclorc, ignorancc is thc mistakcn idca ol a pcrmancnt cgo,
or a rcal scll. Tis tcaching ol impcrsonality, or notscll, docs not
contradict thc doctrinc ol moral rcsponsibility, thc law ol karma.
!n lact, you will rccall that a momcnt ago wc dcscribcd right
undcrstanding in tcrms ol two aspccts – undcrstanding thc law
ol karma, and sccing things as thcy rcally arc. Òncc thc crronc
ous notion ol thc scll, which is cgoccntrism, is dispcllcd by right
undcrstanding, thcn attachmcnt, avcrsion, and thc othcr cmo
tional amictions do not occur. Vhcn all thcsc ccasc, thc cnd ol
sußcring is attaincd. ! do not cxpcct all this to bc immcdiatcly
clcar. !ndccd, ! dcvotc a numbcr ol chaptcrs to thc notion ol
ignorancc in 8uddhism, and to its corrcctivcs.
Lct us go on, lor thc prcscnt, to thc ncxt stcp ol thc path that
o: o.
bclongs to thc wisdom group – namcly, right thought. Hcrc wc
can bcgin to scc thc rcintcgration, or rcapplication, ol thc wis
dom aspcct ol thc path to good conduct, bccausc thought has
an immcnsc inßucncc on our bchavior. Tc 8uddha said that
il wc act and spcak with a purc mind, happincss lollows likc a
shadow, whcrcas il wc act and spcak with an impurc mind, sul
lcring lollows as thc whccl ol a cart lollows thc hool ol thc ox
that draws it.
Right thought mcans avoiding attachmcnt and avcrsion.
Tc causcs ol sußcring arc said to bc ignorancc, attachmcnt,
and avcrsion. Vhilc right undcrstanding rcmovcs ignorancc,
right thought rcmovcs attachmcnt and avcrsion, thcrclorc, right
undcrstanding and right thought togcthcr rcmovc thc causcs ol
To rcmovc attachmcnt and grccd wc must cultivatc rcnunci
ation, whilc to rcmovc avcrsion and angcr wc must cultivatc lovc
and compassion. How do wc go about cultivating thc attitudcs ol
rcnunciation and lovc and compassion, which act as corrcctivcs
to attachmcnt and avcrsion: Rcnunciation is dcvclopcd by con
tcmplating thc unsatislactory naturc ol cxistcncc, particularly thc
unsatislactory naturc ol plcasurcs ol thc scnscs. Plcasurcs ol thc
scnscs arc likcncd to saltwatcr. A thirsty man who drinks saltwa
tcr in thc hopc ol qucnching his thirst only nnds that it incrcascs.
Tc 8uddha also likcncd scnsc plcasurcs to a ccrtain lruit that has
an attractivc cxtcrior and is lragrant and tasty, but that is poison
ous il catcn. Similarly, plcasurcs arc attractivc and cnjoyablc yct
causc disastcr. Tcrclorc, to cultivatc rcnunciation, you must con
sidcr thc undcsirablc conscqucnccs ol plcasurcs ol thc scnscs.
!n addition, wc must apprcciatc thc lact that thc vcry naturc
o¡ o·
ol samsara, thc cyclc ol birth and dcath, is sußcring. No mattcr
whcrc wc arc born within that cyclc, our situation will bc satu
ratcd with sußcring. Tc naturc ol samsara is sußcring, just as
thc naturc ol nrc is hcat. Trough undcrstanding thc unsatislac
tory naturc ol cxistcncc and rccognizing thc undcsirablc consc
qucnccs ol plcasurcs ol thc scnscs, wc can cultivatc rcnunciation
and dctachmcnt.
Similarly, wc can dcvclop lovc and compassion through rcc
ognizing thc csscntial cquality ol all living bcings. Likc us, all
living bcings lcar dcath and trcmblc at thc idca ol punishmcnt.
Undcrstanding this, wc should not kill othcr living bcings or
causc thcm to bc killcd. Likc us, all living bcings dcsirc lilc and
happincss. Undcrstanding this, wc should not placc oursclvcs
abovc othcrs or rcgard oursclvcs any dißcrcntly lrom thc way wc
rcgard othcrs.
Rccognition ol thc csscntial cquality ol all living bcings is
lundamcntal to thc cultivation ol lovc and compassion. All liv
ing bcings dcsirc happincss and lcar pain just as much as wc do.
Rccognizing this, wc ought to rcgard all with lovc and compas
sion. Morcovcr, wc ought to activcly cultivatc thc wish that all
living bcings bc happy and lrcc lrom sußcring. !n this way wc
can all cultivatc thc bcncncial attitudcs ol rcnunciation and lovc
and compassion, which corrcct and cvcntually climinatc attach
mcnt and avcrsion. Finally, by mcans ol thc practicc ol thc wis
dom aspcct ol thc path – which includcs not only right thought
but also right undcrstanding – wc can climinatc thc amictions ol
ignorancc, attachmcnt, and avcrsion, attaining lrccdom and thc
suprcmc happincss ol nirvana, which is thc ultimatc goal ol thc
Noblc ¡ightlold Path.
o¡ o·
ith this chaptcr, wc bcgin our considcration ol two rclatcd
conccpts common in 8uddhism: karma and rcbirth. Tcsc
conccpts arc closcly conncctcd, but bccausc thc subjcct is a largc
onc, ! intcnd to dcdicatc two chaptcrs to it – this and thc lollow
ing onc.
Vc havc lcarncd that thc lactors which kccp us prisoncrs in
samsara arc thc amictions: ignorancc, attachmcnt, and avcrsion.
Vc discusscd this whcn wc considcrcd thc sccond noblc truth,
thc truth ol thc causc ol sußcring (scc Chaptcr ¡ and Chaptcr ·).
Tc amictions arc somcthing that cvcry living bcing in thc world
has in common with cvcry othcr living bcing, whcthcr human,
animal, or a bcing who dwclls in rcalms that wc cannot nor
mally pcrccivc.
All living bcings arc alikc insolar as thcy arc subjcct to thc
amictions, yct thcrc arc many dißcrcnccs among living bcings
with which wc arc all lamiliar. For instancc, somc ol us arc
wcalthy whilc othcrs arc poor, somc arc strong and hcalthy whilc
othcrs arc wcak and discascd, and so lorth. Tcrc arc many dil
lcrcnccs among human bcings, and thcrc arc cvcn grcatcr dil
lcrcnccs bctwccn human bcings and animals. Tcsc dißcrcnccs
arc thc rcsult ol karma. !gnorancc, attachmcnt, and avcrsion arc
common to all living bcings, but thc particular circumstanccs in
which cach living bcing nnds himscll arc thc cßccts ol his par
ticular karma, which conditions his spccinc situation.
Karma cxplains why somc living bcings arc lortunatc whilc
o6 o·
othcrs arc lcss lortunatc, why somc arc happy whilc othcrs arc
unhappy. Tc 8uddha clcarly statcd that karma accounts lor thc
dißcrcnccs among living bcings. Vc might also rccall that part
ol thc 8uddha’s cxpcricncc on thc night ol his cnlightcnmcnt
consistcd ol gaining an undcrstanding ol how karma dctcrmincs
thc rcbirth ol living bcings – how living bcings migratc lrom
happy to unhappy conditions, and vicc vcrsa, as a conscqucncc
ol thcir particular karma. Tcrclorc, it is karma that cxplains thc
dißcring circumstanccs in which individual living bcings nnd
Having said this much about thc lunction ol karma, lct us
look morc closcly at what karma actually is: in othcr words, lct
us dcnnc it. Pcrhaps wc can bcgin by dcciding what karma is
not. Òltcn pcoplc misundcrstand thc mcaning ol karma. Tis is
cspccially truc in thc cvcryday, casual usc ol thc tcrm. You oltcn
nnd pcoplc spcaking rcsigncdly about a particular situation and
making usc ol thc idca ol karma to rcconcilc thcmsclvcs to it.
Vhcn pcoplc think ol karma in this way, it bccomcs a vchiclc
ol cscapc and assumcs most ol thc charactcristics ol a bclicl in
prcdcstination, or latc. 8ut this is most ccrtainly not thc corrcct
mcaning ol karma. Pcrhaps this misundcrstanding is a rcsult ol
thc idca ol latc that is common in many culturcs. Pcrhaps it is
bccausc ol this popular bclicl that thc conccpt ol karma is oltcn
conluscd with and obscurcd by thc notion ol prcdcstination. 8ut
karma is ccrtainly not latc or prcdcstination.
!l karma is not latc or prcdcstination, what is it: Lct us look
at thc mcaning ol thc tcrm itscll. Karma mcans “action,” that
is to say, thc act ol doing this or that. !mmcdiatcly, wc havc
a clcar indication that thc rcal mcaning ol karma is not latc,
o6 o·
rathcr, karma is action, and as such, it is dynamic. 8ut karma is
morc than just action, bccausc it is not mcchanical action, nor
is it unconscious or involuntary action. Òn thc contrary, karma
is intcntional, conscious, dclibcratc action motivatcd by volition,
or will.
How can this intcntional action condition our situation lor
bcttcr or lor worsc: !t can do so bccausc cvcry action must havc
a rcaction, or an cßcct. Tis truth has bccn cnunciatcd with
rcspcct to thc physical univcrsc by thc grcat classical physicist
Ncwton, who lormulatcd thc scicntinc law that cvcry action
must havc an cqual and oppositc rcaction. !n thc sphcrc ol intcn
tional action and moral rcsponsibility, thcrc is a countcrpart to
this law ol action and rcaction that govcrns cvcnts in thc physi
cal univcrsc – namcly, thc law that cvcry intcntional action must
havc its cßcct. For this rcason, 8uddhists oltcn spcak ol intcn
tional action and its ripcncd conscqucnccs or intcntional action
and its cßcct. Tus, whcn wc want to spcak about intcntional
action togcthcr with its ripcncd conscqucnccs, or cßccts, wc usc
thc phrasc “thc law ol karma.”
Òn thc most lundamcntal lcvcl, thc law ol karma tcachcs
that particular kinds ol actions incvitably lcad to similar or
appropriatc rcsults. Lct us takc a simplc cxamplc to illustratc
this point. !l wc plant thc sccd ol a mango, thc trcc that grows
as a rcsult will bc a mango trcc, which will cvcntually bcar man
gos. Altcrnativcly, il wc plant a pomcgranatc sccd, thc trcc that
grows as a conscqucncc will bc a pomcgranatc trcc, and its lruit
will bc pomcgranatcs. “As you sow, so shall you rcap”: accord
ing to thc naturc ol our actions, wc will obtain thc corrcspond
ing lruit.
o· oo
!n thc samc way, according to thc law ol karma, il wc pcr
lorm a wholcsomc action, sooncr or latcr wc will obtain a wholc
somc lruit, or rcsult, and il wc pcrlorm an unwholcsomc action,
wc will incvitably obtain an unwholcsomc or unwantcd rcsult.
Tis is what wc mcan whcn wc say, in 8uddhism, that particu
lar causcs bring about particular cßccts that arc similar in naturc
to thosc causcs. Tis will bccomc pcrlcctly clcar whcn wc con
sidcr spccinc cxamplcs ol wholcsomc and unwholcsomc actions
and thcir corrcsponding cßccts.
!t may bc undcrstood lrom this bricl, gcncral introduction
that karma can bc ol two kinds: good or wholcsomc karma, and
bad or unwholcsomc karma. To avoid misundcrstanding thcsc
tcrms, it may bc ol usc to look at thc original words uscd to rclcr
to socallcd good and bad karma – namcly, kushala and akushala,
rcspcctivcly. To undcrstand how thcsc words arc uscd, it is ncc
cssary to know thcir actual mcanings: kushala mcans “intclligcnt”
or “skilllul,” whcrcas akushala mcans “unintclligcnt” or “unskill
lul.” 8y knowing this, wc can scc that thcsc tcrms arc uscd in
8uddhism not in thc scnsc ol good and cvil, but in thc scnsc ol
intclligcnt and unintclligcnt, skilllul and unskilllul, wholcsomc
and unwholcsomc.
!n what way arc actions wholcsomc and unwholcsomc:
Actions arc wholcsomc in thc scnsc that thcy arc bcncncial to
oncscll and othcrs, and hcncc motivatcd not by ignorancc, attach
mcnt, and avcrsion but by wisdom, rcnunciation or dctachmcnt,
and lovc and compassion.
How can wc know that a wholcsomc action will producc
happincss, and an unwholcsomc action, unhappincss: Tc short
answcr is that timc will tcll. Tc 8uddha himscll cxplaincd that,
o· oo
as long as an unwholcsomc action docs not producc its lruit ol
sußcring, a loolish pcrson will considcr that action good, but
whcn it docs producc its lruit ol sußcring, thcn hc will rcal
izc that thc act was unwholcsomc. !n thc samc way, as long as a
wholcsomc action docs not producc happincss, a loolish pcrson
may think that it was unwholcsomc, only whcn it docs producc
happincss will hc rcalizc that thc act was good.
Tus wc nccd to judgc wholcsomc and unwholcsomc actions
lrom thc point ol vicw ol thcir longtcrm cßccts. \cry simply,
sooncr or latcr wholcsomc actions rcsult in happincss lor oncscll
and lor othcrs, whcrcas unwholcsomc actions rcsult in sußcring
lor oncscll and othcrs.
Spccincally, thc unwholcsomc actions that arc to bc avoidcd
arc rclatcd to thc socallcd thrcc doors ol action – namcly, body,
voicc, and mind. Tcrc arc thrcc unwholcsomc actions ol body,
lour ol spccch, and thrcc ol mind. Tc thrcc unwholcsomc
actions ol body arc (.) killing, (:) stcaling, and (.) scxual mis
conduct, thc lour unwholcsomc actions ol voicc arc (¡) lying,
(·) harsh spccch, (6) slandcr, and (·) malicious gossip, and thc
thrcc unwholcsomc actions ol mind arc (·) grccd, (o) angcr, and
(.c) dclusion. 8y avoiding thcsc tcn unwholcsomc actions, wc
can avoid thcir conscqucnccs.
Tc gcncral lruit ol thcsc unwholcsomc actions is sußcring,
which can, howcvcr, takc various lorms. Tc lully ripcncd lruit
ol unwholcsomc actions is rcbirth in thc lowcr rcalms, or rcalms
ol woc – thc hcll rcalms, thc rcalm ol hungry ghosts, and thc
rcalm ol animals. !l thc wcight ol unwholcsomc actions is not
sumcicnt to rcsult in birth in thc lowcr rcalms, thcn it rcsults in
unhappincss cvcn though wc arc born as humans.
.cc .c.
Hcrc wc can scc at work thc principlc alludcd to carlicr – that
ol a causc rcsulting in a corrcsponding or appropriatc cßcct. For
instancc, il wc habitually pcrlorm actions that arc motivatcd by
illwill and hatrcd, such as taking thc livcs ol othcrs, this will
rcsult in rcbirth in thc hclls, whcrc wc will bc rcpcatcdly tor
turcd and killcd. !l thc unwholcsomc action ol killing othcr liv
ing bcings is not habitual and rcpcatcd, thcn such actions will
rcsult in a shortcncd lilc cvcn though wc arc born as human
bcings. Òthcrwisc, actions ol this kind can rcsult in scparation
lrom lovcd oncs, lcar, or cvcn paranoia. !n this casc, also, wc can
clcarly scc how thc cßcct is similar in naturc to thc causc. Killing
shortcns thc lilc ol thosc who arc killcd, dcpriving thcm ol thcir
lovcd oncs and thc likc, so il wc indulgc in killing wc will bc lia
blc to cxpcricncc thcsc samc cßccts.
Similarly, stcaling motivatcd by thc amictions ol attach
mcnt and grccd can lcad to rcbirth as a hungry ghost, whcrc wc
arc complctcly dcprivcd ol thc things wc want and cvcn dcnicd
such csscntials as lood and shcltcr. And cvcn il stcaling docs
not rcsult in rcbirth as a hungry ghost, it will rcsult in povcrty,
dcpcndcncc on othcrs lor our livclihood, and so lorth. Scxual
misconduct, lor its part, will rcsult in marital problcms.
Tus unwholcsomc actions producc unwholcsomc rcsults in
thc shapc ol various lorms ol sußcring, whcrcas wholcsomc actions
rcsult in wholcsomc cßccts, or happincss. Vc can intcrprct wholc
somc actions in two ways, ncgativcly and positivcly: wc can rcgard
wholcsomc actions as thosc that simply avoid thc unwholcsomc
oncs (killing, stcaling, scxual misconduct, and thc rcst), or wc can
think ol wholcsomc actions in tcrms ol gcncrosity, rcstraint, mcdi
tation, rcvcrcncc, scrvicc to othcrs, translcrcncc ol mcrit, rcjoic
.cc .c.
ing in thc mcrit ol othcrs, listcning to thc Ðharma, tcaching thc
Ðharma, and corrcction ol our own crroncous vicws.
Hcrc, again, thc cßccts ol actions arc similar to thcir causcs.
For instancc, gcncrosity rcsults in wcalth, listcning to thc
Ðharma rcsults in wisdom, and so on. Vholcsomc actions havc
cßccts that arc similar in naturc to thcir causcs – in this casc,
wholcsomc, or bcncncial – just as unwholcsomc actions havc
cßccts that arc unwholcsomc, likc thc actions thcmsclvcs.
Karma, whcthcr wholcsomc or unwholcsomc, is modincd by
thc conditions undcr which it is accumulatcd. !n othcr words, a
wholcsomc or unwholcsomc action may bc morc or lcss wcighty
dcpcnding on thc conditions undcr which it is pcrlormcd. Tc
conditions that dctcrminc thc wcight or strcngth ol karma may
bc dividcd into thosc that rclcr to thc subjcct, or docr ol thc
action, and thosc that rclcr to thc objcct, or thc bcing toward
whom thc action is dircctcd. Hcncc thc conditions that dctcr
minc thc wcight ol karma apply to thc subjcct as wcll as thc
objcct ol actions.
!l wc takc thc cxamplc ol killing, nvc conditions must bc
prcscnt lor thc action to havc complctc, unmitigatcd strcngth:
(a) a living bcing, (b) consciousncss ol thc cxistcncc ol a living
bcing, (c) thc intcntion to kill thc living bcing, (d) thc cßort or
action ol killing thc living bcing, and (c) thc conscqucnt dcath
ol thc living bcing. Hcrc wc can scc conditions that apply to thc
subjcct as wcll as thc objcct ol thc action ol killing: thc subjcc
tivc conditions arc consciousncss ol thc cxistcncc ol a living bcing,
thc intcntion to kill, and thc action ol killing a living bcing, whilc
thc objcctivc conditions arc thc prcscncc ol a living bcing and thc
conscqucnt dcath ol that living bcing.
.c: .c.
Similarly, thcrc arc nvc altcrnativc conditions that mod
ily thc wcight ol karma: (i) pcrsistcncc or rcpctition, (ii) willlul
intcntion, (iii) abscncc ol rcgrct, (iv) quality, and (v) indcbtcd
ncss. Again, thc nvc can bc dividcd into subjcctivc and objcctivc
catcgorics. Tc subjcctivc conditions arc actions donc with pcr
sistcncc, actions donc with willlul intcntion and dctcrmination,
and actions donc without rcgrct or misgivings. !l you pcrlorm
an unwholcsomc action again and again, with willlul intcntion
and without rcgrct or misgivings, thc wcight ol that action will
bc incrcascd.
Tc objcctivc conditions arc thc quality ol thc objcct – that is,
thc living bcing toward whom thc action is dircctcd – and indcbt
cdncss, or thc naturc ol thc rclationship that cxists bctwccn thc
objcct ol an action and thc subjcct. !n othcr words, il wc pcrlorm
a wholcsomc or unwholcsomc action toward a living bcing with
cxtraordinary qualitics, likc an Arhat or thc 8uddha, thc wholc
somc or unwholcsomc action will havc grcatcr wcight. Finally,
thc strcngth ol wholcsomc and unwholcsomc actions is grcatcr
whcn thcy arc donc toward thosc to whom wc arc indcbtcd, likc
our parcnts, tcachcrs, and lricnds who havc bcncntcd us in thc
Tc subjcctivc and objcctivc conditions, takcn togcthcr,
dctcrminc thc wcight ol karma. Tis is important, bccausc
knowing this will hclp us rcmcmbcr that karma is not simply a
mattcr ol black and whitc or good and bad. Karma is, ol coursc,
intcntional action and moral rcsponsibility, but thc working ol
thc law ol karma is vcry nncly balanccd so as to justly and nat
urally match thc cßcct with thc causc. !t takcs into account all
thc subjcctivc and objcctivc conditions that inßucncc thc prccisc
.c: .c.
naturc ol an action. Tis cnsurcs that thc cßccts ol an action arc
similar and cqual to thc causc.
Tc cßccts ol karma may bccomc cvidcnt cithcr in thc short
tcrm or in thc long tcrm. Traditionally, karma is dividcd into
thrcc catcgorics dctcrmincd by thc amount ol timc nccdcd lor its
cßccts to manilcst thcmsclvcs: in this vcry lilc, in thc ncxt lilc,
or only altcr many livcs.
Vhcn thc cßccts ol karma manilcst in this lilc, it is possiblc
to scc thcm within a rclativcly short spacc ol timc. Tc cßccts ol
this kind ol karma can bc casily and dircctly witncsscd by any
ol us. For instancc, whcn a pcrson rcluscs to study, indulgcs in
alcohol or drug abusc, or bcgins to stcal to support his harmlul
habits, thc cßccts arc cvidcnt within a short spacc ol timc. Tcy
manilcst thcmsclvcs in thc loss ol his livclihood and lricnds, in
ill hcalth, and thc likc.
Although wc oursclvcs cannot scc thc mcdium and long
tcrm cßccts ol karma, thc 8uddha and his promincnt disciplcs,
who had dcvclopcd thcir minds through thc practicc ol mcdita
tion, wcrc ablc to pcrccivc thcm. For cxamplc, whcn Moggallana
was attackcd by bandits and camc to thc 8uddha strcaming with
blood, thc 8uddha was ablc to scc that thc cvcnt was thc cßcct ol
karma that Moggallana had accumulatcd in a prcvious lilc. Tcn,
it sccms, hc had takcn his agcd parcnts into a lorcst and, having
bcatcn thcm to dcath, rcportcd that thcy had bccn killcd by ban
dits. Tc cßcct ol this unwholcsomc action, donc many lilctimcs
bclorc, manilcstcd itscll only in his lilc as Moggallana.
At thc point ol dcath, wc havc to lcavc cvcrything bchind – our
propcrty and cvcn our lovcd oncs – yct our karma will lollow
us likc a shadow. Tc 8uddha said that nowhcrc on carth or
.c¡ .c·
in hcavcn can wc cscapc our karma. Vhcn thc conditions arc
prcscnt, dcpcndcnt on mind and body, thc cßccts ol karma will
manilcst thcmsclvcs, just as, dcpcndcnt on thc appropriatc con
ditions, a mango will appcar on a mango trcc. Vc can scc that,
cvcn in thc natural world, ccrtain cßccts takc longcr to appcar
than othcrs. !l wc plant watcrmclon sccds, wc obtain thc lruit
in a shortcr pcriod than il wc plant thc sccds ol a walnut trcc. !n
thc samc way, thc cßccts ol karma manilcst thcmsclvcs cithcr
in thc short tcrm or in thc mcdium to long tcrm, dcpcnding on
thc naturc ol thc action.
!n addition to thc two principal varictics ol karma, wholc
somc and unwholcsomc, wc should mcntion ncutral or incßcc
tivc karma. Ncutral karma is action that has no moral consc
qucnccs, cithcr bccausc thc vcry naturc ol thc action is such as to
havc no moral signincancc, or bccausc thc action was donc invol
untarily and unintcntionally. ¡xamplcs ol this varicty ol karma
includc walking cating, slccping, brcathing, making handi
cralts, and so on. Similarly, actions donc unintcntionally consti
tutc incßcctivc karma, bccausc thc allimportant volitional clc
mcnt is missing. For instancc, il you stcp on an inscct whcn com
plctcly unawarc ol its cxistcncc, such an act is considcrcd ncutral
or incßcctivc karma.
Tc bcncnts ol undcrstanding thc law ol karma arc obvi
ous. !n thc nrst placc, such an undcrstanding discouragcs us
lrom pcrlorming unwholcsomc actions that havc sußcring as
thcir incvitablc lruit. Òncc wc undcrstand that, throughout our
cntirc lilc, cach and cvcry intcntional act will producc a simi
lar and cqual rcaction – oncc wc undcrstand that, sooncr or latcr,
wc will havc to cxpcricncc thc cßccts ol our actions, wholcsomc
.c¡ .c·
or unwholcsomc – wc will rclrain lrom unwholcsomc bchavior
bccausc wc will not want to cxpcricncc thc painlul rcsults ol
such actions. Similarly, knowing that wholcsomc actions havc
happincss as thcir lruit, wc will do our bcst to cultivatc such
wholcsomc actions.
Rcßccting on thc law ol karma, ol action and rcaction in thc
sphcrc ol conscious activity, cncouragcs us to abandon unwholc
somc actions and to practicc wholcsomc oncs. Vc will look morc
closcly at thc spccinc cßccts ol karma in luturc livcs, and at
cxactly how it conditions and dctcrmincs thc naturc ol rcbirth,
in thc ncxt chaptcr.
.c6 .c·
n this chaptcr, ! will look at thc cßccts ol karma in thc ncxt
lilc or, to put it anothcr way, ! will claboratc on thc idca
ol rcbirth. 8ut bclorc wc bcgin to talk spccincally about thc
8uddha’s tcaching on rcbirth, wc may do wcll to spcnd a littlc
timc on thc conccpt ol rcbirth in gcncral.
Rcbirth is a conccpt with which many pcoplc havc dimculty.
Tis has bccn cspccially truc ovcr thc past ccntury or so, whcn
wc havc bccomc incrcasingly conditioncd to think in what arc
rcgardcd as scicntinc tcrms, that is to say, tcrms that many pco
plc naivcly takc to bc scicntinc. Tis attitudc has causcd many
pcoplc to discard thc idca ol rcbirth bccausc thcy think that it
smacks ol supcrstition and bclongs to an oldlashioncd, outdatcd
way ol looking at thc world. For this rcason, ! think wc nccd
to rcdrcss thc balancc by crcating a dcgrcc ol opcnmindcdncss
toward thc conccpt ol rcbirth in gcncral tcrms, bclorc wc bcgin
to considcr thc 8uddhist tcaching on thc subjcct.
Tcrc arc a numbcr ol approachcs wc can adopt in attcmpting
to makc a casc lor thc rcality ol rcbirth. Ònc linc ol argumcnt is
to rccall that, in almost all thc major culturcs ol thc world at onc
timc or anothcr, thcrc has bccn a strong popular bclicl in rcbirth.
Tis is particularly truc ol !ndia, whcrc thc idca can bc traccd
back to thc vcry carlicst pcriod ol !ndian civilization. !n !ndia,
all thc major rcligions – thcist or athcist, schools ol Hinduism or
unorthodox doctrincs likc ]ainism – acccpt thc truth ol rcbirth.
!n othcr culturcs, too, bclicl in rcbirth has bccn common. To
.c6 .c·
takc just onc cxamplc, in thc Mcditcrrancan world, bclicl in thc
rcality ol rcbirth was widcsprcad bclorc and during thc nrst lcw
ccnturics ol thc common cra. ¡vcn today, it pcrsists among thc
Ðruzc, a Middlc ¡astcrn scct ol !slam. Conscqucntly, bclicl in
thc rcality ol rcbirth has bccn an important part ol thc human
way ol thinking about thc world and our placc in it.
Tcn thcrc is thc tcstimony ol rccognizcd authoritics who
bclong to various rcligious traditions. !n 8uddhism, it was thc
8uddha himscll who taught thc truth ol rcbirth. Vc arc told
that, on thc night ol his cnlightcnmcnt, thc 8uddha acquircd
thrcc kinds ol knowlcdgc, thc nrst ol which was dctailcd know
lcdgc ol his own past livcs. Hc rccollcctcd thc conditions undcr
which hc had bccn born in thc past, and was ablc to rcmcmbcr
what his namc and occupation had bccn in innumcrablc lor
mcr livcs. 8csidcs thc 8uddha’s tcstimony, wc havc that ol his
principal disciplcs, who wcrc also ablc to rccall thcir past livcs.
Ananda, lor instancc, acquircd thc ability to rcmcmbcr his past
livcs soon altcr hc was ordaincd as a 8uddhist monk. Similarly,
throughout thc history ol thc 8uddhist tradition, accomplishcd
practitioncrs havc bccn ablc to rcmcmbcr thcir past livcs.
Noncthclcss, ncithcr ol thcsc two argumcnts lor thc rcality
ol rcbirth can bc cxpcctcd to bc wholly convincing in thc ratio
nal and scicntinc cnvironmcnt in which wc livc, so pcrhaps wc
nccd to look a bit closcr to homc, so to spcak. Hcrc wc rcccivc
hclp lrom a vcry uncxpcctcd sourcc. Somc ol you may bc awarc
ol thc lact that in thc past thrcc dccadcs thcrc has bccn a vast
amount ol scicntinc invcstigation ol thc qucstion ol rcbirth. Such
rcscarch has bccn undcrtakcn by psychologists and parapsychol
ogists. Trough this rcscarch wc havc gradually built up a vcry
.c· .co
convincing casc lor thc rcality ol rcbirth, a casc dcvclopcd along
scicntinc lincs. Many books havc bccn publishcd in which thc
dctails ol thcsc invcstigations arc dcscribcd and discusscd.
Ònc scholar who has bccn particularly activc in this arca
in rcccnt ycars is Prolcssor !an Stcvcnson ol thc Univcrsity ol
\irginia, in thc Unitcd Statcs. Hc has publishcd his nndings
in about twcnty cascs ol rcbirth. Ònc casc, which has rcccivcd
widcsprcad attcntion, is that ol a woman who was ablc to rccall
hcr lilc livcd morc than a hundrcd ycars carlicr in a lorcign land,
undcr thc namc ol 8ridcy Murphy – a land shc had ncvcr visitcd
in hcr prcscnt lilc. ! will not go into thc spccinc dctails ol cascs
hcrc, bccausc anyonc intcrcstcd in thc scicntinc cvidcncc lor
rcbirth can rcad about it lor him or hcrscll. Noncthclcss, ! think
wc arc now at a point whcrc cvcn thc most skcptical among us
must admit that thcrc is a lot ol circumstantial cvidcncc in lavor
ol thc rcality ol rcbirth.
!n constructing a casc lor thc rcality ol rcbirth, howcvcr,
wc can also look cvcn closcr to homc – namcly, within our own
cxpcricncc. Vc nccd only rccollcct and cxaminc that cxpcri
cncc in thc truly 8uddhist way to scc what conclusions wc can
dcrivc lrom it. All ol us havc our own particular capabilitics,
our own particular inclinations and disinclinations, and ! think
it is lair to ask whcthcr thcsc arc all rcally thc rcsult ol chancc
and social conditioning in carly lilc. For instancc, somc ol us arc
morc capablc in sports than othcrs. Somc ol us havc a talcnt lor
mathcmatics, whilc othcrs havc a talcnt lor music. Still othcrs
likc swimming, whilc othcrs arc alraid ol watcr. Arc all such dil
lcrcnccs in our abilitics and attitudcs mcrcly thc rcsult ol chancc
and conditioning:
.c· .co
Tcrc arc oltcn dramatic and uncxpcctcd turns in thc coursc
ol our pcrsonal dcvclopmcnt. Lct mc takc my own casc. ! was
born into a Roman Catholic lamily in thc Unitcd Statcs. Tcrc
was absolutcly nothing in my carly background to indicatc that
! would havc travclcd to !ndia by thc agc ol twcnty, and that !
would spcnd thc ncxt twoandahall dccadcs ol my lilc prc
dominantly in Asia, whcrc ! would bccomc dccply involvcd in
8uddhist studics.
Tcn, too, thcrc arc thosc situations in which wc somctimcs
lccl a strong prcscntimcnt that wc havc bccn in a particular placc
bclorc, although wc havc not visitcd it in our prcscnt lilctimc.
Òn othcr occasions, wc lccl that wc havc known somconc bclorc:
wc mcct a pcrson lor thc nrst timc, and yct vcry soon wc lccl that
wc havc known that pcrson all our livcs. Altcrnativcly, wc can
know somconc clsc lor ycars and still lccl wc do not rcally know
him or hcr. ¡xpcricnccs such as thcsc, whcn wc lccl that wc havc
bccn in a particular situation bclorc, arc so common and uni
vcrsal that, cvcn in thc culturc ol contcmporary Francc, which
knows almost nothing ol rcbirth, thcrc is a wcllknown phrasc
lor thcm – thc cxprcssion dcja vu, which mcans “alrcady sccn.”
!l wc arc not dogmatic, whcn wc add up all thcsc indications
and suggcstions – thc bclicl in rcbirth in many culturcs and agcs
throughout thc history ol human civilization, thc tcstimony ol
thc 8uddha and his promincnt disciplcs, thc cvidcncc providcd
by scicntinc rcscarch, and our own pcrsonal intimations that wc
havc bccn hcrc bclorc – ! think wc will havc to conlcss that thcrc
is at lcast a strong possibility that rcbirth actually is a rcality.
!n 8uddhism, rcbirth is part and parccl ol thc continuous
proccss ol changc. !ndccd, wc arc not only rcborn at thc timc ol
..c ...
dcath, wc arc rcborn at cvcry momcnt. Tis, likc othcr impor
tant tcachings ol 8uddhism, is casily vcrinablc by rclcrcncc to
our own cxpcricncc and to thc tcachings ol scicncc. For cxam
plc, thc majority ol cclls that composc thc human body dic and
arc rcplaccd many timcs during thc coursc ol a lilctimc. ¡vcn
thosc lcw cclls which last an cntirc lilctimc undcrgo continuous
intcrnal changc. Tis is part ol thc proccss ol birth, dcath, and
rcbirth. !l wc look at thc mind, wc nnd that mcntal statcs (such
as worry, happincss, and thc likc) appcar and disappcar cvcry
momcnt. Tcy pass away and arc rcplaccd by ncw and dißcr
cnt statcs. Tcrclorc, whcthcr wc look at thc body or thc mind,
our cxpcricncc is charactcrizcd by constant birth, dcath, and
8uddhism tcachcs that thcrc arc various rcalms, sphcrcs, or
dimcnsions ol cxistcncc. Somc tcxts list thirtyonc such dimcn
sions or plancs ol cxistcncc, but lor our purposcs wc will makc
usc ol a simplcr schcmc, which rclcrs to six such rcalms. Tcsc
six rcalms can bc dividcd into two groups, onc that is rclativcly
lortunatc and thc othcr, unlortunatc. Tc nrst group includcs
thc rcalm ol thc gods, thc rcalm ol thc dcmigods, and thc rcalm
ol human bcings. Rcbirth in thcsc lortunatc rcalms is thc rcsult
ol wholcsomc karma. Tc sccond group includcs thc rcalm ol
thc animals, thc rcalm ol thc hungry ghosts, and thc hcll rcalms.
Rcbirth in thcsc rcalms ol woc is thc rcsult ol unwholcsomc
Lct us now look at cach ol thcsc rcalms, bcginning with thc
lowcst. Tcrc arc quitc a lcw hcll rcalms in 8uddhism, including
cight hot hclls and cight cold hclls. !n thc hclls, living bcings sul
lcr incalculablc and indcscribablc pain. !t is said that thc sußcr
..c ...
ing cxpcricnccd in this human world as a conscqucncc ol bcing
picrccd by thrcc hundrcd spcars in a singlc day is only a min
utc lraction ol thc sußcring cxpcricnccd by thc dcnizcns ol hcll.
Tc causc ol rcbirth in hcll is rcpcatcd violcnt bchavior, such as
habitual killing, cruclty, and thc likc.
Such actions arc born ol avcrsion, and living bcings who
commit thcm sußcr thc pains ol hcll until thc unwholcsomc
karma thcy havc gcncratcd through such actions is cxhaustcd.
Tis last point is important, bccausc it givcs us occasion to notc
that, in 8uddhism, no onc sußcrs ctcrnal damnation. Vhcn
thcir unwholcsomc karma is cxhaustcd, thc dcnizcns ol hcll arc
rcborn in morc lortunatc rcalms ol cxistcncc.
Tc ncxt rcalm is that ol thc hungry ghosts. Living bcings in
this rcalm sußcr chicßy lrom hungcr and thirst, hcat and cold.
Tcy arc complctcly bcrclt ol thc things thcy dcsirc. !t is said that
whcn thc hungry ghosts scc a mountain ol ricc or a rivcr ol lrcsh
watcr and run toward it, thcy nnd that thc mountain ol ricc is
only a hcap ol pcbblcs and thc rivcr only a ribbon ol bluc slatc.
Similarly, it is said that in thc summcr cvcn thc moon lccls hot
to thcm, whilc in thc wintcr cvcn thc sun is cold.
Tc lorcmost causc ol rcbirth as a hungry ghost is avaricc
and miscrlincss born ol attachmcnt and grccd. As with thc dcn
izcns ol hcll, thc living bcings in this rcalm arc not condcmncd
to ctcrnal cxistcncc in thc lorm ol hungry ghosts, bccausc whcn
thcir unwholcsomc karma is cxhaustcd, thcy will bc rcborn in a
morc lortunatc rcalm.
!n thc ncxt rcalm, that ol animals, living bcings sußcr lrom a
varicty ol unhappy circumstanccs. Tcy sußcr lrom thc lcar and
pain that rcsults lrom constantly killing and cating onc anothcr.
..: ...
Tcy sußcr lrom thc human bcings who kill thcm lor lood or
lor thcir hidcs, pcarls, or tccth. ¡vcn il thcy arc not killcd, many
domcstic animals arc lorccd to work lor pcoplc who drivc thcm
on with hooks and whips. All this is a sourcc ol sußcring.
Tc principal causc ol rcbirth as an animal is ignorancc. Tc
blind, hccdlcss pursuit ol onc’s animal dcsircs, prcoccupation
with cating, slccping, and scxual gratincation, accompanicd by
disrcgard lor thc nccd to dcvclop onc’s mind and practicc vir
tuc – all thcsc lcad onc to bc rcborn as an animal. Now, whcn wc
say, lor instancc, that avcrsion is thc causc ol rcbirth in thc hclls,
that attachmcnt is thc causc ol rcbirth among hungry ghosts,
and that ignorancc is thc causc ol rcbirth in thc rcalm ol ani
mals, it docs not mcan that an isolatcd act motivatcd by avcr
sion, attachmcnt, or ignorancc will rcsult in rcbirth in thc corrc
sponding class ol living bcing. Vhat it docs mcan is that thcrc
is a dcnnitc, provcn rclationship bctwccn avcrsion or hatrcd and
rcbirth in thc hclls, just as thcrc is bctwccn attachmcnt and
grccd and rcbirth among thc hungry ghosts, and bctwccn igno
rancc and rcbirth among thc animals. !l unimpcdcd and unob
structcd by countcrvailing virtuous actions, actions habitually
motivatcd by thcsc unwholcsomc attitudcs arc likcly to lcad to
rcbirth in thcsc thrcc statcs ol woc.
! am going to skip thc rcalm ol human bcings lor thc momcnt
in ordcr to go on to thc rcalm ol thc dcmigods. Tc dcmigods
arc physically morc powcrlul and mcntally morc acutc than
human bcings, yct thcy sußcr bccausc ol jcalousy and conßict.
According to ancicnt !ndian mythology, thc dcmigods and gods
sharc a cclcstial trcc. Vhilc thc gods cnjoy thc lruit ol this trcc,
thc dcmigods arc custodians ol its roots. Conscqucntly, thcy arc
..: ...
cnvious ol thc gods and constantly attcmpt to takc thc lruit lrom
thcm. Tcy nght thc gods but arc dclcatcd and sußcr grcatly as
a rcsult. 8ccausc ol this rampant jcalousy and conßict, rcbirth
among thc dcmigods is unhappy and unlortunatc.
As in thc casc ol thc othcr rcalms, thcrc is a causc ol rcbirth
among thc dcmigods. Òn thc positivc sidc, thc causc is gcncros
ity, whilc on thc ncgativc sidc, thc causc is jcalousy and cnvy.
Tc rcalm ol thc gods is thc happicst ol thc six rcalms. As a
conscqucncc ol wholcsomc actions donc in thc past, obscrvation
ol thc codcs ol good conduct, and thc practicc ol mcditation, liv
ing bcings arc rcborn among thc gods, whcrc thcy cnjoy scnsual
plcasurcs, spiritual happincss, or suprcmc tranquillity, dcpcnd
ing on thc lcvcl ol thc rcalm in which thcy arc born. Noncthclcss,
thc rcalm ol thc gods is not to bc dcsircd bccausc thc happincss
ol thc gods is impcrmancnt. No mattcr how much thcy may
cnjoy thcir cxistcncc, whcn thc lorcc ol thcir wholcsomc karma
is cxhaustcd, thc cßccts ol thcir good conduct and cxpcricncc
ol mcditation spcnt, thc gods lall lrom hcavcn and arc rcborn
in anothcr rcalm. At that momcnt, it is said that thc gods sul
lcr cvcn morc mcntal anguish than thc physical pain sußcrcd by
othcr living bcings in thc othcr rcalms.
Tc gods arc rcborn in thc hcavcns as a conscqucncc ol thcir
practicc ol good conduct and mcditation, but thcrc is also a ncg
ativc lactor associatcd with rcbirth in thc hcavcns, and this is
As you can scc, wc havc an amiction or dcnlcmcnt associatcd
with cach ol thcsc nvc rcalms – hcll bcings, hungry ghosts, ani
mals, dcmigods, and gods – namcly, avcrsion, attachmcnt, igno
rancc, jcalousy, and pridc, rcspcctivcly. 8irth in any ol thcsc nvc
..¡ ..·
rcalms is undcsirablc. Tc thrcc lowcr rcalms arc undcsirablc lor
obvious rcasons – both bccausc ol thc intcnsc sußcring in thcm
and bccausc ol thc total ignorancc ol thc bcings who inhabit
thcsc rcalms. ¡vcn rcbirth in thc rcalms ol thc dcmigods and
gods is undcsirablc bccausc, although onc cxpcricnccs a ccrtain
dcgrcc ol happincss and powcr among thcm, cxistcncc thcrc is
impcrmancnt. 8csidcs, thc distractions and plcasurcs in thcsc
rcalms kccp thc bcings thcrc lrom looking lor a way out ol thc
cyclc ol birth and dcath. Tis is why it is said that, ol thc six
rcalms ol cxistcncc, thc most lortunatc, opportunc, and lavorcd
is thc human rcalm. Tis is also why ! havc lclt our discussion
ol thc human rcalm until last.
Tc human rcalm is thc most lavorcd ol thc six rcalms
bccausc, as a human bcing, onc has thc motivation and oppor
tunity to practicc thc Ðharma and achicvc cnlightcnmcnt. Ònc
has this motivation and opportunity bccausc thc conditions con
ducivc to practicing thc path arc prcscnt. !n thc human rcalm,
onc cxpcricnccs both happincss and sußcring. Tc sußcring in
this rcalm, though tcrriblc, is not as grcat as thc sußcring in thc
thrcc rcalms ol woc. Tc plcasurc and happincss cxpcricnccd
in thc human rcalm arc not as grcat as thc plcasurc and intcnsc
happincss cxpcricnccd by bcings in thc hcavcns, nor arc humans
ovcrwhclmcd by thc unbcarablc sußcring that bcings in thc hclls
undcrgo. And unlikc animals, human bcings posscss sumcicnt
intclligcncc to rccognizc thc ncccssity ol looking lor a mcans to
achicvc thc total cnd ol sußcring.
Human birth is dimcult to gain lrom a numbcr ol points ol
vicw. First ol all, it is dimcult lrom thc point ol vicw ol its causc.
Good conduct is thc lorcmost causc ol rcbirth as a human bcing,
..¡ ..·
but truly good conduct is cxcccdingly rarc. Sccond, human birth
is dimcult to gain lrom thc point ol vicw ol numbcr, lor human
bcings arc only a small lraction ol thc living bcings who inhabit
thc six rcalms. Tird, it is not cnough simply to bc born as a
human bcing, bccausc thcrc arc countlcss humans who do not
havc thc opportunity to practicc thc Ðharma. !t is thcrclorc
not only ncccssary to bc born as a human but also to havc thc
opportunity to practicc thc Ðharma, dcvcloping onc’s qualitics
ol morality, mcntal dcvclopmcnt, and wisdom.
Tc 8uddha uscd a similc to illustratc thc rarity and prccious
naturc ol opportunc birth among human bcings. Supposc thc
wholc world wcrc a vast occan, and on thc surlacc ol this occan a
yokc ßoatcd, blown about by thc wind. Supposc, lurthcr, that at
thc bottom ol thc occan thcrc livcd a blind tortoisc who camc to
thc surlacc only oncc cvcry hundrcd ycars. Tc 8uddha said that
it is as rarc to attain opportunc birth as a human as lor that tor
toisc to placc his ncck through thc yokc whcn rising to thc sur
lacc. ¡lscwhcrc, it is said that to bc born as a human bcing with
thc opportunity to practicc thc Ðharma is as rarc as it would bc
to throw a handlul ol dricd pcas against a stonc wall and havc
onc pca stick in a crack in it.
Tus it is loolish to wastc human cxistcncc, not to mcntion
thc lortunatc conditions that wc cnjoy in lrcc socictics such as
thc opportunity wc havc to practicc thc Ðharma. !t is cxtrcmcly
important that, having this opportunity, wc makc usc ol it. !l
wc lail to practicc thc Ðharma in this lilc, thcrc is no way ol
knowing whcrc in thc six rcalms wc will bc rcborn, or whcn wc
will havc such a chancc again. Vc must strivc to lrcc oursclvcs
lrom thc cyclc ol rcbirth bccausc lailing to do so mcans that wc
..6 ..·
continuc to circlc cndlcssly among thcsc six rcalms ol cxistcncc.
Vhcn thc karma, wholcsomc or unwholcsomc, that causcs us to
bc born in any ol thc six rcalms is cxhaustcd, rcbirth occurs, and
wc nnd oursclvcs again in anothcr rcalm.
!t is said that all ol us havc circlcd in thcsc six rcalms sincc
bcginninglcss timc. !t is also said that il all thc skclctons wc havc
had in our various livcs wcrc hcapcd up, thc pilc would cxcccd
thc hcight ol Mount Sumcru, that il all thc mothcr’s milk wc
havc drunk in our countlcss cxistcnccs wcrc collcctcd togcthcr, it
would amount to morc than all thc watcr in all thc occans. Now
that wc havc thc opportunity to practicc thc Ðharma, wc must
do so without dclay.
!n rcccnt ycars, thcrc has bccn a tcndcncy to intcrprct thc
six rcalms in psychological tcrms. Somc tcachcrs havc suggcstcd
that thc cxpcricnccs ol thc six rcalms arc availablc to us in this
vcry lilc. Tis is truc as lar as it gocs. Mcn and womcn who nnd
thcmsclvcs in prisons, torturcd, killcd, and so lorth arc undoubt
cdly cxpcricncing situations similar to thosc ol thc hcll bcings,
thosc who arc miscrly and avaricious cxpcricncc a statc ol mind
similar to that ol thc hungry ghosts, thosc who arc animallikc
cxpcricncc a statc ol mind similar to that ol animals, thosc who
arc quarrclsomc, powcrhungry, and jcalous cxpcricncc a statc ol
mind likc that ol thc dcmigods, and thosc who arc purc, tran
quil, scrcnc, and cxaltcd cxpcricncc a statc ol mind similar to
that ol thc gods.
And yct, although thc cxpcricnccs ol thc six rcalms arc to
somc cxtcnt availablc to us in this human cxistcncc, ! think
it would bc a mistakc to assumc or bclicvc that thc othcr nvc
rcalms ol cxistcncc do not havc a rcality which is as rcal as our
..6 ..·
own human cxpcricncc. Tc hcll rcalms and thc rcalms ol thc
hungry ghosts, animals, dcmigods, and gods arc as rcal as our
human rcalm. You will rccall that mind is thc crcator ol all
things. Actions donc with a purc mind (motivatcd by gcncrosity,
lovc, and so lorth) rcsult in happincss, in statcs ol cxistcncc likc
thc human rcalm and thc rcalm ol thc gods. 8ut actions donc
with an impurc mind (motivatcd by attachmcnt, avcrsion, and
thc likc) rcsult in unhappy statcs likc thosc ol thc hungry ghosts
and hcll bcings.
Finally, ! would likc to distinguish rcbirth lrom transmigra
tion. You may not know that, in 8uddhism, wc consistcntly spcak
ol rcbirth, not transmigration. Tis is bccausc in 8uddhism wc
do not bclicvc in an abiding cntity, or substancc, that transmi
gratcs. Vc do not bclicvc in a scll that is rcborn. Tis is why,
whcn wc cxplain rcbirth, wc makc usc ol cxamplcs that do not
rcquirc thc transmigration ol an csscncc or a substancc.
For cxamplc, whcn a sprout is born lrom a sccd, thcrc is no
substancc that transmigratcs. Tc sccd and thc sprout arc not
idcntical. Similarly, whcn wc light onc candlc lrom anothcr can
dlc, no substancc travcls lrom onc to thc othcr, cvcn though thc
nrst is thc causc ol thc sccond. Vhcn onc billiard ball strikcs
anothcr, thcrc is a continuity, thc cncrgy and dircction ol thc
nrst ball is impartcd to thc sccond. Tc nrst ball is thc causc ol
thc sccond billiard ball moving in a particular dircction and at a
particular spccd, but it is not thc samc ball. Vhcn wc stcp twicc
into a rivcr, it is not thc samc rivcr, and yct thcrc is continuity,
thc continuity ol causc and cßcct.
Hcncc thcrc is rcbirth, but not transmigration. Moral rcspon
sibility cxists, but not an indcpcndcnt, pcrmancnt scll. Tc con
..· ..o
tinuity ol causc and cßcct cxists, but not pcrmancncc. ! want to
cnd with this point bccausc wc will bc considcring thc cxamplc
ol thc sccd and thc sprout, and thc cxamplc ol thc ßamc in an oil
lamp, in Chaptcr .c, whcn wc discuss intcrdcpcndcnt origina
tion. Tcrcaltcr, wc will bcttcr undcrstand how intcrdcpcndcnt
origination makcs moral rcsponsibility and notscll compatiblc.
..· ..o
Intcrdcpcndcnt Origination
n this chaptcr, ! takc up a vcry important topic in 8uddhist
studics: thc tcaching ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination. ! am
awarc ol thc lact that many pcoplc bclicvc that intcrdcpcndcnt
origination is a vcry dimcult subjcct, and ! would not say that
thcrc is no truth in that bclicl. Vhcn Ananda oncc rcmarkcd
that, dcspitc its apparcnt dimculty, thc tcaching ol intcrdcpcn
dcnt origination is actually quitc simplc, thc 8uddha rcbukcd
him, saying that in lact this tcaching is vcry dccp.
Tc tcaching ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination is ccrtainly onc
ol thc most important and prolound tcachings in 8uddhism.
Yct ! somctimcs lccl that our lcar ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination
is to somc cxtcnt unwarrantcd. To bcgin with, thcrc is noth
ing particularly dimcult about thc tcrm itscll. Altcr all, wc all
know what “intcrdcpcndcncc” mcans, and what “birth,” “orig
ination,” or “arising” mcans. Ònly whcn wc bcgin to cxam
inc thc lunction and contcnts ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination do
wc rccognizc thc lact that it is a vcry prolound and signincant
Somc indication ol this can bc gaincd lrom thc 8uddha’s
own statcmcnts. Tc 8uddha vcry lrcqucntly cxprcsscd his cxpc
ricncc ol cnlightcnmcnt in onc ol two ways: cithcr in tcrms ol
having undcrstood thc Four Noblc Truths, or in tcrms ol hav
ing undcrstood intcrdcpcndcnt origination. Convcrscly, hc oltcn
said that, in ordcr to attain cnlightcnmcnt, onc has to undcr
stand thc mcaning ol thcsc truths.
.:c .:.
Òn thc basis ol thc 8uddha’s own statcmcnts, wc can scc a
vcry closc rclation bctwccn thc Four Noblc Truths and intcrdc
pcndcnt origination. Vhat is it that thcsc two lormulas havc in
common: Tc principlc thcy havc in common is thc principlc ol
causality – thc law ol causc and cßcct, ol action and conscqucncc.
!n Chaptcr ¡ and Chaptcr ·, ! mcntioncd that thc Four Noblc
Truths arc dividcd into two groups – thc nrst two (sußcring and
thc causc ol sußcring) and thc last two (thc cnd ol sußcring and
thc path to thc cnd ol sußcring). !n both thcsc groups, it is thc
law ol causc and cßcct that govcrns thc rclationship. !n othcr
words, sußcring is thc cßcct ol thc causc ol sußcring, and thc
cnd ol sußcring is thc cßcct ol thc path to thc cnd ol sußcring.
Hcrc, too, with intcrdcpcndcnt origination, thc lundamcn
tal principlc at work is that ol causc and cßcct. !n intcrdcpcndcnt
origination, wc havc a morc dctailcd dcscription ol what actu
ally takcs placc in thc causal proccss. Lct us takc a lcw cxamplcs
that illustratc thc naturc ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination uscd by
thc 8uddha himscll. Tc 8uddha said thc ßamc in an oil lamp
burns dcpcndcnt on thc oil and thc wick: whcn thc oil and wick
arc prcscnt, thc ßamc burns, but il cithcr is abscnt, thc ßamc
will ccasc to burn. Lct us also takc thc cxamplc ol thc sprout:
dcpcndcnt on thc sccd, carth, watcr, air, and sunlight, thc sprout
Tcrc arc innumcrablc cxamplcs ol intcrdcpcndcnt origina
tion bccausc thcrc is no cxisting phcnomcnon that is not thc
cßcct ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination. All thcsc phcnomcna arisc
dcpcndcnt on a numbcr ol causal lactors. \cry simply, this is thc
principlc ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination.
Òl coursc, wc arc particularly intcrcstcd in thc principlc ol
.:c .:.
intcrdcpcndcnt origination insolar as it conccrns thc problcm ol
sußcring and rcbirth. Vc arc intcrcstcd in how intcrdcpcndcnt
origination cxplains thc situation in which wc nnd oursclvcs
hcrc and now. !n this scnsc, it is important to rcmcmbcr that
intcrdcpcndcnt origination is csscntially and primarily a tcach
ing that has to do with thc problcm ol sußcring and how to lrcc
oursclvcs lrom sußcring, and not a dcscription ol thc cvolution
ol thc univcrsc.
Lct mc bricßy list thc twclvc componcnts, or links, that
makc up intcrdcpcndcnt origination: (.) ignorancc, (:) volition,
(.) consciousncss, (¡) namc and lorm, (·) thc six scnsc sphcrcs,
(6) contact, (·) lccling, (·) craving, (o) clinging, (.c) bccoming,
(..) birth, and (.:) old agc and dcath.
Tcrc arc two principal ways wc can undcrstand thcsc twclvc
componcnts. Ònc way to undcrstand thcm is scqucntially, ovcr
thc coursc ol thrcc lilctimcs – thc past lilc, thc prcscnt lilc, and
thc luturc lilc. !n this casc, ignorancc and volition bclong to thc
past lilc. Tcy rcprcscnt thc conditions rcsponsiblc lor thc occur
rcncc ol this lilc. Tc cight componcnts ol consciousncss, namc
and lorm, thc six scnsc sphcrcs, contact, lccling, craving, cling
ing, and bccoming bclong to this lilc. !n bricl, thcsc cight com
poncnts constitutc thc proccss ol cvolution within this lilctimc.
Tc last two componcnts, birth and old agc and dcath, bclong
to thc luturc lilc.
Vith thc hclp ol this nrst schcmc, wc can scc how thc twclvc
componcnts ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination arc distributcd ovcr
thc thrcc lilctimcs – how thc nrst two, ignorancc and volition,
rcsult in thc cmcrgcncc ol this lilc, with its psycho physical pcr
sonality lrom thc past, and how, in turn, thc actions pcrlormcd
.:: .:.
in this lilc rcsult in rcbirth in a luturc lilc. Tis is onc popular
and authoritativc way ol intcrprcting thc twclvc componcnts ol
intcrdcpcndcnt origination.
Tc othcr intcrprctation ol thc rclations among thc twclvc
componcnts ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination is also authoritativc
and has thc support ol rccognizcd 8uddhist mastcrs and saints.
!t might bc callcd a cyclical intcrprctation bccausc it docs not
distributc thc twclvc componcnts ovcr thc coursc ol thrcc lilc
timcs. Rathcr, it dividcs thc twclvc componcnts into thrcc cat
cgorics: (.) amictions, (:) actions and (.) sußcrings. !n this scc
ond schcmc, thc thrcc componcnts ol ignorancc, craving, and
clinging arc vicwcd as bclonging to thc group ol amictions,
volition and bccoming, to thc group ol actions, and thc rcmain
ing scvcn componcnts – consciousncss, namc and lorm, thc six
scnsc sphcrcs, contact, lccling, birth, and old agc and dcath – to
thc group ol sußcrings. 8y mcans ol this intcrprctation, wc can
scc both how thc tcaching ol thc Four Noblc Truths – and par
ticularly thc tcaching ol thc sccond truth, that ol thc causc ol
sußcring – is conjoincd with thc tcaching ol karma and rcbirth,
and how thcsc two important tcachings togcthcr cxplain, in a
morc complctc way, thc proccss ol rcbirth and thc origination
ol sußcring.
You may rccall that, in thc contcxt ol discussing thc Four
Noblc Truths, wc said that ignorancc, attachmcnt, and illwill
arc thc causcs ol sußcring. Now, il wc look hcrc at thc thrcc
componcnts ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination that arc includcd in
thc group ol amictions, wc nnd ignorancc, craving, and cling
ing. Hcrc, too, ignorancc is thc most basic. !t is bccausc ol igno
rancc that wc cravc plcasurcs ol thc scnscs, cxistcncc, and noncx
.:: .:.
istcncc. Similarly, it is bccausc ol ignorancc that wc cling to plca
surcs ol thc scnscs, to plcasant cxpcricnccs, to idcas, and most
signincantly, to thc idca ol an indcpcndcnt, pcrmancnt scll. Tus
ignorancc, craving, and clinging arc thc causc ol actions.
Tc two componcnts ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination that
arc includcd in thc group ol actions arc volition and bccoming.
\olition rclcrs to thc imprcssions, or habits, that wc havc lormcd
in our strcam ol conscious momcnts, or conscious continuum.
Tcsc imprcssions arc lormcd by rcpcatcd actions. Vc can illus
tratc this with an cxamplc lrom gcology. Vc know that a rivcr
lorms its coursc by a proccss ol rcpcatcd crosion. As rain lalls on
a hillsidc, that rain gathcrs into a rivulct, which gradually crc
atcs a channcl lor itscll and grows into a strcam. ¡vcntually, as
thc channcl ol thc strcam is dccpcncd and widcncd by rcpcatcd
ßows ol watcr, thc strcam bccomcs a rivcr, with wclldcnncd
banks and a dcnnitc coursc.
!n thc samc way, our actions bccomc habitual. Tcsc habits
bccomc part ol our pcrsonality, and wc takc thcsc habits with
us lrom lilc to lilc in thc lorm ol what wc call volition, mcntal
lormation, or “habit cncrgy.” Òur actions in this lilc arc condi
tioncd by thc habits wc havc lormcd ovcr countlcss prcvious lilc
To rcturn to thc analogy ol thc channcl ol a rivcr and thc
watcr in it, wc might say that mcntal lormations arc thc chan
ncl ol thc rivcr, whilc thc actions that wc pcrlorm in this lilc arc
thc lrcsh watcr that ßows through thc crodcd channcl crcatcd
by prcvious actions. Tc actions that wc pcrlorm in this lilc arc
rcprcscntcd by thc componcnt known as bccoming. Hcncc wc
havc thc habits that wc havc dcvclopcd ovcr thc coursc ol count
.:¡ .:·
lcss livcs, combincd with ncw actions pcrlormcd in this lilc, and
thcsc two togcthcr rcsult in rcbirth and sußcring.
To summarizc, wc havc thc amictions, which may bc
dcscribcd as impuritics ol thc mind – namcly, ignorancc, craving,
and clinging. Tcsc mcntal impuritics rcsult in actions – both
actions donc in prcvious livcs, which rcsult in thc lormation ol
habit cncrgy, or volition, and actions donc in thc prcscnt lilc,
which corrcspond to thc componcnt known as bccoming and
which arc liablc to conlorm to thc pattcrns cstablishcd in prcvi
ous livcs.
Togcthcr, thcsc impuritics ol thc mind and thcsc actions
rcsult in rcbirth. !n othcr words, thcy rcsult in consciousncss,
in namc and lorm, in thc six scnsc sphcrcs, in contact bctwccn
thc six scnscs and thc objccts ol thc six scnscs, in lccling, which
is born ol that contact, in birth, and in old agc and dcath. !n
this intcrprctation, thc nvc componcnts ol intcrdcpcndcnt orig
ination includcd in thc groups ol amictions and actions – igno
rancc, craving, clinging, volition, and bccoming – arc thc causcs
ol rcbirth and sußcring. Tc othcr scvcn componcnts – con
sciousncss, namc and lorm, thc six scnsc sphcrcs, contact, lccl
ing, birth, and old agc and dcath – arc thc cßccts ol thc amic
tions and actions.
Togcthcr, thc amictions and actions cxplain thc origin ol sul
lcring and thc particular circumstanccs in which cach ol us nnds
him or hcrscll, thc circumstanccs in which wc arc born. You
may rccall that, in Chaptcr ·, ! rclcrrcd to thc lact that, whcrcas
thc amictions arc common to all living bcings, karma dißcrs
lrom pcrson to pcrson. !n othcr words, although thc amictions
account lor thc lact that all ol us arc prisoncrs within samsara,
.:¡ .:·
our actions account lor thc lact that somc arc born as human
bcings, othcrs as gods, and still othcrs as animals. !n this scnsc,
thc twclvc componcnts ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination prcscnt a
picturc ol samsara with its causcs and its cßccts.
Tcrc would bc no point in painting this picturc ol sam
sara il wc did not intcnd to usc it to changc our situation, to gct
out ol thc round ol birth and dcath. Rccognizing thc circularity
ol samsara, thc circularity ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination, is thc
bcginning ol libcration. How is this so: As long as amictions
and actions arc prcscnt, rcbirth and sußcring will occur. Vhcn
wc scc that ignorancc, craving, clinging, and actions rcpcatcdly
lcad to rcbirth and sußcring, wc will rccognizc thc nccd to brcak
this vicious circlc.
Lct us takc a practical cxamplc. Supposc you arc looking
lor thc homc ol an acquaintancc you havc ncvcr visitcd bclorc.
Supposc you havc bccn driving about lor hall an hour and havc
lailcd to nnd thc homc ol your lricnd, and supposc suddcnly you
rccognizc a landmark and it dawns on you that you passcd it hall
an hour ago. At that momcnt it will also dawn on you that you
havc bccn going around in circlcs, and you will stop and look at
your road map, or inquirc thc way lrom a passcrby so as to stop
going around in circlcs and rcach your dcstination.
Tis is why thc 8uddha said that hc who sccs intcrdcpcn
dcnt origination sccs thc Ðharma, and hc who sccs thc Ðharma
sccs thc 8uddha. Tis is also why hc said that undcrstanding
intcrdcpcndcnt origination is thc kcy to libcration. Òncc wc scc
thc lunctioning ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination, wc can sct about
brcaking its vicious circlc. Vc can do this by rcmoving thc impu
ritics ol thc mind – ignorancc, craving, and clinging. Òncc thcsc
.:6 .:·
impuritics arc climinatcd, actions will not bc pcrlormcd and
habit cncrgy will not bc produccd. Òncc actions ccasc, rcbirth
and sußcring will also ccasc.
! would likc to spcnd a littlc timc on anothcr important
mcaning ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination – namcly, intcrdcpcndcnt
origination as an cxprcssion ol thc Middlc Vay. !n Chaptcr .
and Chaptcr ¡, wc had occasion to rclcr to thc Middlc Vay, but
connncd oursclvcs to only thc most basic mcaning ol thc tcrm.
Vc said that thc Middlc Vay mcans avoiding thc cxtrcmc ol
indulgcncc in plcasurcs ol thc scnscs and also thc cxtrcmc ol scll
mortincation. !n that contcxt, thc Middlc Vay is synonymous
with modcration.
!n thc contcxt ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination, thc Middlc
Vay has anothcr mcaning, which is rclatcd to its basic mcan
ing, but dccpcr. !n this contcxt, thc Middlc Vay mcans avoid
ing thc cxtrcmcs ol ctcrnalism and nihilism. How is this so:
Tc ßamc in an oil lamp cxists dcpcndcnt on thc oil and thc
wick. Vhcn cithcr ol thcsc is abscnt, thc ßamc will bc cxtin
guishcd. Tcrclorc, thc ßamc is ncithcr pcrmancnt nor indcpcn
dcnt. Similarly, this pcrsonality ol ours dcpcnds on a combina
tion ol conditions: thc amictions and karma. !t is ncithcr pcr
mancnt nor indcpcndcnt.
Rccognizing thc conditioncd naturc ol our pcrsonalitics, wc
avoid thc cxtrcmc ol ctcrnalism, that is, ol amrming thc cxis
tcncc ol an indcpcndcnt, pcrmancnt scll. Altcrnativcly, rccog
nizing that this pcrsonality, this lilc, docs not arisc by accidcnt
or mcrc chancc but is conditioncd by corrcsponding causcs, wc
avoid thc cxtrcmc ol nihilism, that is, ol dcnying thc rclation
bctwccn actions and thcir conscqucnccs.
.:6 .:·
Although nihilism is thc primary causc ol rcbirth in statcs
ol woc and is to bc rcjcctcd, ctcrnalism, too, is not conducivc
to libcration. Ònc who clings to thc cxtrcmc ol ctcrnalism will
pcrlorm wholcsomc actions and bc rcborn in statcs ol happincss,
as a human bcing or cvcn as a god, but hc will ncvcr attain lib
cration. Trough avoiding thcsc two cxtrcmcs – through undcr
standing thc Middlc Vay – wc can achicvc happincss in this lilc
and in luturc livcs by pcrlorming wholcsomc actions and avoid
ing unwholcsomc actions, and cvcntually achicvc libcration as
Tc 8uddha constructcd his tcachings with innnitc carc.
!ndccd, thc way hc taught is somctimcs likcncd to thc bchavior
ol a tigrcss toward hcr young. Vhcn a tigrcss carrics hcr young
in hcr tccth, shc is most carclul to scc that hcr grip is ncithcr
too tight nor too loosc. !l hcr grip is too tight, it will injurc or
kill hcr cub, il it is too loosc, thc cub will lall and will also bc
hurt. Similarly, thc 8uddha was carclul to scc that wc avoid thc
cxtrcmcs ol ctcrnalism and nihilism.
8ccausc hc saw that clinging to thc cxtrcmc ol ctcrnalism
would bind us in samsara, thc 8uddha was carclul to tcach us to
avoid bclicl in an indcpcndcnt, pcrmancnt scll, sccing that thc
possibility ol lrccdom could bc dcstroycd by thc sharp tccth ol
bclicl in a scll, hc thcrclorc askcd us to avoid thc cxtrcmc ol ctcr
nalism. Undcrstanding that clinging to thc cxtrcmc ol nihilism
would lcad to catastrophc and rcbirth in thc statcs ol woc, thc
8uddha was also carclul to tcach thc rcality ol thc law ol causc
and cßcct, or moral rcsponsibility, sccing that wc would lall
into thc miscry ol thc lowcr rcalms should wc dcny this law, hc
thcrclorc taught us to avoid thc cxtrcmc ol nihilism. Tis dual
.:· .:o
objcctivc is admirably achicvcd through thc tcaching ol intcrdc
pcndcnt origination, which salcguards not only our undcrstand
ing ol thc conditioncd and impcrmancnt naturc ol thc pcrsonal
ity, but also our undcrstanding ol thc rcality ol thc law ol causc
and cßcct. !n thc contcxt ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination, wc havc
cstablishcd thc conditioncd and impcrmancnt naturc ol thc pcr
sonality, or scll, by cxposing its dcpcndcnt naturc. !n thc chap
tcrs that lollow, wc will arrivc at thc impcrmancncc and impcr
sonality ol thc scll through cxamining its compositc naturc and
analyzing it into its constitucnt parts. 8y thcsc mcans, wc will
clucidatc thc truth ol notscll that opcns thc door to cnlightcn
.:· .:o
Tc Trcc Univcrsal (haraucristics
hc subjcct ol this chaptcr is thc thrcc univcrsal charactcr
istics ol cxistcncc. Tis is an important part ol thc tcach
ing ol thc 8uddha. Likc thc Four Noblc Truths, karma, intcr
dcpcndcnt origination, and thc nvc aggrcgatcs, thc tcaching ol
thc thrcc charactcristics is part ol what wc might call thc doc
trinal contcnts ol wisdom. !n othcr words, whcn wc talk about
thc knowlcdgc and undcrstanding that arc implicd by wisdom,
wc havc this tcaching also in mind.
8clorc wc cxaminc thc thrcc charactcristics onc by onc, lct
us try to comc to an undcrstanding ol what thcy mcan and in
what way thcy arc usclul. First ol all, what is a charactcristic and
what is not: A charactcristic is somcthing that is ncccssarily con
ncctcd with somcthing clsc. 8ccausc a charactcristic is ncccssar
ily conncctcd with somcthing, it can tcll us about thc naturc ol
that thing. Lct us takc an cxamplc. Hcat, lor instancc, is a char
actcristic ol nrc but not ol watcr. Hcat is a charactcristic ol nrc
bccausc it is always and invariably conncctcd with nrc, whcrcas
whcthcr or not watcr is hot dcpcnds on cxtcrnal lactors – an clcc
tric stovc, thc hcat ol thc sun, and so lorth. 8ut thc hcat ol nrc
is natural to nrc.
!t is in this scnsc that thc 8uddha uscs thc tcrm “charac
tcristic” to rclcr to lacts about thc naturc ol cxistcncc that arc
always conncctcd with cxistcncc or always lound in cxistcncc.
Tc charactcristic “hcat” is always conncctcd with nrc. Vc can
undcrstand somcthing about thc naturc ol nrc lrom hcat. Vc
..c ...
can undcrstand that nrc is hot and thcrclorc potcntially dangcr
ous, that it can consumc us and our posscssions il not controllcd.
Yct wc can also usc nrc to cook our lood, to warm oursclvcs, and
so lorth. Tus thc charactcristic ol hcat tclls us somcthing about
nrc, what nrc is, and what to do with nrc.
!l wc wcrc to think ol thc charactcristic ol hcat as conncctcd
with watcr, it would not hclp us undcrstand thc naturc ol watcr
or usc watcr intclligcntly bccausc hcat is not always conncctcd
with watcr. Vatcr cannot ncccssarily burn us or consumc our
posscssions, nor can wc ncccssarily cook our lood with watcr or
warm oursclvcs with watcr. Hcncc whcn thc 8uddha said that
thcrc arc thrcc charactcristics ol cxistcncc, hc mcant that thcsc
charactcristics arc always prcscnt in cxistcncc, and that thcy hclp
us undcrstand what to do with cxistcncc.
Tc thrcc charactcristics ol cxistcncc that wc havc in mind
arc (.) impcrmancncc, (:) sußcring and (.) notscll. Tcsc thrcc
charactcristics arc always prcscnt in or conncctcd with cxistcncc,
and thcy tcll us about thc naturc ol cxistcncc. Tcy hclp us know
what to do with cxistcncc. As a rcsult ol undcrstanding thc thrcc
charactcristics, wc lcarn to dcvclop rcnunciation, or dctachmcnt.
Òncc wc undcrstand that cxistcncc is univcrsally charactcrizcd
by impcrmancncc, sußcring, and notscll, wc climinatc our
attachmcnt to cxistcncc. And oncc wc climinatc our attachmcnt
to cxistcncc, wc gain thc thrcshold ol nirvana.
Tis is thc purposc ol undcrstanding thc thrcc charactcris
tics: it rcmovcs attachmcnt by rcmoving dclusion – thc misun
dcrstanding that cxistcncc is pcrmancnt, plcasant, and has somc
thing to do with thc scll. Tis is why undcrstanding thc thrcc
charactcristics is part ol thc contcnts ol wisdom.
..c ...
Lct us look at thc nrst ol thc thrcc charactcristics ol cxistcncc,
thc charactcristic ol impcrmancncc. Tc lact ol impcrmancncc
has bccn rccognizcd not only in 8uddhist thought but clscwhcrc
in thc history ol idcas. !t was thc ancicnt Grcck philosophcr
Hcraclitus who rcmarkcd that onc cannot stcp into thc samc
rivcr twicc. Tis obscrvation, which implics thc cvcrchanging
and transicnt naturc ol things, is a vcry 8uddhistic onc. !n thc
8uddhist scripturcs, it is said that thc world is impcrmancnt likc
autumn clouds, that birth and dcath arc likc a dancc, and that
human lilc is likc a ßash ol lightning or a watcrlall. All thcsc arc
compclling imagcs ol impcrmancncc which hclp us undcrstand
that all things arc markcd or charactcrizcd by impcrmancncc.
!l wc look at oursclvcs, wc nnd that our bodics arc impcr
mancnt and subjcct to constant changc. Vc grow thin. Vc grow
old and gray – our tccth and hair lall out. !l you nccd any prool
ol thc impcrmancncc ol thc physical lorm, you nccd only look at
thc photograph on your drivcr’s liccnsc or passport ovcr thc ycars.
Similarly, our mcntal statcs arc impcrmancnt. At onc momcnt
wc arc happy, and at anothcr momcnt sad. As inlants, wc hardly
undcrstand anything, as adults in thc primc ol lilc, wc undcr
stand a grcat dcal morc, in old agc, wc losc thc powcr ol our
mcntal lacultics and bccomc likc inlants.
Tis is truc also ol thc things wc scc around us. Not onc
ol thc things wc scc around us will last lorcvcr – not thc apart
mcnt buildings, thc tcmplcs, thc rivcrs and islands, thc moun
tain chains, or thc occans. Vc know lor a lact that all thcsc nat
ural phcnomcna – cvcn thosc that appcar to bc thc most dura
blc, cvcn thc solar systcm itscll – will onc day dcclinc and ccasc
to cxist.
..: ...
Tis proccss ol thc constant changc ol things – pcrsonal
and impcrsonal, intcrnal and cxtcrnal – gocs on constantly cvcn
without our noticing it, and aßccts us intimatcly in daily lilc.
Òur rclations with othcr pcoplc arc subjcct to thc charactcris
tic ol impcrmancncc and changc. Fricnds bccomc cncmics, cnc
mics bccomc lricnds. ¡ncmics cvcn bccomc rclativcs, whilc rcl
ativcs bccomc cncmics. !l wc look closcly at our livcs, wc can
scc how all our rclationships with othcr pcoplc arc markcd by
impcrmancncc. Òur posscssions arc also impcrmancnt. All thc
things that wc dcarly lovc – our homcs, our automobilcs, our
clothcs – arc impcrmancnt. All ol thcm will dccay and cvcn
tually bc dcstroycd. !n cvcry aspcct ol our livcs – whcthcr it bc
mcntal or matcrial, whcthcr it bc our rclationships with othcrs
or our posscssions – impcrmancncc is a lact that is vcrincd by
dircct, immcdiatc obscrvation.
Undcrstanding impcrmancncc is important not simply lor
our practicc ol thc Ðharma but also in our daily livcs. How oltcn
do lricndships dctcrioratc and cnd bccausc onc ol thc two pcr
sons involvcd lails to noticc that his or hcr lricnd’s attitudcs and
intcrcsts havc changcd: How oltcn do marriagcs lail bccausc
onc or both partics lail to takc into account thc lact that thc
othcr partncr has changcd:
!t is bccausc wc lock oursclvcs into nxcd, artincial, unchang
ing idcas ol thc charactcrs and pcrsonalitics ol our lricnds and
rclativcs that wc lail to dcvclop our rclations with thcm appro
priatcly and hcncc oltcn lail to undcrstand onc anothcr. Similarly,
in our carccrs or public lilc, wc cannot hopc to succccd il wc do
not kccp abrcast ol changing situations, such as ncw trcnds in
our prolcssions or disciplincs. Vhcthcr in our pcrsonal livcs or
..: ...
in our public oncs, undcrstanding impcrmancncc is ncccssary il
wc arc to bc cßcctivc and crcativc in how wc handlc our pcrsonal
and prolcssional aßairs.
Although undcrstanding impcrmancncc yiclds thcsc immc
diatc bcncnts hcrc and now, it is particularly cßcctivc as an aid
to our practicc ol thc Ðharma. Tc undcrstanding ol impcr
mancncc is an antidotc to attachmcnt and illwill. !t is also an
cncouragcmcnt to our practicc ol thc Ðharma. And, nnally, it
is a kcy to undcrstanding thc ultimatc naturc ol things, thc way
things rcally arc.
Rcmcmbcring dcath, cspccially, is said to bc likc a lricnd
and a tcachcr to onc who wishcs to practicc thc Ðharma.
Rcmcmbcring dcath acts as a discouragcmcnt to cxccssivc
attachmcnt and illwill. How many quarrcls, pctty disagrcc
mcnts, lilclong ambitions and cnmitics ladc into insignincancc
bclorc rccognition ol thc incvitability ol dcath: Troughout thc
ccnturics, 8uddhist tcachcrs havc cncouragcd sinccrc practitio
ncrs ol thc Ðharma to rcmcmbcr dcath, to rcmcmbcr thc impcr
mancncc ol this pcrsonality.
Somc ycars ago, ! had a lricnd who wcnt to !ndia to study
mcditation. Hc approachcd a vcry rcnowncd and lcarncd
8uddhist tcachcr and askcd him lor somc mcditation instruc
tions. Tc tcachcr was rcluctant to tcach him bccausc hc was not
convinccd ol his sinccrity. My lricnd pcrsistcd and askcd him
again and again. Finally, thc tcachcr told him to comc thc lol
lowing day. Full ol anticipation, my lricnd wcnt to scc him as
hc had bccn instructcd. Tc mastcr said to him, “You will dic,
mcditatc on that.”
Mcditation on dcath is cxtrcmcly bcncncial. Vc all nccd to
..¡ ..·
rcmcmbcr thc ccrtainty ol our own dcaths. From thc momcnt ol
birth, wc movc incxorably toward dcath. Rcmcmbcring this – and
rcmcmbcring that, at thc timc ol dcath, wcalth, lamily, and lamc
will bc ol no usc to us – wc must turn our minds to practicc ol
thc Ðharma. Vc know that dcath is absolutcly ccrtain. Tcrc
has ncvcr bccn a singlc living bcing who has cscapcd it. And yct,
although dcath itscll is ccrtain, thc timc ol dcath is unccrtain.
Vc can dic at any momcnt. !t is said that lilc is likc a candlc in
thc wind, or a bubblc ol watcr: at any momcnt it may bc snußcd
out, it may burst. Undcrstanding that thc timc ol dcath is unccr
tain, and that wc now havc thc conditions and opportunity to
practicc thc Ðharma, wc ought to practicc it quickly, so as not
to wastc this opportunity and prccious human lilc.
Finally, undcrstanding impcrmancncc is an aid to undcr
standing thc ultimatc truth about thc naturc ol things. Sccing
that all things arc pcrishablc and changc cvcry momcnt, wc also
bcgin to scc that things havc no substantial cxistcncc ol thcir
own – that in our pcrsons and in thc things around us, thcrc is
nothing likc a scll, nothing substantial. !n this scnsc, impcrma
ncncc is dircctly rclatcd to thc last ol thc thrcc charactcristics,
thc charactcristic ol notscll. Undcrstanding impcrmancncc is a
kcy to undcrstanding notscll. Vc will talk morc about this latcr,
but lor thc momcnt lct us go on to thc sccond ol thc thrcc char
actcristics, thc charactcristic ol sußcring.
Tc 8uddha said that whatcvcr is impcrmancnt is sußcr
ing, and whatcvcr is impcrmancnt and sußcring is also notscll.
Vhatcvcr is impcrmancnt is sußcring bccausc impcrmancncc is
an occasion lor sußcring. !mpcrmancncc is an occasion lor sul
lcring rathcr than a causc ol sußcring bccausc impcrmancncc is
..¡ ..·
only an occasion lor sußcring as long as ignorancc, craving, an
clinging arc prcscnt.
How is this so: !n our ignorancc ol thc rcal naturc ol things,
wc cravc and cling to objccts in thc lorlorn hopc that thcy may
bc pcrmancnt, that thcy may yicld pcrmancnt happincss. Failing
to undcrstand that youth, hcalth, and lilc itscll arc impcrma
ncnt, wc cravc thcm and cling to thcm. Vc long to hold onto our
youth and prolong our lilc, yct bccausc thcy arc impcrmancnt by
naturc, thcy slip through our nngcrs. Vhcn this occurs, impcr
mancncc is an occasion lor sußcring. Similarly, wc lail to rccog
nizc thc impcrmancnt naturc ol posscssions, powcr, and prcs
tigc, so wc cravc and cling to thcm. Vhcn thcy cnd, impcrma
ncncc is an occasion lor sußcring.
Tc impcrmancncc ol all situations in samsara is a particular
occasion lor sußcring whcn it occurs in thc socallcd lortunatc
rcalms. !t is said that thc sußcring ol thc gods is cvcn grcatcr
than thc sußcring ol bcings in thc lowcr rcalms bccausc thc
gods scc that thcy arc about to lall lrom thc hcavcns into thosc
lowcr rcalms ol cxistcncc. ¡vcn thc gods trcmblcd whcn thc
8uddha rcmindcd thcm ol impcrmancncc. Tus bccausc cvcn
thosc plcasant cxpcricnccs wc cravc and cling to arc impcrma
ncnt, impcrmancncc is an occasion lor sußcring, and whatcvcr
is impcrmancnt is sußcring.
Now wc comc to thc third univcrsal charactcristic ol cxis
tcncc, thc charactcristic ol notscll, impcrsonality, or insubstan
tiality. Tis is onc ol thc rcally distinct lcaturcs ol 8uddhist
thought and ol thc tcaching ol thc 8uddha. Ðuring thc latcr
dcvclopmcnt ol rcligion and philosophy in !ndia, Hindu schools
bccamc incrcasingly similar to thc tcaching ol thc 8uddha in
..6 ..·
thcir tcchniqucs ol mcditation and in somc ol thcir philosophi
cal idcas. Tus it bccamc ncccssary lor 8uddhist mastcrs to point
out that thcrc was still a distinctivc lcaturc that sct 8uddhism
apart lrom thc Hindu schools that so closcly rcscmblcd it. Tat
distinctivc lcaturc is thc tcaching ol notscll.
Somctimcs, this tcaching ol notscll is a causc ol conlusion
bccausc pcoplc wondcr how onc can dcny thc scll. Altcr all, wc
do say, “! am spcaking” or “! am walking,” “! am callcd so and
so” or “! am thc lathcr (or thc son) ol such and such a pcrson.”
How can wc dcny thc rcality ol that “!”:
To clarily this, ! think it is important to rcmcmbcr that thc
8uddhist rcjcction ol thc “!” is not a rcjcction ol this convcnicnt
dcsignation, thc namc or tcrm “!.” Rathcr, it is a rcjcction ol thc
idca that this namc or tcrm “!” stands lor a substantial, pcrma
ncnt, and changclcss rcality. Vhcn thc 8uddha said that thc nvc
lactors ol pcrsonal cxpcricncc wcrc not thc scll and that thc scll
was not to bc lound within thcm, hc mcant that, on analysis, this
namc or tcrm “!” docs not corrcspond to any csscncc or cntity.
Tc 8uddha uscd thc cxamplcs ol a chariot and a lorcst to
cxplain thc rclation bctwccn thc namc or tcrm “!” and thc com
poncnts ol pcrsonal cxpcricncc. Tc 8uddha cxplaincd that thc
tcrm “chariot” is simply a convcnicnt namc lor a collcction ol
parts that arc asscmblcd in a particular way. Tc whccls arc
not thc chariot, nor is thc axlc, nor is thc carriagc, and so lorth.
Similarly, a singlc trcc is not a lorcst, nor arc a numbcr ol trccs.
Yct thcrc is no lorcst apart lrom individual trccs, so thc tcrm
“lorcst” is just a convcnicnt namc lor a collcction ol trccs.
Tis is thc thrust ol thc 8uddha’s rcjcction ol thc scll. His
rcjcction is a rcjcction ol thc bclicl in a rcal, indcpcndcnt, pcr
..6 ..·
mancnt cntity that is rcprcscntcd by thc namc or tcrm “!.” Such
a pcrmancnt cntity would havc to bc indcpcndcnt, would havc
to bc sovcrcign in thc way a king is mastcr ol thosc around him.
!t would havc to bc pcrmancnt, immutablc, and impcrvious to
changc, and such a pcrmancnt cntity, such a scll, is nowhcrc to
bc lound.
Tc 8uddha applicd thc lollowing analysis to indicatc that
thc scll is nowhcrc to bc lound cithcr in thc body or thc mind:
(.) Tc body is not thc scll, lor il thc body wcrc thc scll, thc
scll would bc impcrmancnt, would bc subjcct to changc, dccay,
dcstruction, and dcath. Hcncc thc body cannot bc thc scll.
(:) Tc scll docs not posscss thc body, in thc scnsc that ! pos
scss a car or a tclcvision, bccausc thc scll cannot control thc body.
Tc body lalls ill, gcts tircd and old against our wishcs. Tc body
has an appcarancc which oltcn docs not agrcc with our wishcs.
Hcncc in no way docs thc scll posscss thc body. (.) Tc scll docs
not cxist in thc body. !l wc scarch our bodics lrom thc tops ol our
hcads to thc tips ol our tocs, wc can nowhcrc locatc thc scll. Tc
scll is not in thc bonc or in thc blood, in thc marrow or in thc
hair or spittlc. Tc scll is nowhcrc to bc lound within thc body.
(¡) Tc body docs not cxist in thc scll. For thc body to cxist in
thc scll, thc scll would havc to bc lound apart lrom thc body and
mind, but thc scll is nowhcrc to bc lound.
!n thc samc way, (.) thc mind is not thc scll bccausc, likc
thc body, Tc mind is subjcct to constant changc and is agitatcd
likc a monkcy. Tc mind is happy onc momcnt and unhappy thc
ncxt. Hcncc thc mind is not thc scll bccausc thc mind is con
stantly changing. (:) Tc scll docs not posscss thc mind bccausc
thc mind bccomcs cxcitcd or dcprcsscd against our wishcs.
..· ..o
Although wc know that ccrtain thoughts arc wholcsomc and
ccrtain thoughts unwholcsomc, thc mind pursucs unwholcsomc
thoughts and is indißcrcnt toward wholcsomc thoughts. Hcncc
thc scll docs not posscss thc mind bccausc thc mind acts indc
pcndcntly ol thc scll. (.) Tc scll docs not cxist in thc mind. No
mattcr how carclully wc scarch thc contcnts ol our minds, no
mattcr how carclully wc scarch our lcclings, idcas, and inclina
tions, wc can nowhcrc nnd thc scll in thc mind and thc mcn
tal statcs. (¡) Tc mind docs not cxist in thc scll cithcr bccausc
again thc scll would havc to cxist apart lrom thc mind and body,
but such a scll is nowhcrc to bc lound.
Tcrc is a vcry simplc cxcrcisc that any onc ol us can pcrlorm.
!l wc all sit quictly lor a bricl pcriod ol timc and look within our
bodics and minds, without lail wc nnd that wc cannot locatc a
scll anywhcrc within thc body or thc mind. Tc only conclusion
possiblc is that “thc scll ” is just a convcnicnt namc lor a collcc
tion ol lactors. Tcrc is no scll, no soul, no csscncc, no corc ol
pcrsonal cxpcricncc apart lrom thc cvcrchanging, intcrdcpcn
dcnt, impcrmancnt physical and mcntal lactors ol pcrsonal cxpc
ricncc, such as our lcclings, idcas, habits, and attitudcs.
Vhy should wc carc to rcjcct thc idca ol a scll: How can
wc bcncnt by rcjccting thc scll: Vc can bcncnt in two impor
tant ways. First ol all, wc can bcncnt on a mundanc lcvcl, in our
cvcryday livcs, in that wc bccomc morc crcativc, morc comlort
ablc, morc opcn pcoplc. As long as wc cling to thc scll, wc will
always havc to dclcnd oursclvcs, our propcrty, our prcstigc, opin
ions, and cvcn our statcmcnts. 8ut oncc wc givc up thc bclicl in
an indcpcndcnt and pcrmancnt scll, wc will bc ablc to rclatc to
othcr pcoplc and situations without paranoia. Vc will bc ablc to
..· ..o
act lrccly, spontancously, and crcativcly. Undcrstanding notscll
is thcrclorc an aid to living.
Sccond, and cvcn morc important, undcrstanding notscll is
a kcy to cnlightcnmcnt. Tc bclicl in a scll is synonymous with
ignorancc, and ignorancc is thc most basic ol thc thrcc amictions.
Òncc wc idcntily, imaginc, or conccivc ol oursclvcs as an cntity,
wc immcdiatcly crcatc a schism, a scparation bctwccn oursclvcs
and thc pcoplc and things around us. Òncc wc havc this con
ccption ol scll, wc rcspond to thc pcoplc and things around us
with cithcr attachmcnt or avcrsion. !n this scnsc, thc scll is thc
rcal villain ol thc piccc.
Sccing that thc scll is thc sourcc and thc causc ol all sußcr
ing, and that rcjcction ol thc scll is thc causc ol thc cnd ol sul
lcring, why not do our bcst to rcjcct and climinatc this idca ol a
scll, rathcr than trying to dclcnd, protcct, and prcscrvc it: Vhy
not rccognizc that pcrsonal cxpcricncc is likc a banana trcc or
an onion – that whcn wc takc it apart piccc by piccc, cxamining
it critically and analytically, wc will nnd that it is cmpty ol any
csscntial, substantial corc, that it is dcvoid ol scll:
Vhcn wc undcrstand – through study, considcration, and
mcditation – that all things arc impcrmancnt, arc lull ol sul
lcring, and arc notscll, and whcn our undcrstanding ol thcsc
truths is no longcr mcrcly intcllcctual or acadcmic but bccomcs
part ol our immcdiatc cxpcricncc, thcn thc undcrstanding ol
thc thrcc univcrsal charactcristics will lrcc us ol thc lunda
mcntal crrors that imprison us within thc cyclc ol birth and
dcath – thc crrors ol sccing things as pcrmancnt, happy, and
having to do with thc scll. Vhcn thcsc dclusions arc rcmovcd,
wisdom ariscs, just as, whcn darkncss is rcmovcd, light ariscs.
.¡c .¡.
And whcn wisdom ariscs, wc cxpcricncc thc pcacc and lrccdom
ol nirvana.
!n this chaptcr wc havc connncd oursclvcs to looking at pcr
sonal cxpcricncc in tcrms ol body and mind. !n thc ncxt chaptcr
wc will look morc dccply into thc 8uddhist analysis ol pcrsonal
cxpcricncc in tcrms ol thc clcmcnts ol our physical and mcntal
.¡c .¡.
Tc Tivc ·ggrcgatcs
n this chaptcr wc will look at thc tcaching ol thc nvc aggrc
gatcs – lorm, lccling, pcrccption, volition, and consciousncss.
!n othcr words, wc will look at thc 8uddhist analysis ol pcrsonal
cxpcricncc, or thc pcrsonality.
!n thc prcccding chaptcrs, ! havc scvcral timcs had occa
sion to notc that 8uddhist tcachings havc bccn lound rclcvant to
modcrn lilc and thought in thc nclds ol scicncc, psychology, and
so lorth. Tis is also thc casc lor thc analysis ol pcrsonal cxpc
ricncc in tcrms ol thc nvc aggrcgatcs. Modcrn psychiatrists and
psychologists havc bccn particularly intcrcstcd in this analysis. !t
has cvcn bccn suggcstcd that, in thc analysis ol pcrsonal cxpc
ricncc in tcrms ol thc nvc aggrcgatcs, wc havc a psychological
cquivalcnt to thc tablc ol clcmcnts workcd out in modcrn sci
cncc – that is to say, a vcry carclul invcntory and cvaluation ol thc
clcmcnts ol our cxpcricncc.
Vhat wc arc going to do now is basically an cxtcnsion and
rcnncmcnt ol our analysis at thc cnd ol Chaptcr ... Tcrc, wc
spcnt somc timc on thc tcaching ol notscll, cxploring bricßy
thc way thc analysis ol pcrsonal cxpcricncc can bc carricd out
along two lincs: with rcgard to thc body, and with rcgard to thc
mind. You will rccall that wc cxamincd thc body and mind to
scc whcthcr wc could locatc thc scll, and saw that thc scll is not
to bc lound in cithcr ol thcm. Vc concludcd that thc tcrm “scll ”
is just a convcnicnt tcrm lor a collcction ol physical and mcntal
lactors, in thc samc way that “lorcst” is just a convcnicnt tcrm
.¡: .¡.
lor a collcction ol trccs. !n this chaptcr wc will takc our analysis
still lurthcr. Rathcr than looking at pcrsonal cxpcricncc simply
in tcrms ol body and mind, wc will analyzc it in tcrms ol thc
nvc aggrcgatcs.
Lct us nrst look at thc aggrcgatc ol mattcr, or lorm. Tc
aggrcgatc ol lorm corrcsponds to what wc would call matcrial, or
physical, lactors ol cxpcricncc. !t includcs not only our own bod
ics but also thc matcrial objccts that surround us – thc carth, thc
trccs, thc buildings, and thc objccts ol cvcryday lilc. Spccincally,
thc aggrcgatc ol lorm includcs thc nvc physical scnsc organs and
thc corrcsponding matcrial objccts ol thosc scnsc organs: thc
cycs and visiblc objccts, thc cars and audiblc objccts, thc nosc
and ollactory objccts, thc tonguc and objccts ol tastc, and thc
skin and tangiblc objccts.
8ut physical clcmcnts by thcmsclvcs arc not cnough to pro
ducc cxpcricncc. Tc simplc contact bctwccn cycs and visi
blc objccts, or cars and audiblc objccts, cannot rcsult in cxpcri
cncc. Tc cycs can bc in conjunction with a visiblc objcct indcn
nitcly without producing cxpcricncc, thc cars can bc cxposcd to
a sound indcnnitcly with thc samc rcsult. Ònly whcn thc cycs, a
visiblc objcct, and consciousncss comc togcthcr is thc cxpcricncc
ol a visiblc objcct produccd. Consciousncss is thcrclorc an indis
pcnsablc clcmcnt in thc production ol cxpcricncc.
8clorc wc go on to our considcration ol thc mcntal lac
tors ol pcrsonal cxpcricncc, ! would likc to mcntion bricßy thc
cxistcncc ol onc morc sct ol an organ and its objcct, and hcrc
! spcak ol thc sixth scnsc – thc mind. Tis is in addition to thc
nvc physical scnsc organs (cycs, cars, nosc, tonguc, and skin).
]ust as thc nvc physical scnsc organs havc thcir corrcsponding
.¡: .¡.
matcrial objccts, thc mind has lor its objcct idcas, or propcrtics
(dharmas). And as in thc casc ol thc nvc physical scnsc organs,
consciousncss must bc prcscnt to unitc thc mind and its objcct
so as to producc cxpcricncc.
Lct us now look at thc mcntal lactors ol cxpcricncc and scc
whcthcr wc can undcrstand how consciousncss turns thc physi
cal lactors ol cxistcncc into pcrsonal, conscious cxpcricncc. First
ol all, wc must rcmcmbcr that consciousncss is mcrc awarcncss
ol, or mcrc scnsitivity to, an objcct. Vhcn thc physical lactors ol
cxpcricncc – lor cxamplc, thc cycs and a visiblc objcct – comc into
contact, and whcn consciousncss, too, bccomcs associatcd with
thc matcrial lactors ol cxpcricncc, visual consciousncss ariscs.
Tis is mcrc awarcncss ol a visiblc objcct, not anything likc what
wc would normally call pcrsonal cxpcricncc. Òur cvcryday pcr
sonal cxpcricncc is produccd through thc lunctioning ol thc othcr
thrcc major mcntal lactors ol cxpcricncc: thc aggrcgatc ol lccl
ing, thc aggrcgatc ol pcrccption, and thc aggrcgatc ol volition, or
mcntal lormation. Tcsc thrcc aggrcgatcs lunction to turn this
mcrc awarcncss ol thc objcct into pcrsonal cxpcricncc.
Tc aggrcgatc ol lccling, or scnsation, is ol thrcc kinds –
plcasant, unplcasant, and indißcrcnt. Vhcn an objcct is cxpc
ricnccd, that cxpcricncc takcs on onc ol thcsc cmotivc toncs,
cithcr thc tonc ol plcasurc, thc tonc ol displcasurc, or thc tonc
ol indißcrcncc.
Lct us look ncxt at thc aggrcgatc ol pcrccption. Tis is an
aggrcgatc that many pcoplc nnd dimcult to undcrstand. Vhcn
wc spcak ol pcrccption, wc havc in mind thc activity ol rccogni
tion, or idcntincation. !n a scnsc, wc arc talking about attaching
a namc to an objcct ol cxpcricncc. Tc lunction ol pcrccption is
.¡¡ .¡·
to turn an indcnnitc cxpcricncc into an idcntinablc, rccogniz
ablc onc. Hcrc wc arc spcaking ol thc lormulation ol a conccp
tion, or an idca, about a particular objcct. As with lccling, whcrc
wc havc an cmotivc clcmcnt in thc lorm ol plcasurc, displcasurc,
or indißcrcncc, with pcrccption wc havc a conccptual clcmcnt
in thc lorm ol thc introduction ol a dcnnitc, dctcrminatc idca
about thc objcct ol cxpcricncc.
Finally, thcrc is thc aggrcgatc ol volition, or mcntal lormation,
which can bc dcscribcd as a conditioncd rcsponsc to thc objcct
ol cxpcricncc. !n this scnsc it partakcs ol thc mcaning ol habit
as wcll. Vc spcnt somc timc discussing volition in Chaptcr .c,
whcn wc considcrcd thc twclvc componcnts ol intcrdcpcndcnt
origination. You will rcmcmbcr that wc dcscribcd volition as thc
imprcssions crcatcd by prcvious actions, thc habit cncrgy storcd
up ovcr thc coursc ol countlcss lormcr lilctimcs. Hcrc, as onc
ol thc nvc aggrcgatcs, volition plays a similar rolc. 8ut volition
has not only a static valuc but also a dynamic valuc bccausc, just
as our prcscnt actions arc conditioncd by past actions, so our
rcsponscs hcrc and now arc motivatcd and dircctcd in a partic
ular way by volition. \olition thcrclorc has a moral dimcnsion,
just as pcrccption has a conccptual dimcnsion and lccling has an
cmotivc dimcnsion.
You will noticc that ! havc uscd thc tcrms “volition” and
“mcntal lormation” togcthcr. Tis is bccausc cach ol thcsc tcrms
rcprcscnts onc hall ol thc mcaning ol thc original tcrm: mcntal
lormation rcprcscnts thc hall that comcs lrom thc past, and voli
tion rcprcscnts thc hall that lunctions hcrc and now. Mcntal lor
mation and volition work togcthcr to dctcrminc our rcsponscs to
thc objccts ol cxpcricncc, and thcsc rcsponscs havc moral con
.¡¡ .¡·
scqucnccs in thc lorm ol wholcsomc, unwholcsomc, and ncutral
Vc can now scc how thc physical and mcntal lactors ol cxpc
ricncc work togcthcr to producc pcrsonal cxpcricncc. To makc
this a littlc clcarcr, lct us say that you dccidc to takc a walk in thc
gardcn. As you walk, your cycs comc into contact with a visiblc
objcct. As your attcntion locuscs on that objcct, your conscious
ncss bccomcs awarc ol a visiblc objcct which is as yct indctcr
minatc. Your aggrcgatc ol pcrccption thcn idcntincs that visiblc
objcct as, lct us say, a snakc. Òncc that happcns, you rcspond to
thc objcct with thc aggrcgatc ol lcclingthc lccling ol displca
surc. Finally, you rcact to that visiblc objcct with thc aggrcgatc
ol volition, with thc intcntional action ol pcrhaps running away
or picking up a stonc.
!n all our daily activitics, wc can scc how thc nvc aggrc
gatcs work togcthcr to producc pcrsonal cxpcricncc. At this
vcry momcnt, lor instancc, thcrc is contact bctwccn two clc
mcnts ol thc aggrcgatc ol lorm – thc lcttcrs on thc pagc and your
cycs. Your consciousncss bccomcs awarc ol thc lcttcrs on thc
pagc. Your aggrcgatc ol pcrccption idcntincs thc words that arc
writtcn thcrc. Your aggrcgatc ol lccling produccs an cmotional
rcsponsc – plcasurc, displcasurc, or indißcrcncc. Your aggrc
gatc ol volition rcsponds with a conditioncd rcaction – sitting at
attcntion, daydrcaming, or pcrhaps yawning. Vc can analyzc all
our pcrsonal cxpcricncc in tcrms ol thc nvc aggrcgatcs.
Tcrc is onc point, howcvcr, that must bc rcmcmbcrcd about
thc naturc ol thc nvc aggrcgatcs, and that is that cach ol thcm is
in constant changc. Tc clcmcnts that constitutc thc aggrcgatc
ol lorm arc impcrmancnt and arc in a statc ol constant changc.
.¡6 .¡·
Vc discusscd this in Chaptcr .., whcn wc notcd that thc body
grows old, wcak, and sick, and that thc things around us arc
also impcrmancnt and constantly changing. Òur lcclings, too,
arc constantly changing. Today wc may rcspond to a particular
situation with a lccling ol plcasurc, tomorrow, with displcasurc.
Today wc may pcrccivc an objcct in a particular way, latcr, undcr
dißcrcnt circumstanccs, our pcrccptions will changc. !n scmi
darkncss, wc pcrccivc a ropc to bc a snakc, thc momcnt thc light
ol a torch lalls on that objcct, wc pcrccivc it to bc a ropc.
Òur pcrccptions, likc our lcclings and likc thc matcrial
objccts ol our cxpcricncc, arc cvcrchanging and impcrmancnt,
so, too, arc our volitional rcsponscs. Vc can altcr our habits. Vc
can lcarn to bc kind and compassionatc. Vc can acquirc thc atti
tudcs ol rcnunciation, cquanimity, and so lorth. Consciousncss,
too, is impcrmancnt and constantly changing. Consciousncss
ariscs dcpcndcnt on an objcct and a scnsc organ. !t cannot cxist
indcpcndcntly. As wc havc sccn, all thc physical and mcntal
lactors ol our cxpcricncc – likc our bodics, thc physical objccts
around us, our minds, and our idcas – arc impcrmancnt and
constantly changing. All thcsc aggrcgatcs arc constantly chang
ing and impcrmancnt. Tcy arc proccsscs, not things. Tcy arc
dynamic, not static.
Vhat is thc usc ol this analysis ol pcrsonal cxpcricncc in
tcrms ol thc nvc aggrcgatcs: Vhat is thc usc ol this rcduction
ol thc apparcnt unity ol pcrsonal cxpcricncc into thc clcmcnts
ol lorm, lccling, pcrccption, volition or mcntal lormation, and
consciousncss: Tc purposc is to crcatc thc wisdom ol notscll.
Vhat wc wish to achicvc is a way ol cxpcricncing thc world that
is not constructcd on and around thc idca ol a scll. Vc want to
.¡6 .¡·
scc pcrsonal cxpcricncc in tcrms ol proccsscs – in tcrms ol impcr
sonal lunctions rathcr than in tcrms ol a scll and what aßccts a
scll – bccausc this will crcatc an attitudc ol cquanimity, which
will hclp us ovcrcomc thc cmotional disturbanccs ol hopc and
lcar about thc things ol thc world.
Vc hopc lor happincss, wc lcar pain. Vc hopc lor praisc, wc
lcar blamc. Vc hopc lor gain, wc lcar loss. Vc hopc lor lamc,
wc lcar inlamy. Vc livc in a statc ol altcrnatc hopc and lcar. Vc
cxpcricncc thcsc hopcs and lcars bccausc wc undcrstand happi
ncss, pain, and so lorth in tcrms ol thc scll: wc undcrstand thcm
as pcrsonal happincss and pain, pcrsonal praisc and blamc, and
so on. 8ut oncc wc undcrstand thcm in tcrms ol impcrsonal pro
ccsscs, and oncc – through this undcrstanding – wc gct rid ol thc
idca ol a scll, wc can ovcrcomc hopc and lcar. Vc can rcgard
happincss and pain, praisc and blamc, and all thc rcst with cqua
nimity, with cvcnmindcdncss. Ònly thcn will wc no longcr bc
subjcct to thc imbalancc ol altcrnating bctwccn hopc and lcar.
.¡· .¡o
Tc Tundamcntals in +rauicc
y way ol conclusion, ! would likc to rcßcct on what wc havc
discusscd ovcr thc coursc ol thc prcccding chaptcrs and
rclatc it to what wc can do in our own pcrsonal livcs, both now
and in thc luturc.
Tc tcachings ol thc 8uddha arc cxcccdingly vast and vcry
prolound. Tus lar, wc havc only managcd to survcy a lcw ol
thc lundamcntal tcachings ol thc 8uddha, and thcsc only supcr
ncially. You may lccl that wc havc covcrcd a lot, and that it is
impossiblc to practicc cvcrything wc havc discusscd. !ndccd, it
is said that it is dimcult, cvcn lor a monk living in isolation, to
practicc all thc lundamcntal tcachings ol thc 8uddha: small
wondcr that it may also bc dimcult lor laymcn and laywomcn
likc oursclvcs, who havc many sccular rcsponsibilitics to lulnll.
Noncthclcss, il wc succccd in sinccrcly cultivating and practicing
cvcn a lcw ol thc many tcachings ol thc 8uddha, wc will havc
succccdcd in making this lilc morc mcaninglul. Morcovcr, wc
will bc ccrtain that wc will again cncountcr circumstanccs lavor
ablc to thc practicc ol thc Ðharma, and to thc cvcntual rcaliza
tion ol libcration.
¡vcryonc can achicvc thc highcst goal in 8uddhism, bc hc or
shc a laypcrson or a mcmbcr ol thc monastic ordcr. All a pcrson
nccd do is makc an honcst cßort to lollow thc Noblc ¡ightlold
Path. !t is said that thosc who havc rcalizcd thc truth, likc thc
8uddha Shakyamuni and his promincnt disciplcs, did not do so
accidcntally. Tcy did not lall lrom thc sky likc rain, nor spring
.¡· .¡o
up lrom thc carth likc grain. Tc 8uddha and his disciplcs wcrc
oncc ordinary scnticnt bcings likc you and mc. Tcy wcrc oncc
amictcd by impuritics ol thc mind – attachmcnt, avcrsion, and
ignorancc. !t was through coming into contact with thc Ðharma,
through purilying thcir words and dccds, through dcvcloping
thcir minds, and through acquiring wisdom that thcy bccamc
lrcc, cxaltcd bcings ablc to tcach and hclp othcrs rcalizc thc
truth. Tcrc is thcrclorc no doubt that, il wc apply oursclvcs to
thc tcachings ol thc 8uddha, wc, too, can attain thc ultimatc
goal ol 8uddhism. Vc, too, can bccomc likc thc 8uddha and
his promincnt disciplcs.
!t is ol no usc mcrcly to listcn to thc Ðharma or to rcad thc
Ðharma, mcrcly to writc articlcs about thc Ðharma or givc lcc
turcs about it, il wc do not put it into practicc. !t has bccn said
that thosc ol us who call oursclvcs 8uddhists can pront by occa
sionally taking stock. !l wc scc that, ovcr thc prcccding ycars
or months, our practicc ol thc 8uddha’s tcachings has brought
about a changc in thc quality ol our cxpcricncc – and it will
probably bc only a small changc – thcn wc know that thc tcach
ings arc having somc cßcct.
!l all ol us put thc tcachings ol thc 8uddha into practicc, thcrc
is no doubt that wc will rcalizc thcir bcncnts. !l wc scck to avoid
harming othcrs, il wc try our bcst to hclp othcrs whcncvcr pos
siblc, il wc lcarn to bc mindlul, il wc lcarn to dcvclop our ability
to conccntratc our minds, il wc cultivatc wisdom through study,
carclul considcration, and mcditation, thcrc is no doubt that thc
Ðharma will bcncnt us. !t will nrst lcad us to happincss and pros
pcrity in this lilc and in thc ncxt. ¡vcntually, it will lcad us to thc
ultimatc goal ol libcration, thc suprcmc bliss ol nirvana.
art T¬o
Te ´ahayana
Tc Origins of thc ´ahayana Tradition
t must bc said at thc outsct that, givcn thc vastncss ol thc
Mahayana tradition, wc cannot hopc to do morc than intro
ducc its major trcnds in thc spacc ol a lcw short chaptcrs.
Howcvcr, rcgardlcss ol our pcrsonal inclinations toward or com
mitmcnts to any onc ol thc 8uddhist traditions, wc must rccog
nizc thc lact that thc Mahayana has contributcd a grcat dcal to
8uddhist thought and culturc. !t has produccd a vast litcraturc,
many works ol art, and many dißcrcnt tcchniqucs lor pcrsonal
dcvclopmcnt. Many countrics throughout Asia havc bccn inßu
cnccd by thc Mahayana, and although it was ncglcctcd by mod
crn scholars in comparison to thc Tcravada, thcrc is now a trc
mcndous intcrcst in Mahayana litcraturc and philosophy and in
thc path ol thc 8odhisattva. !t is thcrclorc appropriatc that wc
should dcvotc cight chaptcrs to looking at thc origins and dcvcl
opmcnt ol thc Mahayana tradition.
! havc choscn to bcgin by considcring thc origins ol thc
Mahayana bccausc ! bclicvc that il wc do not undcrstand and
apprcciatc thc rcasons why this tradition arosc – its sccds, so to
spcak, in thc primcval soil ol thc 8uddhist tradition – it will bc
dimcult lor us to scc thc Mahayana lrom an objcctivc pcrspcc
tivc. ! would likc to look nrst at thc vcry carlicst pcriod in thc
cstablishmcnt ol thc 8uddhist tradition, that is, at thc lilc ol thc
8uddha Shakyamuni himscll.
Tc 8uddha Shakyamuni taught lor lortynvc ycars at many
placcs in north cast ccntral !ndia. Hc is univcrsally bclicvcd
.·: .·.
to havc taught innumcrablc living bcings. Tcy includcd not
only human bcings lrom all walks ol lilc, but also animals
and supra human bcings such as thc gods ol thc various hcav
cns and thc undcr world. Tc 8uddha is also acknowlcdgcd by
all thc 8uddhist traditions to havc pcrlormcd many cxtraordi
nary and inconccivablc miraclcs ol various kinds lor thc sakc ol
¡nlightcning living bcings. Tc 8uddha was not a man nor a
god as Hc himscll avowcd. 8ut il hc was not a god, hc was ccr
tainly divinc, cxaltcd and supramundanc, bccausc hc had madc
himscll so ovcr thc coursc ol countlcss cxistcnccs. !ndccd, all
8uddhists bclicvc that thc 8uddha is lar grcatcr than any god,
his qualitics and activitics morc bcncnccnt and immcnsc. Tc
8uddha Shakyamuni sct an cxamplc by his own carccr that pco
plc could cmulatc. Tc goal ol this carccr was ¡nlightcnmcnt and
8uddhahood and thc way was thc way ol thc 8odhisattva. Tc
8uddha spokc ol thc goal ol cnlightcnmcnt and 8uddhahood as
wcll as ol thc goal ol Nirvana. Hc himscll had thoroughly taught
thc way ol attaining thc goal ol 8uddhahood by mcans ol thc
practicc ol thc pcrlcctions ol thc 8odhisattva in thc many talcs
ol his lormcr cxistcnccs.
Tc 8uddha Shakyamuni allowcd his lollowcrs to acccpt
and adapt his tcaching to thcir own abilitics and aspirations.
Vhilc ncvcr abandoning thc cardinal virtucs ol morality and
wisdom, thc 8uddha pcrmittcd a grcat dcal ol scopc lor indi
vidual cxprcssion. Hc cncouragcd lrcc inquiry among thc laity
and dcmocracy within thc monastic community. Tis is cvidcnt
in many placcs throughout his tcachings. Tcrc is, lor cxamplc,
thc lamous doctrinc hc articulatcd in his advicc to thc Kalamas,
whcn hc said that onc should not rcly on sccondary mcans ol vcr
.·: .·.
ilying asscrtions about thc naturc ol things, but tcst such asscr
tions in thc light ol onc’s own pcrsonal cxpcricncc and only thcn
acccpt thcm as truc.
!n a similar vcin, hc said that onc should tcst thc truth ol
asscrtions in thc light ol thc critcria ol obscrvation, rcasoning,
and scllconsistcncy, thc way a wisc man tcsts thc purity ol gold
by cutting, rubbing, and hcating it. Again, toward thc cnd ol
his carccr, thc 8uddha told his disciplcs to bc lamps unto thcm
sclvcs, to light thcir own way with thcir own rcasoning. His last
words wcrc, ‘Subjcct to changc arc all compoundcd things, work
out your libcration with diligcncc.’
Tc 8uddha also cncouragcd scllrcliancc in his instruc
tions to thc community ol monks rcgarding thc codc ol monas
tic disciplinc. Conscqucntly, hc told Ananda that, altcr hc him
scll had dicd, thc mcmbcrs ol thc Òrdcr would bc lrcc to abol
ish thc lcsscr rulcs ol monastic disciplinc il thcy saw nt. !ndccd,
it is signincant that thc 8uddha cvcn rcluscd to appoint a succcs
sor to hcad thc 8uddhist community altcr his dcath. All thcsc
lacts point to thc climatc that cxistcd in thc vcry carly 8uddhist
community – a climatc ol lrcc inquiry, dcmocracy, and indcpcn
Altcr thc 8uddha’s dcath, his tcachings wcrc prcscrvcd in
an oral tradition that was handcd down lrom onc gcncration
ol lollowcrs to anothcr, maintaincd in thcir collcctivc mcmory.
Litcracy was a privilcgc ol thc clitc in !ndia at that timc, and it is
anothcr indication ol thc prcmium placcd on dcmocracy within
thc 8uddhist tradition that litcrary lormulation ol thc tcach
ing was ncglcctcd lor so long. Many pcoplc wcrc not litcratc, so
word ol mouth was thc univcrsal mcdium lor prcscrvation and
.·¡ .··
disscmination ol thc Ðharma. Ðuring thc nvc hundrcd ycars
whcn thc tcaching was prcscrvcd orally, a numbcr ol asscmblics
or councils wcrc convcncd to organizc, systcmatizc, and dctcr
minc thc commonly acccptcd vcrsions ol thc doctrinal tcach
ing and thc monastic disciplinc, or \inaya. Tcrc wcrc ccrtainly
thrcc and maybc morc than six ol thcsc asscmblics convcncd
during this pcriod at various placcs throughout !ndia. Tc rcsult
was thc cmcrgcncc ol a grcat many schools whosc doctrincs and
disciplinary rulcs varicd to a grcatcr or lcsscr dcgrcc.
Tc First Council was ccrtainly hcld immcdiatcly altcr thc
8uddha dicd at Rajagriha thc capital ol Magadha. Tcrc it was
askcd whcthcr thc council should procccd to abolish thc lcsscr
prcccpts, as thc 8uddha had told Ananda thc Òrdcr might do
il it saw nt. Unlortunatcly, Ananda had ncglcctcd to ask thc
8uddha which wcrc thc lcsscr prcccpts. Tis unccrtainty lcd thc
prcsiding ¡ldcr, Maha Kashyapa to rccommcnd that thc asscm
bly rctain all thc rulcs ol disciplinc without any modincations.
Tis lact is signincant bccausc it indicatcs that thc qucstion ol
disciplinary rulcs was dcbatcd at thc timc ol thc First Council.
Tc qucstion was to arisc again at thc Sccond Council and was
thc major issuc thcrc.
!n addition, thc rccords ol thc First Council tcll us thc story
ol a monk namcd Purana who arrivcd at Rajagriha just as thc
asscmbly was concluding its dclibcrations. Hc was invitcd by thc
organizcrs to participatc in thc closing phascs ol thc council but
dcclincd, saying that hc would prclcr to rcmcmbcr thc tcaching ol
thc 8uddha as hc had hcard it lrom thc 8uddha himscll. Tis lact
is signincant bccausc it indicatcs that thcrc wcrc alrcady pcoplc
who prclcrrcd to prcscrvc an indcpcndcnt tradition, to rcmcmbcr
.·¡ .··
thc Ðharma thcy thcmsclvcs had hcard lrom thc 8uddha. 8oth
cpisodcs indicatc thc dcgrcc ol lrccdom ol thought that cxistcd
at thc timc ol thc carly 8uddhist community.
Lct us now look at thc rccord ol thc Sccond Council which
was hcld about a hundrcd ycars latcr. At this council, thc issuc
that dominatcd thc dcbatc, and that prccipitatcd thc calling ol
thc council was disciplinary. A numbcr ol monks had takcn up
practiccs which thc cldcr monks considcrcd brcachcs ol monastic
disciplinc. Tcrc wcrc tcn such practiccs, including carrying salt
in a hollowcd horn, which was considcrcd a brcach ol thc rulc
lorbidding thc storagc ol lood, sccking pcrmission lor an action
altcr thc action had alrcady bccn donc, and acccpting gold and
silvcr, which was considcrcd a brcach ol thc rulc lorbidding thc
accumulation ol wcalth. Tc crring monks wcrc dcclarcd in viola
tion ol thc orthodox codc ol disciplinc and ccnsurcd accordingly.
Again thc conscrvativc stand ol Maha Kashyapa was adoptcd by
thc ¡ldcrs at thc council, and indccd thc rulcs ol monastic disci
plinc havc rcmaincd virtually unchangcd ovcr thc ccnturics not
withstanding many actual modincations in practicc.
!n spitc ol thc apparcntly casy rcsolution ol thc disciplinary
disputc, thc ycars altcr thc Sccond Council saw thc cmcrgcncc
and prolilcration ol many scparatc schools such as thc Maha
Sanghikas who somc rcgard as thc progcnitors ol thc Mahayana,
\atsiputriyas and othcrs. Conscqucntly, by thc timc ol thc Tird
Council, hcld during thc rcign ol ¡mpcror Ashoka, in thc third
ccntury n.c.v., thcrc wcrc alrcady at lcast cightccn schools, cach
with its own doctrincs and disciplinary rulcs.
Two schools dominatcd thc dclibcrations at thc Tird
Council, an analytical school callcd thc \ibhajyavadins, and a
.·6 .··
school ol rcalistic pluralism known as thc Sarvastivadins. Tc
council dccidcd in lavor ol thc analytical school and it was thc
vicws ol this school that wcrc carricd to Sri Lanka by Ashoka’s
missionarics, lcd by his son Mahcndra. Tcrc it bccamc known
as thc Tcravada. Tc adhcrcnts ol thc Sarvastivada mostly
migratcd to Kashmir in thc north wcst ol !ndia whcrc thc school
bccamc known lor its popularization ol thc path ol thc pcrlcc
tions ol thc 8odhisattva.
At yct anothcr council, hcld during thc rcign ol King
Kanishka in thc nrst ccntury c.v., two morc important schools
cmcrgcd – thc \aibhashikas and thc Sautrantikas. Tcsc dißcrcd
on thc authcnticity ol thc Abhidharma, thc \aibhashikas hold
ing that thc Abhidharma was taught by thc 8uddha, whilc thc
Sautrantikas hcld that it was not.
8y this timc, Mahayana accounts tcll us, a numbcr ol asscm
blics had bccn convcncd in ordcr to compilc thc scripturcs ol
thc Mahayana tradition which wcrc alrcady rcputcd to bc vast
in numbcr. !n thc north and south wcst ol !ndia as wcll as at
Nalanda in Magadha, thc Mahayana was studicd and taught.
Many ol thc important tcxts ol thc Mahayana wcrc bclicvcd
to havc bccn rclatcd by Maitrcya thc luturc 8uddha and othcr
cclcstial 8odhisattvas or prcscrvcd among thc scrpcnt gods ol
thc undcrworld until thcir discovcry by Mahayana mastcrs such
as Nagarjuna.
Tc appcarancc ol all thcsc schools cach having its own
vcrsion ol thc tcaching ol thc 8uddha clcarly illustratcs thc
immcnsc divcrsity that charactcrizcd thc 8uddhist tradition at
thc bcginning ol thc common cra. Although dißcring in many
particulars rcgarding thc qucstion ol thc authcnticity ol tcxts
.·6 .··
and tcachings, thc 8uddhist schools continucd to acknowlcdgc a
common idcntity as 8uddhists. Tc singlc cxccption to this rulc
bcing thc \atsiputriyas who bccausc ol thcir adhcrcncc to thc
notion ol an csscntial pcrsonality wcrc univcrsally dubbcd hcrc
tics by thc othcr schools.
Tc lormation ol thc cxtant writtcn canons ol thc schools,
both in !ndia and in Sri Lanka, is now gcncrally acccptcd by
scholars to bclong to a rclativcly latc pcriod. Tc Mahayana
tcachings, as wcll as thosc ol thc othcr schools, including thc
Tcravada, bcgan to appcar in writtcn lorm morc than nvc hun
drcd ycars altcr thc timc ol thc 8uddha. Vc know with ccrtainty
that thc Tcravada canon – rccordcd in Pali, an carly !ndian vcr
nacular languagc – was nrst compilcd in thc middlc ol thc nrst
ccntury n.c.v. Tc carlicst Mahayana sutras, such as thc Lotus
Sutra and thc Sutra ol thc Perfection of Wisdom arc usually datcd
no latcr than thc nrst ccntury c.v. Tcrclorc, thc writtcn canons
ol thc Tcravada and Mahayana traditions datc to roughly thc
samc pcriod.
Altcr thc dcath ol thc 8uddha, thc vicws ol thc cldcrs among
thc monks dominatcd 8uddhist rcligious lilc, but by thc nrst
ccntury c.v., dissatislaction with thc idcal ol thc Arhat whosc
goal was thc achicvcmcnt ol pcrsonal lrccdom had grown signil
icantly among thc monastic and lay communitics. Tc lollowcrs
ol thc 8uddha wcrc prcscntcd with a choicc bctwccn two dißcr
cnt idcals ol rcligious lilc – Arhatship and 8uddhahood.
Vhilc thc aspiring Arhat is intcrcstcd in gaining lrccdom lor
him or hcrscll, thc 8odhisattva or 8uddha to bc is committcd
to achicving ¡nlightcnmcnt lor thc sakc ol all living bcings.
Tc csscncc ol thc Mahayana conccption ol rcligious lilc
.·· .·o
is compassion lor all living bcings. !ndccd, it is in this con
tcxt that wc should undcrstand thc incrcasing popularity ol thc
Mahayana. !t is hardly surprising il many dcvotcd 8uddhists
chosc to lollow thc cxamplc ol thc 8uddha whosc compassion
and wisdom wcrc innnitc and not that ol his promincnt disci
plcs, thc cldcrs and Arhats who lor thc most part sccmcd aus
tcrc and rcmotc. !n short, thc Mahayana, with its prolound phi
losophy, its univcrsal compassion and its abundant usc ol skill
lul mcans, rapidly bcgan to attract an cnthusiastic lollowing not
only in !ndia, but in thc ncwly 8uddhist lands ol ccntral Asia.
! would likc to concludc this chaptcr by spcnding a lcw
momcnts on a bricl comparison ol a lcw idcas lrom thc canon
ol thc Tcravada tradition and somc ol thc salicnt lcaturcs ol
thc Mahayana that appcar promincntly in Mahayana tcxts likc
thc Lotus Sutra, thc Perfection of Wisdom Discourses and thc
Lankavatara Sutra. !t is oltcn lorgottcn that not only arc thcrc
many virtually idcntical Ðiscourscs bclonging to both canons,
but also that thcrc arc traccs in thc Tcravada canon ol somc ol
thc charactcristic thcmcs ol thc Mahayana – such as thc supra
mundanc naturc ol thc 8uddha, and thc doctrincs ol cmptincss
and thc crcativc and luminous naturc ol mind.
For cxamplc, in thc Tcravada canon wc nnd thc 8uddha
rcpcatcdly rclcrring to himscll not by namc but as thc Tathagata,
onc who is idcntical with suchncss, or rcality. Noncthclcss, thc
8uddha is crcditcd with thc powcr to producc cmanations lor
thc cdincation ol living bcings. Tcsc passagcs containcd in thc
Tcravada canon suggcst thc transccndcntal, supramundanc, and
inconccivablc naturc ol thc 8uddha, an idca vcry important to thc
Mahayana. Again according to thc Tcravada cannon, thc 8uddha
.·· .·o
cxtollcd cmptincss in thc highcst tcrms, calling it prolound and
going bcyond thc world. Hc said that lorm, lccling and thc likc
wcrc illusory, mcrc bubblcs. Phcnomcna arc nothing in thcmsclvcs.
Tcy arc unrcal dcccptions. Tis is a thcmc takcn up and clabo
ratcd in thc Mahayana Pcrlcction ol Visdom litcraturc.
Again, according to thc Tcravada canon thc 8uddha said
that ignorancc and imagination arc rcsponsiblc lor thc appcar
ancc ol thc world. Hc rclcrrcd to thc parablc ol thc Ðcmigod
\cpachitta who was bound or lrccd according to thc naturc ol
his thoughts to illustratc this point. Tc original naturc ol con
sciousncss howcvcr shincs likc a jcwcl, intrinsically purc and
undcnlcd. Tcsc idcas arc dcvclopcd in Mahayana sutras likc
thc Lankavatara Sutra. Tcy arc thc vcry loundation ol thc
Mahayana vicw ol thc naturc ol thc mind.
Tus thc origins ol thc Mahayana tradition can bc lound
in thc vcry carlicst phascs ol thc 8uddhist tradition and in thc
8uddha’s own carccr. Tc nvc hundrcd ycars altcr thc dcath ol
thc 8uddha witncsscd thc cmcrgcncc ol dißcring traditions ol
intcrprctation that, whatcvcr thcir cmphasis, all look back to thc
original, innnitcly varicd, and prolound tcaching ol thc 8uddha.
8y thc nrst ccntury c.v., thc lormation ol thc Mahayana was vir
tually complctc, and most ol thc major Mahayana sutras wcrc
in cxistcncc. Vc will discuss thrcc ol thcsc sutras in thc lollow
ing chaptcrs.
.6c .6.
Tc Iotus Autra
hc pcriod bctwccn thc Sccond Council and thc nrst ccntury
n.c.v. saw thc growth ol Mahayana litcraturc in !ndia and
thc cmcrgcncc ol a numbcr ol important tcxts. Tc nrst to appcar
wcrc transitional works likc thc Lalitavistara and Mahavastu,
which bclong to dcrivativc schools ol thc Mahasanghikas and
dcscribc thc carccr ol thc 8uddha in cxaltcd, supra mundanc
tcrms. Tcsc wcrc lollowcd by morc than a hundrcd dcnnitivc
Mahayana sutras, likc thc lormcr, composcd in Sanskrit and
hybrid Sanskrit.
Most ol thcsc sutras arc quitc cxtcnsivc, cxamplcs includc
thc Lotus Sutra, thc Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in cight thousand
lincs, thc Samadhiraja Sutra, and thc Lankavatara Sutra. Tcy
makc libcral usc ol parablcs and cxamplcs and put lorward thc
major thcmcs ol thc Mahayana tradition in a discursivc, didac
tic way. Tcsc idcas wcrc supportcd somc timc latcr by thc sys
tcmatic argumcnts lound in thc commcntarial or cxcgctical lit
craturc, known as shastras, composcd by outstanding ngurcs likc
Nagarjuna, Asanga, and \asubandhu.
Among thc many Mahayana sutras now availablc to us, !
will dcvotc this and thc ncxt two chaptcrs to thrcc that cxcm
plily important thcmcs and phascs in thc dcvclopmcnt ol
Mahayana 8uddhism: (.) thc Lotus Sutra (Saddharmapundarika
Sutra), (:) thc Heart Sutra (Prajnaparamita Hridaya Sutra), and
(.) thc Lankavatara Sutra.
!n many ways, thc Lotus is thc loundation sutra ol thc
.6c .6.
Mahayana tradition. !t has grcat inßucncc in thc Mahayana
8uddhist world, not only in !ndia but also in China and ]apan,
whcrc it is thc lavoritc tcxt ol thc T’icnt’ai and Nichircn schools.
Morcovcr, insolar as it cxpounds thc way ol grcat compassion,
thc Lotus Sutra rcprcscnts thc csscncc ol thc Mahayana tradi
tion’s lundamcntal oricntation, which is grcat compassion.
Lct us cxaminc a numbcr ol thcmcs in thc Lotus Sutra that
! lccl arc particularly important lor an undcrstanding ol thc
Mahayana tradition. Lct us look nrst at what thc sutra has to
say about thc 8uddha. !n Chaptcr .¡, ! mcntioncd a numbcr
ol suggcstions lound in thc Tcravada canon that point to thc
supramundanc and transccndcntal naturc ol thc 8uddha. Tis
thcmc is claboratcd on in lormativc, transitional tcxts likc thc
Mahavastu and Lalitavistara. !n thc Lotus Sutra, thc supramun
danc, ctcrnal, and cvcractivc naturc ol thc 8uddha is cxplaincd
vcry clcarly and in considcrablc dctail. Tc mcssagc is that thc
lorm ol thc 8uddha Shakyamuni pcrccivcd by pcoplc in thc
sixth ccntury n.c.v. was simply an apparition ol thc transccn
dcntal 8uddha projcctcd lor thc purposc ol cnlightcning scnticnt
bcings. Although thc world pcrccivcd thc birth ol Siddhartha
among thc Shakya clan, thc cvcnt ol his grcat rcnunciation,
thc ycars ol his strugglc lor cnlightcnmcnt, his attainmcnt ol
cnlightcnmcnt undcr thc bodhi trcc, his lortynvc ycars ol tcach
ing, and his passing away into cxtinction at thc agc ol cighty, all
this was in lact mcrcly a show lor thc purposc ol cnlightcning
scnticnt bcings.
Tc casc lor this idca is advanccd in thc Lotus Sutra with
thc hclp ol thc parablc ol thc physician that appcars in chaptcr
sixtccn ol thc tcxt. !n this parablc, a wcllqualincd and lamous
.6: .6.
physician who has bccn away lrom homc lor a long timc rcturns
to nnd that his sons havc takcn poison and arc scriously ill. Hc
scts about prcparing an cxccllcnt rcmcdy lor thcm according to
his knowlcdgc ol mcdicinc. Somc ol his sons immcdiatcly takc
thc mcdicinc hc oßcrs and arc curcd ol thcir illncss.
Òthcr sons, howcvcr, although thcy havc lookcd lorward to
thcir lathcr’s rcturn and assistancc, arc now unwilling to takc thc
mcdicinc hc oßcrs bccausc thcy arc alrcady too dccply aßcctcd by
thc poison. Tcy lail to apprcciatc thc cxccllcnt propcrtics ol thc
mcdicinc and continuc in thcir gravc illncss. Sccing this, thcir
lathcr dcviscs a way to inducc thcm to bc curcd: hc tclls thcm
that hc is alrcady advanccd in ycars, that thc timc ol his dcath
is ncar, and that hc must again travcl to anothcr country. Hc
thcn lcavcs and has a mcssagc scnt back to his sons tclling thcm
that hc has dicd. Movcd by thc ncws ol thcir lathcr’s dcath – and
dcspcratc now that thcrc will bc no onc to look altcr thcm and
curc thcm – thcy takc thc mcdicinc and arc curcd. Hcaring ol
thcir rccovcry, thc lathcr rcturns and is happily rcunitcd with
his sons.
Trough this parablc, wc arc givcn to undcrstand that thc
8uddha’s appcarancc in thc world is likc thc rcturn ol thc phy
sician who has journcycd to a ncighboring country. Upon his
rcturn, hc nnds that his sons, thc pcoplc ol thc world, havc
ingcstcd thc poison ol grccd, angcr, and dclusion and arc dis
trcsscd, ill, and sußcring. Hc dcviscs a curc lor thcir sußcring,
which is thc Ðharma, thc path to libcration. Although somc
ol thc pcoplc ol thc world lollow thc path and achicvc libcra
tion, thcrc arc othcrs who arc too dccply amictcd by thc poison
ol grccd, angcr, and dclusion and who thcrclorc rclusc to lollow
.6: .6.
thc path which is good in thc bcginning, middlc, and cnd. As
a rcsult, a dcvicc has to bc cmploycd to inducc and cncouragc
thcm to takc thc mcdicinc, lollow thc path, and achicvc libcra
tion. Tat dcvicc is thc apparcnt cxtinction ol thc 8uddha – his
cntry into nnal nirvana. According to this parablc, thcrclorc, thc
historical 8uddha ncvcr rcally livcd and ncvcr rcally dicd, but
was simply onc ol thc many appcaranccs ol thc supramundanc,
transccndcntal 8uddha.
Tc sutra rcinlorccs this point in chaptcr clcvcn, through
thc appcarancc ol an carlicr 8uddha, thc 8uddha Prabhutaratna,
who had bccomc a Tathagata, or cnlightcncd onc, cons bclorc.
Vhilc Shakyamuni is cngagcd in prcaching thc Lotus Sutra
(as dcscribcd in that sutra itscll), Prabhutaratna appcars to thc
asscmblcd multitudc, who scc him within a jcwclcd stupa, his
body pcrlcctly lormcd. Tis is anothcr indication not only that
thc 8uddha Shakyamuni has not yct cntcrcd into nnal cxtinction,
but also that thc 8uddhas who prcccdcd him did not do so.
According to thc Lotus Sutra, thcn, 8uddhas posscss a
supramundanc and transccndcntal, indcnnitc naturc, thcy also
rcspond and catcr to thc nccds ol scnticnt bcings according to
thcir individual abilitics. !n chaptcr nvc ol thc sutra, thc 8uddha
uscs thc similcs ol rain and ol light to illustratc this point. Hc
says that, just as rain lalls on all vcgctation – trccs, shrubs,
mcdicinal hcrbs, and grasscs – without discrimination, and cach
according to its naturc and capacity takcs nourishmcnt lrom thc
rain, so thc 8uddhas, through thcir appcarancc in thc world
and thcir tcachings, nourish all scnticnt bcings, cach according
to his or hcr individual ability – whcthcr grcat, likc thc tall trccs,
middling, likc smallcr trccs and shrubs, or low, likc thc grasscs.
.6¡ .6·
]ust as cach plant bcncnts lrom rain according to its capacity, so
cvcry scnticnt bcing bcncnts lrom thc appcarancc ol thc 8uddha
according to his or hcr capacity. And just as thc light ol thc sun
and moon lalls cqually on hills, vallcys, and plains, illuminating
cach according to its position and in its own way and timc, so
thc 8uddha’s prcscncc shcds light on all scnticnt bcings – bc thcy
high, middling, or low – according to thcir individual positions
and capacitics. !t is in this scnsc that thc innnitc, supramundanc
8uddha appcars in countlcss lorms to bcncnt scnticnt bcings: in
thc lorm ol an Arhat, a 8odhisattva, a lricnd ol virtuc, and cvcn
in thc lorm ol an ordinary, uncnlightcncd scnticnt bcing.
Vc know that it is dimcult to know thc ultimatc naturc ol
rcality, thc truth: thc way things rcally arc is not amcnablc to
words. Tis is why thc 8uddha rcmaincd silcnt whcn hc was
askcd whcthcr thc world is innnitc or nnitc, both or ncithcr,
and whcthcr thc Tathagata cxists or docs not cxist altcr dcath,
or both or ncithcr. Tc ultimatc naturc ol rcality has to bc rcal
izcd by oncscll. Tis is rcßcctcd in thc distinction bctwccn thc
Ðharma that onc bccomcs acquaintcd with indircctly, through
thc hclp ol othcrs, and thc Ðharma that onc rcalizcs lor oncscll.
8ut this rcalization ol thc truth docs not comc casily. !t has to bc
achicvcd by oncscll, and it has to bc thc rcsult ol a dircct, inncr
rcalization. Tus, motivatcd by grcat compassion, thc 8uddhas
appcar in thc world to tcach and hclp scnticnt bcings achicvc
this rcalization ol thc ultimatc naturc ol rcality by stagcs. Tcy
do this through skilllul mcans, according to thc capacitics and
inclinations ol scnticnt bcings.
Tis idca rcgarding thc dißcring capacitics and inclinations
ol scnticnt bcings is not pcculiar to thc Mahayana tradition. !n
.6¡ .6·
thc Tcravada canon, also, thc 8uddha likcns thc varying capac
itics ol living bcings to thc dißcrcnt positions ol lotuscs in a
pond – somc arc submcrgcd, othcrs arc partly submcrgcd, and
still othcrs arc lrcc ol thc watcr and blossoming in thc clcar air
and sunlight. Similarly, living bcings arc ol inlcrior, middling,
and supcrior capacity. Tc Tcravada tradition also includcs thc
idca ol thc 8uddha’s skilllul mcans, as cxcmplincd in dißcr
cnt ways ol tcaching, such as dircctly and indircctly. Tis idca
is rcßcctcd, too, in thc distinction bctwccn thc convcntional
and thc ultimatc truth. Tis notion ol skilllul mcans is dcvcl
opcd and rcnncd in thc Mahayana tradition and is an cxtrcmcly
important thcmc ol thc Lotus Sutra.
8ccausc thc ultimatc naturc ol rcality is dimcult to rcalizc,
and bccausc scnticnt bcings dißcr in thcir capacitics and incli
nations, thc 8uddhas rcsortcd to skilllul mcans to lcad cach
and cvcry scnticnt bcing to thc ultimatc goal ol cnlightcnmcnt,
according to his or hcr own way and inclination. Tcrclorc, thc
Lotus Sutra cxplains that thc vchiclc ol thc 8odhisattvas, thc
vchiclc ol thc Pratyckabuddhas (or ‘privatc 8uddhas’), and thc
vchiclc ol thc disciplcs arc nothing morc than skilllul mcans cal
culatcd to suit thc dißcring capacitics and inclinations ol scn
ticnt bcings.
Chaptcr thrcc ol thc Lotus Sutra uscs a compclling parablc
to cxplain thc naturc ol skilllul mcans. Tc story it tclls is this:
Supposc thcrc is a rich man who inhabits an old housc and who
has a numbcr ol childrcn. Ònc day thc housc suddcnly catchcs
on nrc. Tc lathcr, sccing that it will soon bc cngullcd in ßamcs,
calls to his childrcn to comc out, but thcy arc absorbcd in thcir
play and do not hccd his words. 8cing lamiliar with thc incli
.66 .6·
nations ol his childrcn, thc lathcr thinks ol a skilllul dcvicc to
inducc thcm to lcavc thc housc. Knowing thcy arc lond ol toys,
hc calls to thcm to comc out at oncc bccausc hc has brought thcm
all dißcrcnt kinds ol toy carts. Tc childrcn abandon thcir play
and rush out to gct thc carts. Òncc thcy arc salcly away lrom thc
burning housc, thc lathcr givcs cach and cvcryonc ol thcm only
thc most cxccllcnt cart, thc vchiclc ol thc 8uddhas.
!t is casy to scc that in this parablc thc housc is thc world,
thc nrc is thc nrc ol thc amictions, thc lathcr is thc 8uddha,
and thc childrcn arc thc pcoplc ol thc world. Tc toy carts arc
thc vchiclcs ol thc 8odhisattvas, Pratyckabuddhas, and disci
plcs. ¡lscwhcrc in thc Lotus Sutra, thc 8uddha cxplains that
hc taught thc Hinayana path lor thosc who bclicvc in thc cxis
tcncc ol thc world, and thc Mahayana lor thosc whosc mcrit is
wcll maturcd. To havc taught only thc Hinayana would havc
bccn miscrly, yct had hc taught only thc Mahayana, many would
havc dcspaircd ol achicving thc goal ol cnlightcnmcnt and not
cntcrcd thc path at all. Tus thc Hinayana and Mahayana arc
cxpcdicnt dcviccs lor thc pcoplc ol thc world, dcsigncd to suit
thcir dißcrcnt capacitics and inclinations.
Tc 8uddha also says in thc sutra that Arhats likc Shariputra
and Rahula will all cvcntually attain 8uddhahood. Hc thcn lik
cns thc nirvana ol thc Arhats to an illusory city conjurcd up by
a wisc guidc who is lcading a party ol travclcrs to a vast trcasurc.
Òn thc way, thc travclcrs grow wcary and tircd. Tcy dcspair
ol rcaching thcir goal, so thc guidc conjurcs up thc appcarancc
ol a city that has all thc amcnitics nccdcd lor thcm to rcst and
rccovcr thcir strcngth. Tcrcaltcr, thcy will bc ablc to continuc
thcir journcy until thcy cvcntually rcach thc trcasurc. !n this
.66 .6·
parablc thc guidc is thc 8uddha, thc travclcrs arc thc pcoplc ol
thc world, and thc illusory city is thc nirvana ol thc Arhats.
Tc mcssagc ol skilllul mcans is lurthcr cxplaincd in thc
Lotus Sutra by othcr parablcs and similcs. For cxamplc, in chap
tcr lour thcrc is thc parablc ol a son who has bccn partcd lrom
his lathcr at a young agc and who spcnds thc bcttcr part ol his
lilc in povcrty and sußcring, ignorant ol his origins. His lathcr,
longing to scc his son again and hand down his vast inhcritancc
to him, is gricvcd by his inability to locatc him. Ònc day, thc son
happcns to comc to his lathcr’s housc. Sccing thc splcndor ol thc
houschold and thc rcspcct thc scrvants havc lor thc mastcr ol thc
housc, hc bccomcs conscious ol his inlcriority and attcmpts to
ßcc, but his lathcr rccognizcs him and scnds mcn to bring him
back. Unablc to rccognizc his lathcr in rcturn, thc son is tcrri
ncd and protcsts his innoccncc. Sccing thc situation, thc lathcr
tclls his mcn to lct him go.
Somc timc latcr, thc lathcr scnds his mcn, drcsscd in poor
apparcl, to oßcr his son thc work ol swccping out dung in thc
cow shcds ol thc houschold. His son acccpts this mcnial task
and works lor somc timc. Gradually, thc lathcr incrcascs his
wagcs. All thc whilc, thc son is unawarc that thc mastcr is in
lact his own lathcr, and thc lathcr rclrains lrom rcvcaling it so
as not to upsct or lrightcn him. ¡vcntually thc son is clcvatcd to
thc position ol lorcman. Ònly whcn hc has thus broadcncd his
vision and aspirations docs his lathcr rcvcal to him his origins
and hand ovcr to him his inhcritancc. At that point thc son rcal
izcs his nobility and is ovcrjoycd by his achicvcmcnt.
!n thc samc way, thc Lotus Sutra says that wc arc all sons ol
thc 8uddha and will all achicvc thc inhcritancc ol 8uddhahood.
.6· .6o
8ut bccausc our ambitions and aspirations arc paltry, thc 8uddha
has sct us disciplincs whcrcby wc will gradually dcvclop and
cxpand our vision until wc rcalizc our truc naturc and kinship
and arc rcady to acccpt this inhcritancc ol 8uddhahood.
Tc ccntral thcmc ol thc Lotus Sutra is thc working ol skill
lul mcans out ol grcat compassion. Òut ol grcat compassion, thc
8uddhas appcar in thc world. Òut ol grcat compassion, thcy
cxcrcisc thcir skilllul mcans in countlcss ways, through countlcss
lorms, dcviccs, practiccs, and vchiclcs. All thcsc arc calculatcd
to suit thc varying capacitics and inclinations ol scnticnt bcings
so that cach onc can, in his or hcr own way and timc, aspirc to
and achicvc lull and pcrlcct cnlightcnmcnt, thc cnlightcnmcnt
ol thc 8uddha. !t is bccausc ol this mcssagc – with its univcrsal
ity, optimism, and cncouragcmcnt lor all – that thc Mahayana
tradition has bccn ablc to win such phcnomcnal popularity not
only in !ndia but also in Ccntral and ¡ast Asia.
.6· .6o
Tc (cart Autra
n this chaptcr wc will discuss a vcry important class ol
Mahayana litcraturc that conccrns thc pcrlcction ol wisdom
(prajnaparamita). 8ut bclorc wc look at thc tcxts thcmsclvcs, it
may bc usclul to cxaminc thc mcaning ol thc tcrm prajnaparam-
ita and thc history ol thc Pcrlcction ol Visdom discourscs. Tc
tcrm prajna, which is oltcn translatcd ‘wisdom’ or ‘insight,’ is
composcd ol thc prcnx pra and thc root jna which mcans know
lcdgc. Pra addcd to thc root jna givcs thc scnsc ol spontancity,
pcnctration, transccndcntality. Ònc might thcrclorc bcttcr trans
latc prajna as ‘pcnctrativc or spccial knowlcdgc or wisdom.’ Tc
tcrm paramita is most oltcn translatcd ‘pcrlcction’, othcr popu
lar translations includc ‘gonc bcyond,’ ‘transccndcntal,’ and cvcn
‘thc climax ol ’ wisdom. Vc will undcrstand thc tcrm bcttcr il wc
noticc its similarity to thc ¡nglish words ‘paramctcr’ and ‘mctcr,’
both ol which conccrn mcasurcmcnt or limit. !n paramita, thcrc
lorc, wc havc a word that indicatcs ‘going bcyond thc limit.’
Tus thc wholc tcrm prajnaparamita ought to bc undcrstood
to mcan ‘pcnctrativc wisdom or insight gonc bcyond thc limit.’
!l wc rcmcmbcr this, wc will avoid thc dangcr ol thinking ol thc
pcrlcction ol wisdom as somcthing static or nxcd. Tis incvi
tably happcns bccausc thc word ‘pcrlcction’ conjurcs up imagcs
ol an unchanging, pcrlcctcd condition. Yct in thc pcrlcction ol
wisdom wc havc a dynamic idca – thc idca ol a pcnctrativc wis
dom or insight that transccnds thc limit, that is transccndcn
tal. Tc pcrlcction ol wisdom is onc ol thc Six Pcrlcctions ol
.·c .·.
thc Mahayana tradition. !t is also thc namc ol a largc numbcr
ol Mahayana sutras that arc collcctivcly callcd thc Pcrlcction ol
Visdom litcraturc or Prajnaparamita sutras.
Tis class ol tcxts includcs discourscs such as thc Diamond
Sutra (Vajrachchhedika) as wcll as thc Perfection of Wisdom Sutra
in Eight ousand Lines (Ashtasahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra),
thc Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in Twenty-fve ousand Lines
(Panchavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita Sutra), and thc Heart
of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra (Prajnaparamita Hridaya Sutra),
which runs to a littlc ovcr onc pagc. !t is gcncrally agrccd that
cach ol thcsc is cithcr an cxpansion or an abridgmcnt ol a lun
damcntal tcxt ol thc Pcrlcction ol Visdom discourscs, prcscntcd
in dißcrcnt vcrsions and lcngths to suit thc tastcs ol dißcrcnt
!t is gcncrally acccptcd by modcrn scholars that thc Pcrlcction
ol Visdom discourscs datc to thc bcginning ol thc common cra,
and that thcy wcrc among thc nrst 8uddhist tcxts translatcd
into Chincsc in thc sccond ccntury c.v. Òn thc basis ol this and
additional cvidcncc lrom !ndia, wc can conndcntly say that thc
Pcrlcction ol Visdom litcraturc is among thc oldcst availablc to
us lrom any ol thc 8uddhist traditions.
Tc particular cxamplc wc will discuss hcrc is thc Heart
of the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra, or thc Heart Sutra lor short,
which is an cxccllcnt cxamplc ol thc csscncc ol thc Pcrlcction
ol Visdom tcachings. Tcrc arc thrcc promincnt ngurcs who
participatc in thc convcrsation in this sutra – thc 8uddha, thc
8odhisattva Avalokitcshvara, and thc disciplc Shariputra. Tc
prcscncc ol Shariputra is anothcr indication ol thc continu
ity in thc 8uddhist tradition bccausc, just as Shariputra ngurcs
.·c .·.
promincntly in thc Abhidharma, so hc is a major ngurc in thc
Pcrlcction ol Visdom sutras.
Anothcr important lact is that, although thc dialoguc
bctwccn Shariputra and Avalokitcshvara is said to takc placc
through thc powcr ol thc 8uddha, thc 8uddha is said at thc
vcry outsct to bc scatcd all thc timc in dccp absorption. !t is only
at thc cnd ol thc dialoguc that thc 8uddha manilcstly cntcrs
thc convcrsation to commcnd Avalokitcshvara on his cxposi
tion. Tis is anothcr indication ol thc inconccivablc, cxtraordi
nary powcr ol thc 8uddha – a rcßcction ol thc Mahayana vision
ol thc transccndcnt naturc ol thc 8uddha that wc considcrcd in
our discussion ol thc Lotus Sutra in Chaptcr .·.
Tc Heart Sutra, likc thc othcr Pcrlcction ol Visdom dis
courscs, scts out to accomplish onc important task: to cxpound
and cncouragc thc translormation ol wisdom into thc pcrlcc
tion ol wisdom. !t scts out to complcmcnt analytical wisdom
(which bclongs to wisdom pcr sc) with rclational wisdom (which
bclongs to thc pcrlcction ol wisdom). Tc analytical and rcla
tional mcthods arc uscd in thc Abhidharma litcraturc, in thc
nrst and scvcnth books ol thc Abhidharma Pitaka, rcspcctivcly.
Vc might illustratc thc naturc ol thcsc two mcthods by mcans ol
an analogy: Trough thc analytical mcthod, a chariot is sccn not
to bc a unitary and homogcnous wholc but, rathcr, to bc com
poscd ol individual parts. Tis comprchcnsion ol thc compositc
naturc ol thc chariot is thc rcsult ol analytical wisdom. Trough
thc rclational mcthod, howcvcr, cvcn thc individual parts ol thc
chariot arc sccn not to cxist ultimatcly. !n thc light ol thc pcr
lcction ol wisdom, thcy arc now sccn to bc dcpcndcnt, condi
tioncd, rclativc.
.·: .·.
Tc passagc lrom wisdom to thc pcrlcction ol wisdom is thus
thc passagc lrom a vision ol rcality charactcrizcd by pcrccption
and acccptancc ol individual componcnts ol rcality to a vision
charactcrizcd by pcrccption ol thc cmptincss, or voidncss (shun-
yata), cvcn ol thcsc individual componcnts. Tis point is madc
vcry clcarly in thc Heart Sutra with rclcrcncc to thc nvc aggrc
gatcs and cightccn clcmcnts, which arc thc rcsult ol thc analyt
ical mcthod ol thc 8uddhist invcstigation ol rcality.
!n thc Heart Sutra, thc 8odhisattva Avalokitcshvara says
that lorm, lccling, pcrccption, volition, and consciousncss arc, in
thcir own bcing, void – that is, that thc naturc ol thc aggrcgatcs
is cmpty ol indcpcndcnt cxistcncc. And just as thc nvc aggrc
gatcs arc cmpty, so arc thc cightccn clcmcnts that comprisc pcr
sonal cxpcricncc.
Analysis rcvcals that thrcc clcmcnts arc involvcd in cach ol
thc six avcnucs ol pcrsonal cxpcricncc (thc nvc scnscs plus thc
mind). For cxamplc, thc activity ol sccing can bc analyzcd into
(.) thc clcmcnt ol lorm, which is thc visiblc objcct, (:) thc clc
mcnt ol thc cyc, which is thc scnsc laculty ol vision, and (.) thc
clcmcnt ol visual consciousncss, which is thc mcntal clcmcnt.
Similarly, in cach ol thc activitics ol hcaring, smclling, tasting,
touching, and thinking, thcrc is (.) an cxtcrnal or objcctivc clc
mcnt, (:) an intcrnal, subjcctivc scnsc laculty, and (.) thc con
sciousncss that ariscs in conjunction with thc cxtcrnal objcct and
thc scnsc laculty. Hcncc thcrc arc thrcc componcnts lor cach ol
thc six activitics, lor a total ol cightccn clcmcnts that rcsult lrom
thc analytical invcstigation ol pcrsonal cxpcricncc. According to
Avalokitcshvara, thcsc cightccn clcmcnts do not cxist in rcality,
likc thc nvc aggrcgatcs, thcy arc cmpty ol cxistcncc, or void.
.·: .·.
¡mptincss is not, howcvcr, a mctaphysical cntity. According
to thc tcaching ol thc Pcrlcction ol Visdom and Mahayana mas
tcrs, cmptincss is synonymous with both intcrdcpcndcnt origina
tion and thc Middlc Vay. !t is synonymous with intcrdcpcndcnt
origination bccausc all that cxists is conditioncd and, rclativc to
othcr lactors, cmpty ol indcpcndcnt cxistcncc. ¡mptincss is syn
onymous with thc Middlc Vay bccausc undcrstanding cmpti
ncss cnablcs onc to transccnd thc altcrnativcs or dualitics ol cxis
tcncc and noncxistcncc, idcntity and dißcrcncc, and so lorth.
¡mptincss is not a vicw. Tis is illustratcd at considcrablc
lcngth in thc works ol Nagarjuna, thc loundcr ol thc Middlc Vay
school, which championcd cmptincss. ¡mptincss is itscll rclativc
and dcvoid ol indcpcndcnt cxistcncc. Tis is why Haribhadra,
in his commcntary on thc Abhisamayalankara, a tcxt that clabo
ratcs on thc mcssagc ol thc Pcrlcction ol Visdom litcraturc, lists
among thc various typcs ol cmptincss ‘thc cmptincss ol cmpti
ncss’: cmptincss, too, is rclativc and cmpty.
¡mptincss is, in lact, a thcrapcutic dcvicc. !t is a corrcctivc
lor thc cxclusivcly analytical vicw, which lcavcs us with a rcsid
ual bclicl in thc rcal cxistcncc ol thc clcmcnts ol cxpcricncc.
¡mptincss is a dcvicc that cnablcs us to transccnd this plural
istic bclicl in thc indcpcndcnt cxistcncc ol things. !t is lor this
rcason that cmptincss is likcncd to a mcdicinc that curcs rcsid
ual bclicl in thc indcpcndcnt cxistcncc ol clcmcnts. ¡mptincss
is also likcncd to salt, which makcs lood palatablc.
Likc mcdicinc and salt, cmptincss takcn in cxccss, or at thc
wrong timc or placc, can bc dangcrous and unpalatablc. Tis is
why onc ought not abidc in or cling to cmptincss. Likc a mcdi
cinc, cmptincss is dcsigncd to curc thc illncss ol pcrcciving thc
.·¡ .··
indcpcndcnt cxistcncc ol things. Òncc this illncss has bccn ovcr
comc, onc should discontinuc thc trcatmcnt, not pcrsist in tak
ing thc mcdicinc. Similarly, cmptincss is thc salt that rcndcrs
cxpcricncc palatablc, and just as salt by itscll is unpalatablc, so
cmptincss by itscll is an unpalatablc dict.
!t is bccausc cmptincss rcvcals and cxprcsscs thc rclativity ol
all phcnomcna that it bccomcs thc kcy to undcrstanding nondu
ality. Vc can scc how rccognition ol thc rclativity – and subsc
qucnt transccndcncc – ol oppositcs is tantamount to thc pcrccp
tion ol nonduality, or nondißcrcntiation.
At this point wc comc to thc ccntral Mahayana doctrinc ol
thc nonduality, or nondißcrcntiation, ol samsara and nirvana.
Tis is indicatcd in thc Heart Sutra whcn Avalokitcshvara says
that lorm is not dißcrcnt lrom cmptincss and cmptincss is not
dißcrcnt lrom lorm. Tc othcr aggrcgatcs, too, arc not dißcrcnt
lrom cmptincss, and cmptincss is not dißcrcnt lrom thc aggrc
gatcs. Tus samsara and nirvana, thc aggrcgatcs and cmptincss,
phcnomcna and thc unconditioncd, thc conditioncd and thc
transccndcntal arc all altcrnativcs that arc rclativc to cach othcr:
thcy havc no indcpcndcnt cxistcncc. !ndccd, bccausc thcy arc
rclativc to cach othcr, thcy arc, cach ol thcm, ultimatcly unrcal
and cmpty. Hcncc thc duality ol samsara and nirvana is dis
solvcd in thc vision ol cmptincss. ¡mptincss is thc way out ol all
cxtrcmcs, cvcn thc cxtrcmcs ol samsara and nirvana.
!ndccd, just as thc distinction bctwccn samsara and nirvana
is rclativc – bcing a subjcctivc distinction that bclongs to our way
ol pcrcciving and not to samsara and nirvana in thcmsclvcs – so,
in cmptincss, thcrc is an abscncc ol othcr altcrnativcs, an abscncc
ol thc charactcristics ol origination and ccssation, which arc rcl
.·¡ .··
ativc to cach othcr and unrcal. Unrcal, too, according to thc
Heart Sutra, arc ignorancc, old agc, and dcath, thc dcstruction
ol ignorancc, old agc, and dcath, thc Four Noblc Truths, attain
mcnt and nonattainmcnt. Likc thc rool bcams ol a housc, nonc
ol thcsc conccpts, which dcpcnd onc upon thc othcr, cxists indc
Tc Heart Sutra says that, by rclying on this pcrlcction ol
wisdom whosc objcct is cmptincss, all thc Tathagatas ol thc past
havc achicvcd thc ultimatc, suprcmc, and pcrlcct cnlightcn
mcnt. !t is lor this rcason that thc pcrlcction ol wisdom, through
which cmptincss is known, has bccn callcd ‘thc mothcr ol thc
Tathagatas’ – in othcr words, that lrom which thc Tathagatas
Tc pcrlcction ol wisdom has also bccn likcncd to a sightcd
guidc lcading an asscmbly ol blind mcn to thcir goal. Tc othcr
pcrlcctions (ol gcncrosity, morality, paticncc, cncrgy, and con
ccntration) arc thcmsclvcs blind. Tcy arc unablc to nnd thc way
to thc goal ol 8uddhahood. 8ut with thc hclp ol thc cycs ol thc
pcrlcction ol wisdom, thcy can arrivc at that goal.
Again, thc pcrlcction ol wisdom has bccn comparcd to bak
ing an carthcnwarc jar which, in thc proccss, bccomcs rcsistant
to shattcring: so, too, whcn a 8odhisattva is traincd and stccpcd
in thc pcrlcction ol wisdom, hc bccomcs durablc, stablc, and dil
ncult to shattcr.
Tc drivc toward condcnsing thc tcaching ol thc largcr
Perfection of Wisdom Sutra into thc pith instruction ol thc Heart
Sutra is lurthcr rcßcctcd in thc cmcrgcncc ol thc vcrbal lormulas
and mantras wc nnd in thc Mahayana tradition. Many ol thcsc
arc condcnsations ol claboratc idcas that scrvc as aids to mcm
.·6 .··
ory as wcll as to mcditation. !n thc Heart Sutra wc nnd thc man
tra ol thc pcrlcction ol wisdom, which, thc sutra says, makcs thc
uncqual cqual. Vc can scc why this should bc so il wc rccall that,
in cmptincss, all oppositcs, all altcrnativcs, all cxtrcmcs, and all
charactcristics do not cxist. Tc pcrlcction ol wisdom mantra is
also said to pacily all sußcring. Tis, too, is clcar lrom undcr
standing that, in cmptincss, ncithcr bcings nor sußcrings cxist.
Vc can scc thc csscncc ol thc pcrlcction ol wisdom cxprcsscd
in thc lcw lincs ol thc mantra,
Tadyatha, Om, gatc, gatc, paragatc, parasamgatc, bodhi, svaha
(‘Tus, Òm, gonc, gonc, gonc bcyond, gonc wcll bcyond,
cnlightcnmcnt, hail’).
Tis is thc transccndcncc ol all altcrnativcs, all vicws, all dual
itics that marks thc cntry into cnlightcnmcnt through going
bcyond all limitations, dualitics, and dogmas.
Arising lrom his dccp absorption in mcditation during thc
dialoguc bctwccn Avalokitcshvara and Shariputra in thc Heart
Sutra, thc 8uddha commcnds Avalokitcshvara on his cxposi
tion ol thc pcrlcction ol wisdom, an cxposition that rcßccts thc
ultimatc, not thc convcntional standpoint. 8ricßy, thc ultimatc
standpoint is thc standpoint according to which bcings, objccts,
and karma havc no placc, whcrcas thc convcntional standpoint
conlorms to thc usagcs lamiliar in thc world, in which bcings,
objccts, and karma arc trcatcd as il thcy cxist in rcality. Tc
Pcrlcction ol Visdom sutras rcßcct thc ultimatc standpoint, born
ol thc cxpcricncc ol nirvana. ¡vcn according to thc Tcravada
.·6 .··
canon, thc 8uddha said ol this statc that ncithcr carth nor watcr,
nrc nor air, origination nor ccssation cxists in it, and that it is not
dcscribablc in tcrms ol cxistcncc, noncxistcncc, both, or ncithcr.
Tc Pcrlcction ol Visdom litcraturc suggcsts that wc can
all scc symbols ol cmptincss in our own cxpcricncc – stars, laults
ol vision, lamps, magical illusions, dcwdrops, bubblcs, drcams,
lightning, clouds, and thc likc. Such phcnomcna arc thc visiblc
cxprcssions or manilcstations ol cmptincss. !n thc conditioncd,
dcpcndcnt, and insubstantial naturc ol thcsc phcnomcna, wc
nnd intimations ol thc cmptincss that is rcvcalcd in thc pcrlcc
tion ol wisdom.
.·· .·o
Tc Iankavatara Autra
hc Lankavatara Sutra is rcprcscntativc ol a largc body ol
litcraturc and is particularly important lor an undcrstand
ing ol thc Mahayana tradition. Likc thc Lotus Sutra and thc
Pcrlcction ol Visdom sutras, thc Lankavatara is a voluminous
work. !t is complcx in tcrms ol both idcas and litcrary compo
sition. Scholars havc tcndcd to datc thc writtcn work to as latc
as thc lourth ccntury ol thc common cra. Although this may
bc acccptablc as lar as thc litcrary production ol thc tcxt is con
ccrncd, a survcy ol thc sutra rcvcals a numbcr ol gcrminal idcas
that wcrc systcmatizcd and claboratcd on by Mahayana mastcrs
likc Asanga and \asubandhu. !l wc rcmcmbcr that both thcsc
mastcrs livcd in thc lourth ccntury c.v., wc will havc to placc
thc lormulation ol thc doctrincs containcd in thc Lankavatara
wcll bclorc that timc.
Tis is in linc with what ! havc said bclorc about thc origin
and authcnticity ol Mahayana litcraturc in gcncral. Altcr all, wc
havc sccn that many ol thc gcrminal idcas ol thc Mahayana tra
dition arc lound cvcn in thc Tcravada canon (scc Chaptcr .¡).
Tc Lankavatara is rcprcscntativc ol thc canonical litcraturc that
is thc loundation ol thc Mahayana school variously known as
thc Yogachara (school amrming thc unity ol mcditation and
action), thc \ijnanavada (school amrming consciousncss), and
thc Chittamatra (school amrming Mind Ònly). ]ust as thc
Pcrlcction ol Visdom litcraturc in gcncral lorms thc canonical
loundation ol thc Middlc Vay, or Madhyamaka, school, so thc
.·· .·o
Lankavatara Sutra and a numbcr ol othcr discourscs lorm thc
canonical loundation ol thc Yogachara or \ijnanavada school,
though obviously clcmcnts ol onc school can bc lound in thc
doctrinc ol thc othcr, and vicc vcrsa.
Tc doctrinc lor which thc Lankavatara is lamous is thc doc
trinc ol thc primacy ol consciousncss. Tis is somctimcs callcd
thc doctrinc ol Mind Ònly, or ol thc solc rcality ol conscious
ncss. Tc sutra statcs in uncquivocal tcrms that thc thrcc worlds,
or sphcrcs – thc sphcrc ol scnsc dcsirc, thc sphcrc ol lorm, and
thc lormlcss sphcrc – arc just mind itscll. !n othcr words, all thc
manilold objccts ol thc world, thc namcs and lorms ol cxpcri
cncc, arc mcrcly manilcstations ol thc mind. Tc Lankavatara
says that our inability to lrcc oursclvcs lrom thc discrimination
bctwccn thc conccptions ol subjcct and objcct is thc causc ol our
rcbirth in thc cyclc ol birth and dcath. As long as wc arc unablc
to lrcc oursclvcs lrom discrimination, wc continuc to bc rcborn
in samsara. !t is thcrclorc thc ability to lrcc oursclvcs lrom thc
dualistic conccptions ol subjcct and objcct that is thc kcy to
8ut what is this ‘Mind Ònly’ ol which thc Lankavatara
Sutra spcaks: !s it thc cmpirical mind, thc mind that participatcs
in thc activitics ol thc six consciousncsscs: !t is clcarly not this
mind. Tc mind ol which thc sutra spcaks both transccnds and
annihilatcs thc conccptions ol thc dualitics ol cxistcncc and non
cxistcncc, idcntity and dißcrcncc, pcrmancncc and impcrma
ncncc. !t transccnds thc conccpts ol scll, substancc, and karma.
!t cvcn transccnds thc conccpt ol causation. According to thc
sutra, all thcsc conccpts arc thc products ol lalsc imagination, or
discriminating thought (vikalpa). Tc mind ol which thc sutra
.·c .·.
spcaks docs not participatc in thcsc dualistic conccptions. From
this it is clcar that thc mind ol which thc Lankavatara spcaks
is prcciscly that cmptincss (shunyata) ol which thc Pcrlcction ol
Visdom litcraturc spcaks.
!l thc mind ol which thc Lankavatara spcaks transccnds thc
conccptions ol thc dualitics ol cxistcncc and noncxistcncc, idcntity
and dißcrcncc, and so lorth, thcn how is it that this nondual rcality
ol mind manilcsts itscll in thc manilold objccts ol thc world: Tc
Lankavatara – and, indccd, thc Mind Ònly school – cxpounds a
systcm ol cight typcs ol consciousncss. Tcsc cight includc thc six
with which wc arc lamiliar lrom thc 8uddhist tradition at largc
(i.c., thc nvc consciousncsscs that arisc in conjunction with thc
nvc physical scnsc lacultics, and thc sixth consciousncss, which
ariscs in conjunction with thc laculty ol thc mind). Tc two addi
tional typcs arc thc storchousc consciousncss (alayavijnana) and
thc amictcd mind (klishtamanas). Tcsc cight consciousncsscs
lorm thc basis ol Yogachara or \ijnanavada philosophy.
Tc sutra uscs an analogy to dcscribc thc proccss ol schism
that takcs us lrom thc ultimatc, nondual condition ol mind to
thc lragmcntcd condition, charactcrizcd by thc six cmpirical
consciousncsscs, that wc cxpcricncc in daily lilc. Tc analogy
is that ol thc occan, wind, and wavcs. !n its dcpths thc occan is
tranquil, just as, in its dcpths, thc storchousc consciousncss is.
Movcd by thc wind, thc surlacc ol thc occan is stirrcd into wavcs,
which roll on and on. Similarly, thc tranquil dcpths ol thc storc
housc consciousncss arc disturbcd by thc wind ol discrimination,
causing wavcs, which arc analogous to thc lunctioning ol thc six
cmpirical consciousncsscs.
Tc villain ol thc piccc is thc amictcd mind – thc wind ol dis
.·c .·.
crimination – bccausc it is by mcans ol thc amictcd mind that
discrimination takcs placc. Tc amictcd mind is thc gobctwccn
that mcdiatcs bctwccn thc storchousc consciousncss on thc onc
hand and thc six cmpirical consciousncsscs on thc othcr hand.
Vc may call this amictcd mind thc cgo principlc, thc principlc
ol individuation, or discrimination.
Tc storchousc consciousncss plays a particularly important
rolc bccausc it not only cxists as thc tranquil dcpths ol thc occan
do but also lunctions as a rcpository. Tis is why it is callcd a
storchousc – bccausc it collccts thc sccds ol scnsc imprcssions
and actions. Tcrclorc wc can bcst undcrstand thc schcmc ol
thc cight consciousncsscs prcscntcd in thc Lankavatara Sutra il
wc picturc thcm in a circlc, just as wc picturc thc constitucnts ol
intcrdcpcndcnt origination. !n this scnsc wc havc an cvolution
lrom thc storchousc consciousncss in its own nondual naturc,
through thc lunctioning ol discrimination by mcans ol thc
agcncy ol thc amictcd mind, and on into thc six cmpirical con
sciousncsscs, which in turn supply thc storchousc consciousncss
with thc imprcssions ol actions, or karma. Tus wc havc a cycli
cal proccss whcrcin thc storchousc consciousncss cvolvcs through
discrimination into six cmpirical consciousncsscs, which in turn
sow thc sccds ol luturc actions in thc lcrtilc soil ol thc storc
housc consciousncss.
Tc storchousc consciousncss is particularly important lor
thc Lankavatara Sutra and, indccd, lor this wholc phasc ol
Mahayana 8uddhism. !t is signincant that, in thc Tibctan trans
lation, wc nnd thc storchousc consciousncss callcd thc ‘allbasc
consciousncss’ – thc consciousncss that is thc substratum ol all.
Tis implics that it has within it thc potcntial lor both samsara
.·: .·.
and nirvana, both thc phcnomcnal world and cnlightcnmcnt.
And just as it is through discrimination that thc storchousc
consciousncss cvolvcs into thc six cmpirical consciousncsscs, so,
through thc climination ol discrimination, thc storchousc con
sciousncss bccomcs thc sccd ol nirvana.
!t is important to look closcly at thc rclationship bctwccn thc
storchousc consciousncss and thc notion ol thc 8uddha naturc
(tathagatagarbha, litcrally, ‘thc womb ol tathagatahood’). You will
bc awarc ol thc natural conncction bctwccn thc two lrom what !
havc just said about thc nirvanic potcntial ol thc storchousc con
sciousncss. Tc Lankavatara dcscribcs thc mind, or conscious
ncss, as purc in its original, intrinsic naturc. Vhat is mcant by
thc tcrm ‘purc’: A carclul cxamination ol thc Lankavatara Sutra
and othcr canonical and commcntarial litcraturc rcvcals that this
mcans that thc mind is cmpty. Tcrclorc, ‘thc original purity ol
thc mind’ mcans that thc mind is intrinsically and originally
purc ol thc dualitics ol cxistcncc and noncxistcncc, idcntity and
dißcrcncc, and so lorth. !ts purity is cquivalcnt to its cmptincss.
Tis purity, or cmptincss, is thc vcry csscncc ol 8uddha naturc,
ol thc nirvanic potcntial ol thc storchousc consciousncss.
!t is in this contcxt that thc 8uddha naturc is likcncd to gold,
to a prccious stonc, or to a soilcd garmcnt. Tc intrinsic purity
or cmptincss ol thc mind nnds thc cxprcssion ol its potcntial
in thc rcalization ol 8uddhahood whcn thc impuritics ol dis
crimination arc rcmovcd. ]ust as thc brightncss ol gold, a prc
cious stonc, or a soilcd garmcnt is rcvcalcd through rcnncmcnt
and through clcansing ol impuritics, so onc rcvcals thc original,
intrinsic, cmpty and purc naturc ol thc mind through clcansing
oncscll ol thc habit ol discriminating bctwccn subjcct and objcct
.·: .·.
by application ol thc disciplinc ol a 8odhisattva.
Tc 8uddha naturc is thc cmpty and purc naturc ol thc mind.
8ccausc ol thc csscntial cmptincss and purity ol thc mind, all
scnticnt bcings havc thc potcntial to attain 8uddhahood.
Likc a lump ol bronzc, which can bc shapcd into a cham
bcr pot, a vcsscl lor oßcring watcr at a shrinc, or a statuc ol thc
8uddha, thc cmpty naturc ol mind can, dcpcnding on causcs
and conditions, appcar in thc lorm ol a common living bcing, a
8odhisattva, or a 8uddha.
Tc 8uddha naturc is not a scll or a soul. !t is not a static
cntity. !t may bc likcncd to a strcam bccausc it is cvcrchang
ing, innnitcly manilold and dynamic. !t is lor this rcason that, in
anothcr lamous sutra, thc Sandhinirmochana, thc 8uddha says
that thc storchousc consciousncss is prolound and subtlc, mov
ing likc a strcam with all its sccds ol scnsc imprcssions. Tc
8uddha says that hc has not taught thc idca ol this storchousc
consciousncss to lools, lor lcar that thcy might mistakc it lor a
scll. !t is intcrcsting to notc that thc storchousc consciousncss
is lundamcntally similar to thc Tcravada conccpt, lound in thc
Abhidharma, ol thc lactor ol subconscious continuity (bhavanga)
that carrics thc sccds ol lormcr actions. Tis conccpt is cxpandcd
and claboratcd on in thc Lankavatara Sutra and in thc philoso
phy ol thc Yogachara school.
Tc Lankavatara Sutra suggcsts anothcr important Mahayana
doctrinc in gcrminal lorm: thc doctrinc ol thc thrcc bodics, or
dimcnsions, ol 8uddhahood – thc transccndcntal dimcnsion,
(dharmakaya) thc cclcstial dimcnsion, (sambhogakaya) and thc
tcrrcstrial or translormational dimcnsion, (nirmanakaya). Tcsc
thrcc rcßcct, in gcncral tcrms, thrcc lcvcls ol cnlightcncd rcality:
.·¡ .··
(.) thc transccndcntal dimcnsion is synonymous with thc ulti
matc lcvcl ol cnlightcnmcnt, which is bcyond namcs and lorms,
(:) thc cclcstial dimcnsion is an cxprcssion ol thc symbolic and
archctypal dimcnsion ol 8uddhahood, to which only thc spiri
tually dcvclopcd havc acccss, and (.) thc tcrrcstrial dimcnsion is
thc dimcnsion ol 8uddhahood to which all ol us in our uncn
lightcncd condition havc acccss, and which participatcs in thc
world ol mundanc phcnomcna. !t is this tcrrcstrial dimcnsion
that appcars in countlcss lorms in ordcr to nurturc and cmanci
patc scnticnt bcings.
Hcrc you may rccall that thc csscncc ol thc Mahayana tradi
tion is grcat compassion. Tc skilllul mcans that spring dircctly
lrom grcat compassion manilcst thcmsclvcs not only in thc
dcvising ol various disciplincs, or vchiclcs, but also in divcrsc
and countlcss lorms ol thc tcrrcstrial dimcnsion ol 8uddhahood.
According to thc Lankavatara and othcr Mahayana tcxts, thc
tcrrcstrial dimcnsion ol 8uddhahood can assumc any lorm and
any numbcr ol lorms. !t can assumc not only a rccognizablc, spc
cial lorm likc Shakyamuni 8uddha, with whom wc arc all lamil
iar but also thc lorm ol a drunkard, gamblcr or thc likc, in ordcr
to bcncnt and libcratc scnticnt bcings. !l a particular drunkard
or gamblcr is not aßcctcd by thc dclivcry ol an cxaltcd Ðharma
discoursc, nor by thc cxamplcs ol moral purity advocatcd in thc
conduct ol a 8odhisattva, a 8uddha or 8odhisattva will assumc
thc lorm ol onc ol that’s pcrsons company and, through thc cxcr
cisc ol skilllul mcans labor to bring about thc cmancipation ol
that pcrson. !n addition to assuming thc lorm ol animatc bcings,
8odhisattvas can also assumc thc lorm ol inanimatc things, such
as lood, clothing, mcdicinc, a bridgc, a road, and so lorth. Tis
.·¡ .··
is put vcry bcautilully by Shantidcva in his book on thc Practicc
ol thc 8odhisattva, Bodhicharyavatara whcrc hc prays that hc
may bccomc lood lor thc hungry, mcdicinc lor thc ill, and shcl
tcr lor thc homclcss. Tus, through skilllul mcans born ol grcat
compassion, thc 8uddha and 8odhisattvas appcar in countlcss
unknown and unrccognizablc lorms, working lor thc cmancipa
tion ol all scnticnt bcings, cach according to his or hcr individ
ual nccds and abilitics.
.·6 .··
Tc +hilosophy of thc ´iddlc 7ay
hc philosophy ol thc Middlc Vay, or Madhyamaka philos
ophy, has somctimcs bccn callcd thc ccntral philosophy ol
thc Mahayana tradition. !t has cvcn bccn callcd thc ccntral phi
losophy ol 8uddhism in gcncral. Tis alonc is sumcicnt to givc
us somc idca ol its importancc. Tc Madhyamaka philosophy
has also bccn callcd thc doctrinc ol cmptincss (shunyata) and thc
doctrinc ol thc nonscllcxistcncc, or insubstantiality, ol things
Tc loundcr ol this philosophy was thc grcat holy man and
scholar, Nagarjuna, who livcd bctwccn thc cnd ol thc nrst and thc
bcginning ol thc sccond ccntury ol thc common cra. Hc was born
in thc south ol !ndia, ol 8rahmin parcnts. 8iographcrs, howcvcr,
tcll us that hc was an carly convcrt to 8uddhism. Nagarjuna was
an intcrprctcr morc than an innovator. Hc took ccrtain inspira
tions and insights lrom thc sutras and thc Abhidharma, rcintcr
prcting and rcstating thcm in a particularly clcar and lorthright
way. Hc is notcd lor his substantial litcrary works, which includc
not only philosophical works, likc thc Foundation Stanzas of the
Middle Way (Mulamadhyamakakarika) and thc Seventy Stanzas
on Emptiness (Shunyatasaptati), but also works on logic, thc prac
ticcs ol thc 8odhisattva, lundamcntals ol 8uddhism, and cvcn
works ol a dcvotional charactcr, such as lour works cxtolling thc
virtucs ol qualitics likc thc pcrlcction ol wisdom. Nagarjuna’s
cßorts in promoting and propagating thc ccntral idcas ol thc
Mahayana won him widcsprcad rccognition as a 8odhisattva
.·6 .··
not only in !ndia but also in Tibct, China, and ]apan. Hc ngurcs
promincntly among thc primary loundcrs ol thc Tibctan, and
Ch’an, and Zcn 8uddhist traditions.
Tc works ol Nagarjuna – and, indccd, thc tcaching ol thc
Madhyamaka philosophy – should not bc sccn as a radical dcpar
turc lrom thc gcncral dircction and dcvclopmcnt ol 8uddhist
thought as a wholc. Tcy had dcnnitc origins in thc tcachings
ol thc 8uddha and in thc carly 8uddhist tradition, particu
larly thc Abhidharma. !n thc Tcravada canon, thcrc is a rccord
ol thc 8uddha’s statcmcnts about thc importancc ol cmptincss
(shunyata) and also a rccord ol thc lamous ‘lourtccn incxprcss
iblcs,’ or unanswcrablc qucstions. !n addition, wc nnd a vcry clcar
prccursor ol thc Madhyamaka philosophy in thc Pcrlcction ol
Visdom litcraturc, whcrc thc primary thcmc is cmptincss. Tis
is thc vcry thcmc claboratcd by Nagarjuna in works likc his
Mulamadhyamakakarika. !n thc Abhidharma Pitaka, in thc Book
of Causal Relations (Patthana), too, wc can scc thc anticipation ol
thc Madhyamaka philosophy in thc cmphasis on thc cxamina
tion ol rclations. All thcsc arc clcar indications ol thc vcry carly
and authcntic origins ol thc Madhyamaka philosophy.
]ust as thc contcnts ol thc Madhyamaka philosophy arc not
anything radically ncw, so thc mcthod ol thc Madhyamaka is not,
but can bc lound in thc vcry carlicst pcriod ol thc 8uddhist tra
dition. Tc charactcristic mcthod ol thc Madhyamaka is analy
sis – thc analysis ol phcnomcna and ol rclations. Ònc might cvcn
say that its charactcristic mcthod is not only analysis but also
critical dialcctic. All this mcthodology – lrom analysis to crit
icism and dialcctic – is, likc thc substancc ol thc Madhyamaka,
indicatcd both in thc 8uddha’s own approach in his discourscs,
.·· .·o
thc sutras, and in thc approach ol thc Abhidharma tradition,
whcrc wc nnd thc various altcrnativcs isolatcd and mcthods ol
answcring qucstions clucidatcd. Tis should bc sumcicnt to indi
catc that thc origins and mcthods ol thc Madhyamaka philoso
phy go lar back in thc history ol 8uddhist thought.
As lor Nagarjuna’s lundamcntal mcssagc in his philosophical
works, it is important nrst to rcalizc thc objcct toward which his
criticism is dircctcd – namcly, thc notion ol indcpcndcnt bcing,
or scllcxistcncc (svabhava). Tc lact that his doctrinc has bccn
tcrmcd thc doctrinc ol insubstantiality (nihsvabhavavada, litcr
ally, ‘thc doctrinc that rclutcs svabhava’) cmphasizcs Nagarjuna’s
charactcristic rcjcction ol thc notion ol scllcxistcncc.
Nagarjuna rcjccts scllcxistcncc by cxamining rclativity, or
intcrdcpcndcnt origination, in a critical, dialcctic way, bcginning
with thc idca ol scllcxistcncc, going on to thc idca ol rclativity
or thc abscncc ol scllcxistcncc, and tcrminating with thc idca
ol cmptincss (shunyata). Tcsc thrcc stcps – lrom scllcxistcncc
to nonscllcxistcncc, and nnally to cmptincss – arc dcvclopcd
through thrcc typcs ol invcstigation: (.) thc invcstigation ol cau
sality, (:) thc invcstigation ol conccpts, and (.) thc invcstigation
ol knowlcdgc. Trough thc invcstigation ol thcsc thrcc classcs
ol phcnomcna, Nagarjuna and thc Madhyamaka systcm takc us
lrom thc naivc, cvcryday bclicl in thc idca ol scllcxistcncc, in
thc indcpcndcnt rcality ol phcnomcna, to an intcllcctual undcr
standing ol cmptincss.
Lct us nrst look at thc Madhyamaka critiquc ol causality.
Madhyamaka philosophy arrivcs at thc insubstantiality and rcl
ativity ol all phcnomcna through an cxamination ol intcrdcpcn
dcnt origination. !n this contcxt it is shown that, insolar as all
.·· .·o
things cxist dcpcndcnt on a combination ol causcs and condi
tions, thcy havc no indcpcndcnt scllcxistcncc and arc thcrclorc
cmpty. Tc classical cxamplc is that ol thc sprout, which cxists
dcpcndcnt on thc sccd, carth, watcr, air, and sunlight. !nasmuch
as thc sprout dcpcnds on thcsc lactors lor its cxistcncc, it has no
scllcxistcncc and is thcrclorc without scllcxistcncc. And bcing
without scllcxistcncc, it is cmpty. Tis is thc simplcst and most
dircct Madhyamaka invcstigation ol causality, and it lcads us
straight to thc notion ol cmptincss.
8ut lor thc Madhyamaka, cmptincss also mcans non
origination, nonproduction. !n thc Pcrlcction ol Visdom litcr
aturc, as wc saw in thc Heart Sutra, thc idca ol nonorigination
and nonccssation occurs vcry lrcqucntly. Hcrc, too, in thc Mad
hyamaka philosophy, cmptincss mcans nonorigination – thc
nonarising in rcality ol all phcnomcna. Nagarjuna cxplains
this particular conscqucncc ol cmptincss through thc dialcctic
mcthod. Hcrc wc scc again thc lourlold dialcctical analysis that
appcarcd in thc lourtccn incxprcssiblc propositions which thc
8uddha rcjcctcd.
Tcrc arc lour possibilitics lor thc origination ol phcnom
cna, or thc rclationship bctwccn causc and cßcct: (a) that thc
causc and cßcct arc idcntical, (b) that thc causc and cßcct arc
dißcrcnt, (c) that thc causc and cßcct arc both idcntical and
dißcrcnt, and (d) that phcnomcna arisc without causc. Tcsc
lour basic altcrnativcs arc indicatcd in thc nrst vcrsc ol thc
Mulamadhyamakakarika, which statcs that ‘No cntity is pro
duccd at any timc, anywhcrc, or in any manncr lrom scll, lrom
othcr, lrom both, or without causc.’ Tis is thc lundamcntal
Madhyamaka critiquc ol causality.
.oc .o.
!t is intcrcsting to notc that thcsc lour altcrnativcs arc ana
lytically dcrivcd. Òthcrwisc, onc might wondcr how it is that wc
isolatc only thcsc lour. Tc Madhyamaka isolatcs thcsc lour in
thc lollowing way: !l phcnomcna do originatc, thcy will orig
inatc cithcr with a causc or without a causc. Hcrc wc alrcady
havc two lundamcntal altcrnativcs: phcnomcna originatc cithcr
with or without a causc. Tc lattcr position is rcprcscntcd in
thc lourth altcrnativc, according to which phcnomcna originatc
without a causc. Now, il wc acccpt that phcnomcna do originatc
with a causc, thcn thc cßcct and thc causc can cithcr bc idcnti
cal or dißcrcnt. !n this way, wc isolatc thc nrst two ol thc lour
altcrnativcs: thc idcntity ol causc and cßcct, and thc dißcrcncc ol
causc and cßcct. Tc third altcrnativc – that thc causc and cßcct
arc both idcntical and dißcrcnt – is simply a combination ol thc
nrst two. !n this way, wc analytically arrivc at thc lour altcrna
tivcs, cach ol which is, in turn, to bc rcjcctcd.
¡ach ol thcsc lour cxplanations ol thc naturc ol causality
was rcprcscntcd by a philosophical school contcmporary with
thc Madhyamaka. Tc position that maintains that causc and
cßcct arc idcntical was advocatcd by thc Sankhya systcm, onc ol
thc classical systcms ol !ndian philosophy. Tc position accord
ing to which causc and cßcct arc dißcrcnt was propoundcd by
thc Hinayana schools ol 8uddhism, thc \aibhashikas and thc
Sautrantikas, and by somc ol thc 8rahmanical schools. Tc posi
tion according to which phcnomcna originatc lrom causcs that arc
both idcntical and dißcrcnt was amrmcd by thc ]aina philosophcrs.
Tc last altcrnativc, which holds that phcnomcna originatc with
out a causc, was amrmcd by thc matcrialists in ancicnt !ndia.
Tc Madhyamaka rclutcs thcsc lour cxplanations ol origina
.oc .o.
tion by mcans ol a vcry typical Madhyamaka mcthod that has
drawn thc attcntion ol many scholars both in thc ¡ast and thc
Vcst. Tis mcthod is callcd thc mcthod ol reductio ad absurdum,
and it is a kind ol ncgativc dialcctic that cxposcs thc inhcrcnt
contradictions and absurditics in thc opponcnt’s position. Lct
us try to illustratc how this mcthod ol argumcntation works.
Takc thc nrst altcrnativc, which amrms thc idcntity ol causc
and cßcct. Tc Madhyamaka says that, il in lact causc and cßcct
arc idcntical, thcn having bought cottonsccd with thc pricc onc
would pay lor cloth, onc ought to bc ablc to clothc oncscll with
it. Tc idca that causc and cßcct arc idcntical thus lcads to absur
dity. !l causc and cßcct arc idcntical, thcn thcrc would bc no dil
lcrcncc bctwccn lathcr and son, and also no dißcrcncc bctwccn
lood and cxcrcmcnt.
!n thc casc ol thc sccond altcrnativc – that causc and cßcct
arc dißcrcnt – anything could originatc lrom anything clsc,
bccausc all phcnomcna arc cqually dißcrcnt. Hcncc a stalk ol
ricc might just as casily originatc lrom a piccc ol coal as lrom a
grain ol ricc, lor thcrc would bc no conncction bctwccn a stalk
ol ricc and a grain ol ricc, and a piccc ol coal and a grain ol ricc
would havc thc samc rclationship ol dißcrcncc to a stalk ol ricc.
Tus thc notion that causc and cßcct arc absolutcly dißcrcnt is
an intrinsically absurd idca.
Tc third altcrnativc – that causc and cßcct arc both idcntical
and dißcrcnt – is no morc acccptablc, and sußcrs lrom two laults.
First, both thc argumcnt that rclutcd thc idcntity ol causc and
cßcct and thc argumcnt that rclutcd thc dißcrcncc ol causc and
cßcct arc applicablc to thc third altcrnativc as wcll. Tc argu
mcnt rcluting thc idcntity ol causc and cßcct is applicablc inso
.o: .o.
lar as causc and cßcct arc idcntical, and thc argumcnt rcluting
thcir dißcrcncc is applicablc insolar as causc and cßcct arc dil
lcrcnt. Vc rcally havc no ncw proposition in thc casc ol thc third
altcrnativc. Sccond, thc third altcrnativc is laulty bccausc ol thc
law ol contradiction: no phcnomcnon can havc contradictory
charactcristics. An cntity cannot bc both cxistcnt and noncxis
tcnt at oncc, just as onc cntity cannot bc both rcd and not rcd at
thc samc timc.
Finally, thc lourth altcrnativc – thc idca that phcnom
cna originatc without causc – is rcjcctcd by appcal to common
cxpcricncc. For instancc, il wc sct a kcttlc ol watcr on a lightcd
stovc, thc watcr will boil, but il wc sct it on a block ol icc, it
won’t. Hcncc Madhyamaka philosophy concludcs that causality
according to any onc ol thcsc lour altcrnativcs – lrom scll, lrom
othcr, lrom both, and without causc – is impossiblc. Tis is thc
Madhyamaka critiquc ol causality.
Tcrc is also a Madhyamaka critiquc ol conccpts – thc con
ccpts ol idcntity and dißcrcncc, cxistcncc and noncxistcncc, and
so lorth. All thcsc conccpts arc rclativc, thcy arc mutually con
ditioning. Lct us takc thc conccpts ol short and long. Tc idcas
ol short and long arc rclativc onc to thc othcr. Vc say that A
is shortcr than 8 or that 8 is longcr than C, so thc conccpts ol
long and short arc rclativc. !l ! put two nngcrs sidc by sidc, wc
can say that onc nngcr is longcr than thc othcr, but il ! put out
a singlc nngcr, unrclatcd to anything clsc, wc cannot say any
thing about it bcing long or short. Tis is anothcr kind ol intcr
dcpcndcncc. ]ust as wc havc matcrial dcpcndcncc in thc origin
ol a sprout that is dcpcndcnt on a sccd, thc carth, sunlight, and
so on, hcrc wc havc conccptual dcpcndcncc, thc dcpcndcncc ol
.o: .o.
onc conccpt on anothcr.
And just as short and long arc dcpcndcnt onc upon anothcr,
so idcntity and dißcrcncc arc dcpcndcnt, or rclativc, to cach
othcr. !dcntity only has mcaning in rclation to dißcrcncc, and
dißcrcncc only makcs scnsc in rclation to idcntity. Tc samc is
truc ol cxistcncc and noncxistcncc. Vithout thc idca ol cxis
tcncc, noncxistcncc has no mcaning, and without noncxistcncc,
cxistcncc has nonc. Tis is also truc ol thc thrcc divisions ol
timc – past, prcscnt, and luturc. Ðcpcnding on thc past, thc
idcas ol thc prcscnt and luturc arc conccivcd, dcpcnding on thc
past and luturc, wc spcak about thc prcscnt, and dcpcnding on
thc prcscnt and thc past, wc spcak about thc luturc. Tc thrcc
momcnts ol timc – likc short and long, idcntity and dißcrcncc,
and cxistcncc and noncxistcncc – arc all conccpts that arc intcr
dcpcndcnt, rclativc, and cmpty.
Finally, thc analysis ol rclativity is applicd to knowlcdgc, or
to thc mcans ol acquiring knowlcdgc. Tis is an important appli
cation ol thc Madhyamaka critiquc bccausc ordinarily wc acccpt
thc rcality ol phcnomcna on thc basis ol pcrccption. For cxamplc,
wc say that this cup which ! havc bclorc mc undoubtcdly cxists
bccausc ! pcrccivc it – ! can scc and touch it. Vc havc know
lcdgc ol things through thc mcans ol knowlcdgc. Traditionally,
in !ndia, thcrc wcrc lour mcans ol knowlcdgc: (i) pcrccption,
(ii) inlcrcncc, (iii) tcstimony, and (iv) comparison.
For thc sakc ol simplicity, lct us takc thc casc ol pcrccp
tion. Supposc somcthing is cstablishcd by pcrccption, that it
is through pcrccption that wc acccpt thc cxistcncc ol thc cup:
Vhat, thcn, is it that provcs thc cxistcncc (or truth) ol thc pcr
ccption itscll (i.c., thc mcans ol knowlcdgc itscll): Ònc might
.o¡ .o·
say that pcrccption is provcd by itscll. !n that casc it would not
rcquirc prool, but sincc whcn can somcthing bc acccptcd with
out prool:
Altcrnativcly, onc might say that pcrccption is cstablishcd or
provcd by othcr mcans ol knowlcdgc, but in that casc wc havc
an innnitc rcgrcss, as in thc old story ol thc philosophcr who,
whcn askcd what thc carth stood on, rcplicd that it stood on a
grcat tortoisc, and whcn askcd what thc grcat tortoisc stood on,
said that it stood on lour grcat clcphants, and so on and so lorth.
Nowhcrc can wc nnd a nrm loundation lor pcrccption il pcrccp
tion is provcd by othcr mcans ol knowlcdgc.
Finally, il pcrccption is cstablishcd by thc objcct ol pcrccp
tion, thcn pcrccption and its objcct arc mutually cstablishcd
and intcrdcpcndcnt. Tis is, in lact, thc casc: Tc subjcct and
objcct ol pcrccption arc intcrdcpcndcnt. Tcy arc mutually con
ditioncd. Pcrccption is thcrclorc in no position to provc thc cxis
tcncc ol its objcct, and that objcct is in no position to provc thc
cxistcncc ol pcrccption, sincc thcy dcpcnd on cach othcr. Tus
knowlcdgc – likc causc and cßcct and mutually rclatcd con
ccpts – is intcrdcpcndcnt. !t lacks scllcxistcncc, and is thcrclorc
cmpty. Nagarjuna composcd a vcry intcrcsting tcxt, callcd e
Turning Away of Objections (Vigrahavyavartani) which discusscs
this point.
Lct us now considcr somc ol thc morc practical, thcrapcutic
applications ol thc Madhyamaka philosophy. Tc Madhyamaka
uscs thc critical and dialcctical mcthod to rcjcct thc notions ol
causc and cßcct, mutually rclatcd conccpts, and thc subjcct
and objcct ol knowlcdgc bccausc thcsc notions arc thc prod
ucts ol imagination, or discriminating thought (vikalpa). Tc
.o¡ .o·
Madhyamaka is conccrncd with dispclling thcsc products ol dis
criminating thought bccausc thcy arc thc causcs ol sußcring. !t is
as a rcsult ol discriminating thc idcas ol causc and cßcct, idcntity
and dißcrcncc, cxistcncc and noncxistcncc, and so lorth that wc
arc imprisoncd in samsara. Ðiscriminating thought, which has
its sccd in thc mind, is thc lundamcntal causc ol sußcring.
Nagarjuna says that, just as a paintcr, having paintcd thc pic
turc ol a lcarlul dcmon, is thcn tcrrincd by that imagc, so igno
rant pcoplc, through discriminating thought, producc thc cyclc
ol thc six rcalms ol cxistcncc and thcn sußcr as a conscqucncc.
Hcncc mind, which is amictcd by ignorancc through thc lunc
tion ol discriminating thought, produccs thc world wc know, or
samsara, whcrc thc conccpts ol causality, origination, ccssation,
and thc rcst havc a mcaning. Tis is thc origin ol sußcring. And
il samsara is thc product ol discriminating thought – il causc and
cßcct, idcntity and dißcrcncc, and cxistcncc and noncxistcncc
arc actually rclativc and cmpty – thcn thcrc is no objcctivc dil
lcrcncc bctwccn samsara and nirvana.
Vhat thc rcnowncd Mahayana and Madhyamaka doctrinc
ol thc nondißcrcntiation ol samsara and nirvana mcans is that
thc dißcrcncc bctwccn samsara and nirvana is a subjcctivc dil
lcrcncc, a dißcrcncc within onc’s own mind. !t is not a dißcrcncc
in anything objcctivc or rcal. Samsara and nirvana arc thc samc
thing sccn lrom two dißcrcnt points ol vicw: lrom thc point ol
vicw ol ignorancc (ol causality, idcntity and dißcrcncc, cxistcncc
and noncxistcncc), rcality appcars as samsara, lrom thc point ol
vicw ol insubstantiality, rclativity, and cmptincss, howcvcr, rcal
ity appcars as nirvana.
Tus samsara and nirvana do not dcpcnd on anything ‘out
.o6 .o·
thcrc’: thcy dcpcnd, rathcr, on thc point ol vicw. !t is in this con
tcxt that thc portrayal ol nirvana cmphasizcs thc lact that it is
bcyond cxistcncc and noncxistcncc, bcyond origination and ccs
sation, bcyond all conccptions and cxprcssions. !ndccd, il nir
vana is unconditioncd, it must transccnd thcsc rclativc con
ccpts. Tc two points ol vicw – that ol discriminating thought
and ignorancc, and that ol insubstantiality, rclativity, and cmp
tincss – arc rcßcctcd in thc doctrinc ol thc two truths, convcn
tional and ultimatc. Tc convcntional truth is valid ol this world
in which ignorancc prcvails, in which wc opcratc by acccpt
ing – and taking lor grantcd – thc idcas ol causc and cßcct, idcn
tity and dißcrcncc, cxistcncc and noncxistcncc, and thc likc. Tc
ultimatc truth is valid ol this world sccn in thc light ol insub
stantiality, rclativity, and cmptincss. Likc samsara and nirvana,
thc convcntional truth and ultimatc truth arc not contradictory
but complcmcntary. Tcy rclcr to two points ol vicw – thc ordi
nary, amictcd point ol vicw obscurcd by ignorancc, and thc point
ol vicw ol thc cnlightcncd oncs.
Nagarjuna said that without rclying on thc convcntional
truth, thc ultimatc truth is not taught, and without arriving at
thc ultimatc truth, nirvana is not achicvcd. !n thcsc lcw words,
wc can undcrstand thc complcmcntary and ncccssary rclation
ship bctwccn thc two truths. Vc must rcly on thc convcntional
truth to communicatc and lunction in thc world, yct without
arriving at an undcrstanding ol ultimatc rcality, or cmptincss,
nirvana is not gaincd. Hcncc wc can scc how groundlcss is thc
chargc ol nihilism lcvclcd against thc Madhyamaka by somc ol
its opponcnts. ¡mptincss is not nothingncss. Tc Madhyamaka
docs not tcach thc absolutc noncxistcncc ol causc and cßcct, or
.o6 .o·
karma (wholcsomc and unwholcsomc actions with thcir consc
qucnccs). All thcsc cxist on thc convcntional lcvcl. Tcy cxist as
long as thcy arc sustaincd by discriminating thought and igno
rancc. Vithout rclying on thc notion ol causc and cßcct, or thc
doctrinc ol karma, thc ultimatc is not taught, yct without tran
sccnding causality, karma, conccpts, and cxprcssions, nirvana is
not achicvcd.
Nagarjuna asscrts that intcrdcpcndcnt origination, cmpti
ncss, and thc Middlc Vay arc idcntical in signincancc. Takcn
lrom thc point ol vicw ol ignorancc, intcrdcpcndcnt origination
cxplains, sustains, and is thc vcry csscncc ol samsara. 8ut intcr
dcpcndcnt origination is also cmptincss, bccausc cvcrything that
cxists dcpcndcnt on somcthing clsc docs not rcally cxist – it has
no indcpcndcnt bcing and docs not cxist by itscll. Tcrclorc, it
is cmpty. All that is intcrdcpcndcnt origination is also cmpti
ncss. And intcrdcpcndcnt origination which avoids thc altcr
nativcs ol idcntity and dißcrcncc, cxistcncc and noncxistcncc,
ctcrnalism and nihilism is also thc Middlc Vay taught by thc
8uddha. Hcncc thc systcm loundcd by Nagarjuna and sustaincd
by his disciplcs and succcssors is known as thc philosophy ol thc
Middlc Vay, or Madhyamaka.
.o· .oo
Tc +hilosophy of ´ind Only
hc Mind Ònly school and thc Middlc Vay school arc thc
philosophical backbonc ol thc Mahayana tradition. Tcrc
arc scvcral namcs by which thc Mind Ònly school is known,
thc thrcc most popular bcing Chittamatra (school amrming
Mind Ònly), \ijnanavada (school amrming consciousncss), and
Yogachara (school amrming thc unity ol mcditation and action).
Yogachara rclcrs to thc union ol thc practicc ol mcditation (yoga)
and conduct (achara). Tc Mind Ònly school arosc as an indc
pcndcnt and idcntinablc philosophical tradition in thc lourth
ccntury c.v. Two brothcrs, Asanga and \asubandhu, playcd a
ccntral rolc in thc lormulation and popularization ol thc philos
ophy ol this school. Tcy wcrc born in Northwcst !ndia, in what
is now Pakistan. Trough thcir writings and skill as tcachcrs and
dcbatcrs, thcy popularizcd thc Mind Ònly philosophy within a
rclativcly short timc. 8oth startcd out as rcalistic pluralists, and
in addition to his many works on thc Mind Ònly philosophy,
\asubandhu is wcll known lor his Abhidharmakosha, a collcction
ol Abhidharma philosophy writtcn lrom thc standpoint ol thc
\aibhashika school.
Tcsc two grcat scholars wcrc convcrtcd to Mahayana and
togcthcr produccd a largc numbcr ol works dcnning, catcgo
rizing, and sctting lorth thc Mind Ònly philosophy. Asanga is
lamous lor his Stages of the Bodhisattva Path (Bodhisattvabhumi),
Compendium of the Abhidharma (Abhidharmasamuchchaya), writ
tcn lrom thc Mahayana or Mind Ònly vicwpoint, and many com
.o· .oo
mcntarics on major works ol thc Mind Ònly school. \asubandhu
is rcnowncd lor his short trcatiscs on Cognition Only and a trca
tisc cxplaining thc thrcc naturcs ol thc Mind Ònly philosophy.
Asanga’s commcntarics to a numbcr ol important tcxts ol thc
Mind Ònly school arc attributcd by thc Mahayana tradition to
Lord Maitrcya. Although modcrn scholars havc attcmptcd to
idcntily Maitrcya with a historical pcrsonality, thc Mahayana
tradition has no doubt that Maitrcya is thc luturc 8uddha, now
rcsiding in Tushita Hcavcn. Tc major works ol thc Mind Ònly
school attributcd to him includc thc Distinction of the Middle
from the Extremes (Madhyantavibhaga) and thc Ornament of the
Mahayana (Mahayanasutralankara). Tcy arc said to havc bccn
transmittcd by Maitrcya to Asanga, who wrotc thcm down and
addcd commcntarics. !t is in this scnsc that a largc portion ol thc
tcxtual loundation ol thc Mind Ònly philosophy is attributcd to
thc luturc 8uddha Maitrcya.
Likc thc Middlc Vay philosophy, thc Mind Ònly philos
ophy has its origin in thc carlicst tradition ol 8uddhism. For
cxamplc, cvcn according to thc Tcravada canon, thc 8uddha
dcclarcd that mind is thc crcator ol all things and rclcrrcd to
thc luminous and purc naturc ol consciousncss. Tc body ol
Mahayana sutras includcs many discourscs, likc thc Lankavatara
Sutra, that dcal at somc lcngth with thc lundamcntal principlcs
ol thc Mind Ònly philosophy. A long and wcighty tcxtual tra
dition thus prcccdcs thc cmcrgcncc ol thc Mind Ònly tradition
as an indcpcndcnt philosophical school.
!n addition to thcsc tcxtual anticipations in thc canons ol thc
Hinayana and Mahayana traditions, wc nnd conccptual antc
ccdcnts ol thc Mind Ònly philosophy in thc coursc ol thc dcvcl
:cc :c.
opmcnt ol 8uddhist thought. Vc all know that mind has bccn
cxtrcmcly important in 8uddhism lrom thc bcginning. Vc nccd
only rcmcmbcr thc 8uddha’s amrmation ol thc crcativc rolc ol thc
mind to rcalizc what a ccntral placc mind has in 8uddhist thought,
or look at thc thirtyscvcn lactors conducivc to cnlightcnmcnt to
bc struck by how many ol thcm havc to do with thc mind.
Tc ccntral importancc ol mind continucd in thc \aibhashika
and Sautrantika schools, two rcalistic and pluralistic schools
that ßourishcd prior to thc cmcrgcncc ol thc Middlc Vay and
Mind Ònly schools. Tc \aibhashika took its namc lrom com
mcntarics composcd during thc Fourth 8uddhist Council, in
thc nrst ccntury c.v. !t is pcrhaps thc most atomistic, rcalistic,
and pluralistic ol thc !ndian schools, and is cvcn morc plural
istic and rcalistic than thc Tcravada school ol Sri Lanka. Tc
\aibhashikas advocatcd thc doctrinc ol thc two naturcs ol lac
tors (dharmas) – thc phcnomcnal naturc and thc ctcrnal naturc.
Tis ctcrnal naturc has somctimcs bccn likcncd to Plato’s doc
trinc ol idcas in Grcck philosophy.
Tc Sautrantika takcs its namc lrom thc lact that it wantcd
to rcturn to thc original tcachings ol thc 8uddha containcd in
thc sutras. Tis is thc school that rcjcctcd thc authcnticity ol thc
Abhidharma. Tc Sautrantikas arc intcrcsting philosophically
bccausc thcy cmphasizcd thc rolc ol conccptualization, or dis
crimination (vikalpa). Tcy rcjcctcd thc indcpcndcnt, objcctivc
rcality ol many ol thc lactors thc \aibhashikas acccptcd, ascrib
ing thcsc dharmas to thc lunctioning ol discrimination or imag
ination. Tis gocs somc way toward thc standpoint ol thc Mind
Ònly school, which cvcntually dcnicd thc objcctivc rcality ol all
objccts and amrmcd thc solc rcality ol mind.
:cc :c.
!n addition, thc Sautrantikas lormulatcd a vcry intcrcsting
thcory ol pcrccption. Tcy bclicvcd that wc ncvcr rcally know
cxtcrnal objccts dircctly and that what wc pcrccivc – what wc
takc to bc an cxtcrnal objcct (lor cxamplc, thc cup in lront ol
mc) – is a mcntal rcßcction or rcprcscntation ol that objcct, so
that thc proccss ol pcrccption is thc proccss ol pcrcciving mcn
tal rcßcctions ol cxtcrnal objccts. Tc Sautrantikas claimcd that
thcsc mcntal rcprcscntations arc thc cßccts ol cxtcrnal objccts.
Conscqucntly, thcy hcld that wc know ol thc cxistcncc ol cxtcr
nal objccts by inlcrcncc. Tc mcntal imagcs or rcßcctions ol an
cxtcrnal objcct arc cvidcncc ol that objcct’s cxistcncc, although
wc cannot know it dircctly.
Tis thcory is vcry similar to ]ohn Lockc’s rcprcscntativc
thcory ol pcrccption. Vhat ! nnd important about this vicw is
that il it is acccptcd, it lcavcs thc status ol thc cxtcrnal world in
a vcry prccarious position, sincc wc would ncvcr know objccts in
thcmsclvcs but only thc objcctincd contcnts ol our consciousncss.
8y thus cmphasizing thc rolc ol conccptualization or imagina
tion, this philosophical dcvclopmcnt ol thc Sautrantikas antic
ipatcs thc lullßcdgcd mcntalist philosophy ol thc Mind Ònly
school, which claims that thc apparcntly rcal objccts ol thc world
arc nonc othcr than mind.
Tcrc arc a numbcr ol lincs along which thc Mind Ònly
philosophy dcvclopcd its doctrinc ol thc primacy ol conscious
ncss. !ts adhcrcnts wcrc convinccd that objccts dcpcnd on mind
lor thcir naturc and bcing. First, thc school put lorward thc
vicw that a singlc objcct appcars dißcrcntly to dißcrcnt scnticnt
bcings. Tis argumcnt is workcd out with rcspcct to thc six
rcalms ol cxistcncc. For cxamplc, a cup ol milk appcars to us as
:c: :c.
milk, but it would appcar as ncctar to thc gods, as moltcn iron
to hcll bcings, and as pus or blood to hungry ghosts. A singlc
objcct appcars dißcrcntly to dißcrcnt bcings in samsara accord
ing to thcir rcspcctivc karma. !n othcr words, an objcct appcars
in dißcrcnt lorms according to thc conditioncd, subjcctivc statc
ol thc mind. Vc can scc this cvcn without rclcrcncc to thc six
rcalms. For cxamplc, a woman may appcar as an objcct ol scxual
attraction to a man, a hcap ol mcat to a woll, and a skclcton to
an Arhat. Tis is thc nrst argumcnt thc Mind Ònly school uscd
in support ol its subjcctivist vicw ol cxpcricncc.
Sccond, thc Mind Ònly school madc cxtcnsivc usc ol thc
analogy ol drcaming, arguing that in drcams thc mind crcatcs
and projccts a world which, lor all intcnts and purposcs, it cxpc
ricnccs as rcal as long as thc drcam statc prcvails. !l wc look at
\asubandhu’s Twenty Verses on Cognition Only wc can scc how hc
rcjccts scvcral objcctions to this argumcnt by analogy. For cxam
plc, opponcnts ol this vicw said that drcam cxpcricncc is not
collcctivc thc way waking cxpcricncc is, to which \asubandhu
countcrcd that wc do cxpcricncc cvcnts in common with thc
othcr ngurcs in a givcn drcam. Òpponcnts also said that drcam
cxpcricncc is not cßcctivc and docs not havc thc powcr to bring
about rcal cßccts, yct \asubandhu showcd, by using thc cxam
plc ol nocturnal cmission, that this is not so. !n short, il wc look
closcly at drcam cxpcricncc, wc will bc lorccd to admit that, as
long as wc arc in a drcam statc, thcrc arc no rcasonablc grounds
on which wc can distinguish it lrom waking cxpcricncc.
!t is intcrcsting to notc that this analogy has rcccivcd somc
support in rcccnt ycars lrom thc cvidcncc ol cxpcrimcnts in thc
ncld ol scnsory dcprivation. Tcsc cxpcrimcnts placc volun
:c: :c.
tccrs in situations whcrc thcy arc cut oß lrom all scnsory stim
uli, somc subjccts thcn bcgin to crcatc, out ol thcir own minds,
an cntirc thrccdimcnsional univcrsc. !t would lollow that thc
Mind Ònly argumcnt dcvclopcd on thc analogy ol drcam cxpc
ricncc has a ccrtain amount ol cogcncy.
Tird, thc Mind Ònly school rcjcctcd thc indcpcndcnt cxis
tcncc ol objccts by cxposing thc innnitc divisibility ol mat
tcr. Tis is anothcr carly conccptual conclusion rcachcd by thc
8uddhist tradition that has rcccntly bccn connrmcd by scicn
tinc discovcrics. Mind Ònly philosophcrs argucd that thc notion
ol an atom – an irrcduciblc unit ol mattcr – is impossiblc. Tcy
argucd this on thc grounds ol thc ncccssity ol thc combination
or collcction ol atoms in ordcr to producc a mass, an cxtcndcd
matcrial objcct.
Tc atom was thought to bc unitary and indivisiblc, and
was thcrclorc hcld to bc without parts, yct it was thought that
objccts (likc a cup or a tablc) arc collcctions ol atoms that lorm
cxtcndcd objccts. Òbjccts acquirc mass through thc collccting
togcthcr ol countlcss atoms in an asscmbly. !l atoms arc indi
visiblc and without parts, thcn it will bc impossiblc lor thcm to
asscmblc togcthcr. Howcvcr, il atoms asscmblc, as thcy must, to
lorm cxtcndcd matcrial objccts, thcn cach atom must havc at
lcast six distinguishablc parts: an uppcr part, a lowcr part, and
an castcrn, southcrn, wcstcrn, and northcrn part.
8y mcans ol this argumcnt, \asubandhu and othcr Mind
Ònly philosophcrs cstablishcd thc conccpt ol thc innnitc divis
ibility ol thc atom. Tis conclusion has bccn vcrincd by mod
crn physics, so oncc again wc havc an carly analytical conccption
that has bccn connrmcd cxpcrimcntally by discovcrics ol mod
:c¡ :c·
crn scicncc. Tc atom as wcll as its componcnts havc bccn shown
to bc rcduciblc to cvcn smallcr componcnts, and wc havc nnally
arrivcd at a point in timc whcn thcrc is prccious littlc cvidcncc
ol any ultimatc clcmcnt ol mattcr.
Trough thcsc argumcnts rcjccting thc cxistcncc ol matc
rial objccts, Mind Ònly philosophcrs cstablishcd thc rclativity
ol subjcct and objcct, thc idcntity ol thc objccts ol consciousncss
with consciousncss itscll. Tcy rcvcalcd what wc might call thc
nonduality ol thc subjcct and objcct ol consciousncss – ol con
sciousncss and its contcnts.
! want now to touch upon a conccption which appcars in thc
Lankavatara Sutra and to which \asubandhu dcvotcd onc ol his
morc lamous works, thc ¡xposition ol thc Trcc Naturcs. Tis
is a doctrinc vcry important to Mind Ònly philosophy, namcly,
thc doctrinc ol thc thrcc naturcs, or lcvcls, ol rcality: (.) thc illu
sory or imputcd naturc (parikalpita), (:) thc dcpcndcnt or rcla
tivc naturc (paratantra), and (.) thc pcrlcctcd or accomplishcd
naturc (parinishpanna).
Tcsc thrcc naturcs may bc likcncd rcspcctivcly to (a) thc
mistakcn bclicl that watcr cxists in a miragc, (b) thc appcarancc
itscll ol thc miragc, dcpcndcnt on atmosphcric causcs and con
ditions, and (c) thc cmpty naturc ol thc miragc, inasmuch as it
is conditioncd, rclativc, and dcpcndcnt on causcs and conditions.
Tc bclicl that watcr cxists in thc miragc is uttcrly lalsc and
is similar to thc illusory naturc. Tc simplc appcarancc ol thc
miragc rclativc to causcs and conditions is similar to thc dcpcn
dcnt naturc. Tc cmpty charactcr ol thc miragc, inasmuch as it is
dcpcndcnt and conditioncd, is similar to thc pcrlcctcd naturc.
!t is ncccssary to draw particular attcntion to thc sccond ol
:c¡ :c·
thc thrcc naturcs, thc dcpcndcnt naturc, bccausc it is this naturc
that is ccntral in thc Mind Ònly philosophy, insolar as it is con
ccrncd with libcration and cmancipation. Tc dcpcndcnt naturc
is idcntical with mind, and particularly with thc storchousc
consciousncss, which wc discusscd in our considcration ol thc
Lankavatara Sutra (scc Chaptcr .·). Vhat this mcans is that in
this dcpcndcnt naturc wc havc, on thc onc hand, thc potcntial
to producc thc illusory prison ol samsara and, on thc othcr, thc
potcntial lor thc libcration ol nirvana.
! havc said that thc storchousc consciousncss was tcrmcd by
thc Tibctans ‘thc allbasc consciousncss,’ and that in that scnsc
it is thc root ol samsara and nirvana. Hcrc, too, wc can scc, on
thc onc hand, how thc dcpcndcnt naturc, il it is objcctincd by
discrimination ol an cxtcrnal objcct, rcsults in thc labrication by
mind ol an cxtcrnal world, which is samsara. !l thc mind dis
criminatcs an cxtcrnal objcct – bilurcatcs this dcpcndcnt naturc
into subjcct and objcct – thcn wc havc thc crcation ol thc illu
sory naturc, that is to say, thc imposition ol lalsc idcas (such as
thc idca ol thc cxistcncc ol watcr in a miragc, or ol thc scll and
othcr): in a word, wc havc samsara.
Òn thc othcr hand, il this dcpcndcnt naturc, which is idcn
tical with thc storchousc consciousncss, is purincd ol discrimi
nating thought and thc cmptincss ol subjcct and objcct is rcal
izcd, thcn thc storchousc consciousncss rcsults in thc pcrlcctcd
naturc, it rcsults in lrccdom. Tc dcpcndcnt naturc is thcrclorc
thc ccntral naturc ol thc thrcc. !l playcd upon by discrimination,
it bccomcs illusion, samsara, il playcd upon by thc knowlcdgc ol
thc abandonmcnt ol duality, it bccomcs nirvana.
!t is intcrcsting to notc that this dcpcndcnt naturc is also
:c6 :c·
thc sourcc ol thc phcnomcnalizing activity ol thc cnlightcncd
bcings. !n othcr words, thc dcpcndcnt naturc, or storchousc con
sciousncss, supplics thc potcntial lor thc cmanation ol all lorms,
thc lorms ol thc tcrrcstrial dimcnsion and thosc ol thc cclcs
tial dimcnsion – thc hcavcnly 8odhisattvas likc Manjushri and
Avalokitcshvara, who work lor thc cnlightcnmcnt ol all scnticnt
You will rccall that, in thc cxamplc ol thc miragc, it is thc
notion ol thc cxistcncc ol watcr that bclongs to thc illusory
naturc, thc mcrc appcarancc ol thc miragc as a purc, conditioncd
phcnomcnon bclongs to thc dcpcndcnt naturc. Vc might intcr
prct this in tcrms ol cxpcricncc – that is, thc cxpcricncc ol subjcct
and objcct as dißcrcnt. Tc notion that an cxtcrnal objcct cxists
indcpcndcnt ol consciousncss, or mind, bclongs to thc rcalm ol
thc illusory naturc, whcrcas thc appcarancc ol phcnomcna with
out thc mistakcn notions ol thcir objcctivity and indcpcndcncc
bclongs to thc dcpcndcnt naturc.
Tis dcpcndcnt naturc is thus intrinsically purc and can
lunction in an altruistic way lor thc libcration ol othcrs. !t is in
this scnsc that thc thrcc naturcs in thc Mind Ònly systcm cor
rcspond to thc thrcc dimcnsions ol 8uddhahood: thc illusory
naturc corrcsponds to thc tcrrcstrial dimcnsion, thc dcpcndcnt
naturc to thc cclcstial dimcnsion, and thc pcrlcctcd naturc to
thc transccndcntal dimcnsion. Tcrclorc, whcn 8uddhas appcar
as objcctivc historical pcrsonalitics, this is thc appcarancc ol thc
dcpcndcnt naturc – in thc guisc ol subjcctobjcct duality – in thc
sphcrc ol thc illusory naturc. Vhcn 8uddhas appcar lrcc lrom
thc duality ol subjcct and objcct, in thc idcal lorm ol cclcstial
8odhisattvas likc Manjushri and Avalokitcshvara, this is an
:c6 :c·
appcarancc ol thc cclcstial dimcnsion, ol thc dcpcndcnt naturc
lrcc lrom thc illusion ol subjcctobjcct duality.
! would likc to concludc by undcrlining what ! bclicvc to bc
thc vcry closc corrcspondcncc bctwccn thc philosophics ol Mind
Ònly and thc Middlc Vay. You will rccall that wc havc thc con
ccptions ol samsara and nirvana in thc Middlc Vay philosophy,
just as wc do in thc wholc ol 8uddhist thought. !n addition, wc
havc two pcdagogical conccpts – thosc ol convcntional truth and
ultimatc truth, which rclcr rcspcctivcly to samsara and nirvana.
Vhat is it in thc philosophy ol thc Middlc Vay that mcdi
atcs bctwccn convcntional truth and ultimatc truth, bctwccn
samsara and nirvana: How is it that cvcntually wc havc an idcn
tity, or nondißcrcntiation, ol samsara and nirvana prolcsscd in
thc Middlc Vay school: !l wc look at thc Middlc Vay philoso
phy, wc nnd that intcrdcpcndcnt origination is thc principlc that
unitcs convcntional and ultimatc truth, samsara and nirvana. !n
thc Mulamadhyamakakarika, Nagarjuna says that il wc takc
intcrdcpcndcnt origination as thc rclationship bctwccn causc
and cßcct, wc havc samsara, but il wc takc intcrdcpcndcnt orig
ination as noncausal – as cmptincss – wc havc nirvana. Tc link
bctwccn causc and cßcct, bctwccn karma and its conscqucnccs,
is conccptualization or imagination. Nagarjuna says clcarly that
imagination is rcsponsiblc lor thc conncction bctwccn causc and
cßcct. Tis, in gcncral, is thc schcmc wc nnd in thc Middlc Vay
Vhcn wc look at thc Mind Ònly philosophy, wc scc that it
runs parallcl to that ol thc Middlc Vay. Tc convcntional truth
in thc Middlc Vay philosophy is similar to thc illusory naturc
ol Mind Ònly philosophy, and in both systcms this corrcsponds
:c· :co
to causc and cßcct, to samsara. Tc ultimatc truth in thc Middlc
Vay philosophy is similar to thc pcrlcctcd naturc in thc Mind
Ònly philosophy, and in both systcms this corrcsponds to cmp
tincss, nonduality, nonorigination, and nirvana. Vhat in thc
Middlc Vay school is intcrdcpcndcnt origination – thc link
bctwccn samsara and nirvana – is thc dcpcndcnt naturc in thc
Mind Ònly school.
Mind is ol thc utmost importancc to both intcrdcpcndcnt
origination and thc dcpcndcnt naturc. Mind is thc csscncc ol
both. !n both systcms wc havc thc convcntional, samsaric, illu
sory rcality on thc onc hand, and thc ultimatc, nirvanic, pcr
lcctcd rcality on thc othcr, mcdiating bctwccn thc two is thc
principlc ol rclativity, thc principlc ol dcpcndcncc, which is ol
thc csscncc ol mind. !n Chaptcr :c wc will lurthcr cxplorc thc
parallclism bctwccn thc Middlc Vay philosophy and thc Mind
Ònly philosophy. Vc will thcn try to apply thc combincd vision
ol thcsc philosophics to thc practicc ol thc Mahayana path.
:c· :co
Tc Æcvclopmcnt of ´ahayana +hilosophy
n this chaptcr ! would likc to considcr thc lurthcr dcvclopmcnt
ol Mahayana philosophy in !ndia, thc rclationship bctwccn
thc Middlc Vay philosophy and thc Mind Ònly philosophy, and
how thcsc two inßucncc thc rcligious and practical traditions
ol 8uddhism. Vc havc discusscd thc Middlc Vay and Mind
Ònly philosophics in Chaptcr .· and Chaptcr .o, but havc mcrcly
skctchcd thc outlincs ol Mahayana philosophy. Tc philosophy
ol thc Middlc Vay, as prcscntcd by Nagarjuna, and that ol Mind
Ònly, as prcscntcd by Asanga and \asubandhu, arc thc twolold
basis ol thc Mahayana tradition, lorming its gcncral loundation
as it cvolvcd during thc nrst lour ccnturics ol thc common cra.
Tis pcriod was lollowcd by anothcr cight hundrcd ycars
ol philosophical dcvclopmcnt ol thc Mahayana tradition in
!ndia, not to mcntion its continuing dcvclopmcnt in thc othcr
countrics ol Asia to which 8uddhism travclcd – China, Korca,
]apan, Tibct, and Mongolia. To gain a comprchcnsivc picturc
ol this dcvclopmcnt in !ndia, ! would likc to tracc thc intcrac
tion bctwccn thc Middlc Vay and Mind Ònly schools lrom thc
lourth ccntury c.v. to thc cnd ol thc nrst millcnnium.
Lct us look nrst at what took placc in thc Middlc Vay
school. Tc principlcs sct lorth by Nagarjuna wcrc claboratcd by
his disciplcs and succcssors, bcginning with Aryadcva. Vhcrcas
Nagarjuna’s primary conccrn had bccn to cstablish thc authcn
ticity ol thc philosophy ol cmptincss in opposition to thc carlicr
schools ol 8uddhist philosophy, Aryadcva’s was to dcmonstratc
:.c :..
that thc philosophy ol cmptincss was cqually valid in thc casc
ol thc non8uddhist 8rahmanical and \cdantic schools. Tc
works ol Nagarjuna and Aryadcva lall within thc lormativc and
lundamcntal pcriod ol thc philosophy ol thc Middlc Vay. Tc
pcriod altcr Nagarjuna saw thc cmcrgcncc ol two Middlc Vay
subschools, thc Prasangika and thc Svatantrika. Tc division
bctwccn thcsc two schools is bascd on how thcy prcscnt thc phi
losophy ol cmptincss.
Vhcn wc discusscd thc philosophy ol cmptincss in Chaptcr .·,
wc spokc about a charactcristic mcthod ol argumcnt, thc reduc-
tio ad absurdum, that Middlc Vay philosophcrs uscd to rcjcct
thc positions advanccd by thcir opponcnts. !n Sanskrit this lorm
ol argumcnt is callcd prasanga, and it was lrom this tcrm that
thc Prasangika school took its namc. Argumcnts ad absurdum
arc dcsigncd to cxposc contradictions and absurditics in oppo
ncnts’ positions. For cxamplc, thc thcory ol scllproduction (i.c.,
that cntitics originatc lrom cxistcnt things) was advocatcd by a
rival ol thc Prasangikas, thc Sankhya philosophical school. Scll
production can bc rclutcd by thc argumcnt that il cntitics origi
natcd lrom thcmsclvcs, thcn thcy would go on originating indcl
initcly and wc would havc an cndlcss scrics ol rcproductions ol
thc samc cxisting cntitics. !n othcr words, thcrc would bc noth
ing ncw undcr thc sun. Tc prasanga argumcnt is that cntitics
do not originatc lrom thcmsclvcs bccausc thcy alrcady cxist, and
thc origination ol somcthing that alrcady cxists is plainly absurd.
8csidcs, il cxistcnt cntitics do originatc, thcn thcy will go on
rcproducing thcmsclvcs ad innnitum.
Altcrnativcly, onc might rcjcct thc Sankhya thcory ol scll
production by mcans ol a syllogism. Tis lorm ol argumcnt is
:.c :..
callcd an indcpcndcnt (svatantra) argumcnt, and it is lrom this
tcrm that thc Svatantrika school got its namc. Ònc might illus
tratc this mcthod ol argumcnt by saying, ‘¡ntitics do not origi
natc lrom thcmsclvcs.’ Tis would bc thc proposition, thc nrst so
callcd mcmbcr ol an indcpcndcnt argumcnt. Tcn onc might say,
‘Tis is bccausc thcy cxist,’ which would bc thc sccond mcmbcr,
thc rcason ol thc syllogism. Ncxt, onc might say, ‘Tcy cxist likc
a jar docs,’ which would bc thc cxamplc, and thc third and nnal
mcmbcr. 8y mcans ol thcsc thrcc mcmbcrs ol a syllogism, onc
might dcmonstratc thc impossibility ol origination lrom scll – thc
samc objcctivc dcmonstratcd by an argumcnt ad absurdum.
Vc havc, thcrclorc, two lorms ol argumcnt, a rcduction and
a syllogism conlorming to thc rulcs ol lormal logic. 8uddhapalita
and Chandrakirti arc lamous lor thcir cxpositions championing
thc reductio ad absurdum, whilc 8havavivcka is lamous lor cham
pioning syllogistic, indcpcndcnt argumcnt. 8oth thc Prasangika
and thc Svatantrika school cnjoycd considcrablc popularity in
!ndia. Tc strcngth ol thc Svatantrika school rcßcctcd an incrcas
ing conccrn with conlorming to acccptcd standards ol logic. !t
was common lor rival !ndian philosophical schools to cngagc
in public dcbatcs, which tcndcd to rcquirc argumcnts that mct
acccptcd standards ol validity. Tis lcd gradually to morc lormal
rcquircmcnts ol discussion and inßucnccd thc philosophical argu
mcnts ol thc Middlc Vay school, contributing to thc popularity
ol thc Svatantrika subschool, which lavorcd thc usc ol indcpcn
dcnt argumcnt. Tis trcnd cvcn lcd thc Prasangika subschool to
gradually rcnnc and lormalizc its argumcnt ad absurdum, so that
within thc coursc ol a lcw hundrcd ycars, a much morc lormal
prcscntation ol thc philosophy ol cmptincss cmcrgcd.
:.: :..
]ust as this was taking placc within thc Middlc Vay
school, dcvclopmcnts wcrc also occurring within thc Mind
Ònly school. Tc ncxt signincant Mind Ònly philosophcrs in
!ndia wcrc thc nlth ccntury 8uddhist logicians Ðinnaga and
Ðharmakirti, who also playcd a signincant rolc in thc dcvcl
opmcnt ol thc Mind Ònly philosophy. Tcy rcjcctcd thc cxis
tcncc ol thc objccts ol consciousncss – ol lorms, sounds, and so
lorth – prcscnt in cxpcricncc, and arc thcrclorc known as thc
philosophcrs who rcjcct thc rcprcscntations ol consciousncss.
Vhcrcas both Asanga and \asubandhu amrmcd thc cxistcncc
ol thc objccts ol consciousncss, insolar as thcsc participatc in
thc rcality ol mind, Ðinnaga and Ðharmakirti maintaincd that,
although thc rcality ol consciousncss is indubitablc, thc rcality
ol thc lorms, or objccts, ol consciousncss is not.
!n about thc cighth ccntury c.v., thcrc arosc in !ndia a ngurc
ol notc, a scholar who madc a vcry important contribution to thc
intcgration ol thcsc dißcrcnt tcndcncics within Mahayana phi
losophy. His namc was Shantarakshita. !n addition to thc lamc
hc won as a rcsult ol his philosophical and litcrary production,
Shantarakshita was thc nrst to introducc systcmatic 8uddhist
thought to Tibct. Hc lormulatcd what wc now call thc syncrctic
or synthctic philosophy that unitcs in a systcmatic way thc phi
losophy ol cmptincss and thc philosophy ol Mind Ònly.
Vc havc discusscd thc importancc ol mind in thc thought ol
thc Middlc Vay school, and also thc parallclism bctwccn con
vcntional truth and ultimatc truth on thc onc hand and thc illu
sory and pcrlcctcd naturcs on thc othcr. Vc indicatcd thc par
allcl status ol mind, intcrdcpcndcncc, and thc dcpcndcnt naturc
in thc Middlc Vay and Mind Ònly schools (scc Chaptcr .o).
:.: :..
Vhat wc havc in thc thought ol Shantarakshita is a systcmatic
intcgration ol thc major tcncts ol thc Middlc Vay and thc Mind
Ònly schools, so that cmptincss is acknowlcdgcd to bc consistcnt
with ultimatc truth and thc pcrlcctcd naturc, whilc thc crcativc
naturc ol consciousncss is acknowlcdgcd to bc consistcnt with
thc convcntional truth and thc illusory naturc.
!n addition to thc rcconciliation and stratincation ol thc
principlc tcncts ol thcsc two schools, Shantarakshita’s philosophy
intcgratcs thc clcmcnts ol logical argumcnt and trcats systcm
atically thc rolc ol mind in thc origination and ccssation ol sul
lcring. !n his syncrctic philosophy wc havc what wc might tcrm
thc apcx ol thc dcvclopmcnt ol Mahayana philosophy in !ndia,
in that Shantarakshita corrclatcd and synthcsizcd, in onc cohcr
cnt philosophical systcm, thc principal insights ol outstanding
Mahayana mastcrs likc Nagarjuna, Asanga, and \asubandhu.
Tc synthcsis ol thc tcncts ol cmptincss and Mind Ònly had
a dircct and dctcrmining impact on thc two major traditions
that grcw out ol Mahayana philosophy: (.) thc \ajrayana, which
hcld sway in Tibct and Mongolia, and (:) thc Ch’an Zcn tra
dition, which was prcdominant in China and ]apan. Although
thcsc two traditions ol practicc dißcr markcdly in thc lorms ol
thcir rcligious cxprcssion, both rcly vcry hcavily on thc tcncts ol
cmptincss and Mind Ònly lor thcir lunction and cßcctivcncss.
!n thc \ajrayana, it is thc philosophy ol cmptincss which
supplics thc opcnncss and ßuidity that allows lor thc translor
mation ol phcnomcna lrom an impurc condition to a purc con
dition. !l cntitics had an indcpcndcnt and unchanging naturc
and wcrc thcrclorc not cmpty, it would bc impossiblc to trans
lorm impurc cxpcricncc saturatcd by sußcring into purc cxpc
:.¡ :.·
ricncc sußuscd by grcat bliss. Vhilc cmptincss supplics thc
ground upon which this translormation can takc placc, mind
supplics thc cßcctivc mcans ol achicving that translormation,
bccausc it is thc mind that shapcs and dctcrmincs thc naturc ol
our cxpcricncc. 8y controlling, disciplining, and manipulating
thc mind, wc can changc our cxpcricncc lrom an impurc cxpc
ricncc to a purc cxpcricncc. !n thc thcory and practicc ol thc
\ajrayana tradition, cmptincss and mind arc indispcnsablc – both
bccausc, without cmptincss, translormation ol things would bc
impossiblc, and bccausc it is mind that is thc kcy to and mcans
ol achicving that translormation.
!n thc Ch’an and Zcn tradition, it is cmptincss that is
dcscriptivc ol thc rcal statc ol things. !t is thc rcalization ol
cmptincss that brings about thc transccndcncc ol duality and thc
attainmcnt ol cnlightcnmcnt. And how is this cmptincss rcal
izcd in this tradition: 8y looking at thc mind – by mcditating
on thc naturc ol mind itscll. Hcrc, as in thc \ajrayana, cmpti
ncss and mind pcrlorm similar lunctions and arc indispcnsablc.
¡mptincss is thc ground ol translormation, whilc mind accom
plishcs that translormation.
Tus it is not coincidcntal that both thc \ajrayana and thc
Ch’an and Zcn traditions look to thcsc lundamcntal idcas ol thc
!ndian Mahayana lor thcir inspiration. Nagarjuna and Asanga
arc traditionally rcgardcd as thc loundcrs ol thc \ajrayana tra
dition, Nagarjuna is also onc ol thc carly patriarchs ol thc Ch’an
and Zcn tradition. 8odhidharma, who introduccd Ch’an to
China, is said to havc lavorcd thc Lankavatara Sutra abovc all
othcr tcxts. !n this way, thc Middlc Vay and Mind Ònly schools
playcd an important rolc in thc dcvclopmcnt ol thc principal tra
:.¡ :.·
ditions ol Mahayana practicc throughout Asia.
Lct us spcnd somc timc looking at thc mcthod ol invcstigation
that was dcvclopcd in !ndia in linc with thc insights ol thc Middlc
Vay and Mind Ònly schools. Tc lundamcntal division ol cxpcri
cncc into subjcct (nama) and objcct (rupa), lound in thc schcmc ol
thc nvc aggrcgatcs and in many ol thc analytical schcmcs ol thc
Abhidharma, is also prcscnt in thc Mahayana contcxt. Vc can
scc thc invcstigation ol rcality unlolding in this binary way with
rcspcct nrst to thc objcct and thcn to thc subjcct.
!n invcstigating thc objcct and thc subjcct, two mcthods
arc uscd that wc havc cncountcrcd in othcr 8uddhist traditions
also – namcly, thc analytical mcthod and thc rclational mcthod
(scc Chaptcr .6). 8cginning with thc objcct, wc nnd nrst an
analytical invcstigation ol thc objcct applicd. Tis mcans, in thc
Mahayana contcxt, a considcration ol thc innnitc divisibility ol
thc objcct. Vc havc discusscd thc importancc ol thc innnitc
divisibility ol mattcr in thc lormulation ol Mind Ònly philoso
phy (scc Chaptcr .o). Hcrc, too, wc bcgin with thc invcstigation
and rcvclation ol mattcr’s innnitc divisibility.
Tis analytical invcstigation ol thc objcct is lollowcd by a
rclational invcstigation ol thc objcct, which rcvcals that thc
objcct dcpcnds on thc subjcct – that is, on consciousncss. !n this
way, wc arrivc at thc rcjcction ol thc notion ol an indcpcndcnt
objcct both analytically and rclationally.
Vc thcn procccd to analytical and rclational invcstigation
ol thc subjcct, thc mind itscll. Vhcn wc invcstigatc mind ana
lytically, wc do so in tcrms ol its charactcristics. Tc paradigm
lor this is in thc Pcrlcction ol Visdom litcraturc, which says,
‘¡xaminc thc mind: !s it long or short: !s it round or squarc: !s
:.6 :.·
it whitc, bluc, or othcrwisc:’ Such an analytical invcstigation
rcvcals that thc mind is inhcrcntly unidcntinablc.
Tis analytical invcstigation ol thc subjcct is lollowcd by a
rclational invcstigation, which rcvcals that thc subjcct (mind)
is rclationally dcpcndcnt on thc objcct. Shantidcva, onc ol thc
rcnowncd mastcrs ol thc Middlc Vay school said that, with
out an objcct, consciousncss is unintclligiblc, incomprchcnsiblc.
Consciousncss must havc an objcct in ordcr to lunction, in ordcr
to cxist. Consciousncss indcpcndcnt ol an objcct is impossiblc.
¡xplanations ol thc truth ol this statcmcnt datc back a long way.
For cxamplc, in thc Abhidharma litcraturc, it is said that con
sciousncss ariscs dcpcndcnt on an objcct.
Tc analytical and rclational invcstigations ol objcct and sub
jcct lcad to an undcrstanding ol rcality as incßablc – as bcyond
cxistcncc and noncxistcncc, as cmpty and luminous. !n thc
Mahayana tradition, this is thc ultimatc rcalization: Rcality can
not bc dcscribcd in tcrms ol cxistcncc and noncxistcncc. !t is cmpty,
luminous, and purc. Rcality is bcyond cxistcncc bccausc all cxis
tcncc is rclativc and dcpcndcnt. !t is bcyond noncxistcncc bccausc,
dcspitc its cmptincss and transicncc, rcality docs appcar and is
cxpcricnccd. Tcrclorc, rcality is not altogcthcr noncxistcnt.
You may rccall our usc ol thc word ‘purc’ as a synonym ol
cmpty. Hcrc wc havc anothcr word uscd, ‘luminous.’ You nccd
not bc conluscd by this. !t is simply a rcstatcmcnt ol that cquiv
alcncc sct lorth in thc Heart Sutra’s asscrtion that ‘¡mptincss is
lorm, and lorm is cmptincss.’ Rcality is not only cmpty: it is also
lorm, it is also luminous, bright with thc potcntial lor appcar
ancc. Tis luminosity – this potcntial inhcrcnt in thc rcal statc ol
things – manilcsts itscll to thc impurc, amictcd consciousncss as
:.6 :.·
samsara, but it manilcsts itscll to thc purincd consciousncss as
thc purc univcrsc ol thc cxaltcd 8uddhas and 8odhisattvas. !t is
within thc contcxt ol this luminosity, this potcntial appcarancc
ol rcality, that wc havc thc manilcstation ol thc cclcstial 8uddhas
and 8odhisattvas likc Amitabha, Akshobhya, Avalokitcshvara,
Manjushri, and thc rcst. Tcy arc luminous, purc, and thc bright
manilcstation ol rcality – that rcality which is simultancously
cmptincss and luminosity, cmptincss and purity. ¡mptincss and
luminosity arc thc charactcristics ol rcality that cmcrgc lrom thc
Mahayanic invcstigation ol thc subjcct and objcct ol cxpcricncc.
Lct mc concludc by dcscribing a practical modc ol contcm
plation which rcßccts this progrcssivc insight that cvcntually
rcvcals thc incßablc charactcr ol thc rcal. Tis contcmplativc
tcchniquc ol mcditation unlolds through lour stagcs.
Tc nrst stagc involvcs contcmplation ol thc minddcpcn
dcnt naturc ol all cxpcricncc. Òn this stagc wc arc askcd to
rcgard all cxpcricncc as similar to a drcam. Tis is rcinlorccd by
rccoursc to cxamplcs that illustratc thc minddcpcndcnt naturc
ol cxpcricncc: not only thc cxpcricncc ol drcaming, which is pcr
haps thc most tclling but also that ol illncss, whcn onc pcrccivcs
a whitc conch as ycllow bccausc ol jaundicc, and thc cxpcricncc
ol altcrcd pcrccption as a rcsult ol thc ingcstion ol hallucino
gcnic substanccs.
Òn thc sccond stagc wc contcmplatc all cxpcricncc bcing
likc a magical show. Likc drcaming, this cxamplc has an
old and vcncrablc history in 8uddhist litcraturc, both in thc
Pcrlcction ol Visdom discourscs and in thc writings ol thc
Middlc Vay and Mind Ònly traditions. Hcrc thc cxamplc ol
a magical illusion is uscd as a paradigm lor cxpcricncc: Vhcn
:.· :.o
thc apparatus nccdcd to producc a magical illusion is prcscnt,
thc magical illusion appcars, but whcn thc apparatus is abscnt, thc
magical illusion docs not. !n thc samc way, cntitics appcar only
whcn thc right causcs and conditions arc prcscnt, and lail to
appcar whcn thc right causcs and conditions arc abscnt.
Vc might lccl that this cxamplc ol magical illusion is no
longcr rclcvant today, but this is not thc casc il wc undcrstand
magical illusion in a broadcr scnsc. Somc ol you may bc lamil
iar with holography – thc projcction ol a lascr bcam so as to pro
ducc a thrccdimcnsional imagc ol an objcct. Tc imagc docs
not rcally cxist, il wc rcach out lor that objcct – an applc, lct us
say – it is not thcrc. Vhcn thc holographic apparatus is prcscnt,
thc illusion ol thc thrccdimcnsional objcct appcars, but whcn
it is abscnt, thc illusion docs not. Likc a magical illusion and a
holographic imagc, all cxpcricnccs appcar rclativc to thc prcs
cncc ol ccrtain causcs and conditions, and do not appcar whcn
thc right causcs and conditions arc not prcscnt.
Òn thc third stagc, wc arc cncouragcd to contcmplatc all
cxpcricncc as rclativc, as intcrdcpcndcnt. Tis lollows vcry closcly
lrom thc considcration ol all cxpcricncc as similar to a magical
illusion. All cxpcricncc appcars rclativc to causcs and conditions.
Tc sprout cxists rclativc to thc sccd, carth, watcr, sunlight, and
air. Tc ßamc in an oil lamp cxists rclativc to thc wick and thc
oil. !n this way all phcnomcna appcar rclativc to causcs and con
ditions, and all cxpcricncc is intcrdcpcndcnt.
Tc lourth stagc in thc proccss ol progrcssivc rcalization ol
thc ultimatc naturc ol things is contcmplation ol thc incxprcss
ibility ol cxpcricncc. Tc intcrdcpcndcncc ol cxpcricncc mcans
that cxpcricncc is incxprcssiblc in tcrms ol cxistcncc and noncx
:.· :.o
istcncc, idcntity and dißcrcncc, and so lorth. ¡ntitics and thcir
causcs can bc said to bc ncithcr idcntical nor dißcrcnt. For cxam
plc, whcthcr thc sprout and thc sccd arc idcntical or dißcrcnt is
incxprcssiblc: thcy cannot bc dcscribcd in tcrms ol cithcr idcn
tity or dißcrcncc. ¡xpcricncc in gcncral is intrinsically indc
scribablc, likc thc scnsation ol bcing ticklcd or thc lccling that
cnsucs as a conscqucncc ol scxual intcrcoursc. Similarly, all cnti
tics that cxist dcpcndcnt on causcs and conditions arc incxprcss
iblc in tcrms ol absolutc cxistcncc and noncxistcncc. Hcncc this
last stagc involvcs thc contcmplation ol all things as incxprcss
iblc and incßablc.
8y mcans ol this lourstagc proccss ol contcmplating all
cxpcricncc as minddcpcndcnt – likc a drcam, likc a magical illu
sion, intcrdcpcndcnt, and, nnally, incxprcssiblc – wc can arrivc
at somc undcrstanding ol thc Mahayana vicw ol rcality. For thc
Mahayana tradition, rcality is cmpty, luminous, and bcyond
cxistcncc and noncxistcncc, idcntity and dißcrcncc, and all thc
othcr dichotomics ol discriminating thought.
::c ::.
´ahayana Æuddhism in +rauicc
c havc lookcd at thc origins ol thc Mahayana tradition
and at thrcc rcprcscntativc sutras that bclong to thc lor
mativc pcriod ol its canonical litcraturc. Vc havc also lookcd at
thc dcvclopmcnt ol Mahayana cxcgctical thought, at thc doc
trinc ol cmptincss, at thc ccntral importancc ol mind in thc
8uddhist tradition, and, in so doing, at thc philosophics ol thc
Middlc Vay and Mind Ònly schools. Finally, wc havc dis
cusscd thc subscqucnt syncrctic dcvclopmcnt ol Mahayana phi
losophy. Having donc all this, it is important to dcvotc somc
timc to thc practicc ol thc Mahayana path. Tc Mahayana is
not only a highly dcvclopcd and prolound philosophy and psy
chology, it is also an acccssiblc, dynamic vchiclc lor thc achicvc
mcnt ol 8uddhahood. Although rcligious and philosophical
dcvclopmcnts may bc its backbonc, thc Mahayana is also a vcry
attractivc and vibrant path to many pcoplc in dißcrcnt culturcs
throughout Asia and in parts ol thc Vcstcrn world. !t is said that
thc Mahayana path bcgins with thc awakcning ol thc cnlight
cnmcnt thought (bodhichitta). 8ut cvcn bclorc thc awakcning ol
bodhichitta, thcrc arc ccrtain important prcliminarics that nccd
to bc cultivatcd il onc is to cmbark on thc path to 8uddhahood.
As wc cxaminc bricßy thcsc prcliminary practiccs, it will bccomc
clcar that thc Mahayana is not a path dißcrcnt lrom or indcpcn
dcnt ol thc 8uddhist path as a wholc. Rathcr, it is an cnhancc
mcnt ol thc 8uddhist path in gcncral.
Tc nrst ol thc prcliminary practiccs is thc cultivation ol
::c ::.
laith, or conndcncc. Likc a sccd, laith is said to prcccdc all
things. Faith is likc a trcasurc bccausc onc can call on it whcn
in nccd, it is also said to bc likc hands and lcct bccausc it is a
mcans ol gctting what onc wants. Hcncc thc cultivation ol laith
is thc bcginning ol thc Mahayana path. !n this contcxt, wc can
dividc laith into thrcc lcvcls: (.) clcar laith, which consists ol a
clcar apprcciation ol thc qualitics ol thc 8uddha, Ðharma, and
Sangha, (:) aspiring laith, which mcans that, having dcvcl
opcd a clcar apprcciation ol thc qualitics ol thc Triplc Gcm, onc
aspircs to achicvc thcsc qualitics lor oncscll, and (.) conndcnt
laith, which mcans that, oncc clcar laith and aspiring laith havc
bccn nrmly cstablishcd, onc’s laith gradually bccomcs unshak
ablc. Trough thcsc thrcc lcvcls ol laith – lrom apprcciation to
aspiration to conndcnt ccrtainty – onc’s laith is dcvclopcd to a
point whcrc its progrcss and cßccts arc irrcvcrsiblc.
Tc cultivation ol laith is combincd with thc taking ol rcl
ugc. Tc path to cnlightcnmcnt and 8uddhahood is a long
onc, on which thc obstaclcs arc many and our own dcncicn
cics numcrous, so it is ncccssary to havc a support, a stabiliz
ing inßucncc. Tis support is providcd by thc practicc ol taking
rclugc. Trough thc act ol taking rclugc, wc acquirc a guidc, a
path, and a community, all ol which contributc to our progrcss
on thc path.
Tc cultivation ol laith and taking ol rclugc arc lollowcd by
contcmplation ol thc prccious naturc ol thc human lorm, that
is, ol thc rarc circumstanccs ol human birth and opportunity
to practicc thc Ðharma. Nagarjuna said that onc who uscs a
jcwcladorncd goldcn vcsscl lor vomit and spittlc is surcly lool
ish, similarly loolish is onc who uscs thc prccious human lorm
::: ::.
lor thc practicc ol unwholcsomc acts. !l wc considcr thc causcs
ol human birth, thc rarity ol human birth, and thc dimculty ol
sccuring a situation in which wc arc ablc to practicc thc Ðharma,
thcn surcly, having sccurcd all thc opportunc conditions, wc
must practicc thc Ðharma quickly. To motivatc oursclvcs to do
so, and to takc up all thc practiccs that will cvcntually culminatc
in thc attainmcnt ol 8uddhahood, wc contcmplatc thc rarity and
prccious naturc ol thc human lorm and ol conditions conducivc
to practicc ol thc Ðharma.
Tis contcmplation is lollowcd by mcditation on dcath and
impcrmancncc. Tis mcditation is an inccntivc to practicc, it is
also a kcy to undcrstanding thc ultimatc truth. ]ust as thc culti
vation ol laith and thc taking ol rclugc complcmcnt cach othcr,
so contcmplation ol thc prccious naturc ol thc human lorm and
mcditation on dcath and impcrmancncc arc complcmcntary.
Tcsc contcmplations arc lollowcd by carclul considcration
ol thc truth ol thc univcrsality ol sußcring in thc six rcalms,
accompanicd by contcmplation ol thc law ol karma.
Tc prcliminary practiccs arc mcant to translorm onc’s atti
tudcs to such an cxtcnt that onc is rcady to bcgin practicing thc
Mahayana path. Tc rcsult ol thc prcliminary practiccs is two
lold: (.) cnthusiasm lor an clcvatcd and cxaltcd goal, thc goal ol
8uddhahood, and (:) discngagcmcnt lrom, or rcnunciation ol, all
attachmcnt to thc things ol this lilc and to thc cyclc ol samsara
as a wholc. At this point, as Shantidcva said in his !ntroduction
to thc Way of the Bodhisattva (Bodhicharyavatara), onc is rcady
to cxpcl attachmcnt to thc world thc samc way onc would cough
up spittlc.
Tc Mahayana path only bcgins whcn discngagcmcnt lrom
::: ::.
thc world has bccn achicvcd with conviction. Tis is why it is a
mistakc to rcgard thc Mahayana as intrinsically morc worldly
than, say, thc Tcravada path. Vhcn rcnunciation has thus bccn
achicvcd, wc comc to thc bcginning ol thc path pcr sc, which
is thc awakcning ol thc cnlightcnmcnt thought praiscd by all
Mahayana mastcrs. !n a way, as wc shall scc, this awakcning ol
bodhichitta is also thc cnd ol thc Mahayana path.
Tc cnlightcnmcnt thought is awakcncd through cultivation
ol grcat lovc and grcat compassion. Grcat lovc and grcat compas
sion arc thc altruistic wish that all scnticnt bcings bc happy and
lrcc lrom sußcring. Lovc and compassion lollow upon undcr
standing thc cquality ol all scnticnt bcings. Tis awarcncss ol thc
samcncss ol all that livcs is thc grcat univcrsality ol thc Mahayana
tradition and ol 8uddhism as a wholc. ¡ach and cvcry living
bcing is alikc in wanting happincss and lcaring sußcring.
Tis awarcncss ol thc cquality ol all living bcings is not only
thc loundation ol 8uddhist morality, it is also thc loundation ol
grcat lovc and grcat compassion and ol bodhichitta, thc rcsolvc to
attain 8uddhahood lor thc bcncnt ol all living bcings. Vc culti
vatc grcat lovc and grcat compassion by contcmplating thc samc
ncss ol all scnticnt bcings. Vc amplily and cxtcnd this lccling ol
lovc and compassion by considcring thc rclationships that bind
us to all that livcs.
!n this contcxt, wc should rcmcmbcr that at onc timc or
anothcr all scnticnt bcings havc bccn kind mothcrs to us. !l wc
rcmcmbcr thc kindncss ol our own mothcrs, thcn wc must also
rcmcmbcr thc dcbt wc owc thcm. ]ust as it would not bc right
to allow your mothcr to continuc to sußcr, so it is not right that
all scnticnt bcings, who havc at somc timc or anothcr bccn kind
::¡ ::·
mothcrs to you, should continuc to sußcr in samsara. !t is in
this scnsc that thc wish lor all to bc happy and lrcc lrom sul
lcring implics thc wish to attain 8uddhahood – bccausc, dcspitc
our cultivation ol thc wish that all bcings bccomc happy and
lrcc lrom sußcring, wc arc at prcscnt unablc to do anything lor
No onc othcr than a lully cnlightcncd 8uddha can sccurc
thc goal ol ultimatc happincss and lrccdom lrom sußcring lor
all bcings. No mattcr how much wc may try to do so, no mattcr
how much grcat lovc and compassion wc lccl lor living bcings,
unlcss and until wc oursclvcs havc achicvcd suprcmc and pcr
lcct cnlightcnmcnt, wc will not bc ablc to sccurc thc rcal hap
pincss ol living bcings. Rccognition ol thc samcncss ol all liv
ing bcings, rccognition ol thc dcbt wc owc all living bcings who
havc at onc timc or anothcr bccn our kind mothcrs, thc consc
qucnt wish lor all to bc happy and lrcc lrom sußcring, and rcc
ognition ol our prcscnt inability to do anything to achicvc this
goal – all thcsc culminatc in thc awakcning ol thc cnlightcnmcnt
thought, namcly, thc dctcrmination to attain 8uddhahood lor
thc sakc ol all living bcings.
!t is this momcnt ol cnlightcnmcnt consciousncss which
translorms a miscrablc wrctch living in a prison into a son or
daughtcr ol thc 8uddha. Tis bodhichitta, or consciousncss ol
cnlightcnmcnt, is dividcd into two catcgorics: (.) thc rclativc,
or convcntional, cnlightcnmcnt thought, and (:) thc ultimatc
cnlightcnmcnt consciousncss. Tc convcntional cnlightcnmcnt
thought is thc dctcrmination or rcsolvc to attain 8uddhahood
lor thc bcncnt ol all living bcings. !n thc convcntional cnlightcn
mcnt thought, wc still pcrccivc thc dualitics ol subjcct and objcct,
::¡ ::·
samsara and nirvana, ignorancc and cnlightcnmcnt. 8ccausc thc
rcsolvc to attain 8uddhahood is bascd on thcsc dualistic con
ccptions, it is callcd ‘convcntional.’ Tc ultimatc cnlightcnmcnt
consciousncss, which wc can mctaphorically tcrm ‘thc 8uddha
mind,’ is a statc in which dualitics no longcr havc any mcaning.
Lct us look a littlc morc closcly at thc convcntional cnlight
cnmcnt thought and at thc mcans ol translorming it into thc ulti
matc cnlightcnmcnt consciousncss. Tc convcntional cnlightcn
mcnt thought is itscll dividcd into two catcgorics: (a) thc aspir
ing cnlightcnmcnt thought, and (b) thc applicd cnlightcnmcnt
thought. Tc lormcr is thc mcrc wish or aspiration to achicvc
cnlightcnmcnt lor thc sakc ol all scnticnt bcings, and is analo
gous to thc dccision to travcl to a distant country. Tc lattcr is
thc implcmcntation ol thc mcans ol achicving 8uddhahood, and
is analogous to actually making such a journcy.
Spccincally, thc applicd cnlightcnmcnt thought cntails prac
ticc ol thc Six Pcrlcctions ol gcncrosity, morality, paticncc, cncrgy,
mcditation, and wisdom. !t is thc practicc ol thcsc pcrlcctions
that translorms thc mcrc dctcrmination to achicvc cnlightcn
mcnt (or convcntional cnlightcnmcnt thought) into thc 8uddha
mind (or ultimatc cnlightcnmcnt consciousncss).
!t is important to rcmcmbcr thc spccial rolc ol mcditation
and wisdom in thc practicc ol thc pcrlcctions. Mahayana mas
tcrs lrom thc grcat Nagarjuna in !ndia to Hui Ncng in China
havc strcsscd that thcrc is no mcditation without wisdom and
no wisdom without mcditation. Tis mcans that, lor 8uddhists,
a conccntratcd mind without insight is an unproductivc and
inconscqucntial achicvcmcnt. !t is only whcn such a mind is
couplcd with wisdom that mcditation is productivc ol rcal lrcc
::6 ::·
dom. Similarly, without a conccntratcd mind, insight cannot bc
Visdom is thc crown ol thc Six Pcrlcctions. !t is thc pcr
lcction ol wisdom – thc pcnctrativc, dircct undcrstanding ol
cmptincss – that translorms thc practiccs ol gcncrosity, moral
ity, paticncc, cncrgy, and mcditation into pcrlcctions. !t makcs
thcm transccndcntal. Vithout thc pcrlcction ol wisdom, thcrc is
no pcrlcction ol thc othcr nvc practiccs. Tis is why it is said that
thc pcrlcction ol wisdom is likc nring a clay jar, lor lclt unnrcd,
thc ‘ jar’ ol thc othcr nvc pcrlcctions is casily shattcrcd. Similarly,
il a 8odhisattva docs not practicc thc pcrlcction ol wisdom, hc
or shc can bc casily ovcrcomc. !t is also said that thc othcr nvc
pcrlcctions arc likc blind mcn who will ncvcr rcach thcir dcsti
nation on thcir own, but who can do so with thc hclp ol a singlc
sightcd guidc. Similarly, without thc pcrlcction ol wisdom, thc
othcr nvc practiccs cannot lcad to thc goal ol 8uddhahood.
Vhy is thc rolc ol thc pcrlcction ol wisdom uniquc among
thc Six Pcrlcctions: !t is in thc light ol thc pcrlcction ol wisdom
that wc scc thc cmptincss ol thc subjcct, objcct, and action ol
thc othcr nvc pcrlcctions. Tcsc arc thc thrcc ‘purc circlcs’ mcn
tioncd in Mahayana litcraturc: thc purity, or cmptincss, ol thc
subjcct, objcct, and action. !n thc pcrlcction ol gcncrosity, lor
instancc, it is thc pcrlcction ol wisdom that causcs us to undcr
stand thc cmptincss ol thc givcr (thc subjcct ol thc action ol giv
ing), thc cmptincss ol thc rccipicnt (thc objcct ol giving), and thc
cmptincss ol thc gilt.
Similarly, in thc pcrlcctions ol morality, paticncc, cncrgy,
and mcditation, it is through undcrstanding thc pcrlcction ol
wisdom that onc undcrstands thc purity or cmptincss ol thc sub
::6 ::·
jcct, objcct, and action prcscnt in cvcry sphcrc ol action. !n cvcry
practicc, too, it is undcrstanding thc pcrlcction ol wisdom that
cnablcs onc to act pcrlcctly to achicvc thc pcrlcction ol gcncr
osity, thc pcrlcction ol morality, and so lorth. !t is in this con
tcxt that wc nccd to apprcciatc thc uniquc rolc ol thc pcrlcction
ol wisdom.
Vc havc arrivcd at thc attainmcnt ol thc ultimatc cnlightcn
mcnt consciousncss, or thc cnlightcncd mind ol a 8uddha, with
its pcrlcct undcrstanding ol cmptincss. At this point wc might
wondcr whcthcr thc 8uddha mind has any room lclt lor compas
sion, in light ol its undcrstanding thc cmptincss ol thc objcct ol
compassion (living bcings), thc subjcct ol compassion (thc prac
titioncr), and thc activity ol compassion. Tc answcr is that, at
this point, thc 8uddha mind undcrgocs a spontancous or volun
tary association with sußcring.
Lct us look at an cxamplc that illustratcs thc compatibility ol
wisdom and compassion on thc stagc ol cnlightcnmcnt. Supposc
you drcam that you arc trappcd in a burning housc. Naturally,
you arc distrcsscd. Supposc, thcn, that you cvcntually awakc and
rcalizc that thc sußcring you cxpcricnccd in thc drcam was not
rcal. Supposc, too, that on thc lollowing night you obscrvc your
roommatc or partncr thrashing about in bcd, muttcring ‘Firc!
Firc!’ or somcthing similar. You know, in your awakcncd statc,
that your lricnd’s lcar and anxicty arc groundlcss, and yct, to thc
pcrson cxpcricncing it in a drcam, thc sußcring is rcal cnough.
Notwithstanding your knowlcdgc ol thc cmptincss ol that sul
lcring, your wisdom is automatically accompanicd by compas
sion, by thc wish to rclicvc thc sußcring ol your lricnd.
!t is this rcintcgration with thc world ol illusion, this volun
::· ::o
tary rcassociation with nctitious sußcring, that nnds its cxprcs
sion in what arc callcd ‘thc lour sccondary pcrlcctions ol thc
cnlightcncd oncs’ – namcly, skilllul mcans, rcsolution, powcr,
and knowlcdgc: (.) thc pcrlcction ol skilllul mcans cnablcs thc
8uddhas and 8odhisattvas to implcmcnt countlcss dcviccs lor
thc libcration ol living bcings, (:) thc pcrlcction ol rcsolution
cnablcs thcm to shapc thc particular lorms ol thc activitics thcy
cmploy, (.) thc pcrlcction ol powcr cnablcs thc cnlightcncd oncs
to work spontancously and cßcctivcly lor thc bcncnt ol othcrs,
and (¡) thc pcrlcction ol knowlcdgc providcs thcm with all that
knowlcdgc ol thc conditions and attitudcs ol scnticnt bcings
which is ncccssary to cßcct thcir libcration.
Tc lour sccondary pcrlcctions may also bc tcrmcd sotcrio
logical or altruistic pcrlcctions. Tcy arc thc automatic and spon
tancous lulnllmcnt ol thc cnlightcncd oncs’ intcnt to lrcc all liv
ing bcings. All thcsc activitics ol thc cnlightcnmcnt conscious
ncss cxprcssing itscll in skilllul mcans, rcsolution, powcr, and
knowlcdgc arc a spontancous rcßcction ol thc cnlightcncd statc.
!t is said that, just as a wind chimc spontancously and appropri
atcly givcs lorth thc right sound in rcsponsc to thc currcnts ol
air that blow against it, so thc cnlightcncd oncs rcspond spon
tancously and appropriatcly to cach and cvcry currcnt ol karmic
cncrgy cmanating lrom scnticnt bcings with a kind ol automatic,
cßortlcss activity aimcd at thc libcration ol all.
Tc statc ol 8uddhahood is thc culmination ol thc practicc
ol thc six basic pcrlcctions. Tc practicc ol thc Six Pcrlcctions
rcsults in thc accomplishmcnt ol thc two accumulations ol mcrit
and ol knowlcdgc. Tc pcrlcctions ol gcncrosity, morality, and
paticncc rcsult in thc accumulation ol mcrit, whilc thosc ol mcdi
::· ::o
tation and wisdom rcsult in thc accumulation ol knowlcdgc, thc
pcrlcction ol cncrgy is ncccssary in both cascs. Tcsc two accu
mulations rcsult in thc twolold bcing ol 8uddhahood – (a) thc
lorm dimcnsion (rupakaya), and (b) thc truth or transccndcntal
dimcnsion (dharmakaya).
Tc accumulation ol mcrit through thc practicc ol thc pcr
lcctions ol gcncrosity, morality, and paticncc is manilcstcd in thc
lorm dimcnsion. Tc accumulation ol knowlcdgc through thc
practicc ol thc pcrlcctions ol mcditation and wisdom is mani
lcstcd in thc truth dimcnsion. Vc can thcrclorc scc, in thc prac
ticc ol thc Six Pcrlcctions, thc causcs or sccds ol thc bcing ol a
8uddha. !n thc practicc ol thc six basic pcrlcctions, wc can scc
thc sccds ol thc 8uddhas’ twodimcnsional bcing as lorm and
truth. !n thc practicc ol thc lour sccondary pcrlcctions, wc can
scc thc sccds ol thc 8uddhas’ activitics dircctcd toward thc lib
cration ol all scnticnt bcings.
Tis twolold division ol 8uddhahood in tcrms ol thc lorm
and truth dimcnsions is congrucnt with thc classincation ol
thc thrcc bodics (or dimcnsions) ol 8uddhahood: thc tcrrcs
trial, cclcstial, and transccndcntal. Tc lorm dimcnsion can bc
dividcd into (i) thc tcrrcstrial body, and (ii) thc cclcstial body, but
thc truth or transccndcntal dimcnsion has no division at all sincc
it is inconccivablc, incxprcssiblc, and bcyond namc and lorm
ol any kind. Tc lorm dimcnsion, howcvcr, takcs innumcrablc
namcs and lorms. Vc can call thc tcrrcstrial body (or dimcnsion)
thc carthly manilcstation ol 8uddhahood bccausc it is acccssiblc
to all ol us all thc timc, rcgardlcss ol our statc ol spiritual dcvcl
opmcnt. !n contrast, thc cclcstial or cxaltcd dimcnsion is mani
lcstcd only to thc spiritually advanccd.
Tcsc thrcc bodics or dimcnsions ol 8uddhahood opcr
atc togcthcr to cßcct thc libcration ol scnticnt bcings accord
ing to thcir naturcs and capacitics. Tc tcrrcstrial dimcnsion
manilcsts cspccially in thc appcarancc ol thc historical 8uddha
Shakyamuni, and also in thc appcarancc ol cnlightcncd liv
ing bcings (spiritual lricnds) and inanimatc things. Tc cclcs
tial dimcnsion manilcsts itscll in thc appcarancc ol thc hcav
cnly 8uddhas, likc Amitabha and Akshobhya, and in thc cxaltcd
8odhisattvas, likc Avalokitcshvara and Manjushri.
Tis thrccdimcnsional naturc ol 8uddhahood rcßccts thc
unity ol samsara and nirvana, ol cnlightcnmcnt and ignorancc,
ol a purc vision ol thc univcrsc and an impurc vision ol it. !t also
rcßccts thc complctc and total lrccdom ol a 8uddha. !t rcßccts
his or hcr lrccdom lrom thc cyclc ol birth and dcath, and lrcc
dom to cxcrcisc his or hcr cnlightcning inßucncc in countlcss,
inconccivablc ways lor thc libcration ol all scnticnt bcings. Tis
is thc grcatncss ol thc Mahayana conccption ol 8uddhahood,
thc grcatncss ol thc goal ol thc Mahayana path.
art Thrcc
Te 7ajrayana
:.: :..
Tc Origins of thc îajrayana Tradition
ct us bcgin by looking at thc \ajrayana tradition bricßy
in thc contcxt ol thc Mahayana. Tc Mahayana tradi
tion is dividcd into two paths, thc practicc ol thc pcrlcctions
(Paramitayana) and thc practicc ol thc \ajrayana (Mantrayana).
Tc \ajrayana is a part ol thc Mahayana tradition. Tcrc is no
distinction bctwccn thc two in tcrms ol thcir starting point
(thc cxpcricncc ol sußcring) and thcir goal (8uddhahood). Tc
only dißcrcncc is in mcthodology: whcrcas accomplishmcnt ol
thc path ol thc pcrlcctions rcquircs thrcc cons, thc mcthods ol
thc \ajrayana cnablc onc to accclcratc dcvclopmcnt and thcrcby
progrcss morc rapidly along thc path.
Tcrc arc thrcc namcs by which thc \ajrayana tradition is
bcst known: \ajrayana, Mantrayana, and Tantrayana. \ajrayana
is thc way ol thc adamant, or diamond. \ajra mcans diamond,
thc substancc morc durablc than any othcr. Tc vajra is also
thc thundcrbolt or sccptcr wicldcd by !ndra, thc king ol thc
8rahmanical gods. Tc vajra is thcrclorc a symbol ol indcstruc
tibility and also ol mastcry ovcr thc univcrsc.
A mantra is a short lormula that gcncrally has thrcc pur
poscs. First, it is uscd as an aid to conccntration. ]ust as onc can
usc onc’s brcath, an imagc ol thc 8uddha, a bluc ßowcr, or an
idca as an objcct on which to conccntratc onc’s mind, so onc
can usc thc sound ol a mantra. Sccond, it is an aid to mcmory.
Vhcn onc rccitcs thc mantra, Om mani padme hum, lor cxam
plc, onc rcmcmbcrs not only thc 8odhisattva Avalokitcshvara
:.: :..
but also skilllul mcans and wisdom, and thc ncccssity ol uniting
thcm. Tird, a mantra has thc powcr to cnhancc onc’s spiritual
dcvclopmcnt, in that thc rcpcatcd usc ol mantras by mcditation
mastcrs ovcr many ccnturics has chargcd thcsc mantras with a
particular potcncy. Tc word mantra is composcd ol two parts:
man comcs lrom thc tcrm manas, which mcans ‘mind,’ and tra
lrom tranam, ‘to protcct.’ Mantra thcrclorc mcans ‘somcthing
that protccts thc mind.’ !n gcncral, it also mcans thc csotcric or
sccrct vchiclc.
Tantra mcans thc cxtcnsion or continuity ol knowlcdgc.
Litcrally, tantra is dcrivcd lrom thc continuity ol a thrcad
in a labric, by implication, it mcans lollowing thc thrcad ol
knowlcdgc continuously and thus cxtcnding it to cncompass
all knowlcdgc.
A distinction can bc drawn bctwccn thc litcraturc ol thc
\ajrayana and thc litcraturc ol thc Mahayana propcr. ]ust as
thc Mahayana tradition is composcd ol thc Paramitayana and
\ajrayana, so Mahayana litcraturc is composcd ol thc sutras
and tantras. 8oth thc sutras and tantras arc bclicvcd to havc
bccn spokcn by thc 8uddha, and thcy lorm thc canonical litcr
aturc ol thc Mahayana and \ajrayana, rcspcctivcly. Tcrc arc a
largc numbcr ol tantras, somc ol thc morc important oncs arc
thc Guhyasamaja Tantra (e Collection of the Hidden or Secret
Meaning), thc Hevajra Tantra (e Tantra of Adamantine Bliss),
and thc Kalachakra Tantra (e Tantra of the Wheel of Time). !n
addition to thc tantras, thc \ajrayana tradition rccognizcs a largc
amount ol commcntarial litcraturc attributcd to Nagarjuna and
Chandrakirti, and also to thc cightylour mcn ol grcat attain
mcnt, or Mahasiddhas.
:.¡ :.·
Lct us spcnd a momcnt on thc origins ol thc tantras, sincc it
is oltcn askcd whcthcr thcy wcrc indccd taught by thc 8uddha.
From thc vcry bcginning ol thc 8uddhist tradition, it was com
mon lor thc 8uddha to givc tcachings in all kinds ol unusual cir
cumstanccs. Somctimcs hc taught in rcsponsc to thc rcqucst ol a
god or anothcr suprahuman bcing, and cvcn thc Abhidharma is
bclicvcd to havc bccn taught by thc 8uddha to his mothcr altcr
hcr dcath, whcn shc was rcsiding in thc Hcavcn ol thc Tirty
Trcc. !n thc Mahayana tradition, it is gcncrally acccptcd that
Mahayana mastcrs can rcccivc instruction through cxtraordi
nary mcans. For cxamplc, thc lundamcntal tcxts ol thc Mind
Ònly school arc said to havc bccn taught to Asanga by thc luturc
8uddha Maitrcya (scc Chaptcr .o).
Tc tantras arc said to havc bccn transmittcd in a similar
way. Tc tantras arc not unrcasonablc il wc cxaminc thcm carc
lully. Tcy do not contradict thc mcaning ol othcr 8uddhist
scripturcs, as will bccomc apparcnt in thc chaptcrs that lollow. !l
thc 8uddha did not tcach thc tantras at oncc to cvcryonc, surcly
it was bccausc not cvcryonc is ablc to apprcciatc thcir truc sig
nincancc. !n thc light ol thcsc considcrations, thcrc is no rcason
ablc doubt that thc \ajrayana litcraturc is authcntic.
Tc \ajrayana arosc as a rcsult ol thc cvolution ol thrcc cur
rcnts ol thought – currcnts that wcrc alrcady prcscnt cvcn in
thc 8uddha’s own day. Tcsc wcrc (.) thc dcmocratic currcnt,
(:) thc magical or ritual currcnt, and (.) thc symbolic currcnt.
Tc dcmocratic currcnt sought to avail lay pcoplc ol thc highcst
lruits ol rcligious lilc, such as cnlightcnmcnt. An cxamplc ol thc
dcmocratic currcnt at work in thc carly pcriod ol thc 8uddhist
tradition is thc attainmcnt ol Arhatship by thc 8uddha’s lathcr,
:.¡ :.·
Shuddhodana whilc still a layman. !n thc Mahayana tradition,
this currcnt was accclcratcd and amplincd, so that thc ngurc ol
thc houscholdcr 8odhisattva bccamc thc norm.
¡xamplcs ol thc magical or ritual currcnt occur in accounts
in thc Pali canon. Vc nnd thc 8uddha pronouncing lormulas ol
protcction against snakcbitc and thc pcrils ol childbirth. Tcrc is
also an account ol thc 8uddha’s convcrsion ol a quccn, Kshcma,
in which thc 8uddha crcatcs thc vision ol a lovcly maidcn who,
as Kshcma watchcs, bccomcs old and dccrcpit in a mattcr ol
momcnts. !n this casc thc 8uddha uscd cxtraordinary powcrs
to crcatc an apparition that would tcach thc truth ol impcr
mancncc. Tis happcns with grcat lrcqucncy in Mahayana lit
craturc, whcrc wc nnd thc 8uddha assuming various lorms in
ordcr to tcach. !n thc Mahayana, too, thcrc is an incrcasing usc
ol dharanis (vcrbal lormulas that arc prccursors ol mantras), as
wcll as thc continuation ol various rituals ol thc carly 8uddhist
pcriod, particularly ordination rituals likc thc rcmoval ol thc
hair and donning ol ycllow robcs.
Tc usc ol symbols was also prcscnt in thc 8uddhist tradi
tion lrom thc carlicst pcriod. For cxamplc, thc symbol ol thc
whccl was uscd to indicatc thc Ðharma, and thc symbol ol thc
lutc was uscd to cxplain thc Middlc Vay. !n thc Mahayana, this
usc ol symbols continucd to play an important rolc. !n thcsc
thrcc currcnts ol thought and action – thc dcmocratic, magic or
ritual, and symbolic – wc havc thc main strcams that contributcd
to thc growth ol thc \ajrayana tradition.
Tc phcnomcnon that wc now idcntily as thc \ajrayana tra
dition originatcd in !ndia bctwccn thc third and scvcnth ccn
tury c.v. 8y thc scvcnth ccntury, thc \ajrayana was ßourishing
:.6 :.·
throughout !ndia. Nagarjuna and Asanga playcd a major rolc
in its growth at thc outsct, latcr, thc \ajrayana tradition was
grcatly inßucnccd by thc cightylour Mahasiddhas. You may bc
surpriscd to nnd thc namcs ol Nagarjuna and Asanga occurring
in this contcxt, but thc \ajrayana tradition is unanimous in call
ing thcm its loundcrs. Vc will undcrstand why this is truc lrom
thc conccptual point ol vicw whcn wc cxaminc thc philosoph
ical and rcligious background ol thc \ajrayana in Chaptcr :..
For now, lct us look at thc traditional biographics ol Nagarjuna
and Asanga, which will hclp us undcrstand thc cnvironmcnt in
which thc \ajrayana originatcd and dcvclopcd.
According to thc traditional Tibctan biographics ol Nagar
juna, it was prcdictcd that hc would not survivc bcyond thc agc ol
scvcn. Tc biographics tcll us that, whcn thc boy’s scvcnth birth
day drcw ncar, his parcnts, unwilling to watch him dic, scnt him
away with companions and provisions on an cxtcndcd journcy.
Tc accounts say that Nagarjuna procccdcd north and cvcntually
rcachcd Nalanda Univcrsity. Tcrc Nagarjuna mct an adcpt pro
lcssor by thc namc ol Saraha. Vhcn Saraha hcard ol Nagarjuna’s
prcdictcd carly dcmisc, hc counsclcd him to rccitc thc mantra ol
Aparamitayus, thc 8uddha ol Limitlcss Lilc. Altcr rcciting thc
mantra throughout thc night ol his scvcnth birthday, Nagarjuna
cscapcd thc dcath that had bccn prcdictcd lor him.
Vhcthcr or not wc want to crcdit this account as history, wc
can lcarn somcthing rathcr important about thc climatc in which
it was acccptcd as biography – namcly, that it was onc in which
mantras wcrc bclicvcd to havc thc powcr to inßucncc rcality.
!n thc biographics ol Nagarjuna wc also lcarn that, dur
ing a laminc, hc sustaincd his collcagucs in thc monastcry by
:.6 :.·
translorming ordinary, basc objccts into gold. Hcrc wc havc an
cxamplc ol thc symbolism ol alchcmy. Tis symbolism bccamc
important in thc \ajrayana tradition bccausc just as thc alchc
mist translorms basc objccts into gold, so thc \ajrayana adcpt
translorms thc impurc and dcnlcd cxpcricncc ol ordinary human
bcings into thc cxpcricncc ol cnlightcnmcnt.
!l wc look at thc biographics ol Asanga, wc nnd vcry rcvcal
ing storics thcrc as wcll. According to thcsc tcxts, Asanga rctircd
to a cavc to mcditatc on thc luturc 8uddha Maitrcya, practicing
lor thrcc ycars without succcss. Ðiscouragcd, hc lclt thc cavc at
thc cnd ol thc third ycar and almost immcdiatcly camc upon a
man rubbing a piccc ol iron with a lcathcr. Vhcn Asanga askcd
him what hc was doing, thc man said hc was making a nccdlc.
Asanga thought that il pcoplc had such paticncc cvcn in worldly
tasks, pcrhaps hc had bccn too hasty in abandoning his practicc,
so hc rcturncd to thc cavc and continucd with his mcditation.
Asanga mcditatcd lor twclvc ycars in all without having any
dircct cxpcricncc ol Maitrcya. At thc cnd ol thc twcllth ycar, hc
oncc again lclt thc cavc. Tis timc hc camc upon a dog lying ill
by thc sidc ol thc path, his body covcrcd with lcstcring wounds
in which maggots wcrc lccding. Having mcditatcd on Maitrcya
lor twclvc ycars and thcrcby having dcvclopcd grcat compassion,
Asanga immcdiatcly wishcd to casc thc sußcring ol thc dog. Hc
thought ol rcmoving thc maggots but rcßcctcd that il hc wcrc
to usc his nngcrs, hc would injurc thcm. !n ordcr not to injurc
thc maggots and yct rclicvc thc dog, hc bcnt down to rcmovc thc
maggots with his tonguc. Tc momcnt hc did so, thc dog disap
pcarcd into a burst ol rainbowcolorcd light and thc 8odhisattva
Maitrcya appcarcd bclorc him.
:.· :.o
Asanga askcd, ‘Vhcrc havc you bccn all thcsc ycars:’ to
which Maitrcya rcplicd, ‘! havc bccn with you all along – it is
just that you wcrc not ablc to scc mc. Ònly whcn you had dcvcl
opcd your compassion and purincd your mind sumcicntly wcrc
you ablc to scc mc.’ To dcmonstratc thc truth ol this, hc askcd
Asanga to takc him on his shouldcrs and walk through thc vil
lagc. Nobody saw anything on Asanga’s shouldcrs cxccpt lor onc
old woman, who askcd him, ‘Vhat arc you doing carrying that
sick dog:’
Tus, in thc biographics ol Asanga, wc nnd anothcr
important truth: that whatcvcr wc cxpcricncc – thc wholc ol
rcality – dcpcnds on thc condition ol our minds.
!n thc biographics ol thcsc two lounding lathcrs, wc can scc
various clcmcnts that arc important to thc \ajrayana tradition: thc
magical or ritual clcmcnt, thc alchcmical clcmcnt, and thc clc
mcnt ol thc apparitional, or minddcpcndcnt, naturc ol rcality.
Vhilc Nagarjuna and Asanga arc crcditcd with bcing thc
lounding lathcrs ol \ajrayana, thc cightylour mcn ol grcat
attainmcnt, or Mahasiddhas, undoubtcdly pcrlormcd thc work ol
disscminating thc \ajrayana throughout !ndia. Tcsc mcn wcrc
cxamplcs ol a ncw kind ol rcligious pcrsonality. Not ncccssarily
monks ol orthodox 8uddhism or pricsts ol thc old 8rahmanism,
thcsc ngurcs who playcd principal rolcs in thc sprcad ol \ajryana
wcrc laymcn, nakcd ascctics, boatmcn, pottcrs, and kings. !l wc
look at thc accounts ol thcsc ncw hcrocs’ livcs and timcs, wc will
apprcciatc thc spiritual climatc that cxistcd in !ndia during thc
risc ol thc \ajrayana tradition. Lct us look at thc biographics ol
two ol thcsc Mahasiddhas, \irupa and Naropa.
\irupa is rcsponsiblc lor thc origin and transmission ol many
:.· :.o
important \ajrayana tcachings. Hc was a prolcssor at Nalanda
Univcrsity, whcrc hc taught philosophy all day and practiccd
\ajrayana all night. Hc practiccd lor ycars and rccitcd thousands
ol mantras without succcss. Finally, hc got lcd up and thrcw his
rosary into a latrinc. Tc ncxt night, whilc \irupa was slccping,
a vision ol Nairatmya, a goddcss ol insubstantiality, appcarcd
bclorc him and told him that hc had bccn rcciting thc mantra ol
thc wrong dcity. Tc ncxt day \irupa rctricvcd his rosary lrom
thc latrinc and wcnt back to thc \ajrayana, rcciting and practic
ing thc mcditation on thc Goddcss Nairatmya. Hc achicvcd suc
ccss in his practicc and lclt his prolcssorial post, wandcring as a
nakcd yogi throughout !ndia.
Trcc important things arc said ol \irupa: hc is said to havc
stoppcd thc ßow ol thc Gangcs Rivcr so that hc might cross it,
to havc drunk winc lor thrcc days nonstop in a winc shop, and
to havc hcld thc sun immobilc in thc sky all thc whilc. Vhat
do thcsc lcats mcan: Stopping thc ßow ol thc Gangcs mcans
stopping thc rivcr ol thc amictions, brcaking thc cyclc ol birth
and dcath. Ðrinking winc lor thrcc days mcans cnjoying thc
suprcmc bliss ol cmancipation. Holding thc sun immobilc in
thc sky mcans holding thc light ol thc mind in thc sky ol omni
!n thc biographics ol \irupa, wc havc an indication ol thc
prcmium that thc \ajrayana placcs on cxpcricntial or dircct
knowlcdgc. \irupa was a prolcssor at Nalanda Univcrsity, but
that was not cnough. !n addition to thc knowlcdgc hc acquircd
through study, hc had to acquirc dircct, immcdiatc knowlcdgc
in ordcr to rcalizc thc truth lor himscll.
Tc samc thcmc is cvidcnt in thc biography ol Naropa, who
:¡c :¡.
was also a prolcssor at Nalanda. Ònc day, whilc hc was sitting
in his ccll surroundcd by his books, an old woman appcarcd and
askcd him whcthcr hc undcrstood thc lcttcr ol thc tcaching con
taincd in all his books. Naropa rcplicd that hc did. Tc woman
was vcry plcascd and thcn askcd whcthcr hc undcrstood thc
spirit ol thc tcaching as wcll. Naropa thought that sincc shc had
bccn so plcascd with his carlicr answcr, hc would rcply that hc
also undcrstood thc spirit ol thc tcaching containcd in thc books.
8ut thc old woman thcn bccamc angry, and said that although
thc nrst timc hc had told thc truth, thc sccond timc hc had licd.
Tc old woman was \ajravarahi, anothcr goddcss ol insubstanti
ality. As a conscqucncc ol thc disclosurc that hc did not undcr
stand thc spirit ol what hc had rcad, Naropa, too, lclt his prolcs
sorial post and wcnt lorth as a scckcr ol thc truth.
Lct us concludc by looking at a lcw idcas lrom vcrscs that
arc attributcd to thc Mahasiddhas. !n thcsc vcrscs wc scc thc ncw
typc ol rcligious pcrsonality that thcy cxcmplincd. Vc also scc
thc usc ol various symbols to convcy thc importancc ol thc tran
sccndcncc ol duality.
Tc nrst vcrsc is as lollows:
Dombi, (the name of an outcast woman) your hut lies outside
the village. You are touched by the bald-headed and by the caste-
conscious Brahmin. I am a naked Kapalika, an ascetic who
wears a garland of skulls. I have no prejudices. I will take you
for my maid.
Hcrc ‘Ðombi’ is a symbol ol Nairatmya, a goddcss ol insubstan
tiality. ‘Your hut lics outsidc thc villagc’ mcans that, in ordcr to
:¡c :¡.
rcally undcrstand cmptincss, onc has to transccnd convcntional
limitations. Tc rcst ol thc vcrsc mcans that, although cmptincss
may bc touchcd by monks and 8rahmins, only thc yogi – thc ncw
typc ol rcligious ngurc who has no prcjudiccs – can makc cmp
tincss his maid, that is, idcntily with cmptincss.
A sccond cxamplc runs:
e wine woman brews her wine. e wine drinker sees the sign
on the tenth door of the wine shop, and enters.
Hcrc ‘thc winc woman’ is a symbol ol Nairatmya. ‘Vinc’ is thc
winc ol nonduality, ol going bcyond this and that. ‘Tc sign on
thc tcnth door’ mcans thc tcnth stagc ol thc 8odhisattva path,
thc thrcshold ol 8uddhahood. Tus thc vcrsc mcans that thc
winc drinkcr cntcrs thc door ol 8uddhahood through abiding
in nonduality.
Vith thc incrcasing popularity ol magic, ritual, and sym
bolism, and thc gathcring strcngth ol thc dcmocratic currcnts
that promiscd thc highcst lruits ol rcligion to all typcs ol pcr
sons, thc \ajrayana bccamc cxcccdingly widcsprcad throughout
!ndia within thc spacc ol a lcw ccnturics.
:¡: :¡.
+hilosophical and (cligious Toundations
t is important to cxaminc thc philosophical and rcligious
loundations ol thc \ajrayana so as to bcttcr undcrstand how
it nts into thc 8uddhist tradition as a wholc. As wc look at thc
\ajrayana tradition in morc dctail, wc will nnd that it incorpo
ratcs a numbcr ol important Mahayana idcas. Trcc rcligious
and philosophical idcas that arc prcvalcnt in thc Mahayana
play a vital rolc in thc \ajrayana as wcll. Tcsc arc thc idcas
ol (.) cmptincss, (:) Mind Ònly, and (.) cxpcdicnt or skilllul
!n Chaptcr ::, ! had occasion to rclcr to thc lact that thc
Tibctan tradition rcgards Nagarjuna and Asanga as thc lound
crs ol thc \ajrayana path. !n addition to thc \ajrayana clcmcnts
containcd in thcir biographics, as discusscd in Chaptcr ::, thcrc
is an cqually signincant way Nagarjuna and Asanga can bc con
sidcrcd \ajrayana’s lounding lathcrs – namcly, bccausc ol thcir
advocacy and cxplanation ol thc idcas ol cmptincss and thc pri
macy ol consciousncss (or Mind Ònly). A numbcr ol \ajrayana
works in thc Tibctan canon arc attributcd to Nagarjuna and
Asanga, though this attribution is disputcd by modcrn schol
ars. Vhcthcr or not Nagarjuna and Asanga actually wrotc spc
cincally \ajrayana works, it is quitc clcar that, without thc idcas
thcy put lorward, thc \ajrayana would bc unintclligiblc, and
vcry likcly impossiblc as wcll.
Lct us look nrst at thc idca ol cmptincss, which is so char
actcristic ol thc writings ol Nagarjuna. !n Chaptcr ::, ! rclcrrcd
:¡: :¡.
to a situation in which Nagarjuna is said to havc translormcd
basc objccts into gold. Tis can bc sccn as a mctaphor lor thc
main projcct with which thc \ajrayana is conccrncd: translorm
ing common cxpcricncc into thc cxpcricncc ol cnlightcnmcnt.
!l wc look at this analogy ol alchcmy, wc scc that, lor translor
mation to bc possiblc, thc basc objcct cannot havc any rcal, pcr
mancnt naturc ol its own. For instancc, il a piccc ol coal wcrc to
havc an unchanging, intrinsic naturc, it could ncvcr bc changcd
into anything clsc. Yct wc know that a piccc ol coal can, undcr
ccrtain conditions, bccomc a diamond.
Tc idca ol an unchanging, indcpcndcnt charactcr is cx
prcsscd in Sanskrit by thc tcrm svabhava, which mcans ‘own
bcing’ or ‘scllcxistcncc.’ Tc abscncc ol ownbcing is nihsva-
bhava, which is synonymous with cmptincss. ¡mptincss is, ol
coursc, not nothingncss. !t is, rathcr, a kind ol opcnncss, a situ
ation in which phcnomcna cxist dcpcndcnt on causcs and con
Although this idca ol cmptincss is most commonly asso
ciatcd with Nagarjuna and thc Middlc Vay school, likc thc
othcr important doctrincs ol thc Mahayana, it also cxists in thc
Tcravada tradition. For cxamplc, according to thc Tcravada
canon, thc 8uddha likcncd all phcnomcna to thc ßamc ol an oil
lamp, which cxists dcpcndcnt on thc oil and thc wick. Tc ßamc
is nothing in itscll. Similarly, all phcnomcna dcpcnd on causcs
and conditions.
!n thc Mahayana, whcrc this idca is claboratcd at grcat
lcngth, all phcnomcna arc likcncd to a magical illusion. An illu
sory clcphant, lor cxamplc, appcars dcpcndcnt on somc basis,
likc a hill ol carth or a piccc ol wood, and is brought into bcing
:¡¡ :¡·
by a magician using ccrtain magical spclls and so lorth. Tus
illusory appcaranccs comc about dcpcndcnt on ccrtain causcs
and conditions. Similarly, all phcnomcna cxist dcpcndcnt on
ccrtain causcs and conditions. !t is bccausc ol this dcpcndcncc,
this cmptincss, that translormation is possiblc.
Nagarjuna says that il thcrc wcrc any ownbcing, translor
mation by mcans ol thc path ol libcration would bc impossiblc.
!n othcr words, il that lump ol coal wc rclcrrcd to a momcnt ago
had an unchangcablc naturc, it could ncvcr bccomc a diamond.
Similarly, il cach and cvcry onc ol us had an ownbcing or pcr
mancnt cxistcncc as ordinary, amictcd scnticnt bcings – il this
wcrc our idcntity – thcn no mattcr how much wc practiccd thc
Ðharma, wc could ncvcr bccomc cnlightcncd. !t is bccausc wc
arc subjcct to thc amictions (ignorancc, attachmcnt, and avcr
sion) that wc havc thc naturc ol ordinary scnticnt bcings. 8ut
il wc rcplacc ignorancc with wisdom, attachmcnt with lack ol
attachmcnt, and avcrsion with lovc and compassion, wc can
changc thcsc conditions. 8y changing thcsc conditions, wc can
changc thc naturc ol our bcing and bccomc 8uddhas. ¡mptincss
is thcrclorc absolutcly ncccssary to allow lor translormation lrom
thc condition ol samsara to thc libcration ol nirvana.
Lct us look now at thc sccond idca, that ol thc rolc ol thc
mind in cxpcricncc. Hcrc Asanga and his youngcr brothcr
\asubandhu madc two gcncral points: (a) that objccts havc no
stablc or nxcd lorm ol appcarancc, and (b) that objccts appcar
cvcn without an cxtcrnal stimulus.
Likc othcr major tcncts ol thc Mahayana and \ajrayana,
thcsc two points arc not abscnt lrom thc Tcravada tradition.
Tc nrst is cvidcnt in a numbcr ol 8uddhist tcxts. For cxam
:¡¡ :¡·
plc, thc incidcnt involving thc ¡ldcr Tissa is wcll known within
Tcravada circlcs: whcn askcd whcthcr hc had sccn a woman on
thc road, Tissa rcplicd that hc did not know whcthcr it was a
man or a woman, but only that hc had sccn a hcap ol boncs going
up thc road. Tis shows that objccts havc no stablc or nxcd lorm
ol appcarancc, what appcars as an attractivc woman to onc man
appcars as a hcap ol boncs to anothcr.
Tc Mahayana tradition claboratcs on this by rccoursc to
thc cxpcricncc ol a numbcr ol altcrcd statcs ol consciousncss.
For cxamplc, onc lccls thc carth movc, or that onc has cnor
mous powcr, whcn onc has imbibcd too much alcohol. Similarly,
undcr thc inßucncc ol psychcdclic substanccs, onc’s pcrccption
ol objccts is dißcrcnt. !n his Twenty Verses on Cognition Only,
\asubandhu illustratcs this with rclcrcncc to thc cxpcricncc ol
thc bcings ol thc six rcalms (scc also Chaptcr .o). Tcrc, hc spclls
out thc divcrsc ways objccts appcar dcpcnding on thc subjcctivc
conditions ol thc pcrccivcr, concluding that objccts appcar in
dißcrcnt shapcs and lorms to dißcrcnt scnticnt bcings accord
ing to thcir karmic condition.
Tc sccond point, that objccts appcar cvcn without an cxtcr
nal stimulus, is also lound in thc carly Tcravada tradition. For
cxamplc, in 8uddhaghosha’s cxplanation ol thc thrcc stagcs ol
conccntration (prcliminary, proximatc, and accomplishcd), thc
imagc ol mcditation bccomcs intcrnalizcd at thc proximatc stagc.
!l a mcditator uscs, say, a bluc disk at thc nrst stagc, at thc sccond
stagc that disk bccomcs intcrnalizcd and hc now mcditatcs on a
mcntal rcplica ol it. Conscqucntly, whcrcas on thc nrst stagc hc
uscs a physical objcct as his objcct ol mcditation, on thc sccond
stagc ol conccntration hc no longcr nccds that cxtcrnal support.
:¡6 :¡·
Tc objcct now appcars to him without thc nccd ol an cxtcrnal
stimulus. Vc can also scc this in drcams, whcrc thc drcamcr
cxpcricnccs objccts without any cxtcrnal stimuli.
\asubandhu adds to this thc casc ol thc wardcns ol thc hcll
rcalms. !l thcsc wardcns wcrc rcborn in thc hclls bccausc ol thcir
own karma, thcy, too, would cxpcricncc thc sußcrings thcrc.
8ut sincc wardcns arc in thc hclls simply to tormcnt hcll bcings,
\asubandhu suggcsts that thcy arc mcrc crcations ol thc minds
ol thc hcll bcings thcmsclvcs. !n othcr words, bccausc ol thcir
unwholcsomc karma, hcll bcings projcct imagcs ol wardcns who
thcn procccd to tormcnt thcm.
!n all thcsc cascs – thc cxpcricnccs ol mcditation, ol drcam
ing, and ol hcll bcings – objccts appcar without any cxtcrnal
stimulus. Tis is why it is said that, just as a paintcr might paint
a portrait ol thc dcmon and thcn bc tcrrincd by it, so uncnlight
cncd bcings paint a picturc ol thc six rcalms ol samsara and thcn
arc tormcntcd and tcrrincd by that picturc. Trough thc powcr
ol our minds, wc crcatc thc six rcalms ol cxistcncc and thcn cir
clc in thcm cndlcssly. Vc arc ablc to crcatc thcsc six rcalms prc
ciscly bccausc thcrc is no ownbcing.
Tcsc nrst two idcas – thc idca ol cmptincss and thc idca ol
thc rolc ol thc mind in crcating cxpcricncc – go togcthcr. Òbjccts
havc no indcpcndcnt cxistcncc. Tcir cxistcncc is rclativc to
causcs and conditions – most importantly, thc mcntal causcs
and conditions ol ignorancc, attachmcnt, avcrsion, grccd, angcr,
jcalousy, and thc likc. 8ccausc ol thcsc mcntal conditions, and
bccausc ol thc lact that phcnomcna arc cmpty, thc mind con
structs and crcatcs cxpcricncc in a particular lorm, in thc lorm
ol thc sußcring ol thc six rcalms.
:¡6 :¡·
]ust as thc mind can work unconsciously and automatically
to crcatc thc cxpcricncc ol sußcring in thc six rcalms, so thc
mind can bc madc to work dclibcratcly and consciously to bring
about a changc in that cxpcricncc, to bring about thc cxpcricncc
ol libcration. Tis is quitc clcar in thc cxamplc ol thc cxpcricncc
ol mcditation that wc considcrcd a momcnt ago. Òrdinarily, thc
mind lunctions unconsciously and automatically to crcatc cxpc
ricncc. Vc rcspond to an objcct, such as thc lorm ol a woman,
bccausc ol our habitual conditioning, bccausc wc arc subjcct to
dcsirc and ignorancc. !n mcditation wc train thc mind to lunc
tion in a choscn, dccisivc way to changc our cxpcricncc. Trough
thc cxpcricncc ol mcditation, wc can changc our pcrccption ol
thc objcct in thc samc way thc ¡ldcr Tissa changcd his pcrccp
tion so that hc was ablc to scc thc lorm ol a woman as only a
hcap ol boncs.
Again, wc ordinarily pcrccivc dißcrcnt colors automati
cally, in an undircctcd and unspccincd way. Trough mcdita
tion, wc can altcr that situation so that wc can, at will, visualizc
and crcatc a particular patch ol color within our mcntal cxpc
ricncc. Tc idca ol cmptincss and thc idca ol thc crcativc powcr
ol thc mind arc clcarly prcscnt in thc structurc ol thc \ajrayana
tcchniqucs ol mcditation, which wc will bc looking at in grcatcr
dctail in Chaptcr :o. ¡mptincss and thc crcativc powcr ol thc
mind togcthcr givc us thc ability and thc mcthodology nccdcd
to translorm our cxpcricncc. Vc can translorm our cxpcricncc
bccausc nothing has any naturc ol its own, and thc way wc trans
lorm it is through using thc powcr ol our minds to crcatc and
dctcrminc thc way wc cxpcricncc objccts.
As mcntioncd in Chaptcr ::, thc \ajrayana is onc with thc
:¡· :¡o
Mahayana both in its starting point and in its goal. Tc lun
damcntal idca in thc Mahayana tradition is thc cnlightcnmcnt
thought or mind (bodhichitta, thc rcsolvc to achicvc cnlightcn
mcnt lor thc sakc ol all scnticnt bcings), and thc lruit ol this
rcsolvc is thc attainmcnt ol 8uddhahood, with its transccndcn
tal dimcnsion and its phcnomcnal dimcnsion. Tc phcnomcnal
dimcnsion is an cxprcssion ol thc 8uddha’s grcat compassion,
which manilcsts itscll in skilllul mcans – thc third idca prcvalcnt
in thc Mahayana and crucial to thc \ajrayana as wcll.
Skilllul mcans is thc ability to rcach all scnticnt bcings at
thcir own lcvcls. !n many Mahayana sutras, this is cxplaincd
with thc hclp ol analogics, such as thc parablc ol thc thrcc carts
and that ol rainlall and thc light ol thc sun and moon in thc
Lotus Sutra (scc Chaptcr .·) Tc phcnomcnal dimcnsion ol thc
8uddha appcars to all scnticnt bcings according to thcir partic
ular nccds and abilitics. !t manilcsts itscll in a varicty ol lorms,
such as that ol thc bcautilul maidcn whom thc 8uddha causcd
to appcar lor thc sakc ol Kshcma (scc Chaptcr ::). !n many
Mahayana discourscs and trcatiscs, thc 8uddha manilcsts him
scll in thc lorm ol ordinary pcoplc or gods in ordcr to assist scn
ticnt bcings along thc path to libcration.
!t is in this way, too, that thc 8uddha manilcsts himscll in
thc spccial lorms ol thc dcitics ol thc \ajrayana panthcon accord
ing to thc nccds and propcnsitics ol scnticnt bcings. For cxam
plc, in thc casc ol thc nvc cclcstial 8uddhas, thc 8uddha mani
lcsts himscll in nvc spccial lorms that corrcspond to thc partic
ular karmic propcnsitics ol scnticnt bcings. Tus hc manilcsts as
thc 8uddha \airochana cspccially lor scnticnt bcings whosc pri
mary amiction is ignorancc, whilc it is Akshobhya who appcars
:¡· :¡o
to thosc whosc primary amiction is illwill and Amitabha to
thosc whosc primary amiction is attachmcnt. Tc 8uddha man
ilcsts himscll in thcsc dißcrcnt lorms to bcst assist dißcrcnt scn
ticnt bcings with particular karmic problcms.
Tcsc manilcstations ol thc 8uddha intcract with scnticnt
bcings to bring about thcir libcration. Tcrc is a kind ol intcr
dcpcndcncc bctwccn thc manilcstations ol thc 8uddha (in thc
lorms ol thc Hcavcnly 8uddhas and ol dcitics ol thc \ajrayana
panthcon) and thc dcvclopmcnt ol scnticnt bcings through thc
practicc ol mcditation. To illustratc this, lct mc rcturn to thc
story ol Asanga and thc luturc 8uddha Maitrcya. Asanga mcd
itatcd lor twclvc ycars bclorc hc was ablc to pcrccivc Maitrcya.
Maitrcya was with him all along, but Asanga had to dcvclop his
vision so that hc was in a position to cxpcricncc Maitrcya dircctly.
!n thc samc way, thc manilcstations ol thc 8uddha arc around us
all thc timc, but to pcrccivc thcm dircctly wc must dcvclop our
minds through mcditation, through thc carclul purincation ol
our bcings. Tis purincation ol thc mind may bc likcncd to thc
proccss ol tuning a tclcvision sct to rcccivc a particular transmis
sion. Tc transmission is thcrc all along, but unlcss and until thc
rcccivcr is tuncd to thc corrcct lrcqucncy to rcccivc it, thc pic
turc cannot bc sccn.
!l wc rcmcmbcr thcsc thrcc principlcs – thc principlc ol cmp
tincss, thc principlc ol thc powcr ol thc mind to dctcrminc thc
naturc ol our cxpcricncc, and thc principlc ol skilllul mcans, wc
will bc ablc to undcrstand how thc \ajrayana path can work. Vc
will also bc ablc to undcrstand thc divcrsity ol thc lorms and
imagcs that thc \ajrayana uscs to cxpcditc thc proccss ol trans
:·c :·.
s notcd in Chaptcr :: and Chaptcr :., thc \ajrayana and
thc Mahayana arc idcntical in thcir vicws ol thc bcgin
ning and cnd ol thc path. Vhcrc thc two dißcr is in mcthodol
ogy. Tc spccial claim ol thc \ajrayana is that it providcs a morc
skilllul and rapid mcans ol gctting lrom that bcginning (thc ini
tial situation ol sußcring) to thc cnd (thc goal ol 8uddhahood).
Tcrclorc a look at its mcthodology is particularly important to
an undcrstanding ol thc \ajrayana.
Lct us bcgin by discussing thc mcchanism ol thc initial situ
ation ol sußcring. Tc lundamcntal causc ol sußcring has tradi
tionally bccn callcd ignorancc. 8ut ignorancc mcans thc dichot
omy or duality bctwccn subjcct and objcct, bctwccn scll and
othcr. Tcrc arc dißcrcnt ways to dcconstruct or dismantlc this
duality which is thc substancc ol ignorancc. !n thc Abhidharma
litcraturc (scc Chaptcr .o), thc cmphasis is on thc dismantling ol
thc scll. 8y taking apart thc scll – onc polc ol thc duality – thc
subjcct is dismantlcd. And ultimatcly, dismantling thc subjcct
implics dismantling thc objcct, too. Tis is why grcat cmphasis
is placcd on thc analytical disscction ol thc scll. Tis has bccn
thc main thrust ol thc Abhidharmic tradition, although not its
cxclusivc contcnts, sincc thc Abhidharma Pitaka also contains
thc important Book of Causal Relations (Patthana), in which thc
objcct as wcll as thc subjcct is dismantlcd.
!n thc Mahayana and \ajrayana traditions, thcrc is a slightly
dißcrcnt approach, in that thcsc traditions bcgin by attacking
:·c :·.
thc objcct in various ways. For instancc, in Chaptcr :. wc discov
crcd that thc objcct is not stablc in its modc ol appcarancc, and
that an objcct can appcar cvcn without any cxtcrnal stimulus.
Tus thc objcct is likc an objcct sccn in a drcam, it is unrcal.
Tc discovcry that thc objcct is unrcal raiscs thc qucstion ol
thc status ol thc scll, or subjcct. !n thc Mahayana and \ajrayana,
thc gcncral proccdurc lor dcconstructing thc subjcctobjcct or
scllandothcr duality lollows thcsc lincs: Vc bcgin by show
ing that thc objcct is drcamlikc and unrcal, and thcn apply our
undcrstanding ol intcrdcpcndcncc to rcvcal that, il thc objcct
is unrcal, thcn thc subjcct which is dcpcndcnt on thc objcct is
also drcamlikc and unrcal. !l thc sccd is unrcal, thc sprout, too,
must bc unrcal. Tis brings us to thc undcrstanding ol thc cmp
tincss ol subjcct and objcct. Tis proccss is rcßcctcd to an cxtcnt
in thc attitudcs ol thc two main Mahayana schools – thc Mind
Ònly school, which locuscs on thc drcamlikc naturc ol cxpcri
cncc, and thc Middlc Vay school, which locuscs on thc idca ol
!n addition to this lundamcntal duality – thc subjcctobjcct or
scllothcr duality – thcrc arc many othcrs that must bc rcmovcd
il wc arc going to achicvc cnlightcnmcnt. Tc othcr major dual
ity which produccs sußcring, and on which thc Mahayana and
thc \ajrayana locus, is thc duality bctwccn samsara and nir
vana. !n gcncral, this is a duality bctwccn what is conditioncd
and what is unconditioncd. Samsara is conditioncd and nirvana
is unconditioncd. Tis is rcßcctcd in thc tcchnical dcscription ol
thc phcnomcna ol samsara as conditioncd phcnomcna and nir
vana as unconditioncd rcality. Samsara is conditioncd bccausc
it is charactcrizcd by origination and dcstruction, by birth and
:·: :·.
dcath, whcrcas nirvana is unconditioncd bccausc it is charactcr
izcd by nonorigination and nondcstruction.
8ut is this duality rcal or is it mcrcly constructcd: Tc posi
tion ol thc Mahayana and \ajrayana is that thc duality bctwccn
samsara and nirvana is unrcal. !t is mcrcly constructcd by, and
hcncc an illusion ol, thc mind. Tis is shown by an analysis ol
thc charactcristics ol samsara – that is, by an analysis ol origina
tion and dcstruction.
Tcrc arc various ways origination and dcstruction arc
cxamincd within thc Mahayana and \ajrayana traditions. Ònc
is lound in Nagarjuna’s cxtcnsivc cxamination ol origination in
his Foundation Stanzas of the Middle Way (Mulamadhyamaka-
karika.). Tcrc hc considcrs thc lour possibilitics ol origination:
(i) lrom scll, (ii) lrom othcr, (iii) lrom both, and (iv) without a
causc (scc Chaptcr .·). 8ut hcrc wc can contcnt oursclvcs with
an analogical cxamination ol origination, in which it is said that
il objccts arc likc objccts sccn in a drcam, thcn thcrc is ncithcr
any rcal origination nor any rcal dcstruction.
!n thc Samadhiraja Sutra, it is mcntioncd that il a young,
virgin woman has a drcam in which shc givcs birth to a child,
and in that samc drcam shc sccs that thc child dics, shc will
(ol coursc) cxpcricncc nrst happincss and thcn sorrow in thc
drcam. 8ut whcn shc awakcs shc will rcalizc that thcrc was no
rcal birth or dcath ol a child. Similarly, all phcnomcna havc no
rcal origination and no rcal dcstruction. !l, in rcality, all things
havc no origination and no dcstruction, thcn thc charactcris
tics ol samsara no longcr hold good as rcal charactcristics. Tc
distinction bctwccn samsara and nirvana collapscs, and wc
arc lclt with thc conclusion that, as Nagarjuna puts it in thc
:·: :·.
Mulamadhyamakakarika, thcrc is not cvcn thc subtlcst dißcrcncc
bctwccn samsara and nirvana. !l thcrc is no origination and no
dcstruction, thcn samsara’s charactcristics arc thc samc as nir
vana’s, sincc nirvana is charactcrizcd by thc abscncc ol origina
tion and dcstruction. Tcrc is, thcrclorc, no dißcrcncc bctwccn
samsara and nirvana.
To summarizc, wc arrivc at thc idcntity ol samsara and nir
vana nrst through a dismantling ol our conccption ol samsara.
Vc dcnnc samsara as conditioncd. Vc say that thc charactcris
tics ol thc conditioncd arc origination and dcstruction, but nnd
that thcrc is no rcal origination and no rcal dcstruction. !l sam
sara docs not havc thcsc charactcristics, thcn its oppositc, nir
vana, has no mcaning. !n this way wc arrivc at thc idcntity ol
samsara and nirvana.
¡vcrything ! havc said thus lar about ignorancc bcing thc
lundamcntal causc ol sußcring, about thc duality ol subjcct and
objcct and ol samsara and nirvana, and about thc cmptincss ol
cach polc ol thcsc dualitics – all this holds truc lor thc Mahayana
as wcll as lor thc \ajrayana tradition. Tcrc is complctc agrcc
mcnt bctwccn thc two up to this point. Tcrc is also complctc
agrccmcnt about thc distinction bctwccn indircct knowlcdgc
and dircct knowlcdgc.
Tc distinction bctwccn undcrstanding thc truth intcllcc
tually and sccing thc truth dircctly is, ol coursc, rccognizcd
throughout thc 8uddhist tradition. For cxamplc, in thc Tcravada
tradition, thcrc is rccognition ol thc dißcrcncc bctwccn undcr
standing thc Four Noblc Truths intcllcctually and sccing thcm
dircctly. !n thc Mahayana and \ajrayana traditions, thc crux ol
thc mattcr is whcthcr our knowlcdgc ol thc idcntity ol samsara
:·¡ :··
and nirvana is intcllcctual or dircct and cxpcricntial.
!l wc lollow thc proccdurcs laid down in thc Pcrlcction ol
Visdom litcraturc – thc argumcnts spcllcd out by Nagarjuna,
Asanga, and \asubandhu – wc arrivc at an intcllcctual, indircct
undcrstanding ol thc nondißcrcntiation ol subjcct and objcct,
samsara and nirvana. !t is with thc quickcr, morc skilllul mcth
ods by which indircct intcllcctual undcrstanding is turncd into
dircct and translorming undcrstanding that \ajrayana mcthod
ology comcs into play.
Tc kcy to an undcrstanding ol \ajrayana mcthodology pcr
sc is an undcrstanding ol thc cmptincss ol all things. All phc
nomcna (dharmas) arc nothing in thcmsclvcs. Tcy arc what thcy
arc insolar as thcy arc conccivcd ol by thc mind. Lct mc rclcr
to two cxamplcs lrom thc Tcravada tradition to illustratc this
point ol thc cmptincss, or ncutrality, ol all phcnomcna. !n thc
Discourse of the Water Snake, Alagaddupama Sutta, thc 8uddha
likcns all phcnomcna to a watcrsnakc and to a ralt. Hc says that
somconc who is skillcd at handling a watcrsnakc can capturc
and handlc it without coming to gricl, but somconc who is not
skillcd will comc to gricl il hc trics to capturc onc. Hc also says
that phcnomcna arc likc a ralt, in that wc do not nccd to hold
onto thcm, just as wc do not nccd to hold onto a ralt oncc wc
havc crosscd a rivcr.
Tc 8uddha’s discoursc cxprcsscs vcry brilliantly and suc
cinctly thc cmptincss and ncutrality ol phcnomcna. All phcnom
cna arc ncithcr this nor that. Tcy arc ncutral, dcpcndcnt on how
wc takc or usc thcm. !t is not in thc naturc ol a watcrsnakc to
causc gricl, rathcr, gricl dcpcnds on thc manncr in which thc
watcrsnakc is caught. Similarly, a knilc is ncithcr truc nor lalsc,
 
but one who grasps it by the blade is surely in error. If we grasp
a knife by its blade, we hurt ourselves, but if we grasp it by the
handle, we are able to use it. If we use a raft to cross a river, we
are using it properly; if we carry the raft on our shoulders after
crossing the river, we are making a mistake. e usefulness or
lack of usefulness of phenomena lies not in phenomena them-
selves but in the way we use them.
is is true not only of objects but also of mental states
like desire and aversion. For example, there is the story of the
Buddha’s instruction to his cousin Nanda, who was persuaded
to join the Order on the day he was to have married. After his
ordination, Nanda began to miss his fancé and regret that he
had entered the Order. e Buddha was aware of Nanda’s state
of mind, so he took him on a trip to the heavens to show him
the lovely, heavenly damsels there. Nanda was so infatuated
by the maidens in the heavens that, when he was asked how
they compared to his fancé, he replied that, beside them, his
fancé looked like the skeleton of a female monkey. e Buddha
advised Nanda that if he wanted to enjoy the heavenly dam-
sels in his next life, the best way to do so was to remain in the
Buddhist Order and practice the Dharma.
Nanda went back to the Order with renewed zeal. When the
other monks found out why Nanda was practicing so diligently,
they teased him. Eventually Nanda realized the hollowness of
his motivation and became an Arhat known as the foremost of
those who are able to control their senses. is is an example of
the neutrality of the mental state of desire. At a particular point
in Nanda’s progress, the Buddha used desire as a motivation to
get Nanda to settle down and practice diligently.
:·6 :··
Tus wc can scc that not only arc objccts likc watcrsnakcs,
ralts, and knivcs ncutral and dcpcndcnt on how wc takc or usc
thcm, but mcntal statcs, also, arc nothing in thcmsclvcs: thcy
dcpcnd on how wc usc thcm, whcthcr lor spiritual progrcss or
spiritual rctardation. Tis is why thc 8uddha said that ‘killing
angcr bcncnts thc killcr.’ Avcrsion is ncithcr good nor bad. !l onc
is avcrsc to unwholcsomc actions, this is conducivc to thc goal ol
libcration, but il onc is avcrsc to wholcsomc actions, this is not
conducivc to good.
To rcitcratc, all phcnomcna arc basically ncutral or cmpty.
How thcy aßcct our progrcss dcpcnds on how wc takc thcm
and what wc do with thcm. Tis is thc insight or attitudc which
has bccn dcvclopcd in thc \ajrayana and which has cnablcd thc
\ajrayana to usc particular mcthods that utilizc all phcnomcna
lor spiritual progrcss. Tis is thc kcy to thc accclcration that
\ajrayana mcthods bring to spiritual progrcss.
To thc cxtcnt that wc usc only part ol our cxpcricncc to makc
progrcss toward thc goal ol libcration, our progrcss is, incvitably,
slowcr. For cxamplc, how much timc do any ol us spcnd in mcdi
tation or in rccitation: Most ol our timc is spcnt instcad on cating,
slccping, or chatting with our lricnds. Vc arc wasting all that
timc, and all that cxpcricncc is not bcing uscd to makc progrcss
toward thc goal ol cnlightcnmcnt. !t is hcrc that thc \ajrayana
makcs usc ol thc idca ol thc basic ncutrality ol all phcnomcna,
lor il all phcnomcna arc cmpty, why not makc usc ol thcm – all
sights, sounds, and mcntal statcs – lor spiritual progrcss:
Tis is why thc \ajrayana is said to rcgard all sights, sounds,
and mcntal statcs as dcitics, mantras, and thc transccndcntal
dimcnsion ol 8uddhahood. ¡vcrything that wc scc, hcar, and
:·6 :··
think is rcally ncutral and cmpty. !l wc takc thcsc sights, sounds,
and thoughts to bc manilcstations ol thc purc vision ol cnlight
cnmcnt, wc can utilizc thcsc clcmcnts ol cxpcricncc to contrib
utc to our progrcss toward cnlightcnmcnt. ! will cxplain this in
grcatcr dctail in thc chaptcrs that lollow, but lct mc givc you
an cxamplc at this point. Tc cup that ! am holding bclongs to
thc aggrcgatc ol lorm, which is a manilcstation ol thc cclcstial
8uddha \airochana. Tc objcct, which bclongs to thc aggrc
gatc ol lorm, is thcrclorc not simply a cup but a dimcnsion ol
thc 8uddha \airochana. Tis is what is mcant whcn it is said
in thc \ajrayana that onc rcgards all sights as thc dcitics, as
thc particular manilcstations ol a purincd rcality. 8y a particu
lar act ol thc mind, wc can similarly rcgard all sounds as man
tras and all mcntal statcs as thc transccndcntal dimcnsion ol
Tis carclul utilization ol sights, sounds, and mcntal statcs is
cspccially cvidcnt in thc lorm ol thc \ajrayana ritual ol mcdita
tion. !n this contcxt thc \ajrayana practicc ol mcditation may bc
likcncd to a ralt – a ralt that is composcd ol sights, sounds, and
mcntal statcs. !n thc \ajrayana ritual, lor cxamplc, thcrc is a visual
componcnt, which is thc visualization ol any onc ol thc dcitics ol
thc panthcon, an auditory componcnt, which is thc rccitation ol
thc mantra, and a mcntal componcnt, which is thc idcntincation
ol thc mcditator with thc objcct ol mcditation and thc cultivation
ol thc undcrstanding ol nonduality and cmptincss.
Tis will bccomc clcarcr in latcr chaptcrs. For thc timc bcing,
! would likc to concludc by obscrving that thc ritual ol \ajrayana
mcditation practicc cmploys thcsc thrcc componcnts – visual,
auditory, and mcntal – in ordcr to crcatc a ‘ralt ol ritual’ that uti
:·· :·o
lizcs a varicty ol phcnomcna, and that this providcs a particu
larly cmcicnt lorm ol mcditation.
Tosc ol you who practicc brcathing mcditation or othcr
lorms ol mcditation will apprcciatc thc truth ol this. !l you arc
trying to mcditatc only on your brcath, thcrc may bc a point at
which your mind bccomcs tircd ol trying to conccntratc only on
thc brcath and bcgins to wandcr. !l you arc chanting, your mind
may bccomc tircd ol thc words ol thc chant. !l you arc doing
insight mcditation, your mind may bccomc tircd ol thc pcnctra
tivc analysis ol phcnomcna. 8ccausc ol thc multilacctcd char
actcr ol \ajrayana mcditation practicc, whcn thc mind bccomcs
tircd and irritatcd and is no longcr ablc to conccntratc on thc
visualizcd lorm ol thc dcity, it can conccntratc on thc mantra,
whcn it bccomcs tircd ol conccntrating on thc mantra, it can
conccntratc on cmptincss, and whcn it bccomcs tircd ol that, it
can go back to thc visualizcd lorm ol thc dcity.
!ndccd, \ajrayana ritual is morc cßcctivc as a mcans ol mcdi
tation prcciscly bccausc ol its multidimcnsional charactcr: rathcr
than sctting up a conlrontation with thc tcndcncy ol thc mind to
bccomc distractcd, it utilizcs that tcndcncy. Tus \ajrayana mcdi
tation actually lcts thc mind wandcr, although it is only allowcd
to wandcr within a particular compass ol rcligious or spiritual
mcaning, so that no mattcr what thc mind rcsts on – whcthcr thc
visualizcd lorm ol thc dcity, thc mantra, thc idcntincation ol thc
mcditator with thc lorm ol thc dcity, or cvcn thc cmptincss ol
that lorm – it is rcsting on somcthing that has spiritual powcr.
Tc \ajrayana ritual is also likc a ralt in thc scnsc that it is
not anything to bc graspcd. !t is a mcans, or mcthod, and noth
ing morc. Tis ritual is also not supposcd to bc connncd to scs
:·· :·o
sions ol lormal mcditation but to bc cxtcndcd to all our activi
tics, both within and outsidc ol mcditation scssions. Vhilc in
thc mcditation scssion, wc visualizc thc lorm ol thc dcity, rccitc
thc mantra, and cultivatc both an undcrstanding ol idcntity with
thc lorm ol thc dcity and an undcrstanding ol thc cmptincss ol
that lorm. Tcrcaltcr, this vicw is cxtcndcd bcyond thc limits ol
thc mcditation scssion to cncompass all our activitics.
Vhcrcvcr wc arc and whatcvcr wc do, thc totality ol our
cxpcricncc is madc a part ol this ‘ralt ol mcditation practicc,’
so that wc can incorporatc and utilizc all this cncrgy and cxpc
ricncc in our practicc. As wc go about our daily activitics, wc
pcrccivc sights, sounds, and mcntal statcs in this spccial, trans
lormcd way. !n othcr words, wc grasp thc clcmcnts ol our cntirc
cxpcricncc by thc handlc, not by thc bladc. Trough thc tcch
niqucs ol \ajrayana mcditation, wc lcarn to handlc thcsc sights,
sounds, and mcntal statcs skilllully, so that wc do not comc to
gricl. Vc lcarn to handlc sights that wc scc, sounds that wc hcar,
and mcntal statcs that wc cxpcricncc so that, instcad ol bcing
cnsnarcd by thcsc cxpcricnccs, wc can usc thcm lor our mcntal
dcvclopmcnt and progrcss toward cnlightcnmcnt.
:6c :6.
´yth and Aymbolism
n Chaptcr :¡ wc talkcd about how thc spccial charactcristic ol
thc \ajrayana is its usc ol thc totality ol cxpcricncc to achicvc
dircct or immcdiatc knowlcdgc ol nonduality. !n turning thc
totality ol cxpcricncc to thc usc ol this spiritual or rcligious
cndcavor, it is important that wc sclcct clcmcnts ol cxpcri
cncc that arc spccially powcrlul and mcaninglul. Tis docs not
cxcludc using thc totality ol our cxpcricncc lor our spiritual prog
rcss. Rathcr, it mcans that wc locus nrst on typcs ol cxpcricncc
that arc particularly powcrlul and mcaninglul, using thcm as
thc building blocks ol our translormcd vision. Vc thcn cxtcnd
that translormcd cxpcricncc so that it cvcntually cncompasscs all
cxpcricnccs, cvcn thosc that wcrc originally lcss signincant.
!nitially, thcn, wc sclcct clcmcnts ol cxpcricncc that arc spc
cially potcnt and powcrlul. !n thc proccss, ccrtain archctypal
clcmcnts arc isolatcd. Archctypal clcmcnts ol cxpcricncc arc
thosc that havc a vcry dccpscatcd modc ol bcing within both an
individual consciousncss and our collcctivc consciousncss (that
is, thc sum total ol all individual consciousncss).
Lct us look at somc spccinc cxamplcs ol archctypal cxpcri
cncc. Tc nrst bclongs to thc rcalm ol myth. Tc most dominant
lcaturc ol myth is thc strugglc bctwccn good and cvil. Tis is
pcrhaps thc primordial, lundamcntal mythological thcmc, and
has bccn workcd out in myths lrom thc bcginning ol timc up to
thc prcscnt day. For cxamplc, thc crux ol thc contcst bctwccn
Rama and Ravana in thc Ramayana is thc strugglc bctwccn
:6c :6.
thc lorccs ol good and thc lorccs ol cvil, and this continucs to
bc a dominant thcmc in most popular myths. Not so long ago,
wc cvcn saw thc thcmc ol thc strugglc bctwccn good and cvil
mythologizcd in thc popular scicnccnction movic Star Vars.
Vc scc this thcmc also in thc attitudcs and rhctoric ol pol
iticians and national lcadcrs. For cxamplc, whcn U.S. Prcsidcnt
Ronald Rcagan callcd thc USSR ‘thc ¡vil ¡mpirc,’ hc was bor
rowing a phrasc lrom Star Vars to indicatc his conviction that
thc strugglc bctwccn thc dcmocratic world and thc commu
nist world was onc ol good against cvil. Tis is a vcry important
thcmc in human culturc. Vhcn wc call this thcmc a mythologi
cal onc, it docs not dcvaluc it. !l anything, this incrcascs its valuc
bccausc it givcs that thcmc a supcrhuman dimcnsion, a univcr
sal signincancc. To call a thcmc mythological docs not makc it
unrcal – in lact, it makcs it morc so.
Good and cvil arc, ol coursc, a duality (likc subjcct and objcct,
scll and othcr, samsara and nirvana, and thc rcst).Tc transccn
dcncc ol thc duality ol good and cvil, thc mastcry ol and assim
ilation ol cvil by good, is rcprcscntcd symbolically in thc appcar
ancc ol thc dcitics ol thc \ajrayana panthcon. !n Chaptcr :¡, wc
talkcd about how wc could translorm clcmcnts ol cxpcricncc
and put makc usc ol thcm lor our spiritual progrcss. Vhat wc
havc hcrc is thc mastcry ol what wc would normally think ol as
cvil by good – namcly, thc assimilation and translormation ol thc
mythical totality ol cvil in thc lorm ol spccinc clcmcnts ol thc
\ajrayana panthcon.
Tis cxplains thc gcncral appcarancc ol thc dcitics ol thc
\ajrayana panthcon. Tosc ol you who havc sccn tantric paint
ings and sculpturcs may havc wondcrcd why thc dcitics wcar
:6: :6.
nccklaccs ol scvcrcd hcads, ornamcnts ol bonc, and so lorth, and
also at thc prcvalcncc ol animal skins, skclctons, wcapons, and
thc likc. Vhy, in \ajrayana iconography, is thcrc so much ol thc
Tc answcr is that thc ornamcnts ol bonc, human and ani
mal parts, wcapons, and so on arc all paraphcrnalia ol thc lorccs
ol cvil as thcy arc conccivcd ol in our collcctivc consciousncss.
Tc lact that thcy arc now worn and wicldcd by \ajrayana dcitics
symbolizcs scvcral things: (.) it symbolizcs thc victory ol good
ovcr cvil, (:) it indicatcs thc usc ol thc powcr ol cvil lor thc pur
posc ol good, and most importantly, (.) it rcprcscnts thc union
and transccndcncc ol thc duality ol good and cvil, nirvana and
Òn a mythical scalc, this is how wc arc to undcrstand thc
particular naturc ol thc appcarancc ol thc \ajrayana dcitics – as
an cxprcssion ol thc mastcry and translormation ol cvil, and as an
cxprcssion ol thc transccndcncc ol thc duality ol good and cvil.
Tc \ajrayana also promotcs thc cquality ol objccts ol dcsirc
and avcrsion. Tis cquality implics transccndcncc ol thc oppo
sitcs ol dcsirc and avcrsion, good and cvil. !n thc symbolism ol
thc \ajrayana, wc nnd objccts ol dcsirc and avcrsion in closc
proximity. For cxamplc, wc nnd jcwcls and scvcrcd hcads, a
dcsirablc lcmalc lorm and a corpsc, lotuscs, thc sun and thc
moon and blood, mcat and boncs sidc by sidc in thc samc por
trait. All thcsc objccts occurring sidc by sidc arc symbolic ol thc
transccndcncc ol thc dualitics ol good and cvil, dcsirablc and
undcsirablc, purc and impurc, and thc likc.
Lct us cxaminc, in slightly morc concrctc tcrms, thc par
ticular lorms ol somc ol thc archctypal symbols wc nnd in thc
:6: :6.
\ajrayana, many ol which havc still to do with thc transccndcncc
ol duality. First lct us considcr thc symbol ol thc union ol malc
and lcmalc, which is so dominant in thc \ajrayana tradition.
Tis is a symbol that is archctypal in thc scnsc that it has always
bccn a lundamcntal part ol thc cxpcricncc ol living bcings. !t is
a dccpscatcd clcmcnt in thc individual and collcctivc conscious
ncss ol living bcings. Tc union ol malc and lcmalc has scrvcd
as a symbol ol thc union ol oppositcs – vcry oltcn as a symbol ol
thc union ol hcavcn and carth – in thc arts, poctry, and litcraturc
ol most culturcs at onc timc or anothcr.
!n thc \ajrayana, wc nnd thc prcvalcnt usc ol this vcry pow
crlul and mcaninglul clcmcnt ol cxpcricncc to dcpict or symbol
izc thc union ol cmptincss and lorm, nirvana and samsara, wis
dom and compassion. Tc lcmalc aspcct stands lor cmptincss,
nirvana, and wisdom, as wc saw in Chaptcr ::, whcrc insubstan
tiality was rcprcscntcd in thc lorm ol thc goddcsscs Nairatmya
and \ajravarahi. Tc malc aspcct stands lor lorm (phcnomc
nal appcarancc), samsara, and compassion (skilllul mcans). Tc
lcmalc can also stand lor cmptincss and thc malc lor luminos
ity, and so on.
Anothcr prcvalcnt symbol uscd in \ajrayana iconography
is thc trcc, which is a symbol ol lilc, growth, and dcvclopmcnt.
Vhcn taking rclugc at thc bcginning ol a scssion ol \ajrayana
mcditation, thc mcditator oltcn picturcs thc objccts ol rclugc
placcd in a trcc. Likc thc union ol malc and lcmalc, thc trcc is
an archctypal symbol that has crosscultural signincancc.
! havc bccn surpriscd to nnd thc trcc appcaring in thc sym
bolism ol almost all thc major rcligious and cultural traditions
throughout thc world. !n thc Christian tradition, wc nnd thc trcc
:6¡ :6·
ol knowlcdgc in thc Gardcn ol ¡dcn. !n thc 8uddhist tradition,
too, thc trcc is an important archctypal symbol. Spccincally, thc
rclugc trcc may bc idcntincd with thc pipal or bodhi trcc. 8ut thc
trcc ol cnlightcnmcnt gocs back to a pcriod in !ndian cultural
history bclorc thc timc ol thc 8uddha Shakyamuni. !t sccms also
to havc bccn important to thc pcoplc ol thc !ndus \allcy civili
zation, which ßourishcd in thc third millcnnium n.c.v.
!l wc look lurthcr at \ajrayana iconography, wc oltcn nnd a
dcity placcd upon a thronc in a trcc. Tc thronc is an archctypal
symbol ol royalty, ol sovcrcignty and mastcry, as arc thc crown
and sccptcr. You may rccall that in Chaptcr :: wc said that thc
\ajrayana takcs its namc lrom thc vajra, thc sccptcr ol !ndra,
which is a symbol ol mastcry. Tcrc is no doubt that thcsc sym
bols arc important in our individual and collcctivc consciousncss.
¡vcn in rcpublican socictics, thcrc is a grcat lascination with
royalty. Amcricans probably rcad morc about thc ¡nglish royal
lamily than do ¡nglishmcn. Tcrc arc probably morc tclcvision
documcntarics and dramatizations about thc ¡nglish royal lam
ily produccd in Amcrica than in ¡ngland. ¡vcn thc institution
ol thc prcsidcncy has comc to bc associatcd with all kinds ol
symbols ol sovcrcignty.
Likc thc symbol ol thc trcc, royal symbolism is lound in
most ol thc major rcligious traditions. ]csus spokc about thc
kingdom ol God and was callcd thc king ol thc ]cws. Tc
8uddha has bccn callcd thc king ol thc Ðharma and thc king
ol physicians. Tc nrst discoursc thc 8uddha dclivcrcd, pop
ularly known as e Discourse of the Turning of the Wheel of the
Dharma (Dhammachakkappavattana Sutta), is actually cntitlcd
e Discourse of the Founding of the Kingdom of the Dharma.
:6¡ :6·
Likc thc trcc, light and watcr occupy promincnt placcs in
\ajrayana symbolism. Firc oltcn surrounds thc dcitics. Light is an
important mcdium lor idcntincation bctwccn thc mcditator and
thc visualizcd lorms ol thc dcitics. Firc and light arc vcry impor
tant and mcaninglul clcmcnts ol our human cxpcricncc. !t is prob
ably through thc discovcry ol nrc that pcoplc bccamc civilizcd.
All ol this is still vcry clcarly cvidcnt today, lor don’t wc all likc to
kindlc, watch, and manipulatc nrc: !n thc \ajrayana tradition, nrc
stands lor thc ßamcs that consumc and dcstroy ignorancc.
Vatcr is morc crucial to our cxistcncc than lood and is, ol
coursc, ncccssary lor thc lcrtility ol thc carth. Not surprisingly,
watcr also plays an important rolc in thc \ajrayana, whcrc it is
thc symbol ol initiation – thc tantric ritual which stimulatcs thc
sccd ol spiritual potcntial. ]ust as by watcring thc soil, a sccd ol
grain comcs to lilc, so by bcing sprinklcd in thc ritual ol initi
ation, thc sccd ol onc’s spiritual potcntial puts lorth its sprout,
which can thcn grow into thc lully rcalizcd and translormcd
modc ol bcing, thc rcality ol 8uddhahood.
Tc symbol ol thc lotus is not pcculiar only to thc \ajrayana
but cxists in all 8uddhist iconography. !t is morc culturally spc
cinc than thc othcr symbols wc havc considcrcd thus lar. Tc
lotus is pcrhaps most closcly linkcd with thc !ndian cultural con
sciousncss, whcrc it is a powcrlul symbol ol spiritual growth and
translormation. For this rcason, it appcars in thc \ajrayana as a
symbol ol spiritual growth, transccndcncc, and translormation.
!n thc \ajrayana, thcrc is also thc vcry particular usc ol lct
tcrs, words, and mantras. Tis is, again, archctypal, in thc scnsc
that it is a dccpscatcd and powcrlul clcmcnt in thc individual
and collcctivc consciousncss. For ‘primitivc’ and ‘modcrn’ pcoplc
:66 :6·
alikc, thc namc ol a thing is a sourcc ol powcr ovcr it. Ancicnt
pcoplcs achicvcd mastcry ovcr thc lorccs ol naturc by giving
thosc lorccs namcs. For instancc, by calling thc thundcrstorm
‘!ndra,’ thc old 8rahmins cstablishcd a mcchanism and dcgrcc
ol control ovcr it. Tis is also clcarly rcßcctcd in our own cxpc
ricncc. !l somconc sidcswipcs your car in thc parking lot, you
do not havc any powcr ovcr him or hcr il you do not know thcir
namc, but il you know thc namc ol thc pcrson rcsponsiblc, you
can claim damagcs. Namcs arc, thcrclorc, powcr. !n a scnsc, a
namc crcatcs thc rcality ol thc objcct lor which it stands. For
cxamplc, whcn ! say thc word ‘diamond,’ in a scnsc thc rcality ol
that objcct is crcatcd lor all ol us. Rccognizing this powcr ol lct
tcrs, namcs, and words, thc \ajrayana cmploys thcm in thc lorm
ol mantras in ordcr to bring about a ccrtain kind ol rcality.
!n thc \ajrayana, thc naivc assumption ol thc powcr inhcr
cnt in namcs that was charactcristic ol carly human cxistcncc is
rcplaccd by a critical undcrstanding ol thc way namcs and words
work to crcatc a particular rcality. Tc way thcy work is through
thc powcr ol thc mind. !t is thc powcr ol thc mind that cnablcs
lcttcrs, words, namcs, and mantras to posscss a particular kind
ol crcativc rcality.
Tus wc nnd, in \ajrayana symbolism, a libcral and intcn
tional usc ol thcsc vcrbal symbols as vchiclcs lor conccntrating
thc mind’s powcr to crcatc and translorm. For cxamplc, wc sym
bolizc thc mind with thc Sanskrit syllablc Hum, and usc that
symbol as a vchiclc lor rcprcscnting thc mind visually as thc sccd
ol thc various dcitics ol thc \ajrayana panthcon. A dccpscatcd
archctypal rolc is playcd by lcttcrs, words, and namcs in our
individual and collcctivc consciousncss. Tc \ajrayana uscs this
:66 :6·
archctypal powcr in its symbolism, in ordcr to dcscribc thc mind
and lacilitatc its usc in mastcring and translorming cxpcricncc.
\ajrayana iconography also rccognizcs thc importancc and
signincancc ol colors as symbols ol ccrtain tcndcncics and atti
tudcs. Tis is somcthing that has also bccn acknowlcdgcd by
modcrn psychologists. !n thc mid.o.cs, a lamous Amcrican
psychologist pcrsuadcd a popular cigarcttc company to changc
thc logo on its packaging lrom grccn to rcd, ovcrnight, salcs shot
up by ·c to 6c pcrccnt. Vhcn that limitcd run ol packagcs with
thc rcd logo was sold, thc manulacturcr wcnt back to thc grccn
logo and salcs droppcd by thc samc amount. Vhcn thc logo was
changcd to rcd again, salcs shot up again. ¡vcr sincc, advcrtis
crs and dcsigncrs havc paid vcry closc attcntion to thc cßccts ol
color on prospcctivc buycrs.
Tis is also rccognizcd in thc \ajrayana tradition. Tcrc arc
particular rolcs and uscs lor particular colors. Vhitc, lor cxam
plc, is a symbol ol purity – a signincancc which is common, uni
vcrsal, and apparcnt. 8ut whitc is also a symbol ol opaqucncss,
ignorancc, and, altcrnativcly, a symbol ol thc knowlcdgc ol thc
Ðharmadhatu. Tis last cxplains why, in thc mandala ol thc nvc
cclcstial 8uddhas, \airochana is portraycd as whitc in color, and
why, in thc \ajrayana panthcon, \ajrasattva is portraycd as whitc
to indicatc his importancc lor thc purincation ol sins.
8luc or black is a symbol ol immutability. 8lack, unlikc any
othcr color, cannot bc changcd. 8luc is a color that symbolizcs
hatrcd, on thc onc hand, and thc knowlcdgc that rcßccts all phc
nomcna without distorting thcm, on thc othcr (likc thc bluc ol
watcr that rcßccts innumcrablc objccts impartially). Tcrclorc,
bluc is thc color ol what is callcd thc mirrorlikc knowlcdgc.
:6· :6o
Rcd, which is thc color ol nrc, is a symbol ol dcsirc and also
stands lor thc knowlcdgc ol discrimination.
Tcsc colors arc uscd to carry symbolic mcssagcs in conncc
tion not only with thc nvc cclcstial 8uddhas, but also with othcr
tantric dcitics. Tcsc mcssagcs oltcn opcratc at an unconscious or
subconscious lcvcl, but thcir particular signincancc noncthclcss
triggcrs ccrtain cmotions or rcactions (again, oltcn on a subcon
scious lcvcl). Ònc cxamplc ol this is thc lact that smokcrs who
bought thc cigarcttcs with thc rcd logo instcad ol thc grccn onc
did not know why thcy wcrc movcd to do so.
Lct us now look at somc ol thc morc particular objccts wc
nnd in \ajrayana art and iconography, and at thcir spccinc mcan
ings – objccts likc thc support, or basc, ol \ajrayana dcitics, thc
objccts thc dcitics hold in thcir hands, and thc ornamcnts that
adorn thcir bodics. Tc \ajrayana dcity \ajrakilaya, lor cxam
plc, tramplcs on two dcitics ol thc Hindu panthcon, Shiva and
Parvati. !nitially, onc might think that this is mcrcly a kind
ol triumphalism on thc part ol thc 8uddhists, but thc signil
icancc is actually lar morc important. Shiva and Parvati stand
lor thc cxtrcmcs ol ctcrnalism and nihilism. Tc basc on which
\ajrakilaya stands is thcrclorc a symbol ol thc transccndcncc, or
avoidancc, ol thcsc two cxtrcmcs. Again, wc nnd thc \ajrayana
dcity Mahakala standing on a corpsc. Tc corpsc rcprcscnts scll,
cgo, and substancc, Mahakala’s trampling it thus rcprcscnts his
triumph ovcr thc idca ol scll, or substancc.
Many ol thc \ajrayana dcitics hold knivcs in thcir hands.
Tis is anticipatcd in Mahayana iconography, whcrc wc nnd
Manjushri holding a sword ol wisdom with which hc cuts
through thc nct ol ignorancc. !n thc hands ol thc \ajrayana
:6· :6o
dcitics, too, knivcs arc instrumcnts symbolizing thc wisdom
with which thcy cut through ignorancc and dclusion.
!n \ajrayana iconography wc also nnd dcitics drinking lrom
skull cups nllcd with blood, which rcprcscnts thc amictions. 8y
drinking this blood, thc dcitics symbolically show thcir ability
to assimilatc and ncutralizc thc amictions.
Vc nnd \ajrayana dcitics commonly holding a vajra and bcll.
Tc vajra is a symbol ol skilllul mcans, and thc bcll is a symbol
ol wisdom. Tcir holding thc vajra and bcll stands lor thc unity
ol skilllul mcans and wisdom, appcarancc and cmptincss, sam
sara and nirvana.
Many \ajrayana dcitics, too, havc crowns ol nvc skulls on
thcir hcads. Tcsc nvc skulls stand lor thc nvc transccndcn
tal knowlcdgcs, or wisdoms, that bclong to thc nvc cclcstial
8uddhas: (a) thc knowlcdgc ol thc Ðharmadhatu, (b) thc mir
rorlikc knowlcdgc, (c) thc knowlcdgc ol cquality, (d) thc know
lcdgc ol discrimination, and (c) thc knowlcdgc ol accomplish
mcnt. Many ol thcir bodics arc adorncd with six ornamcnts ol
bonc – bracclcts, anklcts, girdlcs, and so lorth. Tcsc six orna
mcnts stand lor thc Six Pcrlcctions ol gcncrosity, morality,
paticncc, cncrgy, conccntration, and wisdom.
Tc lact that wc nnd such objccts prcvalcnt in \ajrayana ico
nography docs not mcrcly indicatc somc kind ol lascination with
thc bizarrc and macabrc. Rathcr, thcsc objccts arc vcry closcly
conncctcd with scvcral lcvcls ol mcaning: (i) a vcry dccp uncon
scious (or subconscious) lcvcl ol mcaning, (ii) a lcvcl ol mcaning
that has to do with cultural archctypcs, and (iii) a lcvcl ol mcan
ing that is vcry spccincally and prcciscly rclatcd to particular clc
mcnts ol thc 8uddhist path.
:·c :·.
Òn thc broadcst lcvcl, wc havc bccn dcaling hcrc with grcat,
swccping dualitics: mythological thcmcs, thc thcmc ol good and
cvil, thc archctypcs ol malc and lcmalc, and so lorth. Morc spc
cincally, wc havc bccn dcaling with archctypcs that havc par
ticular powcr and mcaning lor living bcings – thc archctypcs ol
thc trcc, thronc, nrc, and so on, thc cxtrcmcs ol ctcrnalism and
nihilism, thc valucs ol skilllul mcans and wisdom. Òn an cvcn
morc spccinc lcvcl, wc havc bccn looking at symbolic objccts
that rclatc to particular itcms ol 8uddhist doctrinc, likc thc nvc
transccndcntal knowlcdgcs and Six Pcrlcctions.
Vhat ! havc tricd to do in this chaptcr is givc somc indi
cation ol thc way \ajrayana myths and symbols work, and ol
thc mcaning ol thc various portrayals and imagcs wc nnd in
\ajrayana iconography. !t is a mistakc to rcgard thc imagcry and
symbolism ol thc \ajrayana as in any way arbitrary, accidcntal,
or simply scnsational. Òn thc contrary, thc \ajrayana tradition
makcs a conscious and carclully calculatcd usc ol myth and sym
bol lor thc particular purposc ol accclcrating thc practitioncr’s
progrcss toward 8uddhahood.
:·c :·.
+sychology, +hysiology, and (osmology
n thc \ajrayana tradition, psychology, physiology, and cos
mology arc closcly intcrrclatcd. !n this chaptcr ! would likc to
show how this is thc casc, and also skctch in gcncral tcrms thc
bcncnts ol this intcrrclationship.
Lct us bcgin by rclcrring oncc again to thc idca ol intcr
dcpcndcncc and intcrpcnctration. !ntcrdcpcndcncc is synony
mous with rclativity, or cmptincss, and it is onc ol thc two pillars
ol thc \ajrayana tradition. !n this particular contcxt, intcrdcpcn
dcncc has a spccinc mcaning – namcly, intcrpcnctration. !nsolar as
cvcrything dcpcnds on cvcrything clsc lor its cxistcncc and naturc,
so cvcrything holds within itscll thc sccds, thc causcs and condi
tions, ol cvcrything clsc. Spccincally, wc can undcrstand this by
locusing on thc idca ol thc intcrdcpcndcncc ol thc parts and thc
wholc. Tc naturc ol thc wholc dcpcnds on thc naturc ol thc parts,
and thc naturc ol thc parts dcpcnds on thc naturc ol thc wholc.
Tis is thc intcrdcpcndcncc ol parts and wholc.
Traditionally, wc scc this idca claboratcd in thc Mahayana
in parablcs such as that ol thc nct ol !ndra. !n this parablc, cach
part ol thc nct dcpcnds lor its cxistcncc and naturc on thc othcr
parts, and cach small part ol thc nct in a scnsc contains in min
iaturc thc charactcristics ol thc nct as a wholc. Tis idca ol intcr
dcpcndcncc or intcrpcnctration ol parts and wholc bccamc vcry
important in China, too, whcrc it is probably thc singlc most
important idca in Huaycn philosophy, or thc philosophy ol
:·: :·.
Tc idca ol intcrpcnctration is lound in thc \ajrayana tradi
tion as wcll, whcrc wc can scc it cxprcsscd cvcn in thc tcrm tan-
tra itscll. You may rcmcmbcr that tantra rclcrs primarily and lit
crally to thc idca ol thc wcavc in a piccc ol cloth or labric (scc
Chaptcr ::). Using thc analogy ol cloth or labric, wc can undcr
stand thc intcrpcnctration ol parts and wholc whcn wc scc that a
small scction ol labric rcvcals thc pattcrn that cxtcnds through
out thc wholc.
Tc idca ol thc intcrpcnctration ol parts and wholc is also
cxprcsscd in thc \ajrayana in thc notion ol thc intcrpcnctration
ol individual bcings (who hcrc rcprcscnt thc parts, or micro
cosms) and thc univcrsc (which rcprcscnts thc wholc, or macro
cosm). Tis notion ol man and thc univcrsc as microcosm and
macrocosm is thc nrst idca ! want to considcr by way ol intro
duction to a morc spccinc trcatmcnt ol psychology, physiology,
and cosmology in thc \ajrayana.
To undcrstand thc dynamic rolc ol psychology, physiology,
and cosmology in thc \ajrayana tradition, wc nccd also to rccall
thc sccond lundamcntal idca ol thc \ajrayana tradition – thc idca
ol thc variability ol cxpcricncc. Tis is cxprcsscd in thc cxpcri
cncc ol Asanga, who saw thc 8uddha Maitrcya nrst not at all,
thcn in thc lorm ol a discascd dog, and nnally in his cclcstial
and translormcd aspcct. Tis idca is also cxprcsscd in thc lact
that thc bcings who inhabit thc six rcalms ol cxistcncc vicw phc
nomcna dißcrcntly: this is thc variability ol cxpcricncc rclativc
to thc conditioncd statc ol onc’s mind. Tus rcality is dcpcn
dcnt on thc conditions ol onc’s mind: an impurc mind will pcr
ccivc and cxpcricncc rcality in onc way, whcrcas a translormcd
and purincd mind will cxpcricncc it in anothcr. !t is important
:·: :·.
to kccp both intcrpcnctration and thc variability ol cxpcricncc
in mind il wc arc going to undcrstand thc rclationship bctwccn
thc individual and thc univcrsc in \ajrayana psychology, physiol
ogy, and cosmology, and il wc arc going to undcrstand how this
rclationship lunctions dynamically to bring about thc translor
mation that is thc goal ol \ajrayana practicc.
Lct us nrst look spccincally at psychology within thc \ajra
yana tradition. Tus lar ! havc bccn at pains to show that thc
\ajrayana is a natural and logical dcvclopmcnt ol thc 8uddhist
tradition as a wholc, as wc nnd it cmbodicd in thc Tcravada and
Mahayana. Givcn this lact, it is not surprising that \ajrayana psy
chology takcs as its basic building blocks clcmcnts which bclong
to a systcm that is ccntral to 8uddhist psychology in gcncral.
Tcsc building blocks arc thc nvc aggrcgatcs. As in thc
Tcravada and Mahayana, thc nvc aggrcgatcs ol lorm, lccl
ing, pcrccption, volition, and consciousncss lunction as thc
basic componcnts ol \ajrayana psychology. !n thc impurc con
dition ol mind – thc condition common to all ol us bclorc wc
havc translormcd our cxpcricncc – thcsc nvc aggrcgatcs arc asso
ciatcd rcspcctivcly with thc nvc amictions, or dcnlcmcnts, ol
ignorancc, pridc, attachmcnt, cnvy, and avcrsion. You will noticc
thc prcscncc ol thc thrcc basic amictions that arc causcs ol thc
cxpcricncc ol sußcring and, in addition to thcm, thc amictions
ol pridc and cnvy.
Vc can also scc thc nvc amictions in rclation to thc nvc
rcalms ol cxistcncc that arc not conducivc to libcration. !n this
contcxt, ignorancc corrcsponds to thc rcalm ol animals, pridc
to thc rcalm ol thc gods, attachmcnt to thc rcalm ol thc hun
gry ghosts, cnvy to thc rcalm ol thc dcmigods, and avcrsion to
:·¡ :··
thc rcalm ol thc hcll bcings. !t is intcrcsting to notc that thc nvc
amictions also constitutc thc causcs ol birth in thc nvc unlavor
ablc rcalms ol cxistcncc.
Tis is thc picturc ol rcality sccn lrom thc point ol vicw ol thc
untranslormcd modc ol bcing, thc impurc vision which is typi
cal ol our cxpcricncc, and which was typical ol Asanga’s cxpcri
cncc whcn hc was unablc to scc Maitrcya. ¡vcn in thc Pcrlcction
ol Visdom litcraturc, wc nnd statcmcnts to thc cßcct that, as
a 8odhisattva progrcsscs toward 8uddhahood, his aggrcgatcs
bccomc pcrlcctly purc. !n thc \ajrayana, this gcncral statcmcnt
is givcn positivc and spccinc contcnt so that, in \ajrayana psy
chology, thc nvc aggrcgatcs arc translormcd and appcar in thc
lorm ol thc nvc cclcstial 8uddhas whcn thc mind has bccn puri
ncd by thc cultivation ol wholcsomc conditions. Tus, in thcir
translormcd modc ol bcing, thc nvc aggrcgatcs appcar as thc nvc
cclcstial 8uddhas: thc aggrcgatc ol lorm, whcn purincd, appcars
in thc lorm ol thc 8uddha \airochana, lccling, in thc lorm ol
Ratnasambhava, pcrccption, in thc lorm ol Amitabha, volition,
in thc lorm ol Amoghasiddhi, and consciousncss, in thc lorm ol
Somc ol you may havc sccn thcsc nvc cclcstial 8uddhas icon
ographically portraycd in thc mandala, a sacrcd or magical cir
clc which is a rcprcscntation ol thc purincd or translormcd uni
vcrsc. Vhat thc nvc cclcstial 8uddhas rcprcscnt is thc nvc com
poncnts ol psychophysical bcing in thcir translormcd and puri
ncd modc ol bcing. Tc nvc cclcstial 8uddhas togcthcr rcprcscnt
thc translormation ol our impurc cxpcricncc into a purincd, or
libcratcd, modc ol bcing.
!ncidcntally, thcsc nvc cclcstial 8uddhas arc also said to bc
:·¡ :··
thc 8uddhas ol thc Fivc Familics: thc 8uddha, Ratna (or jcwcl),
Padma (or lotus), Karma, and \ajra lamilics, rcspcctivcly. Tcsc
arc thc symbols that stand lor thc nvc aggrcgatcs in thcir trans
lormcd modc ol bcing.
]ust as, on thc untranslormcd and impurc lcvcl, thc nvc
aggrcgatcs arc associatcd with thc nvc amictions, so on thc
translormcd and purincd lcvcl, thc nvc cclcstial 8uddhas corrc
spond to thc nvc transccndcntal knowlcdgcs, or wisdoms. Tc
nrst ol thcsc transccndcntal knowlcdgcs is thc knowlcdgc ol thc
Ðharmadhatu, which corrcsponds to thc 8uddha \airochana.
Tc knowlcdgc ol thc Ðharmadhatu is thc knowlcdgc ol things
as thcy arc in rcality, thc knowlcdgc ol thc quintcsscntial naturc
or charactcr ol things. !n othcr words, thc Ðharmadhatu is
that csscntial naturc ol all phcnomcna which is thcir cmptincss,
thcir nonduality. Tus thc translormcd aggrcgatc ol lorm is thc
8uddha \airochana, and this translormation similarly implics a
translormation lrom thc amiction ol ignorancc to thc transccn
dcntal knowlcdgc ol thc truc naturc ol all things, or cmptincss.
Sccond, with thc 8uddha Ratnasambhava, who is thc
translormcd appcarancc ol thc aggrcgatc ol lccling, wc havc a
translormation ol thc amiction ol pridc into thc transccndcn
tal knowlcdgc ol cquality. Tis is thc knowlcdgc which makcs
all things cqual. Hcrc, again, wc havc a spccinc ccho ol somc
thing which occurs in thc Pcrlcction ol Visdom litcraturc. !n
thc Heart Sutra, it is said that thc pcrlcction ol wisdom makcs
thc uncqual cqual. !n thc casc ol Ratnasambhava, wc havc thc
knowlcdgc which makcs things cqual. Morc than anything clsc,
thc knowlcdgc ol cquality sccs no distinction bctwccn samsara
and nirvana. Tc transccndcntal knowlcdgc ol cquality which
:·6 :··
sccs no distinction bctwccn samsara and nirvana cnablcs thc
8uddhas and 8odhisattvas to opcratc lrccly in thc world.
Tird, in thc casc ol thc aggrcgatc ol pcrccption, which in
its translormcd and purincd dimcnsion bccomcs thc 8uddha
Amitabha, wc havc a corrcsponding translormation ol thc amiction
ol attachmcnt into thc transccndcntal knowlcdgc ol discrimination.
Tis is thc knowlcdgc which is ablc to scc all things according to
thcir individual charactcristics. !n a scnsc, this corrcsponds to thc
knowlcdgc ol thc Ðharmadhatu, which is thc knowlcdgc ol thc
quintcsscntial and univcrsal charactcr ol all things – that is, cmp
tincss. As a complcmcnt to thc knowlcdgc ol thc Ðharmadhatu,
wc havc thc knowlcdgc ol discrimination, which is thc knowlcdgc
ol thc particular charactcristics ol all things.
Fourth, in thc casc ol thc aggrcgatc ol volition, which on
thc purincd lcvcl takcs thc lorm ol thc 8uddha Amoghasiddhi,
wc havc a translormation ol thc amiction ol cnvy into thc tran
sccndcntal knowlcdgc ol accomplishmcnt. Tis knowlcdgc is
thc ability to know with prccision thc cxact situation ol all scn
ticnt bcings so that thcy can bcst bc hclpcd to progrcss toward
Finally, in thc casc ol thc aggrcgatc ol consciousncss, which
on thc purincd lcvcl takcs thc lorm ol thc 8uddha Akshobhya,
wc havc a translormation ol thc amiction ol illwill into thc tran
sccndcntal knowlcdgc known as thc mirrorlikc knowlcdgc – thc
ability to rcßcct all things in thc manncr ol thc mirror. Tc mir
ror rcßccts prcciscly whatcvcr is prcscntcd to it but rcmains itscll
unchangcd, unaßcctcd by thc imagcs that it rcßccts.
You can scc that thcrc is hcrc a symmctrical arrangcmcnt ol
basic psychophysical constitucnts, with thc nvc aggrcgatcs on
:·6 :··
thc impurc lcvcl corrcsponding to thc nvc cclcstial 8uddhas on
thc purincd lcvcl. Similarly, thcrc is a symmctrical arrangcmcnt
ol thc nvc amictions on thc untranslormcd, or impurc, lcvcl cor
rcsponding to thc nvc knowlcdgcs on thc translormcd and puri
ncd lcvcl.
Tis symmctrical arrangcmcnt bctwccn an impurc and a purc
cxpcricncc is carricd ovcr into thc building blocks ol mattcr as
wcll. Òn thc purincd lcvcl, thc nvc clcmcnts ol thc world – carth,
watcr, nrc, air, and spacc – takc thc lorms ol thc nvc cclcstial
lcmalc dcitics who arc consorts ol thc nvc cclcstial 8uddhas. Tc
clcmcnt ol spacc, which corrcsponds to thc aggrcgatc ol lorm, is
translormcd on thc purincd lcvcl into a lcmalc dcity who is thc
consort ol thc 8uddha \airochana. Tc clcmcnts ol carth, nrc,
air, and watcr, which corrcspond to thc aggrcgatcs ol lccling,
pcrccption, volition, and consciousncss, rcspcctivcly, arc trans
lormcd at thc purincd lcvcl into thc lcmalc dcitics who arc thc
consorts ol Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, Amoghasiddhi, and
Akshobhya, rcspcctivcly.
!n \ajrayana psychology, thcrclorc, wc havc aggrcgatcs,
amictions, and clcmcnts on thc ordinary, impurc lcvcl which arc
translormcd on thc purincd lcvcl into thc nvc cclcstial 8uddhas,
thc nvc transccndcntal knowlcdgcs, and thc nvc lcmalc dcitics
who arc consorts ol thc nvc cclcstial 8uddhas. Vc havc two
lcvcls ol cxpcricncc that arc symmctrical, onc lcvcl ol cxpcri
cncc bcing typical ol an impurc lorm ol cxistcncc, thc othcr ol a
purincd lorm ol cxistcncc. Tis is thc basic schcmc ol \ajrayana
!n thc systcm ol \ajrayana physiology, thcsc nvc cclcstial
8uddhas, along with thcir nvc consorts, arc lound within thc
:·· :·o
body ol cach individual pcrson. Tcy arc situatcd at nvc ccn
tcrs ol psychic cncrgy, callcd chakras, which arc lound within
thc body ol cvcry pcrson. Tc nvc ccntcrs ol psychic cncrgy arc
situatcd at thc top ol thc hcad, thc throat, thc hcart, thc navcl,
and thc gcnitals. At cach placc, thcrc is onc ol thc nvc cclcs
tial 8uddhas with his consort scatcd on a lotus thronc: thc
8uddha \airochana, who is thc purincd dimcnsion ol thc aggrc
gatc ol lorm, is at thc top ol thc hcad, Amitabha, who is thc
purincd dimcnsion ol pcrccption, is at thc throat, Akshobhya,
who is thc purincd dimcnsion ol consciousncss, is at thc hcart,
Ratnasambhava, who is thc purincd dimcnsion ol lccling, is at
thc navcl, and Amoghasiddhi, who is thc purincd dimcnsion ol
volition, is situatcd at thc gcnitals.
Tcrc arc a numbcr ol channcls ol psychic cncrgy, callcd nadis,
connccting thcsc ccntcrs ol psychic cncrgy. Although thcrc arc
a grcat numbcr ol thcsc channcls, thcrc arc thrcc which arc vcry
important: thc ccntral psychic channcl (avadhuti), which runs
dircctly lrom thc top ol thc hcad to thc gcnitals and which con
nccts thc nvc cakras, and thc two psychic channcls on thc right
and lclt ol thc ccntral channcl (thc rasana and lalana, rcspcc
tivcly). Òn thc lcvcl ol advanccd \ajrayana practicc, thc practi
tioncr is ablc to manipulatc and dircct thc ßow ol psychic cncr
gy – which is nonc othcr than thc cncrgy ol mind alonc – through
thcsc psychic channcls. Tis cnablcs him or hcr to unitc thc
oppositcs which arc rcßcctcd in thc psychophysical cxpcri
cncc ol thc individual pcrson and in thc univcrsc as a wholc, in
ordcr to rcalizc within him or hcrscll in mcditation thc absolutc
union ol all oppositcs, thc annihilation ol all dualitics, which is
thc goal ol tantric practicc.
:·· :·o
Trough this vcry bricl portrayal ol \ajrayana physiology,
you can scc how thc basic building blocks ol psychophysical
cxpcricncc, bc thcy vicwcd lrom thc impurc lcvcl or lrom thc
purincd lcvcl, arc rcßcctcd in thc physiological makcup ol thc
Trough achicving thc union ol oppositcs within his psycho
physical cxpcricncc as an individual pcrson, thc \ajrayana adcpt
is ablc to bring about thc translormation ol his vision ol thc
univcrsc as a wholc. Hc is ablc to do this bccausc his body is a
microcosm ol thc univcrsc. !n \ajrayana cosmology, thc lcaturcs
ol thc univcrsc as a wholc arc prcscnt within thc psychophysical
cxpcricncc ol cach pcrson. Mount Sumcru, thc ccntral moun
tain ol thc univcrsc according to 8uddhist cosmology, is situatcd
within thc body ol thc practitioncr, just as thc sun and moon, thc
sacrcd rivcrs ol !ndia, and pilgrimagc placcs arc lound within
thc body in a microcosmic way.
Not only arc thcsc lcaturcs ol thc univcrsc situatcd within
thc body but so, too, arc thc primary lcaturcs ol thc translormcd
or purincd cxpcricncc. Vc havc alrcady sccn that thc nvc cclcs
tial 8uddhas arc lound within thc body at thc nvc ccntcrs ol
psychic cncrgy. !n thc samc way, wc nnd that thc cxpcricncc ol
thc individual pcrson is in lact nonc othcr than thc cxpcricncc
ol thc cclcstial or purincd univcrsc, so that thc body is in lact
thc cclcstial mansion ol thc divinc 8uddhas. !n \ajrayana psy
chology, physiology, and cosmology, thcrclorc, wc nnd thc rcal
mcaning ol thc cxprcssion that ‘Tc body is a tcmplc.’ !t is a tcm
plc that contains thc cclcstial 8uddhas, who arc nonc othcr than
thc translormcd modc ol bcing ol thc ordinary modc ol bcing ol
thc psychophysical componcnts, or aggrcgatcs.
:·c :·.
You can scc how, in thc \ajrayana tradition, a closc cor
rcspondcncc is drawn bctwccn thc ordinary lcvcl ol cxpcri
cncc and thc purincd lcvcl ol cxpcricncc. Tis corrcspondcncc
is cstablishcd through thc idca ol microcosm and macrocosm.
Spccincally, thc \ajrayana supplics a spccial psychological and
physiological schcmc ol thc clcmcnts ol cxpcricncc prcciscly so
that thcy can bc subjcctcd to thc dircct and cmcicnt manipu
lation ol thc mind. Tis schcmc cmploys thc ccntcrs ol psychic
cncrgy and thc channcls through which psychic cncrgy ßows.
Vhat ! havc tricd to do in this chaptcr is show that, in thc
\ajrayana systcm ol psychology, physiology, and cosmology, as in
\ajrayana myth and symbol, wc do not havc an arcanc and cxotic
portrayal ol haphazard or arbitrary lorms. Rathcr, wc havc a
vcry carclully dcsigncd systcm which accords with thc lunda
mcntal principlcs ol thc 8uddhist path to libcration. Vhat wc
havc is rcally just a particularly rich and colorlul dcvclopmcnt ol
thc suggcstions wc havc sccn in thc carlicr 8uddhist traditions,
in thc psychology ol thc Abhidharma and in thc Pcrlcction ol
Visdom litcraturc. !n thc \ajrayana tradition, all thcsc suggcs
tions rcccivc a vcry dcnnitc contcnt. Tc \ajrayana supplics col
orlul, bright, and attractivc rcprcscntations ol thc various com
poncnts ol psychophysical cxpcricncc, and a dcscription ol how
thcir translormation can bc achicvcd through thc gradual puri
ncation ol onc’s modc ol bcing.
:·c :·.
Tc +rcliminary +rauiccs
n Chaptcrs :: through :6, ! tricd to outlinc what wc might
call thc univcrsc ol cxpcricncc ol thc \ajrayana. Tat is why
! bcgan with a considcration ol thc cultural and intcllcctual cli
matc in which thc \ajrayana nrst appcarcd, and only thcn wcnt
on to considcr its rcligious and philosophical background, mcth
odology, myth and symbol, and psychology, physiology, and cos
mology. !n Chaptcrs :· through :o, ! will look at thc actual
stagcs in thc practicc ol thc \ajrayana path. !n gcncral, thcrc arc
thrcc such stagcs: (.) thc prcliminary or prcparatory stagc, (:) thc
stagc ol cntry, and (.) thc actual practicc. ! havc dividcd thc prc
liminary stagc into two catcgorics: gcncral and spccinc.
As mcntioncd in Chaptcr ::, thc Mahayana and \ajrayana
arc in lact two componcnts ol a singlc tradition. Tcir start
ing point and goal arc idcntical, thcy dißcr only in thc mcthods
cmploycd in gctting lrom that starting point to thc goal. From
this wc can undcrstand that, in tcrms ol gcncral prcliminarics,
thcrc is a grcat dcal ol similarity bctwccn what is rcquircd lor
Mahayana practicc and what is rcquircd lor \ajrayana practicc.
Vc nccd to touch on thc prcliminarics bricßy to cmpha
sizc again that thc \ajrayana practiccs arc not oncs that can bc
undcrtakcn without thc propcr kind ol prcparation. !n lact, thc
gcncral prcliminarics rcquircd lor \ajrayana practicc arc thosc
rcquircd lor thc wholc ol thc Mahayana path. !n this catcgory
ol gcncral prcliminary practiccs, wc havc (.) thc taking ol rclugc,
lollowcd by (:) contcmplation ol sußcring, (.) thc law ol karma,
:·: :·.
(¡) dcath and impcrmancncc, and (·) thc opportunc and lortu
natc naturc ol thc human situation, (6) cultivation ol lovc and
compassion, and (·) production ol thc cnlightcnmcnt thought.
Vc concludc with (·) cultivation ol oncpointcdncss, or conccn
tration, and pcnctrativc insight. All thcsc scrvc as a gcncral prc
rcquisitc to \ajrayana practicc.
Vith a lcw cxccptions, thc gcncral prcliminary practiccs
ol thc \ajrayana arc similar to thosc ol thc Mahayana. Ònc
ol thc cxccptions is thc way thc taking ol rclugc is practiccd.
Vhcrcas in thc Mahayana tradition thcrc arc thc thrcc objccts
ol rclugc – thc ¡nlightcncd Ònc, his tcaching, and thc Noblc
Asscmbly ol thc irrcvcrsiblc 8odhisattvas or 8odhisattvas who
havc attaincd thc scvcnth stagc ol thc 8odhisattva path and arc
thcrclorc not liablc to rclapsc, in thc \ajrayana thcrc is also thc
lourth rclugc – thc prcccptor (thc guru or lama). !n ccrtain tra
ditions within thc \ajrayana lold, thcrc may bc as many as six
objccts ol rclugc, thc two additional oncs bcing thc tutclary
dcitics and thc dakinis. Tc tutclary dcitics arc thc spccial cso
tcric lorms ol thc 8uddha who arc any onc ol thc major tant
ric dcitics – Hcvajra, Chakrasamvara, and thc likc – mcditation
upon whom is a complctc path to cnlightcnmcnt. Tc dakinis arc
lcmalc dcitics who arc symbolic or rcprcscntativc ol insubstanti
ality. !n thc \ajrayana panthcon, thc dakinis occupy a position in
somc ways analogous to that ol thc Noblc Asscmbly, bcing thc
spccial tantric or \ajrayana lorms ol thc Sangha. Although in
ccrtain traditions and contcxts wc do havc rclcrcnccs to thcsc six
objccts ol rclugc, it is lar morc common to nnd thc lour objccts
ol rclugc, that is, thc prcccptor and thc Triplc Gcm. Tc prc
ccptor is particularly important in thc \ajrayana tradition. Lct
:·: :·.
mc rclcr to two idcas that illustratc thc rolc and importancc ol
thc prcccptor in thc \ajrayana tradition. First, thc prcccptor pcr
lorms a lunction similar to that ol a magnilying glass. Vc know
that thc sun is vcry hot and has grcat powcr, yct without a dcvicc
likc thc magnilying glass wc cannot harncss its hcat to kindlc a
nrc. Similarly, although thc 8uddha and his tcachings arc vcry
powcrlul, without thc prcccptor thcy arc unablc to kindlc thc
nrc ol wisdom within a disciplc. Tc prcccptor lunctions as a
mcans ol conccntrating and harncssing thc powcr ol thc 8uddha,
Ðharma, and Sangha in such a way as to makc that powcr cßcc
tivc and immcdiatcly applicablc to thc disciplc’s own nccds.
Rccognizing this rolc ol thc prcccptor has always bccn ol thc
grcatcst importancc. Vc will undcrstand this bcttcr il wc con
sidcr thc story ol Marpa, onc ol thc morc lamous Tibctans who
journcycd to !ndia in ordcr to rcccivc thc \ajrayana tcaching
lrom Naropa. Marpa madc thrcc journcys to !ndia and studicd
at lcngth with Naropa. !t is said that on onc occasion, whcn thc
manilcstation ol a tutclary dcity appcarcd bclorc him, Marpa
madc thc mistakc ol bowing to thc appcarancc ol thc dcity
rathcr than to his prcccptor, Naropa. Tc karmic conscqucnccs
ol this lapsc wcrc that Marpa latcr lost his sons to accidcnts and
had no dcsccndants to whom hc could pass on thc tcachings hc
had rcccivcd. Tis is onc ol a numbcr ol storics which indicatc
thc nccd to rccognizc thc importancc ol thc prcccptor in thc
\ajrayana tradition.
!n Chaptcr :o, ! will show how thc last two componcnts in
thcsc gcncral prcliminarics – thc cultivation ol singlcpointcdncss
and pcnctrativc insight – arc applicd to onc’s practicc in thc con
tcxt ol \ajrayana mcditation. For thc timc bcing, lct mc rcpcat
:·¡ :··
that thcsc gcncral prcliminarics arc indispcnsablc prcrcqui
sitcs to scrious \ajrayana practicc. No tradition within Tibctan
8uddhism cncouragcs thc commcnccmcnt ol \ajrayana practicc
without having spcnt a rcally substantial amount ol timc on thcsc
prcliminary practiccs. All thc Tibctan \ajrayana traditions havc
cxtcnsivc oral and writtcn matcrial on thc cultivation and prac
ticc ol thcsc prcliminarics. Although it docs somctimcs happcn
that pcoplc go on to \ajrayana practicc without having spcnt an
appropriatc amount ol timc on thcsc gcncral prcliminarics, thcy
do so at thcir own risk. Howcvcr, ! do not mcan to indulgc in
scarc mongcring. Vhat ! mcan is that il you do somchow man
agc to go on to your univcrsity cducation without having undcr
gonc prcunivcrsity training, you arc liablc to havc a much morc
dimcult timc in your univcrsity carccr.
! would likc to makc onc morc obscrvation bclorc trcating thc
particular prcliminary practiccs that arc spccial to thc \ajrayana.
! havc gonc to grcat lcngths to show thc intcgratcd naturc ol thc
thrcc major 8uddhist traditions ol Tcravada, Mahayana, and
\ajrayana, and havc tricd to show that thc \ajrayana rcprcscnts
a natural cxtcnsion ol clcmcnts lound in othcr 8uddhist tradi
tions. ! would thcrclorc likc to draw your attcntion to two stcps
in thcsc gcncral prcliminary practiccs: thc taking ol rclugc, and
thc awakcning ol thc cnlightcnmcnt thought, or acccptancc ol
thc 8odhisattva vows. ! would likc to suggcst that thcsc can bc
rcgardcd as initiations ol a kind. Anothcr practicc which may bc
sccn as analogous to initiation is thc novitiatc, or cntrancc into
thc 8uddhist Òrdcr.
All thrcc ol thcsc practiccs may bc thought ol as varictics ol
initiations. All involvc cntrancc into a community with a partic
:·¡ :··
ular sct ol practiccs: in thc casc ol taking rclugc, thc ccrcmony
rcprcscnts cntry into thc 8uddhist community, in thc casc ol
thc novitiatc, it rcprcscnts cntry into thc monastic community,
and in thc casc ol thc 8odhisattva vows, cntry into thc lincagc
or lamily ol thc 8uddha. Tcsc thrcc ccrcmonics arc, in a scnsc,
initiations that involvc taking on ccrtain commitmcnts: taking
rclugc brings along with it thc commitmcnt to try to obscrvc
thc prcccpts ol a laypcrson, cntcring thc monastic ordcr brings
with it thc commitmcnt to obscrvc thc prcccpts ol a novicc, and
taking thc 8odhisattva vows brings with it thc commitmcnts ol
thc 8odhisattva. Tcrc arc aspccts ol thc institutions ol rclugc,
novitiatc, and 8odhisattva vows that arc similar to important
clcmcnts in thc \ajrayana initiation.
Lct us go on to look at thc spccinc prcliminary practiccs
gcncrally rcquircd lor \ajrayana practicc. !t is not impcrativc
that onc complctc thc prcliminarics bclorc bcginning any kind
ol \ajrayana practicc. !t is also not impcrativc that onc complctc
thcsc prcliminarics bclorc rccciving \ajrayana initiation. !t is,
howcvcr, impcrativc that onc complctc thcm bclorc undcrtak
ing mcditational rctrcat on onc ol thc major \ajrayana tutclary
dcitics. For rcally scrious \ajrayana practicc, thcsc spccinc prc
liminarics arc rcquircd.
Tc tcrm lor thcsc prcliminarics in Tibctan is ngon-dro,
which litcrally mcans ‘going bclorc.’ Hcncc thcsc practiccs go
bclorc scrious practicc. Tcrc arc lour spccinc prcliminary prac
ticcs common to all thc \ajrayana traditions: (.) rclugc, (:) con
lcssion, (.) prcccptor yoga, and (¡) mandala oßcring. ¡ach has to
bc pcrlormcd onc hundrcd thousand timcs. !n addition to thcsc
lour, ccrtain traditions rcquirc thc pcrlormancc ol prostrations,
:·6 :··
and othcrs rcquirc altcrnativc rituals.
Refuge. As alrcady mcntioncd, in thc \ajrayana tradition
onc takcs rclugc in lour ‘objccts’ – thc 8uddha, Ðharma, Sangha,
and prcccptor, or guru. Taking rclugc involvcs visualization ol
thc objccts ol rclugc cithcr scparatcly or togcthcr: (a) onc can
visualizc onc’s prcccptor, thc 8uddha, thc tcxts, and thc Noblc
Asscmbly scparatcly, or (b) onc can visualizc thc lour objccts ol
rclugc intcgratcd or combincd into thc singlc ngurc ol thc tutc
lary dcity. Somc ol you may havc sccn this visualization por
traycd in paintcd scrolls, with thc objccts ol rclugc picturcd in
a trcc, on a jcwclcd thronc, on a lotus and a sun or moon disk
(lor morc on somc ol thcsc symbols, scc Chaptcr :·). Using this
visualization ol thc lour objccts ol rclugc, wc rccitc a rclugc lor
mula onc hundrcd thousand timcs.
Confession. For convcnicncc, ! havc callcd thc sccond spc
cinc prcliminary practicc ‘conlcssion’ bccausc it is commonly
rclcrrcd to by this namc. Howcvcr, it is important to rcmcmbcr
hcrc that wc arc not conccrncd with conlcssion as a mcans ol
sccuring lorgivcncss. Vc do not usc thc tcrm in thc samc scnsc
in which it is uscd in Christianity, whcrc thc conlcssion ol sins
is lollowcd by lorgivcncss lrom an cxtcrnal powcr. !n this con
tcxt, conlcssion mcrcly implics our own rccognition ol unwholc
somc actions donc in thc past, and our rcsolvc not to rcpcat thcm.
¡spccially important in this practicc ol conlcssion ol unwholc
somc actions is thc 8uddha \ajrasattva, anothcr spccial lorm
ol thc 8uddha similar to thc 8uddhas ol thc Fivc Familics.
\ajrasattva is an archctypal lorm ol thc 8uddha who cmbodics
thc statc ol cnlightcnmcnt lor thc spccial purposc ol thc conlcs
sion and purincation ol unwholcsomc actions.
:·6 :··
\ajrasattva appcars in thc Mahayana panthcon as wcll, and
thc practicc ol conlcssion ol unwholcsomc actions is onc ol thc
prcliminarics pcrlormcd by all who cmbark on thc 8odhisattva
path. \ajrasattva is whitc in color. Hc has a singlc lacc and two
hands, and holds a vajra and a bcll, which stand lor skilllul mcans
and wisdom, rcspcctivcly. !n thc spccinc prcliminary practicc ol
conlcssion, wc mcditatc on \ajrasattva and rccitc thc hundrcd
syllablc mantra ol \ajrasattva onc hundrcd thousand timcs.
!t is said that lour powcrs issuc lrom thc practicc ol thc
conlcssion and purincation ol unwholcsomc actions. Tc nrst
powcr is thc ‘powcr ol thc shrinc,’ which rclcrs to thc powcr ol
\ajrasattva as a symbol ol purincation. Tcrc is a ccrtain powcr
which issucs lrom visualization ol thc lorm ol \ajrasattva. Tis
is a symbolic powcr, similar to thc kind ol powcr that issucs, in
thc mundanc contcxt, lrom a symbol such as thc national ßag.
Tc national ßag has a symbolic powcr, similarly, in thc sacrcd
contcxt ol mcditation, thc imagc ol \ajrasattva has a ccrtain
powcr, thc powcr ol symbol.
Tc sccond ol thc lour powcrs is thc ‘powcr ol transccn
dcncc,’ ol going bcyond. Tis rclcrs to a sinccrc rcnunciation ol
unwholcsomc actions. !n othcr words, in thc coursc ol thc mcdi
tation, unwholcsomc actions arc transccndcd.
Tc third powcr that issucs lrom this practicc is thc ‘powcr
ol habitual antidotc,’ or thc powcr ol pcrsistcnt corrcction, which
rclcrs to thc sinccrc rcsolvc not to rcpcat thc unwholcsomc actions
onc has donc in thc past. Tis is thc powcr to rclrain lrom doing
unwholcsomc actions again in thc luturc.
Tc lourth powcr is thc ‘powcr ol rcstoration.’ Tis rclcrs to
thc lact that, insolar as unwholcsomc actions bclong to thc lcvcl
:·· :·o
ol conditioncd rcality, thcy do not rcally pcnctratc to thc corc
ol onc’s own bcing, which is thc 8uddha mind, or thc naturc
ol cmptincss. Unwholcsomc actions arc, in rcality, advcntitious.
Tcy arc likc thc dirt that soils a whitc cloth, or thc smokc or
cloud that obscurcs thc sky. 8ccausc ol this, mcditation on
\ajrasattva rcsults in thc powcr ol rcstoration, which is thc rcal
ization ol our intrinsic purity.
Preceptor Yoga. Tc third prcliminary is callcd prcccptor
yoga. Tc prcccptor (guru or lama) is an accomplishcd mastcr
who bcstows tantric initiations and spccial spiritual attainmcnts.
Although it is quitc common lor thosc not convcrsant with thc
Tibctan tradition to rclcr to any Tibctan monk as a lama, in
thc Tibctan tradition this tcrm is rcscrvcd lor such qualincd
mastcrs, whilc ordinary monks arc rclcrrcd to simply as gelong
(bhikshu). Tc tcrm yoga mcans ‘yoking togcthcr,’ connccting or
Tc purposc ol prcccptor yoga is to cstablish a closc bond
bctwccn disciplc and mastcr. Hcrc again, wc can scc thc impor
tancc ol thc prcccptor in thc \ajrayana tradition. Tis practicc
can takc dißcrcnt lorms, which dißcr slightly. Howcvcr, in gcn
cral it involvcs thc rccitation, onc hundrcd thousand timcs, ol a
lormula that cxprcsscs a disciplc’s dcvotion to and rcgard lor thc
qualitics ol thc prcccptor.
! would likc to cxpand on what ! said carlicr about thc impor
tancc ol thc prcccptor in thc \ajrayana tradition – why this is and
must bc so. Tc \ajrayana tradition is nrst and lorcmost an oral
tradition, handcd down lrom mastcr to disciplc. Tc association
or conncction bctwccn mastcr and disciplc is particularly impor
tant. Tis association lcads to thc lormation ol lincagc. Lincagc
:·· :·o
is, ol coursc, important not only in thc \ajrayana but also in
thc 8uddhist tradition as a wholc, cspccially whcn it comcs
to monastic ordination. !l you look at thc history ol monas
ticism in Sri Lanka and Tailand, you will noticc thc impor
tancc accordcd to it. 8ccausc ol discontinuation ol thc lincagc
ol monastic ordination, spccial cnvoys had to bc scnt lrom onc
Tcravada country to anothcr on a numbcr ol occasions, simply
to rcncw thc lincagc.
Lincagc is likc an clcctric circuit. Vhcn thc lincagc is bro
kcn, thc ordination ol ncw disciplcs cannot takc placc. Tis also
occurrcd in thc monastic history ol Tibct whcn, altcr thc pcr
sccution ol 8uddhism undcr King Landarma, thc lincagc
ol monastic ordination had to bc rccstablishcd with thc hclp
ol Chincsc monks. Tus lincagc is cxtrcmcly important. !t is
important in thc \ajrayana tradition bccausc it is by mcans
ol lincagc – thc unbrokcn chain connccting mastcr and disci
plc – that thc \ajrayana tcachings arc handcd down lrom onc
gcncration to thc ncxt.
Tc conccpt ol lincagc implics thc idcntity ol cach link in thc
chain, cach mcmbcr ol thc lincagc. Conscqucntly, thc ngurc ol
thc prcccptor sccurcs idcntincation bctwccn thc mastcr, disciplc,
and tutclary dcity. Latcr, thc disciplc him or hcrscll lorgcs this
bond as hc or shc dcvclops his or hcr own scnsc ol idcntincation
with thc prcccptor and thcn with thc tutclary dcity. Tc institu
tion ol thc lincagc, as it is cmbodicd in thc ngurc ol thc prcccp
tor, cuts across timc and spacc. !t bridgcs thc gull that scparatcs
us, hcrc and now, lrom thc timc and placc and modc ol bcing ol
thc 8uddha. Tis is why, in \ajrayana initiation and mcditation
practicc, thc prcccptor is idcntincd with thc tutclary dcity, and
:oc :o.
it is thcn thc task ol thc practitioncr to idcntily with thc dcity
through thc prcccptor. Tis practicc ol union with thc guru is
important lor crcating thc loundation ol thc spccial rclationship
bctwccn practitioncr and prcccptor.
Manda/a Ofering. Tc lourth prcliminary practicc is thc
oßcring ol thc mandala. !n gcncral, a mandala is a sacrcd, sym
bolic (or magic) circlc. !n thc contcxt ol thc oßcring ritual,
thc mandala rcprcscnts in symbolic lorm thc wholc mundanc
univcrsc, as it is picturcd in traditional 8uddhist cosmology.
Traditionally, thc univcrsc is said to havc Mount Sumcru at its
ccntcr, thc lour contincnts on cach sidc ol Mount Sumcru, lour
intcrmcdiatc contincnts, and so lorth. Tc mandala is a symbolic
rcprcscntation ol this traditional cosmology.
!n thc practicc ol mandala oßcring, thc practitioncr oßcrs
to thc lour objccts ol rclugc (thc 8uddha, Ðharma, Sangha,
and prcccptor) all his own mcrit, born ol wholcsomc actions,
in thc symbolic lorm ol thc univcrsc. Hc oßcrs all his wholc
somc actions to thcsc lour objccts, which arc thc rcpositorics ol
all cxccllcnt qualitics, lor thc sakc ol thc cnlightcnmcnt ol all
scnticnt bcings. Tis oßcring is donc a hundrcd thousand timcs.
Along with thc rccitation, thc practitioncr pcrlorms a ritual
using a disk ol mctal, stonc, or wood and grains ol ricc, whcat,
or sand, by mcans ol which hc crcatcs symbolically thc salicnt
lcaturcs ol thc traditional cosmology ol thc univcrsc.
Tis practicc ol mandala oßcring is cßcctivc bccausc it is thc
most cxccllcnt lorm ol karma. Tcrc arc nvc modilying condi
tions that intcnsily thc wcight ol karma – thrcc subjcctivc and
two objcctivc. Tc thrcc subjcctivc conditions arc (a) pcrsistcncc
or rcpctition ol an action, (b) willlul intcntion, and (c) abscncc
:oc :o.
ol rcgrct. Tc objcctivc conditions arc (d) quality and (c) indcbt
cdncss toward whom thc action is dircctcd (scc also Chaptcr ·).
!n thc mandala oßcring, wc havc all thc conditions con
ducivc to cnhancing thc wcight ol this wholcsomc karma. Vc
havc pcrsistcncc, in that thc oßcring is donc a hundrcd thousand
timcs. Vc havc thc intcntion ol thc practitioncr to oßcr all his
mcrits in this symbolic lorm to thc cnlightcncd oncs. Vc also
havc a complctc abscncc ol rcgrct. !l wc wcrc to oßcr matcrial
objccts, wc might bc liablc to cxpcricncc somc lccling ol rcgrct.
For cxamplc, il ! oßcr a nnancial cndowmcnt to a monastcry, !
may latcr think that ! havc oßcrcd too much. 8ut with a sym
bolic oßcring ol this sort, thcrc is no ground lor that kind ol lccl
ing to arisc, so thc wholcsomc karma it gcncratcs is unopposcd.
Last, who is morc worthy ol oßcring than thc cnlightcncd oncs,
who arc ol thc highcst worth and grcatcst bcncnt to us, sincc it is
thcy who makc cnlightcnmcnt acccssiblc: Tc practicc ol man-
dala oßcring thus crcatcs thc mcrit rcquircd to makc rapid prog
rcss along thc \ajrayana path.
!n short, thc lour spccinc prcliminary practiccs havc a spc
cial contribution to makc in thc prcparation lor scrious \ajrayana
practicc. Tc rccitation ol thc rclugc lormula cstablishcs onc
nrmly on thc path, crcating a sccurc shcltcr that protccts onc
lrom discouragcmcnt and distractions. Tc practicc ol conlcs
sion purincs unwholcsomc actions. Tc practicc ol prcccptor yoga
idcntincs practitioncr and prcccptor, cstablishing thc rclationship
so crucial to onc’s progrcss on thc \ajrayana path. Finally, thc
practicc ol mandala oßcring crcatcs thc positivc potcntial, thc
wholcsomc cncrgy, that onc nccds in making rapid and cmcicnt
:o: :o.
Tc îajrayana Initiation
ith this chaptcr, wc comc to a rathcr important topic in
any introduction to thc \ajrayana path. Òvcr thc hall
ccntury or so that \ajrayana has bccn known in thc Vcst and
thc world at largc, it has bccn liablc to a grcat dcal ol misintcr
prctation and misundcrstanding. Tc clcmcnt that has probably
bccn thc causc ol thc grcatcst misundcrstanding is thc institu
tion ol initiation. Many havc objcctcd to initiation bcing a com
poncnt ol a path in thc 8uddhist tradition.
As mcntioncd in Chaptcr :·, thcrc is nothing lormally dißcr
cnt in thc \ajrayana initiation that scts it apart lrom othcr ritcs ol
passagc which play an important rolc in thc 8uddhist tradition. !t
is hard to undcrstand why pcoplc can acccpt thc rclugc ccrcmony
and thc ritc ol monastic ordination but havc dimculty with thc idca
ol a \ajrayana initiation. ! hopc that, by indicating thc contcnts ol
\ajrayana initiation and its rolc and lunction within thc tradition,
somc ol thc misintcrprctation and misundcrstanding will bc dis
Lct us nrst look at thc mcaning ol thc Sanskrit tcrm abhishekha,
which has bccn translatcd as ‘initiation,’ ‘consccration,’ and cvcn
‘cmpowcrmcnt.’ Nonc ol thcsc is a litcral translation ol thc original
tcrm, which in lact mcans ‘sprinkling’ or ‘watcring’ – spccincally,
sprinkling watcr on an arca ol carth, such as a ncld.
Vc can bcgin to lcarn somcthing about thc naturc ol
\ajrayana initiation il wc considcr why thc tcrm abhisheka was
choscn lor this ritual. Tc answcr is that wc havc hcrc a ccrc
:o: :o.
mony thc purposc ol which is to cnlivcn or quickcn thc disciplc’s
progrcss toward cnlightcnmcnt. ]ust as wc might sprinklc watcr
on a ncld in which sccds havc bccn sown, and by that sprinkling
cnlivcn and quickcn thc growth ol thc sccds, so in thc \ajrayana
initiation wc cnlivcn and quickcn thc growth ol thc sccd ol thc
disciplc’s spiritual potcntial.
Vc havc hcrc rclcrcnccs to idcas that arc alrcady wcll dcvcl
opcd in thc Mahayana tradition – namcly, thc notion ol thc
8uddha naturc, or thc potcntial lor cnlightcnmcnt, that all liv
ing bcings posscss. Tc proccss ol growth and lruition ol this
spiritual potcntial is quickcncd by abhisheka, or ‘sprinkling’ – a
clcar indication ol thc lunction ol that sprinkling, or initiation.
Although it is inconvcnicnt to translatc abhisheka as ‘watcring’ or
‘sprinkling,’ it is important to rcmcmbcr that thc tcrm rclcrs to
a proccss rathcr dißcrcnt in its purposc and intcntion lrom what
wc might think il wc took it at lacc valuc, rcgarding it as a sort
ol initiation into a sccrct socicty or thc likc.
Lct mc try to cxpand on this vcry lundamcntal and linguis
tic dcnnition ol initiation in thc \ajrayana tradition. \ajrayana
initiation mcans introducing thc disciplc into thc mandala,
thc sacrcd or magic circlc, ol onc ol thc tutclary dcitics ol thc
\ajrayana panthcon – dcitics who arc spccial csotcric lorms ol thc
8uddha, mcditation on whom can bring about cnlightcnmcnt.
!n Chaptcr :·, wc saw that thc mandala is a symbolic rcprcscnta
tion ol thc univcrsc. !n thc contcxt ol an initiation, it rcprcscnts
not thc univcrsc as wc know it, lrom an uncnlightcncd point ol
vicw, but thc sacrcd or purc univcrsc that wc achicvc on thc lcvcl
ol cnlightcnmcnt, whcn our vision is purincd ol unwholcsomc
tcndcncics. Much ol what ! said in Chaptcr :6 about thc trans
:o¡ :o·
lormation ol thc nvc aggrcgatcs into thc nvc cclcstial 8uddhas is
applicablc to this notion ol thc purincd or translormcd univcrsc.
Tcrclorc, whcn wc say that thc \ajrayana initiation introduccs
a disciplc into thc mandala ol onc ol thc tantric tutclary dcitics,
what wc mcan is that it introduccs him or hcr to thc purincd
univcrsc ol onc ol thcsc dcitics.
Tc \ajrayana tutclary dcitics can bc dividcd into lour classcs
ol asccnding powcr or cmcacy in bringing about thc translorma
tion lrom an uncnlightcncd modc ol cxistcncc to an cnlightcncd
and sacrcd modc ol cxistcncc: (.) thc kriya class, (:) thc charya
class, (.) thc yoga class, and (¡) thc anuttarayoga class. !nitiation
is thc introduction ol a disciplc into thc sacrcd univcrsc ol thc
tutclary dcity ol onc ol thcsc classcs ol tantra. Tc kriya class
rclcrs to a group ol tutclary dcitics and practiccs primarily con
ccrncd with cxtcrnalizcd rituals and practiccs. Kriya mcans
‘action,’ ‘ritual,’ ‘ccrcmony.’ Tc tutclary dcitics who bclong to
this class arc associatcd with practiccs that arc, by and largc,
cxtcrnal and ritualistic. Practiccs associatcd with thc kriya class
ol tantra oltcn involvc vcgctarianism, rcgular and cvcn ritual
bathing, and ritual oßcring.
!n contrast, thc tutclary dcitics ol thc charya class ol tantra
arc associatcd with practiccs that havc to do primarily with thc
intcrnal attitudcs, intcntions, and conccptions ol thc practitio
ncr. Vhcrcas kriya tantra practiccs arc cxtcrnal, thc practiccs
associatcd with thc charya tantra class arc usually intcrnal, to
thc cxclusion ol thc cxtcrnal practiccs. Practitioncrs ol thc charya
class oltcn prcscnt a much lcss sociablc appcarancc than thosc ol
thc kriya class ol tantra.
Tc third class, thc yoga class ol tutclary dcitics, is associ
:o¡ :o·
atcd with a combination ol practiccs bclonging to thc kriya and
charya classcs. Practiccs associatcd with thc yoga class scck to
arrivc at a balancc bctwccn thc cxtcrnal and intcrnal practiccs.
Tis balancc, or union, bctwccn thc intcrnal and cxtcrnal prac
ticcs is rcßcctcd in thc tcrm yoga, which mcans ‘combination’ or
!n thc casc ol thc anuttarayoga tutclary dcitics, wc havc a
transccndcncc or dissolution ol thc barricrs that dcnnc thc nrst
thrcc classcs ol practicc (cxtcrnal, intcrnal, and thc combina
tion ol thc two). Anuttara mcans ‘transccndcncc,’ in this casc, a
transccndcncc ol cxtcrnal and intcrnal practicc alikc. Tus thc
anuttara class ol tutclary dcitics and practiccs is thc most highly
dcvclopcd within thc \ajrayana tradition. !t is at this lcvcl that
wc achicvc, in its lullcst scnsc, complctc intcgration ol cxpcri
cncc into thc \ajrayana path, intcgration that lcads spontanc
ously to thc translormation ol bcing. Tis is thc idcal ! rclcrrcd
to in Chaptcr :¡, whcn discussing thc purposc ol thc mcthod
ology ol thc \ajrayana – namcly, complctc intcgration ol cxpcri
cncc into thc path.
!nitiation itscll can bc ol thrcc varictics. Tc nrst ol thcsc
is thc major initiation, which has a kind ol comprchcnsivc, all
cncompassing lunction. To usc a rathcr prosaic analogy, a major
initiation might bc likcncd to a liccnsc cmpowcring you to drivc
all kinds ol motor vchiclcs, or to thc broad powcrs that a govcrn
mcnt might givc a spccial cnvoy to takc up all dccisions rcgard
ing a particular sct ol qucstions. A major initiation is a kind ol
complctc cmpowcrmcnt that usually rcquircs two days. Tc nrst
day is givcn ovcr to prcparatory practiccs, which in gcncral havc
to do with thc purincation ol thc disciplc. Tc sccond day is
:o6 :o·
rcscrvcd lor actually introducing thc disciplc into thc mandala
ol thc particular dcity involvcd.
Tc sccond kind ol initiation is thc subsidiary initiation,
which might bc likcncd to a liccnsc that cmpowcrs you to han
dlc a rarc, spccializcd class ol practiccs, which arc noncthclcss
important and highly cmcacious.
Tc third class is cvcn morc limitcd in scopc, consisting ol
rathcr simplc initiations, oltcn vcry bricl in tcrms ol thc timc
rcquircd to bcstow thcm, that cnablc onc to cngagc in rclativcly
simplc practiccs associatcd with subsidiary dcitics bclonging to a
largcr lamily to whom onc has alrcady bccn introduccd by mcans
ol thc appropriatc initiation. Tcsc arc somctimcs tcrmcd ‘sub
scqucnt initiations,’ bccausc thcy arc traditionally givcn subsc
qucnt to major or subsidiary oncs.
\ajrayana dcitics arc also dividcd into lamilics (not rclatcd to
thc lour classcs ol tutclary dcitics mcntioncd a momcnt ago) that
arc associatcd with thc 8uddhas ol thc Fivc Familics – \airochana,
Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, Amoghasiddhi, and Akshobhya. For
cxamplc, thc tutclary dcity Hcvajra is associatcd with thc \ajra
lamily hcadcd by Akshobhya, whilc Chakrasamvara is associ
atcd with thc 8uddha lamily ol \airochana.
A major initiation can bc likcncd to thc purchasc ol a sca
son tickct lor a wholc scrics ol cvcnts. Tc scason tickct cntitlcs
you to participatc in any or all ol thc cvcnts, although whcn
cvcr you do you will naturally havc to producc your tickct and
pcrhaps havc it stampcd. Similarly, a major initiation cntitlcs
you to rcccivc a wholc scrics ol subsidiary and lcsscr initiations,
although, whcn rccciving cach initiation, you will still havc to
participatc in thc appropriatc ritual.
:o6 :o·
Traditionally, it is thc major initiation that providcs thc disci
plc with acccss to thc wholc rangc ol \ajrayana dcitics and prac
ticcs. !n rcccnt ycars, howcvcr, bccausc ol thc growing dcmand
lor tantric initiations, \ajrayana mastcrs somctimcs choosc to
givc onc ol thc lcsscr, subscqucnt initiations nrst, sincc thc prac
ticcs associatcd with thcm arc simplcr. Tis has somctimcs bccn
lound to bc usclul, in that it scrvcs as a kind ol trial cxposurc to
\ajrayana practicc, just as onc might bc givcn a liccnsc to drivc
a motor scootcr bclorc obtaining a liccnsc to drivc all kinds ol
motor vchiclcs.
All thcsc initiations must bc givcn by a qualincd \ajrayana
prcccptor. Tcrc arc two typcs ol qualincation thc prcccptor may
havc. !n thc nrst casc thc prcccptor, having achicvcd a vcry high
lcvcl ol mcntal dcvclopmcnt, rcccivcs dircct cmpowcrmcnt lrom
thc dcity conccrncd. Tis typc ol qualincation is typincd by thc
cascs ol thc mcn ol grcat attainmcnt, or Mahasiddhas, in !ndia,
and also, lcss commonly, in Tibct.
Tc sccond typc ol qualincation is much morc common.
!n this casc thc prcccptor rcccivcs thc cmpowcrmcnt ol thc
dcity lrom a qualincd mastcr. Hc or shc must also pcrlorm thc
rcquircd mcditational practiccs – thc rctrcats and so lorth – stip
ulatcd by thc tradition, so as to sccurc a sumcicntly intimatc
association with thc dcity to lunction as a gobctwccn with thc
powcr to introducc othcrs to thc mandala ol thc dcity conccrncd.
!t is important that thc \ajrayana initiation bc rcccivcd lrom a
prcccptor who has at lcast thc sccond typc ol qualincation.
!n thc coursc ol thc \ajrayana initiation, thc disciplc rcgards
thc prcccptor as idcntical with thc tutclary dcity into whosc
sacrcd circlc hc is bcing introduccd. Similarly, hc rcgards thc
:o· :oo
cnvironmcnt, thc situation ol thc initiation, as idcntical with thc
sacrcd univcrsc ol that tutclary dcity. !n thc coursc ol thc initi
ation, hc is introduccd to and idcntincs both with that tutclary
dcity (in thc lorm ol thc prcccptor in thc initiation) and with thc
sacrcd univcrsc, which is symbolizcd by thc situation ol thc ini
tiation itscll.
Tis proccss ol introduction and idcntincation takcs placc
through thc usc ol symbols. Tcsc symbols arc both spccinc and
gcncral. Tc spccinc symbols arc bcst rcprcscntcd by a varicty ol
ritual objccts. Tcsc ritual objccts arc associatcd with, and stand
lor, thc clcmcnts or actors who participatc in this sacrcd drama,
who inhabit this sacrcd univcrsc. !n our discussions ol thc sym
bols ol thc \ajrayana and ol thc nvc archctypal 8uddhas ol thc
Fivc Familics, wc spokc ol a numbcr ol symbols that havc par
ticular mcanings (scc Chaptcr :· and Chaptcr :6). Vc spokc ol
thc nvc 8uddha lamilics bcing rcprcscntcd by symbols such as
thc vajra, thc crown, thc bcll, and so lorth. !n thc \ajrayana ini
tiation, thcsc objccts lunction as spccinc symbols by mcans ol
which thc disciplc can bc introduccd to thc sacrcd univcrsc and
thcn idcntily himscll with that sacrcd univcrsc, that purc cxpcri
cncc ol an cnlightcncd modc ol bcing. !n thc coursc ol thc initia
tion, thc disciplc is givcn a vajra and bcll to hold, a crown to wcar,
and so lorth. Tcsc symbolic actions lunction to bring about
(a) thc introduction ol thc disciplc to thc sacrcd univcrsc, and
(b) an idcntincation ol thc disciplc with that sacrcd univcrsc.
!n addition to thcsc spccinc symbolic objccts, thcrc arc also
thc morc gcncral and dynamic symbols ol idcntincation. Tcsc
arc thc symbols ol light and watcr, which wc also cncountcrcd in
our discussion ol \ajrayana symbolism (scc Chaptcr :·). !n thc
:o· :oo
coursc ol thc initiation, light and watcr arc uscd as a way ol idcn
tilying thc disciplc with thc tutclary dcity and with thc sacrcd
univcrsc. Light is uscd as a mcdium lor idcntilying thc disciplc
with thc prcccptor, who, in thc contcxt ol thc initiation, is idcn
tical with thc tutclary dcity. Similarly, watcr is uscd as a sym
bol lor idcntilying thc disciplc with thc various lcvcls ol undcr
standing ol thc sacrcd univcrsc. !n thc initiation, both light and
watcr lorm a kind ol bridgc by mcans ol which thc two initially
dißcrcnt modcs ol bcing – namcly, thc distinction bctwccn thc
disciplc and thc prcccptor in thc lorm ol thc tutclary dcity, and
that bctwccn thc cxpcricncc ol thc disciplc and thc cxpcricncc
ol thc sacrcd univcrsc – arc idcntincd and madc onc. Tc disci
plc is askcd to participatc in thc proccss by visualizing light and
watcr as mcdia ol idcntincation with thc purincd univcrsc por
traycd in thc \ajrayana initiation.
Tc initiation is a vchiclc lor translormation or, to put it morc
crudcly, lor rcbirth, or rcgcncration. Tis is indicatcd by thc lact
that in a major initiation thc disciplc is givcn a ncw namc, just
as a ncw namc is givcn whcn onc bccomcs a 8uddhist in thc
ccrcmony ol thc taking ol rclugc, or whcn onc is ordaincd. Tc
bcstowal ol thc ncw namc stands lor thc rcgcncration ol thc dis
ciplc in a ncw lorm, by virtuc ol his introduction to and idcnti
ncation with both thc lorm ol thc tutclary dcity and thc cxpcri
cncc ol thc sacrcd univcrsc.
Tc initiation is important not only bccausc it is itscll an
introduction to and idcntincation with thc sacrcd univcrsc, but
also bccausc it supplics thc disciplc with thc mcthods, or kcys,
with which hc can latcr rcintroducc, rcidcntily, and rcintcgratc
himscll with thc sacrcd univcrsc nrst cncountcrcd during thc
.cc .c.
initiation. Tcsc mcthods or kcys arc (i) thc vision with which
hc is supplicd in thc contcxt ol thc initiation, whcn hc sccs lor
thc nrst timc, in symbolic lorm, thc sacrcd and purincd univcrsc,
and (ii) thc mantra appropriatc to thc tutclary dcity that hc is
givcn in thc coursc ol thc initiation.
8y mcans ol this vision and this mantra, thc disciplc can rcc
rcatc thc sacrcd vision, rcintroducc himscll to thc sacrcd cxpcri
cncc, and rcidcntily himscll with thc sacrcd univcrsc. Tis will
occur subscqucnt to thc initiation, in thc practicc ol thc mcdi
tation appropriatc to thc particular tutclary dcity whosc initia
tion thc disciplc has rcccivcd. !n thc contcxt ol this mcditation,
hc will usc thc kcys rcccivcd during thc initiation – thc vision
and thc mantra – to rccrcatc, rcintroducc, and rcidcntily him
scll with thc sacrcd cxpcricncc on his own. Hc will thcn no lon
gcr nccd thc support, thc cxtcrnal cnvironmcnt, ol thc initiation.
Rathcr, hc will bc ablc to rccrcatc, rcintroducc, and rcidcntily
himscll with thc purc cxpcricncc rcprcscntcd by thc initiation
by mcans ol thc clcmcnts hc rcccivcd thcrc. Tis is thc primary
rolc and lunction ol thc \ajrayana initiation.
Likc othcr initiations, thc \ajrayana initiation brings with it
ccrtain commitmcnts that must bc rcspcctcd and prcscrvcd by
thc disciplc. Prosaic cascs, such as liccnsing to drivc motor vchi
clcs or to practicc mcdicinc, also bring with thcm a commitmcnt
to rcspcct ccrtain codcs or rulcs ol action and intcntion. Similarly,
in thc 8uddhist tradition as a wholc, ritcs such as taking rclugc
and ordination into thc monastic ordcr bring with thcm ccrtain
commitmcnts thc disciplc is cxpcctcd to lulnll.
!n vcry gcncral tcrms, thcrc arc thrcc scts ol commitmcnts
in thc 8uddhist tradition – thosc appropriatc lor individual lib
.cc .c.
cration (thc pratimoksha vows), thosc appropriatc lor thc rcsolvc
to libcratc all living bcings (thc 8odhisattva vows), and thosc
appropriatc to \ajrayana practicc (thc \ajrayana vows). !n bricl,
thc csscntial quality ol thc commitmcnts appropriatc lor individ
ual libcration is thc avoidancc ol injury to othcrs, thc csscntial
quality ol thc commitmcnts ol thc 8odhisattva is to bcncnt oth
crs, and thc csscntial quality ol thc \ajrayana commitmcnts is
to rcgard all living bcings as part ol thc purc vision, as dcitics ol
thc sacrcd univcrsc which thc disciplc has appropriatcd through
thc \ajrayana initiation.
.c: .c.
îajrayana Æuddhism in +rauicc
n thc last ol thcsc cight chaptcrs on thc \ajrayana path, !
would likc to considcr thc spccial mcditational practicc known
as thc \ajrayana Sadhana. Tc tcrm sadhana mcans ‘to achicvc,’
‘to attain,’ or ‘to cstablish.’ Tc \ajrayana Sadhana is thc mcans
by which onc can achicvc, attain, or cstablish thc cxpcricncc
ol thc sacrcd univcrsc, thc cxpcricncc ol cnlightcnmcnt. Ònc
who cngagcs in thc practicc ol sadhana is callcd a sadhaka. Tc
attainmcnt itscll is callcd thc siddhi, and onc who has attaincd
it is callcd a siddha. ! mcntion this bccausc in Chaptcr :: !
talkcd about thc mcn ol grcat attainmcnt, or Mahasiddhas, who
attaincd thc cxpcricncc ol cnlightcnmcnt through thc practicc
ol \ajrayana mcditation, or sadhana.
!n Chaptcr :· wc said that, in thc \ajrayana initiation, thc
practitioncr is givcn thc kcys with which to cntcr and cxpc
ricncc thc sacrcd univcrsc. !n gcncral, thc kcys that arc givcn
arc thc vision ol thc tutclary dcity and thc spccial vcrbal lor
mula, or mantra, associatcd with thc tutclary dcity. Tcsc con
stitutc important clcmcnts in \ajrayana mcditation, thc purposc
ol which is thc rccrcation and cstablishmcnt ol thc sacrcd uni
vcrsc. 8ut il wc arc to undcrstand how thc practicc ol \ajrayana
mcditation cnablcs thc practitioncr to obtain this cnlightcnmcnt
cxpcricncc, wc nccd to considcr thc gcncral lorm and contcnts
ol \ajrayana mcditation.
!n cxplaining thc practicc ol \ajrayana mcditation, ! will usc
a structurc that is not absolutcly univcrsal. You will cncountcr a
.c: .c.
numbcr ol practiccs that do not conlorm in cvcry particular to thc
pattcrn that ! will usc hcrc: thcy may dißcr in thc ordcr ol thcir
clcmcnts, or bc prcscntcd in a slightly dißcrcnt way. !n broad
tcrms, howcvcr, thc clcmcnts ol this structurc arc prcscnt in vir
tually all lorms ol \ajrayana mcditation. Morcovcr, thc intcrprc
tation that ! will claboratc on is bascd on authoritativc cxpositions
in thc commcntarial litcraturc ol thc \ajrayana tradition.
Ònc othcr gcncral point ! would likc to strcss is that \ajra
yana mcditation is both mcthod (or path) and goal (or rcsult).
Vhat ! mcan by mcthod is that, by practicing \ajrayana mcdi
tation, onc can attain thc cxpcricncc ol cnlightcnmcnt. !n this
scnsc \ajrayana mcditation is mcthod. 8ut as onc progrcsscs in
onc’s practicc ol thc mcditation, as onc pcrlccts thc mcthod, thc
mcthod bccomcs thc goal. Tus at onc lcvcl \ajrayana mcdita
tion is mcthod, but as thc practitioncr pcrlccts thc mcthod, thc
mcditation bccomcs thc goal. !t rcmains thc mcthod only in
rclation to othcr, lcss dcvclopcd individuals.
Lct mc try to cxplain this by introducing thc gcncral intcrprc
tation ol \ajrayana mcditation that ! proposc to adopt – namcly,
that \ajrayana mcditation is a paradigm, a rccnactmcnt, an imita
tion, or a rcplica ol thc carccrs ol thc 8odhisattvas and 8uddhas.
Tc carccrs ol thc 8odhisattvas and 8uddhas arc both mcthod
and goal. As thc 8odhisattva progrcsscs along thc 8odhisattva
path, lor him that path is mcthod. Òncc hc achicvcs 8uddha
hood, thc 8odhisattva path and thc carccr ol thc 8uddha bccomc
thc goal lor him, cvcn though, in rclation to othcr living bcings,
thcy arc still mcthod. For cxamplc, as wc saw in Chaptcr .·, in
thc contcxt ol thc Mahayana, thc carccr ol thc 8uddha – his
birth, his rcnunciation ol houschold lilc, his practicc ol austcri
.c¡ .c·
tics, and his achicvcmcnt ol 8uddhahood – was simply a drama
playcd out lor thc cnlightcnmcnt ol scnticnt bcings.
As onc progrcsscs along thc path, thc mcthod and thc goal
bccomc indistinguishablc. Tc practicc bccomcs thc goal lor thc
practitioncr, yct it rcmains thc mcthod lor othcrs, who still havc
to bc lcd to 8uddhahood. Tc \ajrayana mcditation, thcrclorc, is
both mcthod and goal – dcpcnding on onc’s placc along thc path,
on thc lcvcl ol onc’s undcrstanding and attainmcnt.
Lct us dividc thc \ajrayana mcditation into two parts, cach
ol which can in turn bc dividcd into two subscctions. To achicvc
8uddhahood, onc has to pcrlcct thc accomplishmcnts ol mcrit
and knowlcdgc, thc two prcrcquisitcs which arc indispcnsablc
lor achicving 8uddhahood. Practicc ol thc pcrlcctions ol giv
ing, good conduct, and paticncc rcsults in thc accomplishmcnt
ol mcrit, whilc thc pcrlcctions ol mcditation and wisdom rcsult
in thc accomplishmcnt ol knowlcdgc. ¡ncrgy, thc lourth pcrlcc
tion, is nccdcd lor both accomplishmcnts.
Tc nrst hall ol thc \ajrayana practicc is an imitation – an
intcrnalizcd, contcmplativc, symbolic cxprcssion – ol thc
8odhisattva path through which mcrit and knowlcdgc arc pcr
lcctcd. \ajrayana mcditation bcgins with thc taking ol rclugc. !t
continucs, in most cascs, with awakcning ol thc cnlightcnmcnt
thought and rccollcction ol thc practiccs ol thc Six Pcrlcctions
and Four !mmcasurablcs (lovc, compassion, apprcciativc joy,
and cquanimity). All thcsc practiccs arc intcrnalizcd, mcdita
tivc, symbolic cxprcssions ol thc 8odhisattva’s accumulation ol
As wc look lurthcr into thc contcnts ol thc \ajrayana
Sadhana, wc comc ncxt to thc mcditation on cmptincss. Tis is
.c¡ .c·
nothing othcr than an intcrnalizcd, symbolic cxprcssion ol thc
8odhisattva’s accomplishmcnt ol knowlcdgc. Tc 8odhisattva
achicvcs knowlcdgc through thc pcrlcction ol mcditation and
thc pcrlcction ol wisdom. Hcrc, thcn wc havc thc mcditation on
cmptincss, a union ol mcditation and wisdom.
Tus lar, wc havc considcrcd thc nrst hall ol thc \ajrayana
mcditation, which corrcsponds to thc carccr ol thc 8odhisattva
up to his attainmcnt ol 8uddhahood, with his two accomplish
mcnts ol mcrit and ol knowlcdgc. Tcsc arc rcprcscntcd symbol
ically by thc taking ol rclugc, thc awakcning ol thc cnlightcn
mcnt thought, thc practicc ol thc Four !mmcasurablcs, and thc
mcditation on cmptincss.
Altcr thc attainmcnt ol cnlightcnmcnt, oncc 8uddhahood
is achicvcd, thc accomplishmcnts ol mcrit and knowlcdgc
rcsult in two lruits. Tcsc two lruits arc thc two dimcnsions
ol 8uddhahood – thc lorm dimcnsion and thc transccndcn
tal dimcnsion – which arisc dircctly lrom thc accomplishmcnts
ol mcrit and knowlcdgc. !n thc sccond hall ol thc \ajrayana
Sadhana, wc havc a symbolic, mcditativc paradigmatic cxprcs
sion, or rcplica, ol thc rcality ol 8uddhahood that includcs thcsc
two dimcnsions. Tis is rcprcscntcd in thc sadhana through thc
usc ol thc notion ol two proccsscs: (.) thc proccss ol crcation,
origination, or production, and (:) thc proccss ol complction,
or pcrlcction. Tcsc two proccsscs corrcspond to thc lorm and
transccndcntal dimcnsions ol 8uddhahood, rcspcctivcly.
!n what way arc thcsc proccsscs ol crcation and complction
rcßcctcd symbolically – rcplicatcd in mcditativc cxpcricncc – in
thc contcxt ol thc \ajrayana mcditation: Following thc symbolic
attainmcnt ol 8uddhahood, wc havc visualization ol thc lorm ol
.c6 .c·
thc tutclary dcity, in othcr words, thc crcation ol thc phcnom
cnal dimcnsion ol 8uddhahood in thc shapc ol thc particular
tutclary dcity to which thc mcditation bclongs. Tc practitio
ncr crcatcs a conscious imitation ol thc phcnomcnal dimcnsion
ol 8uddhahood in thc lorm ol thc tutclary dcity in qucstion. !n
addition, wc havc thc rccitation ol thc mantra ol that dcity. Tis
rccitation is a symbolic, intcrnalizcd, mcditativc imitation ol thc
8uddha’s tcaching ol thc Ðharma. Tcsc two componcnts – thc
crcation ol thc lorm ol thc tutclary dcity, and thc rccitation ol
thc mantra – constitutc thc proccss ol crcation. Tcy corrcspond
to thc lorm dimcnsion ol 8uddhahood, and arc an imitation ol
thc phcnomcnal activitics ol thc 8uddha.
Tcsc practiccs ol thc crcation ol thc lorm ol thc dcity and
thc rccitation ol thc mantra arc lollowcd by a dissolution ol thc
lorm ol thc dcity into cmptincss and a ccssation ol thc rccitation
ol thc mantra. Tis dissolution and ccssation is a symbolic, mcd
itativc rcplica ol thc transccndcntal dimcnsion ol 8uddhahood.
!n thc sccond hall ol thc \ajrayana mcditation, thcrclorc, wc
havc an imitation ol thc activitics or carccr ol thc 8uddha, with
its phcnomcnal and transccndcntal dimcnsions ol 8uddhahood.
Tis imitation is achicvcd through usc ol thc conccptions ol thc
proccsscs ol crcation and complction. Tc proccss ol crcation
constitutcs thc visualization ol thc dcity and thc rccitation ol thc
mantra, which arc paradigmatic ol thc 8uddha’s phcnomcnal
dimcnsion – his activitics and tcaching ol thc Ðharma, rcspcc
tivcly. Tc proccss ol complction constitutcs thc dissolution ol
thc dcity and a ccssation ol thc rccitation ol thc mantra, which
is paradigmatic ol thc 8uddha’s transccndcntal dimcnsion.
!n summary, in thc \ajrayana mcditation wc havc a com
.c6 .c·
plctc rcplica or imitation ol thc carccrs ol thc 8odhisattvas and
thc 8uddhas. Tc nrst part ol thc mcditation is a rcplica ol thc
8odhisattva’s accomplishmcnt ol mcrit and knowlcdgc. Tc scc
ond part is a rcplica ol thc 8uddha’s phcnomcnal and transccn
dcntal dimcnsions.
! would likc to rcturn to thc notion ol mcditation and wis
dom. Tis point scrvcs to cmphasizc thc complctc intcgrity
ol 8uddhism, bccausc it is absolutcly charactcristic ol all thc
8uddhist traditions to insist on a lusion ol conccntration and
insight, a union ol tranquillity and pcnctrativc vision or wis
dom. !n thc contcxt ol thc \ajrayana mcditation, too, this union
is csscntial. As thc practitioncr mcditatcs on cmptincss in thc
contcxt ol thc imitation ol thc 8odhisattva’s accomplishmcnt
ol knowlcdgc, hc or shc must unitc mcditation and wisdom. !n
this casc, his or hcr ability to conccntratc thc mind on an objcct
is applicd to thc undcrstanding ol cmptincss. Vhcrcas lormcrly
hc or shc may havc cultivatcd thc ability to conccntratc his or
hcr mind with thc hclp ol an cxtcrnal support, such as a bluc
disk, hcrc, in thc contcxt ol thc \ajrayana mcditation, hc or shc
locuscs dircctly on thc undcrstanding ol cmptincss. !n that way,
through thc mcditation on cmptincss, hc or shc imitatcs thc
8odhisattva’s accomplishmcnt ol knowlcdgc through cultivation
ol thc pcrlcctions ol mcditation and wisdom.
Tcrc must also bc a union ol mcditation and wisdom in thc
contcxt ol visualizing thc tutclary dcity and rcciting thc man
tra. Hcrc thc objccts ol conccntration arc thc visualizcd lorm
ol thc tutclary dcity and thc sound ol thc mantra, but thc prac
titioncr has to intcgratc his or hcr undcrstanding ol cmptincss
with his or hcr conccntration on thc lorm ol thc tutclary dcity
and thc sound ol thc mantra so that, in thc coursc ol thc visu
alization and rccitation, hc or shc rcgards thc visualization and
thc sound ol thc mantra as cxcmplary ol cmpty phcnomcna – as
similar to a rcßcction, a magical illusion, and an ccho. Tis is
thc casc bccausc, just as a rcßcction or an ccho occurs rclativc to
causcs and conditions, so thc visualization ol thc tutclary dcity
and thc sound ol thc mantra arisc and cxist rclativc to causcs
and conditions.
!n thc contcxt ol thc \ajrayana mcditation, thc visualization
and thc rccitation arc also paradigmatic ol intcrdcpcndcntly orig
inatcd phcnomcna and ol cmptincss, rcspcctivcly. !n thc \ajrayana
mcditation, as in thc othcr 8uddhist traditions ol mcntal dcvcl
opmcnt, thc union ol mcditation and wisdom is absolutcly ncccs
sary. Tis is pcrhaps why Nagarjuna said in his Lcttcr to a Fricnd
(Suhrillckha) that without mcditation thcrc is no wisdom, and
without wisdom thcrc is no mcditation. 8ut lor thc practitioncr
who puts mcditation and wisdom togcthcr, thc wholc occan ol
samsara can bc dricd up, just as watcr that gathcrs in a cow’s hool
print in thc mud is dricd up by thc noonday sun.
8y putting mcditation and wisdom togcthcr in thc contcxt ol
thc \ajrayana mcditation, onc can achicvc thc cxpcricncc ol thc
sacrcd univcrsc, thc cxpcricncc ol 8uddhahood. Tis is achicvcd
gradually, through lamiliarization with and appropriation ol thc
sacrcd univcrsc dcpictcd in thc sadhana, which is an intcrnalizcd,
mcditativc microcosm ol thc carccrs ol thc 8odhisattvas and thc
8uddhas. !n this way, onc can achicvc thc goal ol 8uddhahood.
Tcrcupon, onc’s cxpcricncc ol cnlightcnmcnt bccomcs a mcans
ol lcading othcr scnticnt bcings to thc samc sacrcd univcrsc, thc
samc goal.
art Tour
Te ·bhidharma
..c ...
·n Introduuion to thc ·bhidharma
n Chaptcrs .c through ¡., ! will discuss thc philosophical
and psychological aspccts ol 8uddhism prcscntcd in thc scvcn
books ol thc Abhidharma Pitaka ol thc Pali canon.
! will not look in grcat dctail at thc lists ol lactors, or dhar-
mas, lound in many compctcnt books on thc Abhidharma.
!nstcad, my objcctivcs hcrc arc thrcc: (.) to outlinc and dcscribc
thc principal mcthods and charactcristics ol thc Abhidharma,
(:) to rclatc thc Abhidharma to what wc gcncrally know about
thc tcachings ol thc 8uddha, and (.) to rclatc Abhidharma phi
losophy to our situation as lay 8uddhists.
Troughout thc history ol 8uddhism, thc Abhidharma has
bccn hcld in high cstccm. !n thc books ol thc Pali canon, lor
cxamplc, thc Abhidharma is spokcn ol in tcrms ol praisc and spc
cial rcgard. Tcrc thc Abhidharma is thc spccial domain ol thc
cldcr monks, noviccs arc cvcn askcd not to intcrrupt thc ¡ldcrs
whcn thcy arc cngagcd in a discussion ol thc Abhidharma. Vc
also nnd thc Abhidharma rccommcndcd only lor thosc who sin
ccrcly strivc to rcalizc thc goal ol 8uddhist practicc, and that a
knowlcdgc ol it is rccommcndcd lor tcachcrs ol thc Ðharma.
Tis traditional rcgard lor thc Abhidharma is lound not
only in thc Tcravada tradition but in othcr major 8uddhist
traditions as wcll. For instancc, Kumarajiva, thc grcat Ccntral
Asian translator rcnowncd lor his translation ol Madhyamaka
works into Chincsc, is said to havc nrmly bclicvcd that hc must
introducc thc Abhidharma to thc Chincsc il hc wishcd to tcach
..c ...
thcm 8uddhist philosophy. !n thc Tibctan tradition, also, thc
Abhidharma is an important part ol monastic training.
Vhy is thc Abhidharma hcld in such high cstccm: Tc basic
rcason is that a knowlcdgc ol thc Abhidharma, in thc gcncral
scnsc ol undcrstanding thc ultimatc tcaching, is absolutcly ncc
cssary to achicvc wisdom, which is in turn ncccssary to achicvc
lrccdom. No mattcr how long onc mcditatcs or how virtuous a
lilc onc lcads, without insight into thc rcal naturc ol things, onc
cannot achicvc lrccdom.
A knowlcdgc ol thc Abhidharma is ncccssary in ordcr to
apply thc insight into impcrmancncc, impcrsonality, and insub
stantiality that wc gain lrom a rcading ol thc Sutra Pitaka to
cvcry cxpcricncc ol daily lilc. All ol us may glimpsc impcr
mancncc, impcrsonality, and insubstantiality through rcad
ing thc Sutra Pitaka, but how oltcn can wc apply that momcn
tary intcllcctual truth to our daily cxistcncc: Tc systcm in thc
Abhidharma tcaching providcs a mcchanism lor doing so. A
study ol thc Abhidharma is thcrclorc cxtrcmcly usclul lor our
Lct us considcr thc origin and authcnticity ol thc Abhidharma.
Tc Tcravada school holds that thc 8uddha is thc sourcc ol thc
Abhidharma philosophy and was himscll thc nrst mastcr ol thc
Abhidharma bccausc, on thc night ol his cnlightcnmcnt, hc pcn
ctratcd thc csscncc ol thc Abhidharma. According to a traditional
account, thc 8uddha also spcnt thc lourth wcck altcr his cnlight
cnmcnt in mcditation on thc Abhidharma. Tis is thc wcck
known as ‘thc Housc ol Gcms.’ Latcr in his carccr, it is said that
thc 8uddha visitcd thc Hcavcn ol thc TirtyTrcc, whcrc his
mothcr was, and taught thc Abhidharma to hcr and thc gods. !t
..: ...
is said that whcn hc rcturncd to carth, hc passcd on thc csscntials
ol what hc had taught to Sariputta – hardly a coincidcncc, sincc
Sariputta was his lorcmost disciplc, rcnowncd lor his wisdom.
Tus it is claimcd in gcncral that it is thc 8uddha to whom
wc owc thc inspiration ol thc Abhidharma tcaching. Tis inspi
ration was passcd on to his disciplcs who wcrc philosophically
giltcd, likc Sariputta, and by thc cßort ol thcsc giltcd disci
plcs thc gcncral outlinc and contcnts ol Abhidharma philoso
phy wcrc cstablishcd.
Lct us go on to considcr thc mcaning ol thc tcrm abhid-
harma. !l wc look carclully at thc Sutra Pitaka, wc nnd this tcrm
occurring lrcqucntly, usually in thc gcncral scnsc ol ‘mcditation
about Ðharma,’ ‘instruction about Ðharma,’ or ‘discussion about
Ðharma.’ !n a morc spccinc scnsc, abhidharma mcans ‘spccial
Ðharma,’ ‘highcr Ðharma,’ or ‘lurthcr Ðharma.’ Hcrc, ol coursc,
wc arc using Ðharma in thc scnsc ol doctrinc or tcaching, not in
thc scnsc ol phcnomcnon or lactor ol cxpcricncc (in which casc
it would not bc capitalizcd).
Tcrc is an cvcn morc tcchnical scnsc in which thc tcrm
abhidharma is uscd in thc Sutra Pitaka, and in this contcxt
dharma no longcr mcans doctrinc in gcncral but, rathcr, phc
nomcnon. Tis tcchnical usc is associatcd with anothcr lunction,
that is to makc distinctions. Tis most tcchnical usc ol thc tcrm
abhidharma has nvc aspccts, or mcanings: (a) to dcnnc dharmas,
(b) to asccrtain thc rclationship bctwccn dharmas, (c) to analyzc
dharmas, (d) to classily dharmas, and (c) to arrangc dharmas in
numcrical ordcr.
Tc 8uddhist canon is dividcd into thrcc collcctions (lit
crally, ‘baskcts’): thc Sutra Pitaka, thc Vinaya Pitaka, and thc
..: ...
Abhidharma Pitaka. Tc Sutra Pitaka is ordinarily tcrmcd thc
baskct ol thc discourscs, thc Vinaya Pitaka contains thc rulcs
covcring thc monastic community, and thc Abhidharma Pitaka
is normally rclcrrcd to as thc books ol 8uddhist philosophy and
psychology. Hcrc ! would likc to look at thc rclationship bctwccn
thc Abhidharma Pitaka and thc Sutra Pitaka. Tcrc is a grcat dcal
ol Abhidharmic matcrial in thc Sutra Pitaka. Rcmcmbcr thc
tcchnical dcnnition ol abhidharma that wc considcrcd a momcnt
ago. Kccping that in mind, wc nnd in thc Sutra Pitaka a numbcr
ol discourscs that arc Abhidharmic in charactcr: thc Anguttara
Nikaya, which prcscnts an cxposition ol tcachings arrangcd in
numcrical ordcr, thc Sangiti Sutta and Dasuttara Sutta, in which
Sariputta cxpounds on itcms ol thc tcachings arrangcd in numcr
ical ordcr, and thc Anupada Sutta, a discoursc in which Sariputta
analyzcs his mcditativc cxpcricncc in Abhidharmic tcrms.
How, thcn, can wc arrivc at a distinction bctwccn thc
Abhidharma and thc sutras: To do this wc nccd to look at thc
sccond mcaning ol thc tcrm abhidharma, namcly, its usc in thc
scnsc ol ‘highcr doctrinc.’ !n thc sutras thc 8uddha spcaks lrom
two points ol vicw. First hc spcaks ol bcings, objccts, thc qual
itics and posscssions ol bcings, thc world, and thc likc, and hc
is oltcn lound making statcmcnts such as ‘! myscll will go to
Uruvcla.’ Sccond, thc 8uddha proclaims in no unccrtain tcrms
that thcrc is no ‘!’ and that all things arc dcvoid ol pcrsonality,
substancc, and so lorth.
Òbviously, thc two standpoints in opcration hcrc arc thc
convcntional (vohara) and thc ultimatc (paramattha). Vc havc
cvcryday languagc likc ‘you’ and ‘!,’ and wc also havc tcchnical
philosophical languagc that docs not assumc pcrsonality, objccts,
..¡ ..·
and so lorth. Tis is thc dißcrcncc bctwccn thc Sutric contcnts
and thc Abhidharmic contcnts ol thc tcachings ol thc 8uddha.
8y and largc, thc sutras usc thc convcntional standpoint whilc
thc Abhidharma uscs thc ultimatc standpoint. Yct thcrc arc pas
sagcs in thc sutras that dcscribc impcrmancncc, impcrsonality
or insubstantiality, clcmcnts, and aggrcgatcs, and hcncc rcßcct
thc ultimatc standpoint. !n this contcxt thcrc is also a division ol
tcxts into thosc whosc mcaning is cxplicit and dircct, and thosc
whosc mcaning is implicit and indircct.
Vhy did thc 8uddha rcsort to thcsc two standpoints, thc
convcntional and thc ultimatc: For thc answcr wc nccd to look
at his cxccllcncc as a tcachcr and skill in choosing mcthods ol
tcaching. !l thc 8uddha had spokcn to all his audicnccs only in
tcrms ol impcrmancncc, insubstantiality, clcmcnts, and aggrc
gatcs, ! do not think thc 8uddhist community would havc grown
as quickly as it did during thc sixth ccntury n.c.v. At thc samc
timc, thc 8uddha kncw that thc ultimatc standpoint is indis
pcnsablc lor a prolound undcrstanding ol thc Ðharma, so his
tcachings do contain spccinc languagc lor cxprcssing thc ulti
matc standpoint.
..¡ ..·
+hilosophy L +sychology in thc ·bhidharma
nc ol thc lunctions ol thc Abhidharma is dcnnition.
Ðcnnition is important bccausc, to succcsslully commu
nicatc about a rathcr tcchnical subjcct, wc must know prcciscly
what our tcrms mcan. Tus ! would likc to look at a numbcr ol
tcrms uscd lrcqucntly and popularly in spcaking about 8uddhist
thought. ! would likc to arrivc at an undcrstanding ol thc dcn
nitions ol thcsc tcrms and thcn rclatc thcm to thc naturc ol thc
tcachings ol thc 8uddha.
8uddhism has oltcn bccn callcd a rcligion, a philosophy,
and, in rcccnt ycars, a psychology. ‘Rcligion’ rclcrs to bclicl in,
or rccognition ol, a highcr, unsccn powcr that controls thc coursc
ol thc univcrsc. Morcovcr, rcligion has an cmotional and moral
componcnt and has to do with rituals and worship. 8ccausc
8uddhism docs not rccognizc thc cxistcncc ol such a powcr and
docs not univcrsally cmphasizc rituals and worship, it is dim
cult to catcgorizc 8uddhism in gcncral – and particularly thc
Abhidharma – as a rcligion.
!n its original scnsc, ‘philosophy’ mcans thc ‘lovc ol wisdom
and knowlcdgc.’ Morc gcncrally, it mcans invcstigation ol thc
naturc ol thc laws or causcs ol all bcing. Tis dcnnition might
apply to 8uddhism cxccpt that it rcmains somcwhat vaguc, duc
to thc various mcanings ol thc words ‘naturc’ and ‘bcing.’ Tis
has lcd to two approachcs in philosophical thinking, callcd mcta
physics and phcnomcnology. Mctaphysics is thc study ol abso
lutc or nrst principlcs. !t is also somctimcs callcd thc scicncc ol
..6 ..·
ontology, which mcans thc study ol csscnccs or, in simplc tcrms,
thc study ol things in thcmsclvcs. Phcnomcnology, in contrast,
is thc dcscription ol things as thcy arc cxpcricnccd by thc indi
vidual, it is thc scicncc ol cpistcmology, thc study ol things as
thcy arc known, as thcy appcar to us. !nsolar as 8uddhism is
philosophical, it is conccrncd primarily with phcnomcnology.
‘Psychology’ is thc study ol thc mind and mcntal statcs.
Likc philosophy, it has two aspccts – purc psychology, which is
thc gcncral study ol mcntal phcnomcna, and psychothcrapy, or
applicd psychology, which is thc application ol thc study ol mcn
tal phcnomcna to thc problcm ol discasc and curc, disturbancc
and adjustmcnt. Vc might cxplain thc dißcrcncc bctwccn purc
and applicd psychology by mcans ol an analogy. !maginc that a
man climbs to thc top ol a hill and survcys thc countrysidc with
out any particular purposc in mind. His survcy will takc in cvcry
dctail – thc hills, thc woods, thc rivcrs and strcams – without dis
crimination. 8ut il hc has a purposc in mind – lor instancc, il hc
intcnds to rcach anothcr hilltop in thc distancc – thcn his sur
vcy will locus on thc particular lcaturcs that will hclp or hindcr
him in his progrcss toward that goal. Vhcn wc spcak ol applicd
psychology or psychothcrapy, wc mcan a study ol thc mind and
mcntal statcs that locuscs on thosc phcnomcna that will hclp or
hindcr onc’s progrcss toward mcntal wcllbcing.
Having lookcd bricßy at thc dcnnitions ol rcligion, philoso
phy, and psychology, wc can bcgin to scc that thc phcnomcnolog
ical aspcct ol philosophy and thc thcrapcutic aspcct ol psychology
rclatc bcst to an undcrstanding ol thc 8uddha’s tcaching.
Tc Abhidharma, likc 8uddhist thought in gcncral, is highly
rational and logical. !l wc look closcly at thc mcthods ol cxposi
..6 ..·
tion and argumcnt in thc Abhidharma, wc nnd thc bcginning ol
dialcctics, which is thc scicncc ol dcbatc, and also thc bcginning
ol logical argumcnt and analysis. Tis is particularly cvidcnt in
thc lourlold classincation ol thc naturc ol qucstions. !t is said
that lamiliarity with and ability to usc this classincation is indis
pcnsablc lor anyonc who wants to cngagc lruitlully in discussion
and dcbatc about thc Ðharma, bccausc to answcr a qucstion cor
rcctly, onc has to undcrstand thc naturc ol thc qucstion.
Tc nrst class ol qucstions is thc most dircct and rclcrs to
thosc that can bc answcrcd dircctly and catcgorically, such as
‘Ðo all living bcings dic:’ To this thc answcr is ‘Ycs, all living
bcings dic.’
Tc sccond class can only bc answcrcd with qualincations,
lor instancc, ‘Vill all living bcings bc rcborn:’ Tis kind ol
qucstion cannot bc answcrcd dircctly and catcgorically bccausc
it has two possiblc intcrprctations. Tus it must bc analyzcd and
answcrcd individually, taking into account cach ol thc possiblc
mcanings: ‘Living bcings who arc not lrcc lrom thc amictions
will bc rcborn, but thosc who arc lrcc lrom thc amictions, likc
thc Arhats, will not bc rcborn.’
Tc third class ol qucstions must bc answcrcd with countcr
qucstions, as, lor instancc, ‘!s man powcrlul:’ Hcrc thc rclcrcncc
point ol thc qucstion must bc dctcrmincd bclorc thc qucstion
can bc answcrcd: in othcr words, is man powcrlul with rclcrcncc
to thc gods or to animals: !l thc lormcr, thcn man is not pow
crlul, il thc lattcr, thcn man is powcrlul. Tc aim ol thc coun
tcrqucstion is to dctcrminc thc rclcrcncc point that thc qucs
tioncr has in mind.
Tc lourth class ol qucstions arc thosc in which wc arc par
..· ..o
ticularly intcrcstcd hcrc. Tcsc arc qucstions that do not dcscrvc
an answcr, thc lamous incxprcssiblc propositions to which thc
8uddha rcmaincd silcnt lall into this catcgory. Traditionally,
thcrc arc lourtccn unanswcrablc qucstions. Vc nnd thcm, lor
instancc, in thc Chulamalunkya Sutta. Tcsc lourtccn qucstions
arc groupcd into thrcc catcgorics:
Tc nrst catcgory contains cight qucstions that conccrn thc
absolutc or nnal naturc ol thc world: !s thc world ctcrnal or not
ctcrnal, or both or ncithcr, nnitc or not nnitc, or both or nci
thcr: You can scc that this catcgory includcs two scts ol qucs
tions, and that both scts rclcr to thc world. Tc nrst sct rclcrs to
thc cxistcncc ol thc world in timc, and thc sccond to thc cxis
tcncc ol thc world in spacc.
Tc sccond catcgory contains lour qucstions: Ðocs thc
Tathagata cxist altcr dcath or not, or both or ncithcr: Tcsc qucs
tions rclcr to thc naturc ol nirvana, or ultimatc rcality.
Tc third catcgory contains two qucstions: !s thc scll idcnti
cal with or dißcrcnt lrom thc body: Vhilc thc nrst catcgory ol
qucstions rclcrs to thc world and thc sccond to what is bcyond
thc world, this last rclcrs to pcrsonal cxpcricncc. Ðo wc dic with
our bodics, or arc our pcrsonalitics altogcthcr dißcrcnt lrom and
indcpcndcnt ol our bodics:
Tc 8uddha rcmaincd silcnt whcn askcd thcsc lourtccn qucs
tions. Hc dcscribcd thcm as a nct and rcluscd to bc drawn into
such a nct ol thcorics, spcculations, and dogmas. Hc said that it
was bccausc hc was lrcc ol thc bondagc ol all thcorics and dog
mas that hc had attaincd libcration. Such spcculations, hc said,
arc attcndcd by lcvcr, uncasc, bcwildcrmcnt, and sußcring, and
it is by lrccing oncscll ol thcm that onc achicvcs libcration.
 
Let us look at the fourteen questions in general to see whether
we can understand why the Buddha took this stand. Generally,
the fourteen questions imply two basic attitudes toward the
world. e Buddha spoke of these two attitudes in his dialogue
with Maha Kachchayana, when he said that there are two basic
views, the view of existence and the view of nonexistence. He
said that people are accustomed to think in these terms, and that
as long as they remain entangled in these two views they will
not attain liberation. e propositions that the world is eternal,
that the world is infnite, that the Tathagatha exists after death,
and that the self is independent of the body refect the view of
existence. e propositions that the world is not eternal, that the
world is fnite, that the Tathagata does not exist after death, and
that the self is identical with the body refect the view of non-
ese two views were professed by teachers of other schools
during the time of the Buddha. e view of existence is gener-
ally the view of the Brahmins; that of nonexistence is generally
the view of the materialists and hedonists. When the Buddha
refused to be drawn into the net of these dogmatic views of exis-
tence and nonexistence, I think he had two things in mind: () the
ethical consequences of these two views, and, more importantly,
() the fact that the views of absolute existence and nonexistence
do not correspond to the way things really are.
For example, the eternalists view this self as permanent and
unchanging. When the body dies, this self will not die because
the self is by nature unchanging. If that is the case, it does not
matter what this body does: actions of the body will not afect
the destiny of the self. is view is incompatible with moral
.:c .:.
rcsponsibility bccausc il thc scll is ctcrnal and unchanging, it
will not bc aßcctcd by wholcsomc and unwholcsomc actions.
Similarly, il thc scll wcrc idcntical with thc body and thc scll
dics along with thc body, thcn it docs not mattcr what thc body
docs. !l you bclicvc that cxistcncc cnds at dcath, thcrc will bc
no constraint upon action. 8ut in a situation whcrc things cxist
through intcrdcpcndcnt origination, absolutc cxistcncc and non
cxistcncc arc impossiblc.
Anothcr cxamplc drawn lrom thc lourtccn unanswcrablc
qucstions also shows that thc propositions do not corrcspond to
thc way things rcally arc. Takc thc cxamplc ol thc world. Tc
world docs not cxist absolutcly or not cxist absolutcly in timc.
Tc world cxists dcpcndcnt on causcs and conditions – ignorancc,
craving, and clinging. Vhcn ignorancc, craving, and clinging
arc prcscnt, thc world cxists, whcn thcy arc not prcscnt, thc
world ccascs to cxist. Hcncc thc qucstion ol thc absolutc cxis
tcncc or noncxistcncc ol thc world is unanswcrablc.
Tc samc may bc said ol thc othcr catcgorics ol qucstions that
makc up thc lourtccn unanswcrablcs. ¡xistcncc and noncxis
tcncc, takcn as absolutc idcas, do not apply to things as thcy rcally
arc. Tis is why thc 8uddha rcluscd to agrcc to absolutc statc
mcnts about thc naturc ol things. Hc saw that thc absolutc catc
gorics ol mctaphysics do not apply to things as thcy rcally arc.
As lor thc 8uddha’s attitudc toward psychology, thcrc is
no doubt that hc placcd a grcat dcal ol cmphasis on thc rolc
ol thc mind. Vc arc lamiliar with thc lamous vcrscs in thc
Dhammapada whcrc thc 8uddha spcaks ol thc mind as thc lorc
runncr ol all mcntal statcs. Tc tcxt says that happincss and sul
lcring rcsult lrom acting with a purc mind and an impurc mind,
.:c .:.
rcspcctivcly. Vc nccd only look at thc canonical tcxts to rccog
nizc thc importancc ol mind in 8uddhist tcachings. Tcrc wc
nnd thc nvc aggrcgatcs, lour out ol nvc ol which arc mcntal, and
thc thirtyscvcn lactors ol cnlightcnmcnt, thc majority ol which
arc mcntal. No mattcr whcrc wc look, wc will bc struck by thc
importancc ol mind in thc tcachings ol thc 8uddha.
\arious rcligions and philosophics havc thcir particular
starting points. Tc thcistic rcligions bcgin with God. ¡thical
tcachings likc Conlucianism bcgin with man as a social cntity.
8uddhism bcgins with thc mind. !t is thcrclorc not surpris
ing that wc oltcn choosc to dcscribc thc 8uddha’s tcaching as
a psychological onc, and that wc also dcscribc it as psychothcr
apy, sincc thc symbolism ol discasc and curc is promincnt in thc
tcaching ol thc 8uddha. Tc Four Noblc Truths arc a rcßcction
ol thc ancicnt schcmc ol discasc, diagnosis, curc, and trcatmcnt
uscd in carly mcdical scicncc, and wc might also rccall that thc
8uddha was callcd thc king ol physicians.
Tc 8uddha was intcrcstcd in curc, not in mctaphysical cat
cgorics. Vc nnd his usc ol various tcchniqucs ol curc through
out thc discourscs in thc Sutra Pitaka. For instancc, takc thc
8uddha’s tcaching about thc scll. !n thc Dhammapada thc
8uddha taught that thc wisc man can attain happincss by dis
ciplining himscll, and yct in othcr placcs in thc discourscs, wc
nnd thc 8uddha cxpounding thc doctrinc ol notscll, thc idca
that nowhcrc in thc psychophysical componcnts ol cxpcricncc
is thc pcrmancnt scll to bc lound.
For thc cxplanation ol this apparcnt contradiction, wc nccd
to look at thc 8uddha’s dialoguc with \achchhagotta, who
askcd thc 8uddha whcthcr or not thc scll cxistcd. Tc 8uddha
.:: .:.
rcmaincd silcnt, and altcr a timc \achchhagotta lclt. Ananda,
who happcncd to bc ncarby, askcd thc 8uddha why hc had not
rcplicd. Tc 8uddha cxplaincd that il hc had said that thc scll
cxistcd, hc would havc bccn siding with thosc 8rahmins who
bclicvcd in thc absolutc cxistcncc ol thc scll, but il hc had told
\achchhagotta that thc scll did not cxist, it would havc bccn con
lusing lor \achchhagotta, who would havc thought, ‘Prcviously
! had a scll, but now ! no longcr havc onc.’ Tc 8uddha chosc
to rcmain silcnt bccausc hc kncw \achchhagotta’s prcdica
mcnt. Similarly, whcn conlrontcd by thosc who did not bclicvc
in rcbirth, hc taught thc cxistcncc ol thc scll, whcrcas to thosc
who bclicvcd in thc rcality ol karma, in thc lruit ol good and bad
actions, hc taught thc doctrinc ol notscll. Tis is thc 8uddha’s
skill in thc mcans ol instruction.
Vc can scc how this tics in with thc 8uddha’s rcjcction ol
absolutc catcgorics whcn wc look at his usc ol thc symbol ol thc
watcrsnakc. Hcrc wc nnd thc 8uddha saying that thc lactors ol
cxpcricncc arc similar to a watcrsnakc. Vhcn a pcrson capablc
ol handling a watcrsnakc and knowlcdgcablc in thc mcthod ol
capturing onc attcmpts to catch onc, hc will do so succcsslully.
8ut whcn a pcrson unaccustomcd to handling a watcrsnakc and
ignorant ol how to capturc onc attcmpts it, his attcmpt will cnd
in lamcntation and pain. Similarly, phcnomcna – thc lactors ol
cxpcricncc – arc nothing in thcmsclvcs. Tcy arc not absolutcly
cxistcnt or absolutcly noncxistcnt, ncithcr absolutcly good nor
absolutcly bad, rathcr, thcy arc rclativc. Vhcthcr thcy rcsult in
happincss or pain, in progrcss along thc path or in rctrogrcs
sion, dcpcnds not on thc phcnomcna thcmsclvcs but on how wc
handlc thcm.
.:: .:.
!l things arc handlcd in thc right way, through a conscious
and dclibcratc adjustmcnt ol thc mind, phcnomcna can bc uscd
lor onc’s progrcss along thc path. A knilc, lor instancc, is ncithcr
truc nor lalsc, yct somconc who grasps it by thc bladc is surcly in
crror. Vhcn wc rclatc to phcnomcna in tcrms ol craving, illwill,
and ignorancc, this rcsults in sußcring. Vhcn wc takc thcm oth
crwisc, this rcsults in happincss.
To summarizc, wc can usc tcrms likc ‘philosophy’ and ‘psy
chology’ in rclation to thc 8uddhist tradition as long as wc
rcmcmbcr that wc arc intcrcstcd in philosophy not as it con
ccrns csscnccs and absolutc catcgorics but as a dcscription ol
phcnomcna, and that wc arc intcrcstcd in psychology insolar
as it conccrns psychothcrapy. Tcsc qualitics ol thc philosophy
and psychology ol thc Abhidharma arc uniquc in thc history ol
human thought. Nowhcrc clsc, in thc ancicnt or modcrn world,
in Asia or thc Vcst, has such a phcnomcnology and psychothcr
apy cvolvcd.
Vhat is uniquc about 8uddhist phcnomcnology and psy
chothcrapy is its rcjcction ol thc idca ol a pcrmancnt scll and its
amrmation ol thc possibility ol libcration. !n all othcr systcms,
cvcn thosc ol wcstcrn philosophical phcnomcnology and psy
chothcrapy, wc nnd an inability to rcjcct thc idca ol a pcrmancnt
scll – thc vcry rcjcction so charactcristic ol thc tcaching ol thc
8uddha and ol thc Abhidharma. And nowhcrc within modcrn
psychology do wc nnd that possibility ol ultimatc and absolutc
lrccdom so ccntral to thc tcachings ol 8uddhism.
.:¡ .:·
n this chaptcr ! will discuss thc mcthods through which thc
Abhidharma invcstigatcs our pcrsonalitics and our rclations to
thc world around us.
Tcrc arc two ways to dcpict a givcn pcrson and his rclation
to thc world around him: dcductivcly and inductivcly. Tc ratio
nal or dcductivc mcthod bcgins with an abstract idca and applics
that idca to onc’s cxpcricncc. Tc cmpirical or inductivc mcthod
bcgins with thc lacts wc cncountcr in cxpcricncc, through
obscrving and analyzing, intcrprcting and undcrstanding thcsc
lacts, wc build up a picturc ol oursclvcs and thc world around
us. !n short, thc rational mcthod bcgins with thc abstract and
trics to apply it to thc concrctc, whcrcas thc inductivc mcthod
bcgins with thc concrctc and builds up a picturc ol rcality grad
ually and progrcssivcly.
Tc inductivc mcthod, which is thc onc uscd in thc
Abhidharmic systcm, is quitc closc to thc mcthod ol scicncc,
cxccpt that in scicncc thc locus ol thc inductivc proccss is out
ward and in thc Abhidharmic systcm thc locus is inward, on thc
mind. Tis is why thc Abhidharmic mcthod is somctimcs callcd
introspcction or, to usc a traditional tcrm, mcditation.
Vhcn wc say that thc Abhidharmic mcthod is cmpirical
and inductivc, wc mcan that it has to do primarily with mcn
tal cxpcricncc. Somctimcs wc say that mcditation is likc intcr
nal or mcntal microscopy: it is a way ol invcstigating vcry closcly
thc lacts ol cxpcricncc. Tc Abhidharmic mcthod ol introspcc
.:¡ .:·
tion yiclds rcsults bccausc it managcs, through mcditation, to
slow down mcntal proccsscs to a point whcrc wc can scc and
undcrstand thcm. !n this rcspcct thcrc is a rcmarkablc parallcl
bctwccn thc Abhidharmic mcthod and thc scicntinc mcthod.
!n scicncc, whcn wc want to nnd out how a ccrtain translorma
tion actually takcs placc, wc slow down thc proccss or spccd it
up. !n Abhidharmic mcditation, too, wc can slow down mcn
tal proccsscs so that wc can scc what is actually happcning, or
wc can spccd things up. !l wc could scc our human lilc, lrom
birth to dcath, within thc spacc ol nvc minutcs, it would givc
us grcat insight into thc naturc ol lilc. Howcvcr, bccausc this is
usually not possiblc, wc slow things down. Tis is thc basis ol
Abhidharmic mcditation.
Tc lists ol mcntal lactors and thc likc in thc books ol thc
Abhidharma may appcar tcdious and spcculativc at nrst glancc,
but in lact thcy arc just thc writtcn lorm ol thc data wc nnd
in this vcry carclul invcstigation ol cxpcricncc. Far lrom bcing
spcculativc, thc Abhidharma is thc rcsult ol carclul and closc
introspcctivc analysis ol cxpcricncc. Tat said, you may qucs
tion thc usc ol studying thc Abhidharma at all, thinking that
it is surcly morc usclul to sit in mcditation and rcproducc thc
Abhidharmic cxpcricncc ol rcality in onc’s own mcditation. Tis
is truc to thc cxtcnt that, as in all aspccts ol 8uddhist tcaching,
dircct as wcll as indircct acquaintancc is rcquircd.
Vith thc Abhidharmic vicw ol thc clcmcnts, thc picturc wc
gct whcn wc analyzc cxpcricncc is ccrtainly much morc cßcc
tivc il it is a dircct picturc achicvcd through our own mcditation.
8ut cvcn il it is an indircct picturc gaincd through study, it is
still ol usc to us, bccausc whcn wc sit down to mcditatc wc will
.:6 .:·
alrcady havc somc intcllcctual acquaintancc with thc gcncral
outlinc ol thc picturc wc arc trying to bring into locus. !n this
scnsc studying thc Abhidharma can bc usclul in bringing about
an indircct undcrstanding ol oursclvcs and thc world around us
in Abhidharmic tcrms.
Tcrc arc two ways Abhidharmic invcstigation works:
(.) through analysis, and (:) through synthcsis, or rclation.
Tc basic structurc ol thcsc two mcthods is givcn in thc nrst
and last books ol thc Abhidharma Pitaka, thc Dhammasangani
(Classifcation of Factors) and thc Patthana (Book of Causal
Relations), rcspcctivcly. Tcsc arc thc two most important
books ol thc Abhidharma. !t is through thc analytical mcthod
and thc synthctic or rclational mcthod that thc Abhidharma
arrivcs at a basic undcrstanding ol notscll and cmptincss.
Lct us look nrst at thc analytical mcthod and thcn at thc
rclational mcthod, nnally, wc will combinc thc two, as, indccd,
wc must to rcap thc lull bcncnt ol thc Abhidharmic mcthod ol
invcstigation. !n e Questions of King Milinda (Milinda Panha),
it is said that thc 8uddha has accomplishcd a vcry dimcult
task: ‘!l a man,’ Nagascna says in rcply to King Milinda, ‘wcrc
to takc a boat out to thc sca, and il hc wcrc to takc a handlul
ol sca watcr and wcrc thcn ablc to tcll you that in it this much
watcr is lrom thc Gangcs, this much lrom thc Yamuna, and
this much lrom thc othcr grcat rivcrs ol !ndia, this would ccr
tainly bc a vcry dimcult thing to accomplish. !n thc samc way,
thc 8uddha has analyzcd a singlc conscious momcnt ol cxpcri
cncc – lor instancc, thc cxpcricncc ol sccing a lorm – into its var
ious componcnt parts: mattcr, lccling, pcrccption, volition, and
.:6 .:·
Analysis is thc disscction ol an apparcntly unitary, homo
gcncous wholc into its componcnt parts. Tis analysis can bc
applicd not only to thc scll, as wc nnd in thc analysis ol pcr
sonal cxpcricncc, but also to cxtcrnal objccts: just as wc can
brcak down thc pcrsonality into thc nvc aggrcgatcs, so wc can
brcak down cxtcrnal phcnomcna into thcir componcnt parts. For
cxamplc, wc can brcak down a tablc into its lcgs, its top, and so
lorth, and, cvcn lurthcr, into thc molcculcs and atoms ol vari
ous clcmcnts that composc thc tablc.
Tc purposc ol dissccting an apparcnt wholc is to uproot
attachmcnt to intcrnal and cxtcrnal phcnomcna. Òncc wc rcc
ognizc that this apparcntly homogcncous scll is rcally just a col
lcction ol componcnts, our attachmcnt to thc notion ol thc scll
is wcakcncd, similarly, oncc wc rcalizc that cxtcrnal phcnom
cna arc just collcctions ol individual smallcr componcnts, our
attachmcnt to cxtcrnal objccts is wcakcncd. Vhat do wc havc
as a rcsult ol our analytical proccss: !ntcrnally, wc arc lclt with
momcnts ol consciousncss, cxtcrnally, wc arc lclt with atoms. !l
wc considcr thc two togcthcr, wc arc lclt with clcmcnts, or lac
tors ol cxpcricncc.
Tc mcntal and matcrial clcmcnts ol cxpcricncc do not in
thcmsclvcs bring us to thc ultimatc undcrstanding ol rcality
bccausc wc arc lclt with momcnts ol consciousncss and atoms
ol mattcr – clcmcnts ol cxpcricncc. Tcsc clcmcnts rcmain irrc
duciblc no mattcr how long and how lar wc go in our proccss ol
disscction. Although wc comc up with smallcr and smallcr parts,
wc arc lclt with a picturc ol rcality that is brokcn up into littlc
bits and picccs as a rcsult ol disscction. Tis in itscll is not an
accuratc and complctc picturc ol rcality.
.:· .:o
To arrivc at thc ultimatc picturc ol rcality, wc nccd to couplc
thc analytical approach with thc synthctic or rclational approach.
Tat is why a grcat 8uddhist scholar and saint, Nagarjuna, oncc
cxprcsscd his rcvcrcncc lor thc 8uddha as ‘thc tcachcr ol intcr
dcpcndcnt origination.’ Tc truth ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination
pacincs and calms thc agitation ol thoughtconstruction. Tis is
an indication ol thc importancc ol rclation, intcrdcpcndcncc, or
conditionality in undcrstanding thc rcal naturc ol things. !t is
also why scholars havc locuscd on thc Book of Causal Relations,
which supplics thc othcr hall ol thc Abhidharmic mcthod ol
]ust as, through analysis, wc arrivc at thc insubstantiality ol
pcrsonality and phcnomcna (bccausc wc scc that thcy arc madc
up ol componcnt parts), so, through thc proccss ol rclational
invcstigation, wc arrivc at thc cmptincss ol pcrsonality and phc
nomcna (bccausc wc scc that thc componcnt parts which consti
tutc thcm arc all conditioncd by and rclativc to cach othcr). Vc
arrivc at this insubstantiality and cmptincss by locusing on thc
tcaching ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination.
Vc can scc how, within a givcn thing – bc it thc pcrsonal
ity or an cxtcrnal objcct – thc componcnt parts dcpcnd on onc
anothcr lor thcir cxistcncc. For instancc, within a singlc phc
nomcnon, such as an apparcntly unitary tablc, thcrc arc scvcral
componcnt parts (thc lcgs, thc top, and so lorth) that dcpcnd
on cach othcr lor thcir cxistcncc as part ol a tablc. Similarly, thc
tablc dcpcnds on its antcccdcnt causcs (thc wood, thc iron, and
action ol thc craltsman who put it togcthcr) and also on proxi
matc conditions (likc thc ßoor on which it stands).
Vc can also cxplorc thc idca ol intcrdcpcndcncc in rclation
.:· .:o
to thrcc dimcnsions: timc, spacc, and karma. For instancc, thc
tablc is dcpcndcnt in tcrms ol timc in thc scnsc that, prior to thc
tablc cxisting, a scrics ol cvcnts occurrcd – thc cutting ol lum
bcr, thc construction ol thc tablc, and so lorth. Tis scqucncc ol
cvcnts lcd to thc arising ol thc tablc. Similarly, thc tablc is dcpcn
dcnt in tcrms ol spacc in thc scnsc that it stands on thc ßoor, and
so lorth. Tc third dimcnsion ol conditionality opcratcs bcyond
timc and spacc. Tis dimcnsion is cxplaincd by karma, bccausc
karma has its cßccts dcpcnding on timc and spacc, yct it is not
dircctly apparcnt in timc and spacc. 8ccausc ol karma, an action
donc at a vcry distant point in timc and spacc can havc its cßccts
hcrc and now. Conditionality is thcrclorc not only tcmporal and
spatial, but also has a karmic dimcnsion.
Lct us takc two cxamplcs to cstablish morc nrmly what wc
mcan by thc analytical approach and thc rclational approach.
Takc a chariot, which is a phcnomcnon, an idcntinablc cntity.
Vc apply thc analytical approach to thc chariot by brcaking it
down into its componcnt parts: thc whccls, axlc, body, shalt, and
so lorth. Application ol thc synthctic mcthod looks at thc samc
chariot in tcrms ol thc lumbcr that gocs to it, thc action ol thc
buildcrs who put it togcthcr, and so lorth. Altcrnativcly, wc can
takc thc classical cxamplcs ol thc ßamc in an oil lamp, which
cxists dcpcndcnt on thc oil and thc wick, and thc sprout, which
dcpcnds on a sccd, soil, sunlight, and so lorth.
Tc analytical and thc rclational mcthods togcthcr yicld thc
ultimatc picturc ol things as thcy rcally arc. Tcy yicld this ulti
matc picturc through carclul invcstigation. Vc usc thc analyt
ical mcthod to brcak things up into thc componcnt parts ol an
apparcnt wholc, thcn wc usc thc rclational mcthod to show that
..c ...
thcsc componcnt parts do not cxist indcpcndcntly and scparatcly
but dcpcnd on othcr lactors lor thcir cxistcncc.
Tcrc arc many placcs in thc 8uddha’s tcaching whcrc mcth
ods ol invcstigation arc uscd singly and thcn in combination.
For cxamplc, wc apply mindlulncss nrst to intcrnal phcnomcna,
thcn to cxtcrnal phcnomcna, and nnally both to intcrnal and
cxtcrnal phcnomcna. 8y using analysis and rclation togcthcr, wc
ovcrcomc many problcms. Not only do wc ovcrcomc thc idca ol
scll, substancc, and pcrsonality, wc also ovcrcomc thc problcms
that rcsult il wc bclicvc in thc indcpcndcnt cxistcncc ol scparatc
lactors and idcas likc cxistcncc and noncxistcncc, idcntity and
Tc analytical and thc synthctic approachcs arc actually
rcßcctcd in thc chcmistry ol thc brain. Ncurologists havc discov
crcd that thc brain is dividcd into two hcmisphcrcs, onc whosc
lunction is analytical and onc whosc lunction is synthctic. !l
thcsc two lunctions arc not in harmony, not in balancc, pcrson
ality disturbanccs rcsult. Somconc who is too analytical tcnds to
ovcrlook thc morc intuitivc, dynamic, ßuid aspccts ol lilc, whilc
somconc who is too rclational tcnds to lack prccision, clarity, and
locus. Tus cvcn in our pcrsonal livcs wc nccd to combinc ana
lytical and rclational thinking.
Tc psychological and ncurological dimcnsions ol thcsc two
approachcs arc also clcar in thc dcvclopmcnt ol wcstcrn philos
ophy and scicncc. Philosophics in which thc analytical approach
is prcdominant havc lclt us with rcalistic, pluralistic, and atomis
tic systcms likc thc philosophy ol 8crtrand Russcll. 8y thc samc
tokcn, in thc latcst dcvclopmcnts ol scicncc, such as quantum
thcory, wc nnd a morc rclational vicw ol rcality gaining ground.
..c ...
Vhcn wc look at thc history ol philosophy and scicncc in thc
Vcst, wc can scc that cach ol thcsc two approachcs to invcsti
gation has bccn dominant at onc timc or anothcr.
Pcrhaps wc arc rcaching a point whcrc wc can combinc thc
two cvcn in wcstcrn scicncc and philosophy. Pcrhaps wc can
arrivc at a vicw ol rcality not too dißcrcnt lrom thc onc that thc
Abhidharma arrivcs at through thc cxpcricncc ol introspcctivc
mcditation – a vicw ol rcality that is both analytical (in that it
rcjccts thc idca ol a homogcncous wholc) and rclational (in that it
rcjccts thc idca ol indcpcndcnt, scparatcly cxisting bits and picccs
ol rcality). Vc would thcn havc a vcry ßuid and opcn vicw ol rcal
ity in which cxpcricncc saturatcd by sußcring could bc dynami
cally translormcd into cxpcricncc lrcc lrom all sußcring.
..: ...
·nalysis of (onsciousncss
ccausc ol its importancc and scopc, ! will dcdicatc thrcc
chaptcrs to thc analysis ol consciousncss within Abhidharma
philosophy. !n this chaptcr ! look at somc ol thc systcms lor clas
silying consciousncss and also at thc scnscsphcrc consciousncss
in particular.
To undcrstand why wc bcgin our Abhidharmic analysis
ol cxpcricncc with consciousncss, it is important to rcmcmbcr
thc thcrapcutic conccrn ol 8uddhist philosophy in gcncral and
thc Abhidharma in particular. Tc starting point ol 8uddhist
thought is thc truth ol sußcring. Sußcring is a problcm ol con
sciousncss, only that which is conscious can sußcr. Consciousncss
is subjcct to sußcring bccausc ol ignorancc, or lundamcntal not
knowing, which dividcs consciousncss into subjcct and objcct,
into a scll and an othcrthanscll (i.c., thc objccts and pcoplc
around thc scll).
!n 8uddhism, ignorancc is dcnncd as thc notion ol a pcr
mancnt, indcpcndcnt scll and its objcct. Òncc wc havc this divi
sion ol consciousncss into a scll and an othcrthanscll, wc havc
sußcring, bccausc tcnsion is crcatcd bctwccn thc two. Vc also
havc craving and avcrsion, bccausc wc want thosc things that
support thc scll and arc avcrsc to thosc things that arc not con
ducivc to thc scll.
Tis division or discrimination bctwccn thc scll (or subjcct)
and thc othcrthanthcscll (or objcct) is thc lundamcntal causc
ol sußcring. Such a division is possiblc bccausc ol ignorancc – thc
..: ...
bclicl in a rcal scll cxisting indcpcndcntly and in opposition to
thc othcrthanscll. Tus it is not surprising that thc Abhidharma
should turn nrst to an analysis ol subjcctivity and objcctivity.
!ndccd, whcn wc cxaminc thc tcaching ol thc nvc aggrcgatcs,
wc scc that lorm (rupa) is thc objcctivc componcnt, whilc namc
(nama), consciousncss, and thc mcntal aggrcgatcs ol volition, pcr
ccption, and lccling arc thc subjcctivc componcnt. 8clorc look
ing at how this division aßccts thc Abhidharmic analysis ol con
sciousncss, wc must bc clcar about what it mcans. !n 8uddhism,
this division docs not mcan that wc havc an csscntial, irrcduc
iblc duality ol mind and mattcr. 8uddhism is not conccrncd with
mind and mattcr as ultimatc mctaphysical lacts but with mind
and mattcr as thcy arc cxpcricnccd. Mind and mattcr arc lorms
ol cxpcricncc, not csscnccs. Tis is why 8uddhism is a phcnomc
nological, not an ontological, philosophy, and why thc division ol
mind and mattcr in 8uddhism is a phcnomcnological division.
Tcrc arc two systcms lor classilying consciousncss in thc
Abhidharma: objcctivc and subjcctivc. Òbjcctivc classincation
rclcrs to thc objccts ol consciousncss, whilc subjcctivc classinca
tion rclcrs to thc naturc ol consciousncss.
Òbjcctivc classincation primarily takcs into account thc
dircction in which consciousncss is oricntcd. Vithin this objcc
tivc schcmc, thcrc is a division into lour classcs ol consciousncss:
(.) thc scnscsphcrc consciousncss, or consciousncss dircctcd
toward thc world ol scnsc dcsirc (kamavachara), (:) thc con
sciousncss dircctcd toward thc sphcrc ol lorm (rupavachara),
(.) thc consciousncss dircctcd toward thc lormlcss sphcrc (aru-
pavachara), and (¡) thc consciousncss dircctcd toward nirvana
(lokuttara). Tc nrst thrcc classcs ol consciousncss arc worldly
..¡ ..·
(lokiya) and arc conccrncd with thc world ol conditioncd things.
Tc lourth class, also known as supramundanc consciousncss
(alokiya chitta), rclcrs to thc transccndcntal dircction ol con
sciousncss (lokuttara) and is thc consciousncss ol thc lour typcs
ol noblc oncs – thc strcamwinncr, onccrcturncr, nonrcturncr,
and libcratcd onc (scc Chaptcr .·).
Tc objcct ol thc kamavachara is matcrial and limitcd, thc
objcct ol thc rupavachara is not matcrial but is still limitcd, and
thc objcct ol thc arupavachara is not matcrial and is unlimitcd.
!l wc look at thcsc thrcc in ordcr, wc nnd (a) a matcrial and lim
itcd objcct, (b) an immatcrial but still limitcd objcct, and (c) an
immatcrial and unlimitcd objcct ol consciousncss. All thrcc
typcs ol consciousncss arc dircctcd toward mundanc objccts.
Tcrc is a progrcssivc unincation and homogcnization in thc
objcct ol cach consciousncss. Tc objcct ol thc consciousncss ol
thc sphcrc ol scnsc dcsirc is thc most prolilcratcd and dißcrcnti
atcd, thosc ol thc lorm and lormlcss typcs ol consciousncss arc
incrcasingly lcss prolilcratcd. Tc lourth typc ol consciousncss
is dircctcd toward a transccndcntal typc ol objcct.
Lct us now look at thc subjcctivc classincation ol conscious
ncss. Tis consciousncss has to do with thc naturc ol thc subjcc
tivc consciousncss itscll and is also dividcd into lour classcs: thc
wholcsomc consciousncss (kusala), thc unwholcsomc conscious
ncss (akusala), thc rcsultant consciousncss (vipaka), and thc incl
lcctivc or lunctional consciousncss (kiriya).
Tc wholcsomc and unwholcsomc classcs arc karmically
activc classcs ol consciousncss, in othcr words, thcy havc kar
mic potcntial. Tc rcsultant and lunctional typcs ol conscious
ncss arc not karmically activc and do not havc karmic potcntial.
..¡ ..·
Tc rcsultant class cannot bring about rcsults bccausc it is itscll
thc rcsult, whilc thc lunctional class cannot do so bccausc its
potcntiality is cxhaustcd in thc action itscll.
Vc can thus placc thc wholcsomc and unwholcsomc catcgo
rics in thc morc gcncral catcgory ol karmically activc conscious
ncsscs, and thc rcsultant and lunctional typcs into thc catcgory
ol passivc consciousncsscs that do not havc karmic potcntial.
!t might bc usclul to look lor a momcnt at thc mcaning ol
thc tcrms ‘wholcsomc’ (kusala) and ‘unwholcsomc’ (akusala), and
thcn at thc dcnnition ol thc wholcsomc and unwholcsomc cat
cgorics ol subjcctivc consciousncss. Vholcsomc mcans ‘what
tcnds toward curc’ or ‘what tcnds toward dcsirablc rcsults.’ Hcrc
wc arc again rcmindcd ol thc thcrapcutic conccrn ol 8uddhist
philosophy. Unwholcsomc mcans ‘what tcnds toward undcsir
ablc rcsults’ or ‘what tcnds toward pcrpctuation ol sußcring.’ Tc
tcrms ‘wholcsomc’ and ‘unwholcsomc’ arc also rclatcd to skill
lul and unskilllul, or intclligcnt and unintclligcnt, momcnts ol
consciousncss. Howcvcr, lor convcnicncc, pcoplc still somc
timcs rclcr to wholcsomc and unwholcsomc consciousncss as
good and bad, moral and immoral. ‘Vholcsomc’ and ‘unwholc
somc’ can also bc dcnncd with rclcrcncc to thc thrcc wholcsomc
and unwholcsomc root causcs (nongrccd, non illwill, and non
dclusion, and grccd, illwill, and dclusion, rcspcctivcly). Grccd,
illwill, and dclusion arc thc dcrivativc lorms ol lundamcntal
ignorancc, which is thc mistakcn notion ol a scll as opposcd
to what is othcrthanscll. !gnorancc in its lundamcntal scnsc
might bc likcncd to thc root ol a trcc, and grccd, illwill, and
dclusion to its branchcs.
Tc karmic potcntial ol a momcnt ol consciousncss con
..6 ..·
ditioncd by any ol thc thrcc unwholcsomc causcs is unwholc
somc, whilc thc potcntial ol a momcnt conditioncd by any ol
thc thrcc wholcsomc causcs is wholcsomc. Tcsc wholcsomc and
unwholcsomc classcs ol consciousncss arc karmically activc, and
thcy arc lollowcd by a rcsultant class – in othcr words, by thc rip
cncd rcsults ol thosc wholcsomc and unwholcsomc actions. Tc
inactivc or lunctional class rclcrs to actions that arc not produc
tivc ol lurthcr karma, and that also do not rcsult lrom wholc
somc and unwholcsomc karma, such as thc actions ol cnlight
cncd oncs – thc 8uddhas and Arhats – and dccds ol indißcrcnt or
ncutral karmic contcnt.
!n addition to thcsc two gcncral systcms lor classilying con
sciousncss – thc objcctivc, which classincs consciousncss accord
ing to its objcct and dircction, and thc subjcctivc, which classi
ncs consciousncss according to its naturc – wc havc a third sys
tcm in which consciousncss is distinguishcd according to lccl
ing, knowlcdgc, and volition.
!n thc classincation according to lccling, cvcry conscious
lactor partakcs ol an cmotional quality: agrccablc, disagrccablc,
or indißcrcnt. Tcsc thrcc can bc cxpandcd into nvc by divid
ing thc agrccablc catcgory into mcntally agrccablc and physically
agrccablc, and thc disagrccablc catcgory into mcntally disagrcc
ablc and physically disagrccablc. Tcrc is no catcgory ol physi
cally indißcrcnt consciousncss bccausc indißcrcncc is primarily
a mcntal quality.
!n thc classincation in tcrms ol knowlcdgc, again wc havc
a thrcclold division: conscious lactors accompanicd by know
lcdgc ol thc naturc ol thc objcct, conscious lactors unaccompa
nicd by knowlcdgc ol thc naturc ol thc objcct, and conscious
..6 ..·
lactors accompanicd by dcnnitc wrong vicws about thc naturc
ol thc objcct. Tcsc can also bc callcd thc prcscncc ol corrcct
knowlcdgc, thc abscncc ol corrcct knowlcdgc, and thc prcscncc
ol crroncous knowlcdgc.
Finally, in thc classincation according to volition, thcrc is a
twolold division into automatic and volitional consciousncss – in
othcr words, momcnts ol consciousncss that arc automatic in
naturc, and momcnts that havc an intcntional clcmcnt.
Lct us now look at thc scnscsphcrc consciousncss (kama-
vachara). Tcrc arc nltylour typcs ol consciousncss in this cat
cgory, which dividc into thrcc groups:
Tc nrst group consists ol twclvc lactors that arc karmically
activc and that havc unwholcsomc karmic potcntial. Tc twclvc
can bc subdividcd into lactors conditioncd by onc ol thc thrcc
unwholcsomc conditions ol grccd, illwill, and dclusion.
Tc sccond group consists ol cightccn rcactivc or passivc lac
tors ol consciousncss, which can bc lurthcr brokcn down into
thosc that arc rcsultant and thosc that arc lunctional. Filtccn
ol thc cightccn arc rcsultant, and rclcr in gcncral tcrms to cxpc
ricnccs that arc agrccablc or disagrccablc, thc rcsult ol wholc
somc or unwholcsomc lactors cxpcricnccd through thc nvc phys
ical scnscs and thc sixth mcntal scnsc. Tc rcmaining thrcc arc
lunctional, having no karmic potcntial and not bcing thc consc
qucncc ol karmically activc wholcsomc or unwholcsomc lactors.
Tc third catcgory consists ol twcntylour wholcsomc lactors
ol consciousncss that arc karmically activc and thus havc kar
mic potcntial conditioncd by nongrccd, nonillwill, and non
Vithin thc class ol scnscsphcrc consciousncss, thcrclorc,
..· ..o
wc havc nltylour typcs ol consciousncss that can bc analyzcd
in tcrms ol activc and passivc, wholcsomc and unwholcsomc,
rcsultant and lunctional, and cvcn in tcrms ol lccling, know
lcdgc, and volition.
! want to concludc by spcnding a lcw momcnts on thc mul
tivalcnt naturc ol tcrms in thc Abhidharma in particular and in
8uddhism in gcncral. Tc lactors ol consciousncss listcd in thc
Abhidharma, and thc tcrms uscd to dcscribc thcm, havc dißcr
cnt valucs and mcanings according to thc lunctions thcy pcrlorm.
Failurc to undcrstand this lcads to conlusion about Abhidharmic
¡vcn in thc carly ycars ol thc Abhidharma, thcrc wcrc critics
who lailcd to undcrstand that thc lactors in it arc classincd lunc
tionally, not ontologically. Vhat this mcans is that il you survcy
thc lactors ol consciousncss listcd in thc Abhidharma litcraturc,
you nnd thc samc lactor occurring in dißcrcnt catcgorics. Your
initial conclusion may bc that thcrc is a grcat dcal ol rcpctition
in Abhidharmic matcrial, but this is not thc point. Tc prcscncc
ol thc samc lactor in dißcrcnt catcgorics is duc to its lunction
ing dißcrcntly in cach onc.
Tc commcntary to thc Dhammasangani (Classifcation of
Factors) rccords thc objcction ol rcpctition raiscd by an oppo
ncnt. !t rcplics with thc analogy that whcn a king collccts taxcs
lrom pcoplc, hc docs so not on thc basis ol thcir cxistcncc as
idcntinablc individuals, but ol thcir lunctions as carning cnti
tics. (Tis is also thc casc today, whcn onc pays taxcs on thc basis
ol bcing a propcrty owncr, a salaricd workcr, on thc carnings ol
onc’s stocks and bonds, and so lorth.) !n thc samc way, thc lac
tors cnumcratcd in thc Abhidharma occur in dißcrcnt catcgo
..· ..o
rics bccausc in cach casc it is thc lactor’s lunction that counts,
not its csscncc.
Tis is also thc casc with tcrms. Vc nccd to undcrstand
tcrms in contcxt – by thc way thcy arc uscd – rathcr than impos
ing rigid, csscntialistic, and naturalistic dcnnitions. Takc, lor
instancc, ‘sußcring’ (dukkha) and ‘happincss’ (sukha). !n thc
analysis ol thc lactors ol consciousncss, thcsc tcrms mcan phys
ical sußcring and physical happincss. Yct whcn wc talk about
dukkha in thc contcxt ol thc nrst noblc truth, it includcs not
only lour physical sußcrings but also lour mcntal sußcrings.
Similarly, sankhara mcans simply ‘volition’ in onc contcxt but
‘all compoundcd things’ in anothcr.
Tus whcn wc study thc Abhidharma, wc nccd to undcr
stand thc words in contcxt. !l wc kccp this in mind, wc will bc
adopting thc phcnomcnological spirit ol 8uddhist philosophy
and will nnd it casicr to approach thc signincancc ol what is
bcing said. Òthcrwisc, wc will nnd oursclvcs trappcd into rigid,
unworkablc dcnnitions ol tcrms and rigid, unhclplul idcas about
lactors ol cxpcricncc.
.¡c .¡.
Tc Torm and Tormlcss Aphcrcs
n Chaptcr .. ! introduccd scvcral schcmcs lor classilying con
sciousncss that may bc dimcult to grasp, particularly lor ncw
comcrs to Abhidharmic studics. Hcncc thcrc arc two additional
points ! would likc to makc as wc procccd with our discussion.
First, to acquirc undcrstanding, onc nccds to cultivatc
(.) study, (:) considcration, and (.) mcditation. !t is not cnough
just to hcar or rcad about thc classincations ol consciousncss: onc
nccds to considcr cxactly how thcy lunction, cxactly what thcir
mcaning is. From my own cxpcricncc, thcsc schcmcs ol classin
cation will not bcgin to makc scnsc until onc spcnds somc timc
running thcm back and lorth in onc’s mind. Finally, altcr study
and considcration, onc can usc thcm in onc’s mcditation.
Sccond, to undcrstand thcsc classincations, it hclps to con
sidcr a morc concrctc and acccssiblc modcl. Supposc you want to
know how many pcoplc arc likcly to watch daytimc tclcvision in
Singaporc. You might classily thc population into cmploycd and
uncmploycd, again, you might dividc thc uncmploycd group into
¡nglishspcaking and Chincscspcaking, so you know how many
arc likcly to watch ¡nglish programs comparcd to Chincsc oncs.
You might dividc thc population into malc and lcmalc, or into
schoolgoing and nonschoolgoing, and thc schoolgoing group
into thosc who attcnd ¡nglish schools and thosc who attcnd
Chincsc schools. Givcn a ccrtain group ol lactors – in this casc,
thc individual pcoplc who makc up a population – thcrc arc many
ways to classily thcm dcpcnding on what you want to nnd out.
.¡c .¡.
!t is thc samc way with thc Abhidharmic classincation ol
consciousncss: wc havc a sct ol typcs ol consciousncss, and wc
classily thcm in dißcrcnt ways according to what wc want to nnd
out. !l wc rcmcmbcr this gcncral rulc about why and how wc
classily lactors ol consciousncss, and thcn run thc schcmcs back
and lorth in our minds, thcy will bcgin to makc morc scnsc.
!n this chaptcr wc will look at thc lormsphcrc conscious
ncss (rupavachara) and thc lormlcsssphcrc consciousncss (arupa-
vachara, scc Chaptcr ..). Hcrc wc arc primarily conccrncd with
thc analysis ol typcs ol consciousncss that arisc lrom mcdita
tion, conccntration, or absorption (jhana). As in thc gcncsis ol
thc Abhidharma itscll, Sariputta playcd a vital rolc in thc bcgin
nings ol Abhidharmic analysis ol consciousncss. !n thc Anupada
Sutta it is mcntioncd that, altcr achicving thc various statcs ol
mcditation, Sariputta applicd an Abhidharmic typc ol analysis
by cnumcrating, classilying, and idcntilying thc typcs ol con
sciousncss hc had cxpcricnccd.
Much cmphasis was placcd on analysis cvcn in thc carly
pcriod ol 8uddhist history, bccausc thc cxpcricncc ol cxtraor
dinary statcs ol mcditation can bc casily misintcrprctcd. !n non
8uddhist traditions, such statcs arc consistcntly misintcrprctcd
as cvidcncc ol a transccndcntal, supranatural bcing or ol an ctcr
nal soul.
8y pointing out that statcs ol mcditation, likc cxpcricncc
in gcncral, arc charactcrizcd by impcrmancncc, transicncc, and
insubstantiality, analysis wards oß thc thrcc dcnlcmcnts ol:
(a) craving or attachmcnt to thc supcrnatural and cxtraordinary
statcs ol consciousncss achicvcd through mcditation, (b) lalsc
vicws, that is, thc misintcrprctation ol thcsc statcs ol mcditation
.¡: .¡.
as cvidcncc ol thc cxistcncc ol a transccndcntal bcing or ctcrnal
soul, and (c) conccit, which ariscs lrom thc notion that onc has
achicvcd cxtraordinary statcs ol mcditation.
Tc cultivation ol statcs ol mcditation and thc attainmcnt
ol thc absorptions is a vcry important part ol 8uddhist practicc
bccausc it is thc aim ol mcntal dcvclopmcnt, which is onc ol thc
thrcc major divisions ol thc 8uddhist path (i.c., morality, mcntal
dcvclopmcnt, and wisdom). To achicvc thcsc statcs ol mcditation,
onc nccds to crcatc thc loundation ol morality and withdraw
to somc cxtcnt lrom involvcmcnt in worldly activitics. Having
achicvcd thcsc prcliminary conditions, onc thcn procccds to cul
tivatc thc statcs ol mcditation through various mcthods.
8ricßy, onc procccds by mcans ol somc lorty traditional
objccts ol mcditation, which includc tcn supports (kasina). Tcsc
objccts arc coordinatcd to thc tcmpcramcnt ol thc mcditator. !n
othcr words, particular objccts ol mcditation arc prcscribcd lor
ccrtain kinds ol tcmpcramcnt. !n gcncral, onc bcgins with an
cxtcrnal support, gradually that cxtcrnal support is intcrnalizcd
and conccptualizcd, and nnally that support is discardcd and
onc cntcrs thc statc ol mcditation propcr.
Fivc lactors ol absorption (jhananga) arc crucial to dcvclop
ing thc statcs ol mcditation that rcsult in thc typc ol conscious
ncss bclonging to thc lorm and lormlcss sphcrcs: (i) initial appli
cation (vitakka), (ii) sustaincd application (vichara), (iii) intcrcst,
cnthusiasm, or rapturc (piti), (iv) happincss or bliss (sukha), and
(v) oncpointcdncss (ekaggata). Tcsc nvc lactors arc also cvi
dcnt in most typcs ol consciousncss, including thc scnscsphcrc
consciousncss and cvcn thc consciousncss ol somc ol thc morc
dcvclopcd animals.
.¡: .¡.
Takc, lor instancc, oncpointcdncss. ¡vcry conscious
momcnt participatcs in oncpointcdncss to somc dcgrcc. Tis
oncpointcdncss cnablcs us to locus on a particular objcct in
our conscious cxpcricncc. !l it wcrc not lor oncpointcdncss,
wc would not bc ablc to pick out an objcct ol consciousncss
lrom thc strcam ol objccts ol consciousncss. Tc nvc lactors ol
absorption play a particular rolc in thc dcvclopmcnt ol mcdi
tativc consciousncss in that thcy raisc our consciousncss lrom
thc scnsc sphcrc to thc lorm sphcrc, and thcncc to thc lorm
lcss sphcrc, through intcnsincation. !ntcnsincation implics thc
cnhanccmcnt and dcvclopmcnt ol thc powcr ol particular lunc
tions ol consciousncss. !ntcnsincation ol thc nrst two lactors,
initial application and sustaincd application, lcads to thc dcvcl
opmcnt ol thc intcllcct, which can thcn scrvc to dcvclop insight.
Similarly, intcnsincation ol thc nlth lactor, oncpointcdncss,
lcads to thc dcvclopmcnt ol lully conccntratcd or absorbcd con
sciousncss. !ntcnsincation ol all nvc lactors lcads progrcssivcly
to thc attainmcnt ol supcrnormal powcrs.
Tc nvc lactors also hclp clcvatc onc’s consciousncss lrom thc
scnsc sphcrc to thc lorm and lormlcss sphcrcs by rcmoving thc
nvc hindranccs (nivarana): initial application corrccts sloth and
torpor, sustaincd application corrccts doubt, cnthusiasm cor
rccts illwill, happincss corrccts rcstlcssncss and worry, and onc
pointcdncss corrccts scnsual dcsirc.
Lct us look morc closcly at thc nvc lactors ol absorption to
scc how thcy producc conccntratcd consciousncss. To do this, wc
nccd to look in grcatcr dctail at thcir mcaning. !n thc contcxt ol
dcvcloping mcditativc consciousncss, initial application (vitakka)
is bcttcr tcrmcd ‘applicd thought,’ sincc it mcans ‘hitting upon,’
.¡¡ .¡·
‘striking,’ or ‘mounting.’ Vitakka mounts thc mind, placing it on
thc objcct ol mcditation, vichara (sustaincd application) thcn
kccps thc mind nrmly on that objcct, maintaining thc placcmcnt
ol thc mind. Tc third lactor ol absorption – cnthusiasm, intcrcst,
or rapturc (piti) – motivatcs onc to pursuc thc activity ol mcdi
tation diligcntly.
!t may bc hclplul to contrast intcrcst (piti) and happincss
(sukha) to undcrstand thc rclationship bctwccn thc two. !ntcrcst
and happincss bclong to two dißcrcnt classcs ol cxpcricncc: intcr
cst to thc volitional class (sankhara), and happincss to thc lccl
ing class (vedana). Òn thc onc hand, intcrcst is activc anticipa
tion and cnthusiasm, on thc othcr hand, happincss is a lccling ol
contcntmcnt or bliss. Tc commcntarics havc givcn thc lollow
ing cxamplc to illustratc thc rclation bctwccn thc tcrms. Supposc
a man in a dcscrt is told that thcrc is a pond ol lrcsh watcr at thc
cdgc ol a villagc ncarby. Upon hcaring thc ncws, hc cxpcricnccs
a kccn scnsc ol intcrcst (piti) and is motivatcd and cncouragcd
by thc inlormation. 8ut whcn hc actually rcachcs thc pond and
qucnchcs his thirst, hc cxpcricnccs happincss (sukha). Tus it is
intcrcst or cnthusiasm that cncouragcs us to procccd toward con
ccntratcd consciousncss, whcrcas happincss or bliss is thc actual
cxpcricncc ol mcntal happincss that rcsults lrom conccntratcd
Òncpointcdncss (ekaggata) is collcction, nondistraction ol
thc mind, locusing thc mind without wavcring on thc objcct ol
mcditation. !t is likc thc ßamc ol a lamp which rcmains stcad
last in a room lrcc ol dralts.
Vhcn all nvc lactors ol absorption arc prcscnt, wc havc thc
nrst lormsphcrc consciousncss, or absorption. As lactors ol
.¡¡ .¡·
absorption arc climinatcd onc by onc, wc progrcss stcp by stcp
to thc nlth lormsphcrc consciousncss. !n othcr words, whcn wc
climinatc initial application, wc havc thc sccond lormsphcrc
absorption, whcn sustaincd application is rcmovcd, wc havc
thc third lormsphcrc absorption, whcn intcrcst is rcmovcd, wc
havc thc lourth lormsphcrc absorption, and whcn happincss is
rcmovcd, wc havc thc nlth lormsphcrc absorption.
Tcsc nvc typcs ol consciousncss arc karmically activc,
wholcsomc typcs ol consciousncss. !n addition, thcrc arc nvc
rcactivc, rcsultant and nvc inactivc or lunctional typcs ol con
sciousncss. Tc nrst nvc arc karmically activc and arc prcscnt in
this lilc. Tc sccond nvc arc thc rcsult ol thc nrst nvc, in othcr
words, cultivation ol lormsphcrc absorption rcsults in rcbirth in
thc lorm sphcrc. Tc third nvc arc thc nvc lormsphcrc absorp
tions as practiccd by thc libcratcd oncs (Arhats), who havc bro
kcn thc bonds ol action and rcaction, hcncc thc nvc lormsphcrc
absorptions arc rcgardcd as inactivc whcn practiccd by thcm.
Tus thcrc arc nltccn typcs ol lormsphcrc consciousncss: nvc
wholcsomcactivc, nvc rcsultant, and nvc inactivc.
Vhcn onc has attaincd thc nlth lormsphcrc conscious
ncss, onc cxpcricnccs dissatislaction with thc limitcd naturc ol
thc lormsphcrc absorptions. Ònc thcn progrcsscs to lormlcss
sphcrc mcditation, again by mcans ol an objcct ol mcditation,
commonly onc ol thc tcn supports (kasina). Ònc achicvcs this
transition by cxtcnding thc support until it covcrs thc innnity ol
spacc, thcn discarding thc support and mcditating on thc innn
ity ol spacc, thcrcby achicving thc nrst ol thc lormlcsssphcrc
Vhcn this is achicvcd, onc progrcsscs to thc sccond
.¡6 .¡·
lormlcsssphcrc absorption, which dwclls on thc innnity ol
consciousncss. At this stagc, rathcr than locusing on thc objcct
ol thc mcditating consciousncss (i.c., thc innnity ol spacc), onc
locuscs on thc subjcct ol thc mcditativc consciousncss (i.c., thc
consciousncss that pcrvadcs innnitc spacc, or innnitc con
Tc third lormlcsssphcrc absorption dwclls on thc prcscnt
noncxistcncc ol thc prcccding innnitc consciousncss that pcr
vadcd innnity. !n othcr words, thc third lormlcsssphcrc absorp
tion dwclls on nothing at all, nothingncss, or voidncss.
Finally, thc lourth lormlcsssphcrc absorption dwclls on
thc rcalm ol ncithcr pcrccption nor nonpcrccption, a condition
whcrc consciousncss is so subtlc that it cannot bc dcscribcd as
cxistcnt or noncxistcnt.
As with thc lormsphcrc absorptions, thcrc arc thrcc scts
ol lormlcsssphcrc consciousncss (but with lour instcad ol nvc
typcs cach). Four lormlcsssphcrc typcs ol consciousncss bclong
to thc wholcsomcactivc catcgory, lour bclong to thc rcsultant
rcactivc catcgory, that is, rcbirth in thc lormlcss sphcrc, and
lour bclong to thc inactivc or lunctional catcgory, thc lormlcss
sphcrc absorptions as practiccd by thc Arhats. !n sum, thcrc
twclvc typcs ol lormlcsssphcrc consciousncss: lour wholcsomc
activc, lour rcsultant, and lour inactivc.
!l wc look at thc progrcssion in thc lormlcsssphcrc absorp
tions, wc scc a gradual unincation and rarclaction ol conscious
ncss – an absorption in thc innnity ol thc objcct (spacc), thcn
an absorption in thc innnity ol thc subjcct (consciousncss), lol
lowcd by an absorption in nothingncss, and, nnally, an absorp
tion in ncithcr pcrccption nor nonpcrccption. You will rcmcm
.¡6 .¡·
bcr that, whcn wc talkcd about consciousncss and its objcct as
thc lundamcntal, gcrminal structurc ol cxpcricncc, wc had in thc
scnscsphcrc consciousncss thc most lragmcntcd typc ol cxpcri
cncc, whcrc consciousncss and its objcct arc brokcn down into
many lactors. As wc progrcss through thc lorm and lormlcss
sphcrcs, gradually wc havc a unincation ol thc subjcct and a uni
ncation ol thc objcct, so that whcn wc arrivc at thc lourth lorm
lcsssphcrc absorption, wc havc rcachcd thc summit ol mundanc
!t is intcrcsting that thc lormsphcrc and lormlcsssphcrc
absorptions wcrc known to yogis bclorc thc timc ol thc 8uddha
and wcrc practiccd by thc 8uddha’s contcmporarics. Vc havc
rcason to bclicvc that thc two tcachcrs with whom Gotama
studicd bclorc his cnlightcnmcnt wcrc practitioncrs ol thcsc
mcditations. Tc lormlcsssphcrc absorptions wcrc thc highcst
lcvcl ol spiritual dcvclopmcnt to which man could aspirc bclorc
thc 8uddha, on thc night ol his cnlightcnmcnt, dcmonstratcd
that absorption has to bc combincd with wisdom to bccomc
truly supramundanc.
Tis is why it is said that, although onc can achicvc thc high
cst dcvclopmcnt possiblc in mcditation and bc rcborn at thc pin
naclc ol thc lormlcss sphcrc, whcn thc powcr ol that mcditativc
absorption – which is, altcr all, impcrmancnt – wancs, onc will
bc rcborn in a lowcr sphcrc. For this rcason, onc must go bcyond
cvcn thcsc vcry rarcncd and highly dcvclopcd lcvcls ol mcdita
tivc consciousncss. Ònc has to couplc thc conccntratcd and uni
ncd consciousncss ol thc absorptions with wisdom, only thcn
can onc progrcss bcyond thc mundanc to thc supramundanc
typcs ol consciousncss.
.¡· .¡o
Aupramundanc (onsciousncss
n this chaptcr wc concludc our rcvicw ol thc analysis ol con
sciousncss, which brings us to thc cnd ol thc nrst book ol thc
Abhidharma Pitaka, thc Dhammasangani (Classifcation of Factors).
Hcrc ! will talk about thc last ol thc lour objcctivc classincations
ol consciousncss outlincd in Chaptcr .:, namcly, thc supramun
danc consciousncss (alokiya chitta).
Tcrc arc two ways ol distinguishing thc supramundanc
typcs ol consciousncss lrom thc mundanc typcs (thc conscious
ncss ol thc scnsc sphcrc, lorm sphcrc, and lormlcss sphcrc). Tc
nrst distinction is in tcrms ol dctcrmination and dircction. Tc
mundanc consciousncss is dctcrmincd, undircctcd, and subjcct
to karma and conditions, whcrcas thc supramundanc conscious
ncss is dctcrmining, dircctcd toward a goal, and no longcr sub
jcct to lorccs bcyond its control. Supramundanc consciousncss is
dctcrmining bccausc ol thc prcdominancc not ol karma but ol
Tc sccond distinction is that thc mundanc typcs ol con
sciousncss havc as thcir objcct conditioncd phcnomcna, whcrcas
thc supramundanc typcs havc as thcir objcct thc uncondi
tioncd – namcly, nirvana. Tc 8uddha spokc ol nirvana as an
unborn and uncrcatcd statc. Such a statc is ncccssary in ordcr
that thcrc bc a way out ol thc conditioncd world ol sußcring. !n
this scnsc thc objcct ol thc supramundanc typc ol consciousncss
is uncrcatcd and unconditioncd.
Vc can gcncrally dividc thc supramundanc typcs ol con
.¡· .¡o
sciousncss into lour activc and lour passivc typcs ol consciousncss.
Normally, typcs ol consciousncss can bc activc or passivc, and thc
passivc typcs can bc rcactivc (rcsultant) or inactivc (lunctional).
Howcvcr, thcrc arc no lunctional or inactivc typcs ol conscious
ncss in this catcgory bccausc hcrc thc typcs ol consciousncss arc
dctcrmining, not dctcrmincd. Tcsc cight basic typcs ol supra
mundanc consciousncss, lour activc and lour passivc, cach corrc
spond to thc path and thc lruit ol thc lour typcs ol noblc oncs – thc
strcamwinncr (sotapanna), thc onccrcturncr (sakadagami), thc
nonrcturncr (anagami), and thc Arhat. Hcrc ! ought to point out
anothcr distinction bctwccn supramundanc and mundanc con
sciousncss. !n thc mundanc typcs ol consciousncss, activc and
rcsultant typcs ol consciousncss can bc scparatcd by rclativcly long
pcriods ol timc: in othcr words, an activc, conscious lactor may not
producc its rcsultant lactor until much latcr in thc prcscnt lilc or
cvcn until a luturc lilc. For cxamplc, in thc casc ol thc conscious
ncss ol thc lorm and lormlcss sphcrcs, thc rcsultant consciousncss
docs not occur until a subscqucnt lilc. !n thc supramundanc typcs
ol consciousncss, howcvcr, thc rcsultant (or lruit) consciousncss
lollows thc activc (or path) consciousncss immcdiatcly.
Tc cight typcs ol supramundanc consciousncss can bc
cxpandcd to lorty by combining cach ol thc cight with cach ol
thc nvc lormsphcrc absorptions. Tc lour typcs ol activc supra
mundanc consciousncss (thc path consciousncss ol thc strcam
winncr and so lorth) combinc with thc consciousncss bclong
ing to thc nrst absorption and so lorth, so that thcrc arc twcnty
typcs ol activc supramundanc consciousncss associatcd with thc
lour typcs ol noblc pcrsons and nvc lormsphcrc absorptions.
Similarly, thc lour typcs ol rcsultant supramundanc conscious
.·c .·.
ncss (thc lruit consciousncss ol thc strcamwinncr and so lorth)
combinc with thc consciousncss bclonging to thc nrst absorption
and so lorth, so that thcrc arc twcnty typcs ol rcsultant supra
mundanc consciousncss, and lorty in all.
Tis occurs in thc lollowing way. 8ascd on thc nrst lorm
sphcrc absorption, thc path and lruit consciousncss ol thc strcam
winncr arisc. Similarly, bascd on thc sccond third, lourth, and
nlth lormsphcrc absorptions, thc path and thc lruit conscious
ncss ol thc onccrcturncr, thc nonrcturncr, and thc Arhat arisc.
Tc consciousncss bclonging to thc supramundanc consciousncss
is thcrclorc dcvclopcd bascd on thc various absorptions.
Lct us go on to dcnnc thc lour stagcs ol cnlightcnmcnt: strcam
winncr (sotapanna), onccrcturncr (sakadagami), nonrcturncr
(anagami), and Arhat. Tc progrcss ol a noblc onc through thc
lour stagcs ol cnlightcnmcnt is markcd by his or hcr ability to
ovcrcomc ccrtain lcttcrs at cach stagc. Tcrc is a progrcssivc clim
ination ol thc tcn lcttcrs (samyojana) that bind us to thc condi
tioncd univcrsc until such timc as wc arc ablc to achicvc libcra
¡ntry into thc strcam is markcd by thc climination ol thrcc
lcttcrs. Tc nrst is thc bclicl in thc indcpcndcnt and pcrmancnt
cxistcncc ol an individual pcrson (sakkaya ditthi) – namcly, taking
thc mcntal and physical lactors ol thc pcrsonality (lorm, lccling,
volition, pcrccption, and consciousncss) to bc thc scll. !t is thcrc
lorc not coincidcntal that wc say that thc mundanc typcs ol con
sciousncss arc conditioncd by thc aggrcgatcs, whcrcas thc supra
mundanc typcs ol consciousncss arc undctcrmincd by thc aggrc
gatcs. Òvcrcoming thc nrst lcttcr marks onc’s passagc lrom thc
status ol an ordinary worldling to thc status ol a noblc pcrson.
.·c .·.
Tc sccond lcttcr ovcrcomc by thc strcamwinncr is doubt
(vichikichchha). Tis is primarily doubt about thc 8uddha,
Ðharma, and Sangha, but also about thc rulcs ol disciplinc and
intcrdcpcndcnt origination.
Tc third lcttcr is bclicl in rulcs and rituals (silabbata-
paramasa). Tis lcttcr has oltcn bccn misundcrstood, but rclcrs
to thc practiccs ol non8uddhists who bclicvc that adhcring to
codcs ol moral disciplinc and ascctic rituals alonc can lcad thcm
to libcration.
Vhcn thcsc thrcc lcttcrs arc ovcrcomc, onc cntcrs thc
strcam and will achicvc libcration within no morc than scvcn
lilctimcs. Ònc will not bc rcborn in statcs ol woc (thc rcalms ol
thc hcll bcings, hungry ghosts, and animals), and onc is guaran
tccd implicit laith in thc 8uddha, Ðharma, and Sangha.
Having achicvcd this nrst stagc ol cnlightcnmcnt, thc noblc
pcrson gocs on to wcakcn two additional lcttcrs, scnsual dcsirc
and illwill, thus attaining thc status ol a onccrcturncr. Tcsc
lcttcrs arc particularly strong, which is why, cvcn on this stagc,
thcy arc only wcakcncd, not rcmovcd. Scnsual dcsirc and illwill
may still occasionally arisc, although not arisc in thc gross lorm
lamiliar to worldly pcrsons.
Vhcn thcsc two lcttcrs arc nnally climinatcd, onc attains
thc stagc ol thc nonrcturncr. At this third stagc onc is no lon
gcr rcborn in thc cyclc ol birth and dcath but only in thc purc
abodcs rcscrvcd lor nonrcturncrs and Arhats.
Vhcn thc nvc rcmaining lcttcrs arc climinatcd – attachmcnt
to thc sphcrc ol lorm (rupa raga), attachmcnt to thc lormlcss sphcrc
(arupa raga), conccit (mana), agitation (uddhachcha), and ignorancc
(avijja) – onc achicvcs thc pinnaclc ol thc supramundanc typcs ol
.·: .·.
consciousncss, thc lruit consciousncss ol thc Arhat.
Tcsc lour stagcs may bc dividcd into two groups: thc nrst
thrcc, which arc callcd stagcs ol onc in training, and thc lourth,
thc stagc ol onc who is no longcr in training. For this rcason, it
may bc usclul to think ol progrcss to Arhatship as a proccss ol
graduation, as in a program ol acadcmic studics. Òn cach stagc
onc ovcrcomcs ccrtain barricrs ol ignorancc and thcrcby gradu
atcs to a highcr stagc ol training.
At this point, a qualitativc changc occurs, lrom an undi
rcctcd and dctcrmincd condition to a dircctcd and dctcrmining
onc. How docs onc makc nirvana thc objcct ol onc’s conscious
ncss, thcrcby translorming a mundanc consciousncss whosc
objcct is conditioncd into a supramundanc consciousncss whosc
objcct is unconditioncd: How docs onc rcalizc nirvana: Tis is
donc through dcvcloping insight, or wisdom (panna).
To dcvclop insight, wc apply thc two Abhidharmic mcth
ods ol analysis and synthcsis (scc Chaptcr .:). Vc apply thc
analytical mcthod in our cxamination ol consciousncss and its
objcct – in othcr words, mind and mattcr. Trough this analysis
wc arrivc at thc rcalization that what wc prcviously took to bc
a homogcncous, unitary, and substantial phcnomcnon is in lact
composcd ol individual clcmcnts, all ol which arc impcrmancnt
and in a constant statc ol ßux. Tis is truc ol both mind and
Similarly, wc apply thc synthctic mcthod by considcring thc
causcs and thc conditions ol our pcrsonal cxistcncc. !n rclation
to what lactors do wc cxist as a psychophysical cntity: Tis
cxamination rcvcals that thc pcrsonality cxists dcpcndcnt on nvc
lactors – ignorancc, craving, clinging, karma, and thc matcrial
.·: .·.
sustcnancc ol lilc (namcly, nourishmcnt).
!nsight in gcncral is dcvclopcd through applying thc two
Abhidharmic mcthods by dissccting intcrnal and cxtcrnal, mcn
tal and physical phcnomcna and cxamining thcm in rclation to
thcir causcs and conditions. Tcsc analytical and rclational
invcstigations rcvcal thrcc intcrrclatcd, univcrsal charactcristics
ol cxistcncc: (.) impcrmancncc, (:) sußcring, and (.) notscll.
Vhatcvcr is impcrmancncc is sußcring, bccausc whcn wc scc thc
lactors ol cxpcricncc disintcgratc, thcir disintcgration and thcir
impcrmancncc arc an occasion lor sußcring. Morcovcr, whatcvcr
is impcrmancnt and sußcring cannot bc thc scll, bccausc scll can
ncithcr bc transicnt nor can it bc painlul.
Pcnctrating thcsc thrcc charactcristics lcads to rcnunciation,
to lrccdom lrom thc conditioncd univcrsc. Trough undcrstand
ing thcsc thrcc, onc rcalizcs that thc thrcc mundanc sphcrcs arc
likc a banana trcc – without csscncc. Tis rcalization lcads to
rcnunciation, to a discngagcmcnt lrom thc conditioncd sphcrc,
and cnablcs thc consciousncss to dircct itscll toward an uncon
ditioncd objcct, nirvana.
Any onc ol thc thrcc charactcristics can scrvc as a kcy to this
ncw oricntation. Any onc ol thc thrcc can bc takcn as an objcct
ol contcmplation to dcvclop onc’s insight. Vc can scc this in thc
biographical accounts ol thc lorcmost disciplcs ol thc 8uddha.
Khcma, lor instancc, achicvcd libcration through thc contcm
plation ol impcrmancncc (scc Chaptcr ::).
Òncc onc has dcvclopcd insight into onc ol thc thrcc univcr
sal charactcristics, onc can cxpcricncc bricßy a vision ol nirvana.
Ònc’s nrst acquaintancc with nirvana may bc likcncd to a ßash
ol lightning that illuminatcs onc’s way in thc darkncss ol night.
.·¡ .··
Tc clarity ol that ßash rcmains lor a long timc imprcsscd upon
onc’s mind, and cnablcs onc to continuc on onc’s way knowing
that onc is procccding in thc right dircction.
Tc nrst glimpsc ol nirvana achicvcd by thc strcamwinncr
scrvcs as thc oricntation by which hc dirccts his progrcss toward
nirvana. Ònc might almost likcn this gradual dcvclopmcnt ol
insight to thc acquisition ol a skill. Altcr nrst managing to bicy
clc a lcw yards without lalling, it may bc somc timc bclorc onc
bccomcs an cxpcrt cyclist. 8ut having succcsslully riddcn thosc
nrst lcw yards, onc ncvcr lorgcts that cxpcricncc and can conn
dcntly progrcss toward onc’s goal.
!t is in this scnsc that contcmplation ol thc thrcc charac
tcristics lcads to thc thrcc doors ol libcration: thc door ol sign
lcssncss, thc door ol wishlcssncss, and thc door ol cmptincss.
Contcmplating thc charactcristic ol impcrmancncc lcads to thc
door ol signlcssncss, contcmplating sußcring lcads to thc door
ol wishlcssncss, or lrccdom lrom dcsirc, and contcmplating not
scll lcads to thc door ol cmptincss. Tcsc thrcc doors ol libcr
ation arc thc culmination ol mcditation on thc thrcc univcrsal
Tus onc gradually progrcsscs through thc lour stagcs ol
cnlightcnmcnt and cvcntually achicvcs Arhatship, that stagc
ol victory ovcr thc amictions in which thc unwholcsomc roots
ol grccd, illwill, and dclusion arc totally rcmovcd. Having
uprootcd thc amictions, thc Arhat is lrcc lrom thc cyclc ol birth
and dcath and is no longcr rcborn.
Ðcspitc somc attcmpts to tarnish it with thc chargc ol scll
ishncss, thc goal ol Arhatship is a bcncncial and compassionatc
modc ol bcing. Ònc nccd only look at thc 8uddha’s instructions
.·¡ .··
to his cmincnt Arhat disciplcs, and also at thc carccrs ol thcsc
disciplcs, to scc that in thc timc ol thc 8uddha Arhatship was
not a passivc or sclnsh statc ol bcing. Sariputta, Moggallana, and
othcrs wcrc activcly cngagcd in tcaching both thc laity and othcr
mcmbcrs ol thc 8uddhist Òrdcr. Tc 8uddha himscll cxhortcd
his Arhat disciplcs to go lorth lor thc bcncnt ol thc many. Tc
goal ol Arhatship is a glorious and worthy onc that ought not bc
dcprcciatcd in any way by thc lact that thc 8uddhist tradition
also acknowlcdgcs thc goal ol thc privatc or individual 8uddha
(Pachcheka Buddha) and thc goal ol 8uddhahood.
.·6 .··
·nalysis of ´cntal Atatcs
n thc Abhidharma, mcntal statcs arc dcnncd as ‘thosc lactors
which arc associatcd with consciousncss, which arisc and pcr
ish with consciousncss, and which havc thc samc objcct and bascs
as consciousncss.’ Tis immcdiatcly indicatcs thc vcry closc rcla
tionship bctwccn consciousncss (chitta) and mcntal statcs (cheta-
sika). Ònc ol thc bcst analogics to dcscribc thcir rclationship is
that ol thc lramcwork ol a building and thc building matcrials,
or a skclcton and thc ßcsh that covcrs it. Hcrc thc typcs ol con
sciousncss arc thc skclcton, whilc thc mcntal statcs arc thc ßcsh
that gocs to build up a body ol conscious cxpcricncc.
Vith this in mind, it is hclplul to considcr thc typcs ol con
sciousncss cnumcratcd in thc Abhidharmic analysis ol conscious
ncss in tcrms ol thc mcntal statcs with which thcy arc likcly to
bc associatcd. Ònc’s own analysis will not ncccssarily corrcspond
cxactly to thc analysis in thc tcxts. 8ut insolar as ccrtain mcntal
statcs naturally appcar to lollow lrom particular typcs ol con
sciousncss, wc will arrivc at an undcrstanding ol how ccrtain
mcntal statcs and typcs ol consciousncss go togcthcr. Tis is lar
morc important than mcmorizing thc list ol mcntal statcs.
Tcrc arc thrcc gcncral catcgorics ol mcntal statcs: wholc
somc, unwholcsomc, and unspccincd. Unspccincd mcntal statcs
arc ncithcr wholcsomc nor unwholcsomc, but takc on thc naturc
ol thc othcr mcntal statcs with which thcy arc associatcd. Tcsc
unspccincd mcntal statcs play a ccntral rolc in thc construction
ol conscious cxpcricncc, much likc thc ccmcnt without which
.·6 .··
thc building ol cxpcricncc cannot hold togcthcr.
Tcrc arc two groups ol unspccincd mcntal statcs: univcrsal
(or primary), and particular (or sccondary). Tc univcrsal mcn
tal statcs arc prcscnt in all typcs ol consciousncss without cxccp
tion, whcrcas thc particular mcntal statcs only occur in ccrtain
typcs ol consciousncss.
Tcrc arc scvcn univcrsal unspccincd mcntal statcs: (.) con
tact, (:) lccling, (.) pcrccption, (¡) volition, (·) oncpointcdncss,
(6) attcntion, and (·) vitality.
Contact is thc conjunction ol consciousncss with an objcct.
!t is thc cocxistcncc ol subjcct and objcct which is thc lounda
tion ol all conscious cxpcricncc.
Fccling is thc cmotional quality ol an cxpcricncc – plcasant,
unplcasant, or indißcrcnt.
Pcrccption implics rccognition ol thc scnscsphcrc ol thc
laculty to which a givcn scnsc imprcssion pcrtains, that is, to thc
sphcrc ol cyc consciousncss, car consciousncss, and so on.
\olition, in this contcxt, docs not mcan lrcc will but an
instinctivc volitional rcsponsc.
Òncpointcdncss occurs not in thc scnsc ol a lactor ol
absorption but in thc scnsc ol thc limitation ol consciousncss to a
particular objcct. As mcntioncd in Chaptcr .¡, oncpointcdncss
occurs cvcn in ordinary, nonmcditativc typcs ol consciousncss.
Òncpointcdncss is a ncccssary mcntal statc in all typcs ol con
sciousncss bccausc it is oncpointcdncss that isolatcs a givcn
objcct lrom thc undißcrcntiatcd strcam ol objccts.
Attcntion can bc sccn in rclation to oncpointcdncss. Ònc
pointcdncss and attcntion arc thc ncgativc and positivc aspccts
ol thc samc lunction. Òncpointcdncss limits onc’s cxpcricncc
.·· .·o
to a particular objcct whcrcas attcntion dirccts onc’s awarcncss
to a particular objcct. Òncpointcdncss and attcntion lunc
tion togcthcr to isolatc and makc onc conscious ol a particular
\itality rclcrs to thc lorcc which binds togcthcr thc othcr six
statcs ol consciousncss.
Tcrc arc six particular unspccincd mcntal statcs: (.) ini
tial application, (:) sustaincd application, (.) dccision, (¡) cnvy,
(·) intcrcst, and (6) dcsirc. Vc havc alrcady cncountcrcd somc ol
thcsc in thc contcxt ol thc lactors ol absorption. Tc third par
ticular mcntal statc, usually translatcd as ‘dccision’ (adhimokkha),
is a vcry important onc that indicatcs a particular dccisivc lunc
tion ol consciousncss. Tc litcral mcaning ol thc original tcrm is
‘libcration,’ in thc scnsc hcrc ol ‘libcration lrom doubt.’ Tc sixth
particular mcntal statc, ‘dcsirc’ (Chhanda), may bc so translatcd
as long as wc rcmcmbcr that dcsirc lor scnsual plcasurc (kama-
chhanda) is ncgativc and dcstructivc, whcrcas dcsirc lor libcration
(dhammachhanda) is positivc and constructivc. Ðcsirc, thcrclorc,
has both a wholcsomc and an unwholcsomc lunction, dcpcnd
ing both on thc objcct ol dcsirc and on thc othcr mcntal statcs
with which dcsirc is associatcd.
Lct us go on to look at thc unwholcsomc mcntal statcs. Tcrc
arc lourtccn ol thcm, and thcy arc associatcd with thc twclvc
unwholcsomc typcs ol consciousncss (scc Chaptcr ..) in nvc
ways, which dißcrcntiatcs thcm into nvc groups. Tc nrst thrcc
groups takc thcir charactcr lrom thc thrcc unwholcsomc roots:
dclusion (moha), grccd (lobha), and illwill (dosa). Tc lourth
group consists ol sloth and torpor (thina and middha), thc nlth
consists ol doubt (vichikichchha).
.·· .·o
Lct us look at thc group hcadcd by dclusion. Tis group is
univcrsally prcscnt in all typcs ol unwholcsomc consciousncss
and it includcs lour lactors: dclusion, shamclcssncss, unscrupu
lousncss, or lcarlcssncss, and rcstlcssncss. 8oth shamclcssncss
and lcarlcssncss havc moral and cthical connotations, which
lunction intcrnally and cxtcrnally.
Vhcn wc spcak hcrc ol shamclcssncss, what wc mcan is
an intcrnal inability to rcstrain oncscll lrom unwholcsomc
actions duc to thc inability to apply onc’s pcrsonal standards
to onc’s actions. And whcn wc spcak ol lcarlcssncss, or lack ol
drcad, what wc mcan is thc inability to rccognizc thc applica
tion ol social standards ol morality to onc’s actions. Vith thcsc
two tcrms, wc havc an indication that standards ol morality arc
arrivcd at both inwardly, in rclation to oncscll, and outwardly,
in rclation to othcrs.
Particularly in cascs ol dcludcd consciousncss, wc nnd a
pcculiar pattcrn ol bchavior. Vhcn a pcrson’s consciousncss is
dominatcd by dclusion and hc is unablc to apply intcrnal stan
dards ol morality, hc acts in an unwholcsomc way. Similarly,
whcn hc is unablc to apply social standards ol morality, hc is
carclcss about his actions. Tis inability to apply intcrnal and
cxtcrnal standards ol morality to onc’s actions crcatcs rcstlcss
ncss, thc lourth lactor in this dclusiondominatcd group.
Tc sccond ol thc nvc groups ol unwholcsomc mcntal statcs
is thc grccddominatcd group: hcrc grccd is accompanicd by
mistakcn bclicl and conccit. Tc pcrsonal and practical cxtcn
sion ol a grccddominatcd consciousncss is a tcndcncy toward
scllaggrandizcmcnt, thc accumulation and cxhibition ol know
lcdgc, and thc occurrcncc ol pridc, cgoism, and conccit.
.6c .6.
Tc third group ol unwholcsomc mcntal statcs is that dom
inatcd by illwill. Tis illwill is accompanicd by cnvy, avaricc,
and worry.
Tc lourth group includcs sloth and torpor, which arc par
ticularly rclcvant in thc contcxt ol volitionally induccd catcgo
rics ol consciousncss.
Tc nlth group consists ol doubt, which applics in all cascs
whcrc dccision is not prcscnt – namcly, thc dccision (or ‘libcr
ation lrom doubt’) that is onc ol thc six particular unspccincd
mcntal statcs.
Tcrc arc ninctccn mcntal statcs common to all wholcsomc
typcs ol consciousncss. A numbcr ol thcsc arc lactors condu
civc to cnlightcnmcnt (bodhipakkhiya dhamma), and thus play an
important rolc in thc cultivation and dcvclopmcnt ol onc’s spir
itual potcntial. Tc list bcgins with laith and includcs mind
lulncss, shamc, drcad, nongrccd, nonhatrcd, balancc ol mind,
tranquillity, lightncss, clasticity, adaptability, and proncicncy
and rcctitudc ol psychic clcmcnts and ol mind. Noticc thc prcs
cncc ol shamc and drcad, thc dircct oppositcs ol thc unwholc
somc mcntal statcs ol shamclcssncss and lcarlcssncss.
Tc ninctccn wholcsomc mcntal statcs arc occasionally
accompanicd by six additional oncs: thc thrcc abstincnccs (right
spccch, right action, and right livclihood), thc two illimitablcs
or immcasurablcs (compassion and apprcciativc joy), and rcason
or wisdom. Vhcn thcsc six arc includcd, thcrc arc twcntynvc
wholcsomc mcntal statcs in all.
Visdom occupics a position within thc wholcsomc mcn
tal statcs similar to thc position ol dcsirc within thc unspcc
incd oncs. ]ust as dcsirc can bc unwholcsomc or wholcsomc
.6c .6.
dcpcnding on its objcct, so wisdom can bc mundanc or supra
mundanc dcpcnding on whcthcr its objcct is ordinary know
lcdgc or ultimatc rcality. To rcinlorcc what ! havc said about
thc closc rclationship bctwccn thc typcs ol consciousncss and
thc mcntal statcs, ! would likc bricßy to rclcr to thc subjcctivc
classincation ol consciousncss touchcd on in Chaptcr ... Tcrc
wc spokc ol thc typcs ol consciousncss according to thcir kar
mic valuc – wholcsomc, unwholcsomc, rcsultant, and lunctional.
Particularly within thc sphcrc ol scnsc dcsirc, wc spokc ol a lur
thcr classincation ol consciousncss in tcrms ol lccling, know
lcdgc, and volition.
Combining thcsc, wc havc within thc sphcrc ol scnsc dcsirc
a lourlold subjcctivc classincation ol consciousncss according
to its karmic, cmotional, intcllcctual, and volitional valuc – in
othcr words, (.) in tcrms ol wholcsomc, unwholcsomc, or ncu
tral, (:) in tcrms ol plcasant, unplcasant, or indißcrcnt, (.) in
tcrms ol bcing associatcd with knowlcdgc, disassociatcd with
knowlcdgc, or associatcd with wrong bclicls, and (¡) in tcrms ol
bcing promptcd or unpromptcd.
Vith this lourlold schcmc, wc can scc how thc typcs ol con
sciousncss arc dctcrmincd by thc prcscncc ol mcntal statcs. For
cxamplc, within thc karmic valuc catcgory, wholcsomc typcs
ol consciousncss arc dctcrmincd by wholcsomc mcntal statcs.
Vithin thc cmotional valuc catcgory, thc typcs ol consciousncss
arc dctcrmincd by thc prcscncc ol statcs that bclong to thc lccl
ing group (mcntal plcasurc, mcntal pain, physical plcasurc, phys
ical pain, and indißcrcncc). Vithin thc intcllcctual valuc catc
gory, thc prcscncc or abscncc ol dclusion dctcrmincs whcthcr a
particular typc ol consciousncss is associatcd with knowlcdgc,
.6: .6.
disassociatcd with knowlcdgc, or associatcd with wrong bclicl.
And within thc volitional valuc catcgory, thc prcscncc or abscncc
ol doubt and dccision dctcrmincs whcthcr a particular typc ol
consciousncss is promptcd or unpromptcd, nonspontancous or
Tus thc lour subjcctivc classincations ol consciousncss clar
ily just how thc various typcs ol consciousncss arc dctcrmincd by
thc prcscncc ol appropriatc mcntal statcs – wholcsomc, unwholc
somc, associatcd with knowlcdgc, and so lorth.
Finally, ! would likc to cxaminc how thc mcntal statcs opcr
atc in countcracting cach typc ol consciousncss. Tis is intcr
csting bccausc thc Abhidharmic analysis ol consciousncss has
somctimcs bccn likcncd to thc Pcriodic Tablc’s analysis ol clc
mcnts by thcir rcspcctivc atomic valucs. Ònc cannot hclp but bc
struck by thc almost chcmical propcrtics ol thc mcntal statcs:
just as, in chcmistry, a basc ncutralizcs an acid, and vicc vcrsa,
so in thc analysis ol consciousncss, onc mcntal statc countcracts
ccrtain othcr mcntal statcs, and vicc vcrsa.
For cxamplc, within thc lactors ol absorption (scc Chaptcr .¡),
thc nvc mcntal statcs countcract thc nvc hindranccs (initial appli
cation countcracts sloth and torpor, sustaincd application coun
tcracts doubt, intcrcst countcracts illwill, happincss countcracts
rcstlcssncss and worry, and oncpointcdncss countcracts scn
sual dcsirc). Vhcrc thcrc isn’t a onctoonc rclationship, groups
ol wholcsomc lactors countcract a singlc unwholcsomc lactor
or group ol unwholcsomc lactors (laith countcracts doubt and
dclusion, mcntal balancc and tranquillity countcract doubt
and worry, lightncss, clasticity, adaptability, and proncicncy ol
thc mind and thc psychic clcmcnts countcract sloth and torpor,
.6: .6.
and so lorth). Again, whcn dccision is prcscnt, doubt is not.
!n this way, thc various wholcsomc mcntal statcs countcr and
opposc various unwholcsomc oncs. Tc prcscncc ol ccrtain mcn
tal statcs climinatcs statcs opposcd to thcm and thus makcs room
lor statcs in accord with thcm. Trough undcrstanding thc rcla
tionship bctwccn consciousncss and mcntal statcs, and through
cultivating thc wholcsomc mcntal statcs, wc can gradually changc
and improvc thc charactcr ol our conscious cxpcricncc.
.6¡ .6·
·nalysis of Tought-+roccsscs
n this chaptcr wc will bcgin to scc, in a morc spccinc and
dircct way, how thc analysis ol consciousncss and thc analysis
ol mcntal statcs can rcally contributc to thc awakcning ol insight,
and how such analysis can also bc intcrprctcd in our daily lilc to
changc our undcrstanding ol our situation.
Vhy analyzc thc proccsscs ol thought or thc proccsscs ol
pcrccption: To answcr this, wc nccd to rcmind oursclvcs ol thc
gcncral purposc ol thc Abhidharma – namcly, to lacilitatc our
undcrstanding ol thc ultimatc naturc ol things, which sharc thc
thrcc univcrsal charactcristics ol impcrmancncc, sußcring, and
notscll. !n thc analysis ol thoughtproccsscs, wc can scc impcr
mancncc and notscll clcarly rcvcalcd, as two analogics lrom thc
discourscs ol thc 8uddha show.
Tc 8uddha likcncd thc lilc span ol a living bcing to a sin
glc point on thc whccl ol a chariot. Hc said that, strictly spcak
ing, a living bcing only cndurcs lor thc timc it takcs onc thought
to arisc and pcrish, just as thc chariot whccl, whcthcr rolling or
at rcst, makcs contact with thc ground at only a singlc point. !n
this contcxt, thc past momcnt cxistcd but it docs not cxist now,
nor will it cxist in thc luturc, thc prcscnt momcnt cxists now
but did not cxist in thc past, nor will it cxist in thc luturc, and
thc luturc momcnt, although it will cxist in thc luturc, docs not
cxist now, nor did it cxist in thc past.
Tc 8uddha also rclcrrcd to thc casc ol a king who had ncvcr
hcard thc sound ol a lutc. Vhcn hc did hcar onc, thc king askcd
.6¡ .6·
his ministcrs what it was that was so cnchanting and cnthrall
ing. His ministcrs rcplicd that it was thc sound ol a lutc. Tc
king askcd lor thc lutc, whcn his ministcrs brought onc, hc askcd
thcm whcrc thc sound was. Vhcn thc ministcrs cxplaincd that
thc sound was produccd by a combination ol divcrsc lactors, thc
king said that thc lutc was a poor thing indccd, brokc it up with
his own hands, and had thc picccs burncd and thcir ashcs scat
tcrcd. Vhat thc ministcrs callcd thc sound ol a lutc, thc king
said, was nowhcrc to bc lound. Similarly, nowhcrc among thc
physical and mcntal lactors ol cxpcricncc – among lactors ol
lorm, lccling, pcrccption, volition, and consciousncss – is thcrc a
scll to bc lound. Toughtproccsscs arc, likc thc sound ol a lutc,
also dcvoid ol scll.
Tc analysis ol thoughtproccsscs also has a vcry spccinc
application in thc arca ol mcntal dcvclopmcnt, in thc mas
tcry and control ol objccts ol thc scnscs. You may rccall that wc
spokc carlicr about thc scnsitivity ol thc mind to thc objccts ol
thc scnscs, and said that thc mind is constantly subjcct to dis
tractions that arisc bccausc ol contact with sights, sounds, smclls,
tastcs, and tactilc scnsations. Tc 8uddha himscll dcclarcd that
onc is cithcr conqucrcd by scnsc objccts or conqucrs thcm: in
othcr words, onc is cithcr controllcd by and subjcct to scnsc
stimuli or managcs and dominatcs scnsc stimuli. Tis is why
Nagarjuna oncc said that cvcn an animal can bc victorious in
battlc, whcrcas hc who is ablc to conqucr thc momcntary, cvcr
changing objccts ol thc scnscs is thc truc hcro.
Vhcn somconc subducs, mastcrs, and controls thc objccts ol
thc scnscs, wc call him hccdlul. Hccdlulncss is akin to mind
lulncss, which thc 8uddha said is thc onc way to lrccdom.
.66 .6·
Hccdlcssncss is thc sourcc ol dcath and ol bondagc in samsara,
whilc hccdlulncss is thc sourcc ol thc dcathlcss, or nirvana. Tosc
who wcrc lormcrly hccdlcss and latcr bccomc hccdlul, likc Nanda
and Angulimala, arc ablc to achicvc thc goal ol lrccdom.
8y analyzing and undcrstanding how thc objccts ol thc
scnscs arc pcrccivcd and assimilatcd by consciousncss, wc can
pavc thc way toward right undcrstanding in tcrms ol impcr
mancncc and notscll, and toward control ovcr thc momcntary
objccts ol thc scnscs. Finally, wc can achicvc hccdlulncss, which
is thc kcy to changing our cxistcncc lrom onc dominatcd by thc
amictions to onc that is purincd and noblc.
Vc can bcgin our analysis ol thoughtproccsscs by cxam
ining thcir placc in our cxpcricncc. Takc thc comparison ol lilc
to a rivcr, with a sourcc and an outlct. 8ctwccn birth and dcath,
bctwccn thc sourcc ol thc rivcr and its mouth, thcrc is a contin
uum but not an idcntity. !n Abhidharmic tcrms, birth or rcbirth
is thc ‘uniting’ or ‘connccting’ lactor (patisandhi), thc lilc con
tinuum is thc ‘subconscious’ lactor (bhavanga), and dcath is thc
‘lalling away’ lactor (chuti). Tcsc thrcc lactors havc onc thing in
common: thcir objcct is thc last conscious lactor ol thc prcccd
ing lilc. Tis objcct dctcrmincs thcm as wholcsomc or unwholc
somc rcsultant lactors ol consciousncss.
!n this contcxt, it is important to rcmcmbcr that bhavanga
runs concurrcnt with thc rcproductivc karma that givcs a partic
ular lilc its gcncral charactcristics and sustains it until it is cithcr
intcrruptcd or cxhaustcd. Tus thc past, prcscnt, and luturc ol
an individual lilc arc unitcd not only consciously, by thc contin
uum ol patisandhi, bhavanga, and chuti, but also subconsciously,
by bhavanga alonc. Tis subconscious lactor ol lilc continuum
.66 .6·
prcscrvcs continuity and sustains lilc cvcn in thc abscncc ol con
scious thoughtproccsscs, as in drcamlcss slccp and momcnts ol
unconsciousncss likc coma. !n bctwccn thc various conscious
thoughtproccsscs, bhavanga rcasscrts itscll and prcscrvcs thc
continuity ol lilc.
To summarizc, our lilc bcgins with thc uniting or conncct
ing conscious lactor (patisandhi) that joins thc prcvious lilc to
this lilc. !t is sustaincd throughout thc coursc ol this lilc by thc
subconscious lactor ol lilc continuum (bhavanga), and it cnds
with thc lalling away (chuti) that again prcccdcs union (in thc
lorm ol patisandhi) with thc subscqucnt lilc.
Consciousncss, as opposcd to subconsciousncss (bhavanga),
ariscs as a phcnomcnon ol rcsistancc and vibration. !n othcr
words, bhavanga rcmains subconscious until it is intcrruptcd or
obstructcd by an objcct, as whcn wc placc a dam across a rivcr
and nnd that thc coursc ol thc rivcr is intcrruptcd, or subjcct an
clcctrical currcnt to rcsistancc and nnd that thc phcnomcnon ol
light ariscs. Tis contact bctwccn bhavanga and an objcct rcsults
in rcsistancc, and this rcsistancc rcsults in vibration, which in
turn rcsults in a conscious thoughtproccss.
Tc thoughtproccsscs that arisc as a rcsult ol this intcrruption
arc cithcr (.) physical thoughtproccsscs that opcratc through thc
nvc scnsc doors (cycs, cars, nosc, tonguc, and body), or (:) mcn
tal thoughtproccsscs that opcratc through thc mind, thc sixth
scnsc organ. Physical thoughtproccsscs arc dctcrmincd by thc
intcnsity, or impact, ol thc objcct that brings about thc intcr
ruption ol thc strcam ol lilc continuum. !n this scnsc, thc larg
cst obstruction will causc thc longcst thoughtproccss, and thc
smallcst obstruction will causc thc shortcst thoughtproccss.
.6· .6o
Tcrc arc lour typcs ol physical thoughtproccsscs, lrom onc
that runs lor scvcntccn thoughtmomcnts to onc that lails cvcn
to rcach thc point ol dctcrmination or idcntincation ol thc objcct.
Tcrc arc two typcs ol mcntal thoughtproccsscs: (.) onc tcrmcd
‘clcar,’ which runs through to rctcntion, thc nnal stagc ol thought
proccsscs, and (:) onc tcrmcd ‘obscurc,’ which cnds bclorc thc
stagc ol rctcntion. Ðcpcnding on thc intcnsity ol thc obstruction
in thc subconscious strcam ol lilc continuum, wc havc a morc
intcnsivc and lcngthicr thoughtproccss or a lcss intcnsivc and
briclcr onc.
Lct us look at thc scvcntccn thoughtmomcnts that makc up
thc longcst ol any ol thc thoughtproccsscs, physical or mcntal.
Rcmcmbcr that cach ol thcsc thoughtmomcnts is said to last
lcss than onc billionth thc timc it takcs to wink an cyc. Tus
whcn thc 8uddha said that a living bcing cndurcs only as long
as a singlc thoughtmomcnt, hc was talking about an cxtrcmcly
bricl pcriod ol timc.
Tc nrst ol thcsc scvcntccn thoughtmomcnts is tcrmcd
‘cntry’ and rclcrs to an objcct impinging upon thc strcam ol lilc
continuum, or thc placing ol an objcct ol obstruction in thc rivcr
ol lilc.
Tc sccond momcnt is tcrmcd ‘vibrating’ bccausc thc cntry ol
thc objcct into thc strcam ol lilc continuum scts up a vibration.
Tc third is thc ‘arrcsting’ momcnt bccausc at this point thc
obstruction intcrrupts or arrcsts, thc strcam ol lilc continuum.
Hcrc wc might ask how is it that thc strcam ol lilc contin
uum (bhavanga), which has its own objcct that lorms thc basis
ol thc lactor ol unincation (patisandhi) and thc lactor ol dccay
(chuti), comcs to havc a sccondary objcct in thc lorm ol a matc
.6· .6o
rial objcct ol thc scnscs. Tis is cxplaincd by mcans ol an analogy.
8uddhaghosa said that, just as tapping onc grain ol sugar among
many scattcrcd on thc surlacc ol a drum causcs a vibration that
aßccts a ßy sitting on anothcr grain ol sugar on thc drum, so
matcrial objccts ol thc nvc physical scnscs impingc upon and sct
up vibrations that aßcct bhavanga.
Òncc thcsc thrcc momcnts – cntry, vibration, and intcrrup
tion or arrcsting – havc takcn placc, thc objcct cntcrs thc con
scious sphcrc. !t docs this through thc lourth thoughtmomcnt,
which is thc momcnt ol thc ‘advcrting consciousncss.’ !n thc casc
ol thc physical thoughtproccsscs, thc advcrting consciousncss
can bc ol nvc typcs – cyc, car, nosc, tonguc, and body.
Tis is succccdcd by thc nlth momcnt, thc ‘pcrcciving con
sciousncss,’ which can bc ol thc nvc typcs – cyc consciousncss,
car consciousncss, and so lorth.
Tis is lollowcd by thc sixth momcnt, thc ‘rccciving con
sciousncss’, thc scvcnth momcnt, thc ‘invcstigating conscious
ncss’, and thc cighth momcnt, thc ‘dctcrmining consciousncss.’
!t is thc dctcrmining consciousncss that idcntincs and rccognizcs
thc objcct ol pcrccption.
Tis dctcrmining consciousncss is lollowcd by scvcn
momcnts ol ‘impulsc consciousncss’ (javana), which havc thc
lunction ol running through thc objcct, thcrcby assimilating thc
objcct wholly into consciousncss.
Tcsc ninth through nltccnth thoughtmomcnts arc lol
lowcd by two momcnts ol rcsultant, rctcntivc consciousncss,
lor scvcntccn thoughtmomcnts in all. Tc scvcn momcnts ol
impulsc consciousncss arc karmically activc and can bc wholc
somc or unwholcsomc. Tc momcnts ol rcsultant, rctcntivc con
.·c .·.
sciousncss, too, arc cithcr wholcsomc or unwholcsomc.
For thc purposc ol practicc ol thc path, it is important to
know at which point in thcsc scvcntccn thoughtmomcnts onc
is ablc to act lrccly, lor bcttcr or lor worsc. Tc thrcc momcnts
ol bhavanga arc rcsultant. Tc advcrting consciousncss and thc
dctcrmining consciousncss arc lunctional. Tc pcrcciving con
sciousncss is rcsultant. Tus thc scvcn momcnts ol impulsc
consciousncss (javana) arc thc nrst karmically activc thought
momcnts. Tc nrst ol thcsc scvcn momcnts dctcrmincs thc ncxt
six, so il it is wholcsomc, thc rcst arc wholcsomc, and il it is
unwholcsomc, thc rcst arc unwholcsomc, too.
!t is at thc point whcn dctcrmining consciousncss is lol
lowcd by thc scvcn impulsc momcnts that rcsultant or lunc
tional statcs givc way to activc statcs. Tis is thc allimportant
point in thoughtproccsscs, bccausc onc cannot altcr thc char
actcr ol rcsultant or lunctional statcs but can altcr thc charactcr
ol activc statcs, which havc a wholcsomc or unwholcsomc kar
mic potcntial. At thc momcnt whcn thc javana momcnts com
mcncc, thc prcscncc or abscncc ol wisc attcntion is thcrclorc vcry
important. !l wisc attcntion is prcscnt, thc probability ol wholc
somc impulscs is grcatcr, il abscnt, unwholcsomc impulscs arc
morc likcly to prcdominatc.
Tc actual objcct ol thc scvcntccn thoughtmomcnts is ol lit
tlc importancc hcrc bccausc thc objcct in itscll, no mattcr how
dcsirablc or undcsirablc, docs not dctcrminc whcthcr thc scvcn
impulsc momcnts arc wholcsomc or unwholcsomc. You may
rccall thc casc ol thc ¡ldcr Tissa (scc Chaptcr :.). !t happcncd
that thc daughtcrinlaw ol a ccrtain lamily, having quarrclcd
with hcr husband, drcsscd in hcr bcst garmcnts and jcwclry and
.·c .·.
sct out to rcturn to hcr lathcr’s housc. Vhcn shc camc upon
thc ¡ldcr Tissa, bcing ol an irrcvcrcnt naturc, shc lct out a loud
laugh. Sccing hcr tccth, Tissa rcactcd in tcrms ol thc pcrccption
ol thc loulncss ol thc body, and by thc strcngth ol that pcrccp
tion won through to Arhatship on thc spot. Vhcn thc woman’s
husband camc along and askcd whcthcr Tissa had sccn a woman
going that way, thc Arhat rcplicd that hc was not awarc whcthcr
it had bccn a man or woman but kncw that hc had sccn a hcap
ol boncs walking along thc road.
Tis story indicatcs that no mattcr what thc naturc ol thc
dctcrmining consciousncss, thc scvcn momcnts ol impulsc con
sciousncss can bc an occasion lor cithcr winning through to thc
stagc ol Arhatship or lor thc lurthcr accumulation ol momcnts
ol consciousncss that havc an unwholcsomc karmic valuc. To a
man othcr than Tissa, thc sight ol thc woman laughing might
havc givcn risc to impulscs rootcd in lust rathcr than oncs lcading
to thc rcalization ol Arhatship. Sincc wisc attcntion or thc lack
ol it dctcrmincs thc karmic valuc ol thc impulsc momcnts that
lollow, wc nccd to apply wisc attcntion to dccrcasc thc chanccs
ol unwholcsomc impulscs arising and incrcasc thc chanccs ol
wholcsomc momcnts ol impulsc consciousncss.
! would likc to concludc by rclcrring to a similc popularizcd
by 8uddhaghosa in his Path of Purifcation (Visuddhi Magga) to
illustratc thc scvcntccn momcnts ol consciousncss in a thought
proccss. Supposc a man has gonc to slccp at thc loot ol a mango
trcc lull ol ripcncd lruit. A ripcncd mango is looscncd lrom a
branch and lalls to thc ground. Tc sound ol thc mango lall
ing to thc ground stimulatcs thc cars ol thc slccping man, who
awakcs, opcns his cycs, and sccs thc lruit lying not lar lrom
.·: .·.
whcrc hc is. Hc strctchcs out his arm and takcs thc mango in his
hand. Hc squcczcs thc mango, smclls it, and thcn cats it.
Tis wholc proccss illustratcs thc scvcntccn momcnts ol pcr
cciving a physical objcct. Tc sound ol thc lalling mango imping
ing upon thc man’s cars is analogous to thc thrcc momcnts ol
bhavanga – cntry, vibration, and intcrruption. Vhcn thc man
uscs his cycs and spots thc mango, this is analogous to thc
momcnts ol advcrting and pcrccption, whcn hc strctchcs out
his hand to takc thc lruit, to thc momcnt ol rccciving, whcn hc
squcczcs thc mango, to thc momcnt ol invcstigating, whcn hc
smclls it, to thc momcnt ol dctcrmining, whcn hc cats it and
cnjoys it, to thc scvcn momcnts ol impulsc consciousncss, and
(although apparcntly 8uddhaghosa did not do this) onc might
add that whcn hc digcsts it, this is analogous to thc two rcsul
tant momcnts ol rctcntion.
!l wc analyzc our thoughtproccsscs carclully, and il through
hccdlulncss wc mastcr thcm, this can rcsult in a dccpcncd undcr
standing ol thc ultimatc naturc ol things as impcrmancnt and
notscll. Tis analysis can also lcad to mastcry ovcr thc objccts
ol thc scnscs, thc rcsult ol which is dispassion, joy, and lrccdom.
Vc should thcrclorc apply thc knowlcdgc wc gain about thc
momcntary, conditioncd, and transicnt naturc ol thc proccsscs ol
thought and pcrccption to our daily cxpcricncc, in ordcr to scck
out that undcrstanding and wisc attcntion which will cnablc us
to multiply our momcnts ol wholcsomc karmic potcntial and
minimizc our momcnts ol unwholcsomc karmic potcntial. !l wc
can do this, wc will havc takcn a vcry important stcp in cxtcnd
ing our study ol thc Abhidharma lrom thc mcrcly intcllcctual
sphcrc to thc practical and cxpcricntial sphcrc.
.·: .·.
·nalysis of ´attcr
hc Abhidharma is supposcd to dcal with lour ultimatc rcal
itics – consciousncss (chitta), mcntal statcs (chetasika), mattcr
(rupa), and nirvana. Mattcr sharcs with consciousncss and mcn
tal statcs thc charactcr ol bcing a conditioncd rcality, whcrcas
nirvana is an unconditioncd rcality. !n considcring thc thrcc
conditioncd rcalitics, wc can simultancously trcat thc nvc aggrc
gatcs ol psychophysical cxistcncc.
Tis harks back to what wc said in Chaptcr .. about thc
rclationship bctwccn subjcct and objcct, mind and mattcr. 8oth
thcsc schcmcs can bc rcduccd to two clcmcnts: thc subjcctivc or
mcntal clcmcnt, and thc objcctivc or matcrial clcmcnt. Òn thc
onc hand wc havc mind and thc mcntal statcs – consciousncss,
volition, pcrccption, and lccling – and on thc othcr hand wc havc
thc objcct – lorm, or mattcr.
!n thc contcxt ol thc Abhidharma, it is important to rcmcm
bcr that mattcr is not somcthing scparatc lrom consciousncss.
!n lact, mind and mattcr can bc simply callcd thc subjcctivc
and objcctivc lorms ol cxpcricncc. Vc will scc morc prcciscly
why this is truc whcn wc considcr thc lour csscntials ol mattcr
(carth, watcr, nrc, and air) as qualitics ol mattcr rathcr than as
thc substancc ol mattcr. 8ccausc 8uddhism has a phcnomcno
logical approach to cxistcncc, mattcr is only important insolar as
it is an objcct ol cxpcricncc that aßccts our psychological bcing.
Vhcrcas ccrtain othcr systcms asscrt a radical and absolutc dual
ism, a dichotomy bctwccn mind and body, in 8uddhism wc sim
.·¡ .··
ply havc subjcctivc and objcctivc lorms ol cxpcricncc.
!n thc classincation and cnumcration ol mattcr in thc Abhi
dharma, mattcr is dividcd into twcntycight clcmcnts. Tc lour
primary clcmcnts, or lour csscntials ol mattcr, arc simply callcd
carth, watcr, nrc, and air. Howcvcr, carth might bcttcr bc callcd
‘thc principlc ol cxtcnsion or rcsistancc’, watcr, ‘thc principlc ol
cohcsion’, nrc, ‘thc principlc ol hcat’, and air, ‘thc principlc
ol motion or oscillation.’ Tcsc arc thc lour primary building
blocks ol mattcr. From thcm arc dcrivcd thc nvc physical scnsc
organs and thcir objccts.
!n this contcxt, as wcll as in thc contcxt ol thc nvc aggrc
gatcs, mattcr rclcrs not only to our bodics but also to thc physical
objccts ol cxpcricncc that bclong to thc cxtcrnal world. 8cyond
organs and thcir objccts, mattcr is also prcscnt in masculin
ity and lcmininity, in thc hcart, or thc principlc ol vitality, and
in nourishmcnt. Tcrc arc also six lurthcr clcmcnts ol mattcr,
which arc: thc principlc ol limitation or spacc, thc two principlcs
ol communication (bodily communication and vcrbal commu
nication), lightncss, soltncss and adaptability. Finally, thcrc arc
lour clcmcnts that arc tcrmcd ‘charactcristics’: production, dura
tion, dcstruction, and impcrmancncc.
Tcrc arc thus twcntycight componcnts ol mattcr or, to bc
morc prccisc, ol matcrial cxpcricncc, in all: thc lour csscntials,
thc nvc scnsc organs and thcir corrcsponding objccts, thc two
dimcnsions ol scxuality, vitality, nourishmcnt, spacc, thc two
lorms ol communication, lightncss, soltncss and adaptability
and thc lour charactcristics.
Lct us look morc closcly at thc lour csscntials in tcrms ol
thcir rcality as scnsory qualitics. !t is important to rcmcmbcr
.·¡ .··
that whcn wc spcak ol thc lour primary clcmcnts ol mattcr, wc
arc conccrncd not with carth, watcr, nrc, and air in thcmsclvcs
but with thc scnsory qualitics ol thcsc clcmcnts – thc qualitics
that wc can lccl and that givc risc to thc cxpcricncc ol mattcr.
Tus wc arc conccrncd with scnsory qualitics likc hardncss and
soltncss, which bclong to thc principlc ol cxtcnsion, and warmth
and cold, which bclong to thc principlc ol hcat. Vc arc not dcal
ing with csscnccs. Rathcr, wc arc dcaling with qualitics that arc
Tis mcans, in turn, that wc arc dcaling with a purcly phc
nomcnological trcatmcnt ol mattcr, in which scnsory qualitics
lunction as thc dcnnitivc charactcristics ol mattcr. !t is thc scn
sory qualitics that constitutc ultimatc rcalitics. !n othcr words,
it is ncithcr thc tablc nor my body, but thc scnsory qualitics ol
hardncss and soltncss that bclong to both thc tablc and my body,
that givc risc to thc cxpcricncc ol mattcr. !n this contcxt, thc
objccts ol my cxpcricncc (such as thc tablc and my body) arc
convcntional rcalitics, whcrcas thc scnsory qualitics ol hardncss,
soltncss, and so lorth that givc risc to thc cxpcricncc ol mattcr
arc ultimatc rcalitics.
Tis is what is callcd in philosophy a ‘modal vicw,’ a vicw
that conccntratcs on thc qualitics ol cxpcricncc rathcr than on
thc csscncc ol cxpcricncc. To scck thc csscncc ol mattcr is to
cntcr thc world ol spcculation, to go bcyond our cmpirical cxpc
ricncc, to dcal with thc qualitics ol mattcr is to connnc oursclvcs
to phcnomcna, to cxpcricncc. !t is intcrcsting to notc that this
modal vicw ol mattcr is sharcd by somc modcrn philosophcrs,
8crtrand Russcll pcrhaps bcing thc bcst known among thcm. !t
is this modal vicw ol rcality which also inlorms much contcm
.·6 .··
porary thought about mattcr. Scicntists havc comc to rccognizc
mattcr as a phcnomcnon, to rccognizc that it is impossiblc to
arrivc at thc csscncc ol mattcr, and this has bccn substantiatcd
by thc discovcry ol thc innnitc divisibility ol thc atom.
Tis modal vicw ol rcality has anothcr important implica
tion: !nsolar as wc takc a purcly phcnomcnological and cxpcri
cntial vicw ol rcality, ol cxistcncc, thc qucstion ol thc cxtcrnal
world – in thc scnsc ol a rcality cxisting somcwhcrc ‘out thcrc,’
bcyond thc limit ol our cxpcricncc – docs not arisc. !nsolar as thc
cxtcrnal world givcs risc to thc cxpcricncc ol mattcr, it is just thc
objcctivc or matcrial dimcnsion ol our cxpcricncc, not an indc
pcndcnt rcality that cxists in itscll.
Òn a pcrsonal lcvcl, wc nnd that our psychophysical cxis
tcncc is madc up ol two componcnts: thc mcntal componcnt, or
thc mind, and thc physical componcnt, or thc body. Tc mind
and thc body dißcr somcwhat in thcir naturc – primarily in that
thc mind is morc pliant and changcablc than thc body. Tc
8uddha oncc said that wc might bc morc justincd in rcgard
ing thc body as thc scll than thc mind, bccausc thc body at lcast
maintains rccognizablc lcaturcs lor a longcr pcriod ol timc.
Vc can vcrily this through our own cxpcricncc. Òur minds
changc much morc quickly than our bodics. For cxamplc, ! can
makc a mcntal rcsolution to rclrain lrom cating starchy loods
and lats, but it will takc a considcrablc amount ol timc lor that
mcntal changc to rcßcct itscll in thc shapc ol my body. Tc body
is morc rcsistant to changc than thc mind, and this is in kccping
with thc charactcristic ol carth, as rcprcscntcd in thc principlc
ol rcsistancc. Tc body is thc product ol past karma, past con
sciousncss, and is at thc samc timc thc basis ol prcscnt conscious
.·6 .··
ncss. Tis lics at thc hcart ol thc uncasincss many intcllcctuals
havc lclt about thc body. A lamous philosophcr, Plotinus, oncc
rcmarkcd that hc lclt likc a prisoncr in his own body, which hc
considcrcd to bc likc a tomb.
Somctimcs wc would likc to sit longcr in mcditation wcrc it
not lor thc physical discomlort wc cxpcricncc as a rcsult ol thc
body. Somctimcs wc want to work longcr (or to stay awakc to
watch a particular tclcvision program) but cannot do so bccausc
ol thc wcarincss that accompanics thc body. Tcrc is a tcnsion
bctwccn mind and body duc to thc lact that thc body is thc
matcrializcd lorm ol past karma, and bccausc ol thc body’s char
actcristic ol rcsistancc, it rcsponds much morc slowly to voli
tional actions than docs thc mind. Tus thc body is, in a scnsc,
an impcdimcnt that hindcrs mcntal dcvclopmcnt.
Vc can scc this clcarly in thc casc ol libcratcd bcings. !n
e Questions of King Milinda, thc king asks Nagascna whcthcr
Arhats can cxpcricncc pain. Nagascna rcplics that although Arhats
no longcr cxpcricncc mcntal pain, thcy can still cxpcricncc phys
ical pain. Arhats no longcr cxpcricncc mcntal pain bccausc thc
bascs lor mcntal pain (avcrsion, illwill, and hatrcd) arc no lon
gcr prcscnt, but thcy can cxpcricncc physical pain as long as thc
basis lor physical pain (thc body) rcmains. Until an Arhat cntcrs
nnal nirvana – ‘nirvana without rcsiduc,’ without thc psycho
physical pcrsonality – thc possibility ol physical pain rcmains.
Tis is why, in thc accounts ol thc 8uddha’s lilc and thc livcs ol
his promincnt disciplcs, thcrc arc occasions whcn thcy cxpcri
cnccd physical pain.
Tc body has a pcculiar, intcrmcdiatc position, in that it is
thc product ol past consciousncss and thc basis ol prcscnt con
.·· .·o
sciousncss. Tis intcrmcdiatc position is also rcßcctcd in thc lact
that somc bodily lunctions arc conscious and can bc controllcd
by an act ol will, whilc othcrs arc unconscious and procccd auto
matically. ! can dccidc to cat anothcr platc ol lood, but it is an
unconscious bodily lunction that digcsts or lails to digcst thc
mcal, ! cannot will my body to digcst it.
8rcathing, too, is rcprcscntativc ol this intcrmcdiatc posi
tion ol thc body, bccausc brcathing can bc cithcr an uncon
scious lunction or it can bc raiscd to a volitional and conscious
lunction lor thc purposc ol conccntrating and calming thc body
and mind. !n coping with our cxistcncc as a compositc ol mind
and body, wc nccd to rcmcmbcr that thc mind rcprcscnts thc
dynamic, ßuid, and volitional principlc, whilc thc body rcprc
scnts thc principlc ol rcsistancc. 8ccausc ol this, it is not possi
blc lor thc body to changc as quickly as thc mind in thc proccss
ol dcvclopmcnt and libcration.
 
nalysis of onditionality
he analysis of relations, or conditionality, is as impor-
tant as the analysis of consciousness and the other aspects
of psycho-physical experience we have considered in the last
few chapters. is analysis has often been neglected in stud-
ies of the Abhidharma, which is paradoxical if you remember
that, of the seven books of the Abhidharma Pitaka, the Book of
Causal Relations (Patthana), which deals with conditionality, is
one of the largest. It is only by devoting sufcient attention to
the analysis of conditionality that we can avoid some of the pit-
falls of an overly analytical view of reality. I alluded to this in
Chapter , when I devoted some time to examination and com-
parison of the analytical and the relational methods of investi-
gation, which together make up the comprehensive approach of
Abhidharma philosophy.
Perhaps because the analytical approach of the Abhidharma
has received more attention than the relational, we fnd Abhi-
dharma philosophy categorized as ‘realistic pluralism’ by some
scholars. is kind of categorization awakens all kinds of asso-
ciations with movements of modern western philosophy, such
as positivism and the work of Bertrand Russell. It implies that
the result of Buddhist analysis is a universe in which numerous
individual, separate, and self-existing entities exist in their own
right and ultimately. While this may have been the view of some
early schools of Buddhism in India, it is certainly not the view of
mainstream Buddhism, whether eravada or Mahayana.
.·c .·.
Tc only way wc can avoid this pluralistic, lragmcntary vicw
ol rcality is by taking duc account ol thc rclational approach out
lincd in thc Patthana and also dcvclopcd in thc Compendium
of Relations (Abhidhammattha Sangaha). 8y doing so, wc will
achicvc a corrcct and balanccd vicw ol 8uddhist philosophy, a
vicw that takcs into account thc static and analytical aspcct ol
cxpcricncc as wcll as thc dynamic and rclational aspcct.
Tc importancc ol undcrstanding rclations, or conditional
ity, is clcarly indicatcd in thc 8uddha’s own words. Òn a numbcr
ol occasions thc 8uddha spccincally associatcd thc undcrstand
ing ol conditionality, or intcrdcpcndcnt origination, with thc
attainmcnt ol libcration. Hc said that it is bccausc ol thc lailurc
to undcrstand intcrdcpcndcnt origination that wc havc so long
wandcrcd in this round ol rcpcatcd rcbirth.
Tc 8uddha’s cnlightcnmcnt is lrcqucntly dcscribcd as con
sisting ol his pcnctrating thc knowlcdgc ol intcrdcpcndcnt orig
ination. Tis vcry closc conncction bctwccn thc knowlcdgc ol
intcrdcpcndcnt origination and cnlightcnmcnt is lurthcr illus
tratcd by thc lact that ignorancc is most lrcqucntly dcnncd, both
in thc sutras and in thc Abhidharma, as cithcr ignorancc ol thc
Four Noblc Truths or ignorancc ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination.
Now, thc thcmc undcrlying both thc Four Noblc Truths and
intcrdcpcndcnt origination is conditionality or causality, thc
rclation bctwccn causc and cßcct. Tus thc knowlcdgc ol con
ditionality is cquivalcnt to thc dcstruction ol ignorancc and thc
attainmcnt ol cnlightcnmcnt.
Tc analysis ol conditionality in thc Abhidharma tradition
is trcatcd undcr two hcadings: (.) thc analysis ol intcrdcpcndcnt
origination, and (:) thc analysis ol thc twcntylour conditions.
.·c .·.
Vc will look at thcm scparatcly and thcn togcthcr, to scc how
thcy intcract, support, and inlorm cach othcr.
! will not cxplain cach ol thc twclvc componcnts ol intcr
dcpcndcnt origination hcrc, sincc thcy arc dcscribcd in Chaptcr .c.
! would, howcvcr, likc to bricßy mcntion thc thrcc lundamcn
tal schcmcs ol intcrprctation ol thc twclvc componcnts: (a) thc
schcmc that dividcs and distributcs thc twclvc componcnts ovcr
thc coursc ol thrcc lilctimcs – past, prcscnt, and luturc, (b) thc
schcmc that dividcs thc componcnts into amictions, actions, and
sußcrings, and (c) thc schcmc that dividcs thc componcnts into
activc (or causal) and rcactivc (or rcsultant) catcgorics. !n this
third schcmc, ignorancc, mcntal lormation or volition, craving,
clinging, and bccoming bclong to thc causal catcgory and can
bclong to cithcr thc past lilc or thc prcscnt lilc, whilc conscious
ncss, namc and lorm, thc six scnscs, contact, lccling, birth and
old agc and dcath bclong to thc cßcct catcgory and can bclong to
cithcr thc prcscnt lilc or thc luturc lilc. Tus thcrc is an analysis
ol causc and cßcct, or conditionality, in thc lormula ol intcr
dcpcndcnt origination.
Tc twcntylour conditions arc not mutually cxclusivc. Many
ol thcm arc partly or cntircly idcntinablc with onc anothcr. Tc
only cxplanation lor scvcral instanccs ol almost (il not com
plctcly) idcntical lactors is thc dcsirc ol thc authors’ to bc abso
lutcly comprchcnsivc, so as to avoid thc slightcst possibility ol
ncglccting a modc ol conditionality.
Lct us look at cach ol thc twcntylour conditions in turn:
(.) causc, (:) objcctivc condition, (.) prcdominancc, (¡) conti
guity, (·) immcdiacy, (6) simultancous origination, (·) rcciproc
ity, (·) support, (o) dccisivc support, (.c) prccxistcncc, (..) post
.·: .·.
cxistcncc, (.:) rcpctition, (..) karma, (.¡) cßcct, (.·) nutrimcnt,
(.6) control, (.·) absorption, (.·) path, (.o) association, (:c) dis
association, (:.) prcscncc, (::) abscncc, (:.) scparation, and
(:¡) nonscparation.
A distinction must bc madc bctwccn causc, or root causc,
and condition. Vc nccd to look at thc Abhidharma litcraturc
il wc want to distinguish causc lrom condition, bccausc in thc
Sutra litcraturc thc two tcrms sccm to bc uscd intcrchangcably.
Gcncrally, wc can undcrstand thc distinction by rccoursc to an
analogy takcn lrom thc physical world: whilc thc sccd is thc
causc ol thc sprout, lactors likc watcr, carth, and sunlight arc thc
conditions ol thc sprout. !n thc Abhidharmic trcatmcnt ol condi
tionality, causc opcratcs in thc mcntal sphcrc and rclcrs to thc six
wholcsomc or unwholcsomc roots – nongrccd, nonhatrcd, and
nondclusion and thcir oppositcs, grccd, hatrcd, and dclusion.
Objective condition rclcrs gcncrally to thc objcct which con
ditions cxpcricncc. For cxamplc, a visual objcct is thc objcc
tivc condition ol visual consciousncss. Prcdominancc rclcrs to
lour catcgorics ol mcntal or volitional activitics – wish, thought,
cßort, and rcason – which havc an ovcrriding inßucncc on lac
tors ol cxpcricncc.
Contiguity and immediacy arc virtually synonymous and rclcr
to thc conditioning ol a thoughtmomcnt by thc immcdiatcly
prcccding thoughtmomcnt. Contiguity and immcdiacy also
rclcr to thc conditioning ol a givcn statc ol mind or mattcr by
thc immcdiatcly prcccding statc ol mind or mattcr. Vc can pcr
haps undcrstand this bcttcr il wc think ol contiguity and immc
diacy in thc scnsc ol immcdiatc proximity in timc and spacc,
.·: .·.
Simultaneous origination can bc sccn in thc casc ol thc mcn
tal aggrcgatcs ol consciousncss, volition, pcrccption, and lccl
ing, and also in thc casc ol thc lour csscntials ol mattcr (carth,
watcr, nrc, and air). Reciprocity or mutuality rclcrs to thc mutual
dcpcndcncc and support ol lactors, as in thc casc ol thc lcgs ol a
tripod that dcpcnd on and support onc anothcr. Support mcans
thc basis ol any particular lactor, in thc way that thc carth is thc
support ol trccs or canvas is thc support ol a painting. 8ut whcn
simplc support bccomcs decisive support, it should bc undcrstood
in thc scnsc ol induccmcnt in a particular dircction. Tis will
bccomc clcarcr whcn wc cxaminc how thc twcntylour modcs
ol conditionality lunction in rclation to thc twclvc componcnts
ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination.
Preexistence or antcccdcncc rclcrs to thc prccxistcncc ol lactors
that continuc to cxist altcr subscqucnt lactors comc into bcing.
Tis is illustratcd by thc prccxistcncc ol thc scnsc organs and
objccts ol thc scnscs, which continuc to cxist and thcrcby con
dition subscqucnt physical and mcntal cxpcricncc. Post-existence
complcmcnts prccxistcncc and rclcrs to thc cxistcncc ol subsc
qucnt lactors such as mcntal and physical cxpcricncc that condi
tion prccxisting lactors likc thc scnsc organs and objccts.
Repetition is important in thc sphcrc ol mcntal lilc and lcads
to skill or lamiliarity. Tis is cxcmplincd in thc scvcn momcnts
ol impulsc consciousncss (scc Chaptcr .·). Rcpctition is partic
ularly important in thc sphcrc ol wholcsomc and unwholcsomc
action bccausc it incrcascs thc lorcc ol wholcsomc or unwholc
somc thoughtmomcnts.
Karma is volitional action ol a wholcsomc or unwholcsomc
varicty. Efect or rcsult indicatcs that thc rcactivc aspcct ol prc
.·¡ .··
vious karma has an inßucncc and scrvcs to condition cocxist
ing phcnomcna. !t is intcrcsting to notc that cvcn cßccts do, to
a limitcd cxtcnt, lunction as conditions or as causcs. Tis will
bccomc clcar il wc rcmcmbcr that wc arc considcring thc lunc
tional rathcr than thc csscntialistic dcnnitions ol such lactors.
Nutriment rclcrs to not only physical lood, which is onc
ol thc conditions ol thc physical body, but also to mcntal lood,
such as imprcssions, which arc thc mcntal lood ol thc aggrc
gatc ol lccling. Control rclcrs to conndcncc, mindlulncss, and so
lorth, which mastcr or control thcir oppositcs. Absorption rclcrs
not only to mcditativc absorption but also to absorption in a
morc gcncral scnsc, which cncompasscs both wholcsomc and
unwholcsomc absorptions. You may rcmcmbcr that thc lactors
ol absorption (jhananga) arc not ncccssarily wholcsomc and pcr
tain not only to thc statcs ol mcditativc absorption but also to
a gcncral condition ol intcnsincation ol consciousncss, whcthcr
wholcsomc or unwholcsomc (scc Chaptcr .¡).
Path rclcrs to thc path lcading to unhappy statcs cncom
passing wrong vicws, wrong cßort, and so lorth, and also to thc
Noblc ¡ightlold Path. Association rclcrs to thc conditioning ol a
lactor by a similar lactor, whcrcas disassociation is thc condition
ing by a dissimilar lactor, such as thc way swcctncss and bittcr
ncss, light and darkncss condition cach othcr. Tus conditional
ity is not only positivc but also ncgativc. !n othcr words, a par
ticular lactor ol cxpcricncc is conditioncd not only by lactors that
arc similar but also by lactors that arc dissimilar.
Presence rclcrs to thc ncccssary cxistcncc ol ccrtain conditions
in ordcr that othcr phcnomcna occur. For instancc, light must bc
prcscnt lor thc cxpcricncc ol a visiblc lorm to arisc. Abscncc is,
.·¡ .··
likc disassociation, a ncgativc lorm ol conditionality. For cxam
plc, thc disappcarancc ol light is a condition lor thc arising ol
darkncss. Separation and non-separation arc idcntical to disasso
ciation and association, rcspcctivcly.
Tc twcntylour modcs ol conditionality opcratc in conjunc
tion with thc twclvc componcnts ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination.
For cxamplc, ignorancc, thc nrst ol thc twclvc componcnts, con
ditions volition, thc sccond componcnt, by way ol two modcs ol
conditionality: objcctivc condition and dccisivc support.
Tis can bc undcrstood as lollows: \olition can bc mcrito
rious or dcmcritorious, and ignorancc lunctions as thc dccisivc
support ol both. !gnorancc lunctions as thc dccisivc support
conditioning mcritorious volition il it is madc thc objcct ol your
mcditation, in that thc dcsirc to lrcc yourscll lrom ignorancc
induccs you to practicc mcditation and so lorth. Convcrscly, il
an unwholcsomc statc ol mind, such as grccd (which is born ol
ignorancc), bccomcs thc objcct ol your absorption, thcn igno
rancc lunctions as thc dccisivc support ol dcmcritorious volition.
!l you thcn commit an unwholcsomc action (stcal a cookic, say),
it is bccausc ignorancc has lunctioncd as a dccisivc supporting
condition inducing you to crcatc thc unwholcsomc volition on
which thc unwholcsomc action was bascd. !gnorancc can also
condition volition by way ol contiguity, rcpctition, and so lorth.
\olition (thc sccond componcnt ol intcrdcpcndcnt origina
tion) conditions rcbirth consciousncss (thc third componcnt) by
mcans ol karma and dccisivc support, whilc consciousncss con
ditions namc and lorm (thc lourth componcnt) through rcci
procity and also by mcans ol support. Tus cach ol thc twclvc
componcnts conditions thc subscqucnt componcnt in a particu
.·6 .··
lar way idcntinablc in tcrms ol thc twcntylour conditions. Vc
could citc morc cxamplcs, but thcy would only rcitcratc how
thcsc twcntylour modcs ol conditionality condition thc twclvc
componcnts ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination.
Tc idca at thc hcart ol thc tcaching ol intcrdcpcndcnt orig
ination and thc tcaching ol conditionality is thc avoidancc ol
thc two cxtrcmcs, thc crroncous vicws ol ctcrnalism and nihil
ism. Tc 8uddha said that sccing thc docr ol an action and thc
onc who cxpcricnccs thc lruit ol that action as idcntical is onc
cxtrcmc, whilc sccing thcm as dißcrcnt is anothcr cxtrcmc. Hc
taught thc avoidancc ol thcsc two cxtrcmcs whcn hc taught thc
Middlc Vay, which cmcrgcs lrom an undcrstanding ol intcrdc
pcndcnt origination and conditionality.
!l wc cxaminc thc twclvc lactors ol intcrdcpcndcnt origina
tion in thc light ol thc twcntylour modcs ol conditionality, wc
nnd that in all twclvc lactors thcrc is no scll, but only proccsscs
conditioncd by othcr proccsscs – proccsscs that arc, in thcir
actual naturc, cmpty ol scll and substancc. Tis undcrstanding
ol thc cmptincss ol scll and substancc is achicvcd through an
undcrstanding ol conditionality.
!t is in this scnsc that thc consciousncss bclonging to this
lilc and thc consciousncss bclonging to thc ncxt lilc arc nci
thcr idcntical nor dißcrcnt. Vhcn wc undcrstand thc rclation
ship bctwccn this lilc and thc ncxt – bctwccn thc docr ol an
action and thc cxpcricnccr ol an action – as onc that cannot bc
dcscribcd in tcrms ol cithcr idcntity or dißcrcncc, wc arrivc at
an undcrstanding ol thc Middlc Vay.
Tc rclationship bctwccn this lilc and thc ncxt is onc ol causc
and cßcct, and thc rclation ol causc and cßcct is onc ol ncithcr
.·6 .··
idcntity nor dißcrcncc. !n this way wc can succcsslully avoid
both thc cxtrcmc ol bclicl in an ctcrnal scll and thc cxtrcmc ol
rcjcction ol thc law ol moral rcsponsibility, or karma.
Vc can pcrhaps makc this conditioncd rclationship bctwccn
causc and cßcct clcarcr by looking at cxamplcs lrom daily lilc.
Takc thc casc ol thc sccd and thc sprout. Tc sprout originatcs
dcpcndcnt on thc sccd, but thc sprout and thc sccd arc ncithcr
idcntical nor dißcrcnt. Tcy arc obviously not idcntical, but by
thc samc tokcn, ncithcr arc thcy altogcthcr dißcrcnt. Similarly,
whcn a sound produccs an ccho, thc two arc not idcntical but
ncithcr arc thcy altogcthcr dißcrcnt. !n thc samc way, this lilc
and thc ncxt lilc arc ncithcr idcntical nor dißcrcnt, rathcr, thc
ncxt lilc ariscs dcpcndcnt on this lilc, volition, and ignorancc.
!n this proccss ol conditioncd arising, thcrc is no pcrsistcnt,
pcrmancnt, and idcntical scll, but ncithcr is thcrc an annihila
tion ol thc continuity ol thc proccss ol causc and cßcct. !l wc
can undcrstand thc rclation bctwccn causc (or condition) and
cßcct (or rcsult) as a rclation that cannot bc dcscribcd in tcrms
ol idcntity and dißcrcncc, pcrmancncc and annihilation, wc will
undcrstand cmptincss, thc Middlc Vay, and how notscll and
insubstantiality arc compatiblc with moral rcsponsibility and
.·· .·o
Tc Tirty-Acvcn Tauors of 8nlightcnmcnt
hc thirtyscvcn lactors conducivc to cnlightcnmcnt (bodhi-
pakkhiya dhamma)arc important lor two rcasons. First,
according to tradition, thcy wcrc rccommcndcd by thc 8uddha,
shortly bclorc his cntry into nnal nirvana, as primary mcans
ol gaining cnlightcnmcnt. Sccond, thcsc lactors lorm a lunda
mcntal part ol thc loundation ol thc Abhidharma, in that thcy
bclong to that catcgory ol tcaching, likc thc tcaching on thc
nvc aggrcgatcs, that compriscs thc Abhidharmic contcnts ol thc
Sutra Pitaka.
!n Chaptcr .c, wc talkcd about thc charactcristics ol thc
Abhidharma and thc rclation bctwccn Abhidharmic matcrial
and thc contcnts ol thc discourscs, or sutras. Tc lactors condu
civc to cnlightcnmcnt bclong to this catcgory ol matcrial, which
is Abhidharmic in naturc and yct lound in thc discourscs. Tus
thcy bclong to thc carly pcriod ol Abhidharmic philosophy.
Tc thirtyscvcn lactors ol cnlightcnmcnt arc without doubt
Abhidharmic in naturc. All nvc charactcristics ol Abhidharmic
matcrial apply to thcm: (.) dcnnition ol lactors, (:) rclation ol lactors
to othcr lactors, (.) analysis ol lactors, (¡) classincation ol lactors,
and (·) arrangcmcnt in numcrical ordcr (scc Chaptcr .c).
Tc thirtyscvcn lactors arc classincd undcr scvcn groups:
(a) thc lour stations ol mindlulncss (satipatthana), (b) thc lour
right cßorts (sammappadana), (c) thc lour roads to powcr (iddhi-
pada), (d) thc nvc controlling lacultics (indriya), (c) thc nvc
powcrs (bala), (l) thc scvcn limbs ol cnlightcnmcnt (bojjhanga),
.·· .·o
and (g) thc Noblc ¡ightlold Path (atthangika magga). Sincc wc
considcrcd thc lour right cßorts and thc Noblc ¡ightlold Path
in Chaptcr ·, Chaptcr 6, and Chaptcr ·, ! will omit thcsc two
groups hcrc and conccntratc instcad on thc othcr nvc.
Tc 8uddha callcd mindlulncss thc onc way to thc climina
tion ol thc amictions. Tc 8uddha has also said that thc mind
is thc root ol all virtucs. Tc most important practicc, thcrclorc,
is to disciplinc thc mind. Ònc can also undcrstand thc impor
tancc ol mindlulncss lrom thc lact that mindlulncss occurs in
nvc ol thc scvcn groups that makc up thc thirtyscvcn lactors
conducivc to cnlightcnmcnt, and that thc nrst ol thcsc groups is
dcvotcd cxclusivcly to thc lour stations ol mindlulncss (satipat-
thana). Mindlulncss is also taught in thc Satipatthana Sutta (e
Discourse on the Stations of Mindfulness), which occurs twicc in
thc 8uddhist canon. All this indicatcs thc importancc ol mind
!n rcccnt ycars thcrc has bccn a grcat rcsurgcncc ol intcrcst
in thc lour stations ol mindlulncss both within thc Tcravada
tradition, particularly in 8urma, and also in thc Mahayana tra
dition, whcrc thc importancc ol thc lour stations ol mindlul
ncss as a part ol thc practicc ol mcditation has now comc to bc
apprcciatcd. Ònc ol thc rcasons thcsc lour stations havc occu
picd such an important placc in 8uddhist mcditation is that
thcy lcad to thc rcalization ol thc thrcc univcrsal charactcris
tics (impcrmancncc, sußcring, and notscll). ¡xactly how this
works will bccomc clcarcr oncc wc cnumcratc thc lour stations:
(i) mindlulncss with rcgard to thc body, (ii) mindlulncss with
rcgard to lccling, (iii) mindlulncss with rcgard to consciousncss,
and (iv) mindlulncss with rcgard to mcntal objccts.
.oc .o.
Mindlulncss with rcgard to thc body is morc inclusivc
hcrc than it is in thc contcxt ol thc lorty traditional supports ol
mcditation, whcrc it occurs as onc ol thc tcn rccollcctions but is
rcstrictcd only to thc body. Hcrc it applics not only to mindlul
ncss with rcgard to thc body but also to mindlulncss rcgarding
thc proccss ol inhalation and cxhalation, thc clcmcnts ol mattcr,
thc dccomposing body, and so lorth.
Mindlulncss with rcgard to lccling rclcrs to thc cmotional
contcnts ol pcrsonal cxpcricncc, to lcclings that arc plcasant,
unplcasant, or indißcrcnt.
Mindlulncss with rcgard to consciousncss – or, to bc morc
prccisc, mindlulncss with rcgard to thought – implics obscrva
tion ol thc arising and pcrishing ol thoughts.
Mindlulncss with rcgard to mcntal objccts rclcrs to thc con
tcnts ol consciousncss, particularly conccpts such as impcrma
ncncc and thc likc.
Vith thc nrst station ol mindlulncss, wc cxhaust thc matc
rial dimcnsion ol pcrsonal cxpcricncc, and with thc thrcc sub
scqucnt stations wc cxhaust thc mcntal dimcnsion ol pcrsonal
cxpcricncc (i.c., thc aggrcgatcs ol consciousncss, volition, pcr
ccption, and lccling). Tc thorough application ol mindlulncss
rcsults in abandoning thc thrcc crroncous vicws (pcrmancncc,
happincss, and scll) and attaining insight into thc thrcc uni
vcrsal charactcristics (impcrmancncc, sußcring, and notscll).
!ntcrprctations ol thc objccts ol thc lour stations ol mindlulncss
vary according to thc various traditions ol 8uddhist mcditation.
!n gcncral, howcvcr, thc cxplanation hcrc should bc acccptablc
to most ol thc traditions.
Lct us look at thc lour roads to powcr (iddhipada): (i) wish
.oc .o.
or dcsirc, (ii) cncrgy, (iii) mind or thought, and (iv) rcasoning.
Tcsc lour lactors arc also lound in thc twcntylour modcs ol
conditionality (scc Chaptcr .o), whcrc thcy arc tcrmcd ‘prcdom
inant conditions’ (adhipati). 8oth thc ‘roads to powcr’ and ‘prc
dominant conditions’ clcarly suggcst thc powcr ol thc mind to
inßucncc cxpcricncc.
A simplc cxamplc is thc powcr to control, up to a ccrtain
point, thc movcmcnts ol our bodics and thc cxcrcisc ol our
spccch. Tis is a casc ol thc undcvclopcd powcr ol thc mind,
dcsirc, cncrgy, and rcason to control physical phcnomcna. Vhcn
thcsc prcdominant lactors arc intcnsincd by cultivation ol thc
nvc lactors ol absorption (initial application, sustaincd applica
tion, intcrcst, happincss, and oncpointcdncss) – particularly thc
intcnsincation ol oncpointcdncss, which occurs upon attain
ing thc nlth stagc ol thc lormsphcrc absorptions – thcy bccomc
roads to powcr.
Trough intcnsincation, thc prcdominant lactors lcad to what
arc callcd mundanc typcs ol supcr knowlcdgc and thc supramun
danc knowlcdgc. Tcrc arc nvc typcs ol mundanc supcr know
lcdgc: thc ability to ßy through thc sky crosslcggcd, to walk on
watcr, to movc through thc carth, to rcad thc thoughts ol oth
crs, and to rccollcct onc’s lormcr livcs. Tc supramundanc know
lcdgc is knowlcdgc ol thc dcstruction ol thc dcnlcmcnts (asava),
ignorancc, and so lorth. Tis is pcrhaps why it is somctimcs
said that thc lour prcdominant conditions may bc cithcr mun
danc or supramundanc. !l thcy arc dircctcd toward thc mundanc
sphcrc, thcy rcsult in thc nvc typcs ol mundanc supcr know
lcdgc, whcrcas il thcy arc dircctcd toward thc supramundanc
sphcrc, or nirvana, thcy rcsult in pcnctration ol thc Four Noblc
.o: .o.
Truths and in thc dcstruction ol thc dcnlcmcnts.
Likc thc lour roads to powcr, thc nvc controlling lacultics
(indriya) – (i) laith, (ii) cncrgy, (iii) mindlulncss, (iv) conccntra
tion, and (v) wisdom – arc also lound in thc twcntylour modcs
ol conditionality. !n thc Book of Causal Relations (patthana), thc
nvc controlling lacultics arc dcnncd as dominating lactors. Tcrc
is a vcry closc conncction bctwccn thc nvc controlling lacultics
and thc lour roads to powcr, as indicatcd by thcir mutual prcs
cncc in thc modcs ol conditionality and thcir similarity in thc
scnsc ol controlling, dominating, or mastcring.
Tc nvc lacultics arc callcd ‘controlling’ bccausc thcy arc said
to control or mastcr thcir oppositcs: laith (or conndcncc) con
trols lack ol laith (or doubt), cncrgy controls lazincss, mindlul
ncss controls hccdlcssncss, conccntration controls distraction,
and wisdom controls ignorancc. Likc thc lour roads to powcr,
thc nvc controlling lacultics can only rcally control thcir oppo
sitcs whcn thcy arc intcnsincd by thc lactors ol absorption. For
instancc, laith can only lunction as a controlling laculty whcn
it is strcngthcncd by thc prcscncc ol thc thrcc lactors ol absorp
tion ol intcrcst, happincss, and oncpointcdncss, and wisdom
can only lunction cßcctivcly whcn it is strcngthcncd by initial
application, sustaincd application, and oncpointcdncss. Tcsc
nvc lactors ol absorption strcngthcn and intcnsily thc nvc con
trolling lacultics so that thc lattcr can lunction cßcctivcly to
propcl onc toward cnlightcnmcnt. Similarly, thc nvc controlling
lacultics strcngthcn thc nvc lactors ol absorption. For instancc,
conccntration strcngthcns intcrcst and happincss. Tus thc rcla
tionship bctwccn thc two scts ol lactors is onc ol rcciprocal sup
port and intcnsincation.
.o: .o.
Although thc nvc controlling lacultics arc indispcnsablc in
bringing about thc translormation lrom a doubtlul, lcthargic,
hccdlcss, distractcd, and ignorant modc ol bcing to an cnlight
cncd modc ol bcing, thcy must bc cultivatcd in a balanccd way.
Vhat this mcans is that within thc nvc controlling lacultics
thcrc arc lactors that balancc cach othcr. For instancc, laith and
wisdom arc a rcciprocal pair: il laith is allowcd to dominatc wis
dom, this rcsults in a wcakcning ol onc’s critical lacultics, onc’s
intcllcctual powcrs ol analysis and invcstigation, and il wisdom
is allowcd to dominatc laith, this diminishcs conndcncc to thc
point ol unccrtainty and a lack ol initial commitmcnt to prac
ticc. Similarly, il cncrgy is allowcd to dominatc conccntration,
this lcads to agitation, and il conccntration is allowcd to domi
natc cncrgy, this lcads to sloth and torpor.
Tus laith, cncrgy, conccntration, and wisdom must bc
dcvclopcd and maintaincd in a balanccd manncr, and thc lac
ulty that cnablcs onc to do this is mindlulncss. Mindlulncss is
thc watchdog that cnsurcs thc propcr rcciprocal, balanccd rcla
tionship bctwccn laith and wisdom, and bctwccn cncrgy and
Tc ncxt group ol lactors ol cnlightcnmcnt, thc nvc powcrs
(bala) – (i) laith, (ii) cncrgy, (iii) mindlulncss, (iv) conccntration,
and (v) wisdom – arc numcrically and tcrminologically idcntical
to thc nvc controlling lacultics. Tcsc nvc lactors arc callcd pow
crs bccausc on this stagc laith, cncrgy, mindlulncss, conccntra
tion, and wisdom bccomc nrm, stcady, and powcrlul.
Tc 8uddha indicatcd that thc nvc controlling lacultics and
nvc powcrs arc two aspccts ol thc samc thing, just as an island
in thc middlc ol a rivcr can lcad pcoplc to call onc sidc ol thc
.o¡ .o·
rivcr thc castcrn part and thc othcr sidc thc wcstcrn part, cvcn
though thc two parts ol thc rivcr arc onc and thc samc. Similarly,
thc nvc controlling lacultics and thc nvc powcrs arc onc and thc
samc. Tc nvc controlling lacultics arc potcntialitics that must
bc intcnsincd and dcvclopcd through thcir combination with thc
nvc lactors ol absorption. Vhcn thcy bccomc nrm and stcady
through this intcnsincation, thcy can thcn bc tcrmcd powcrs.
Vc might add that thc nvc powcrs bccomc absolutcly
unshakablc only in thc casc ol thc noblc oncs (scc Chaptcr .·).
Òn bccoming a strcamwinncr, lor cxamplc, laith bccomcs an
unshakablc powcr bccausc thc lcttcr ol doubt is rcmovcd.
Although only thc nvc controlling lacultics and nvc pow
crs arc listcd in thc thirtyscvcn lactors, in thc cxpandcd
Abhidharmic classincation ol thc controlling lacultics and pow
crs, thcrc arc thrcc morc lacultics addcd to thc nvc alrcady mcn
tioncd (mind, joy, and vitality), and two morc powcrs (moral
shamc and moral drcad, known collcctivcly as ‘thc guardians ol
thc world’). Moral shamc and moral drcad arc cxplaincd as onc’s
own scnsc ol moral uprightncss and lcar ol ccnsurc or blamc.
Tcy arc callcd guardians ol thc world bccausc, whcn dcvclopcd
to thc lcvcl ol powcrs, thcy bccomc guardians ol wholcsomc
Tc last group wc will considcr hcrc arc thc scvcn limbs ol
cnlightcnmcnt (bojjhanga): (i) mindlulncss, (ii) invcstigation,
(iii) cncrgy, (iv) intcrcst, (v) tranquillity, (vi) conccntration, and
(vii) cquanimity. Mindlulncss again appcars as onc ol thc lac
tors, and again it lcads thc group, bccausc it is with mindlulncss
that thc way to cnlightcnmcnt bcgins.
Tus it is through awarcncss ol onc’s situation that progrcss
.o¡ .o·
on thc path bcgins. Tis progrcss is sustaincd through invcsti
gation – in this casc, thc invcstigation ol lactors.
¡ncrgy occurs hcrc, as it did in thc lour roads to powcr, thc
nvc controlling lacultics, and thc nvc powcrs. ¡ncrgy is csscn
tial to sustain thc progrcss onc makcs along onc’s spiritual path.
All too oltcn, our cßorts arc sporadic, wc makc a grcat cßort lor
a short pcriod ol timc and thcn rclapsc lor a much longcr timc.
!l progrcss is to bc sustaincd it must bc stcady, and cncrgy con
tributcs to stcady, consistcnt progrcss along thc path.
Tc lourth lactor, intcrcst, which is also onc ol thc nvc lac
tors ol absorption, is sußuscd with happincss, although it can
bcst bc undcrstood morc as intcrcst than as joy or rapturc pcr sc
(scc Chaptcr .¡).
Tranquillity in this contcxt is thc tranquillity ol mind that
rcsults lrom climinating thc amictions ol ignorancc, illwill, and
Conccntration is synonymous with oncpointcdncss, which
is onc ol thc nvc lactors ol absorption.
¡quanimity is thc climination ol thc mind’s tcndcncy to wan
dcr. Likc so many Abhidharmic tcrms, cquanimity lunctions on
a numbcr ol lcvcls. At thc lcvcl ol lccling, it can bc indißcrcncc.
At thc lcvcl ol thc cultivation ol thc Four !mmcasurablc mcdi
tations (brahmavihara), cquanimity is cvcnmindcdncss toward
scnticnt bcings – thc abscncc ol attachmcnt to ncar and dcar oncs,
and thc abscncc ol avcrsion to cncmics. !n thc analysis ol pcr
sonal cxpcricncc in thc tcaching on thc nvc aggrcgatcs, cqua
nimity is thc ncutralization ol thc cight worldly conditions (hap
pincss and pain, gain and loss, praisc and blamc, and lamc and
inlamy). Hcrc, in thc contcxt ol thc scvcn limbs ol cnlightcn
.o6 .o·
mcnt, cquanimity is that intcgratcd and unshakablc statc ol mind
which is totally lrcc ol mind’s habitual tcndcncy to wandcr.
Tcsc thirtyscvcn lactors wcrc codincd, prcscrvcd, and
taught by gcncrations ol mastcrs lor onc rcason only: thcy wcrc
lound to bc usclul and bcncncial in dcvcloping onc’s mind, and
particularly in aiding progrcss toward cnlightcnmcnt. Vhcthcr
wc choosc to conccntratc on thc lour stations ol mindlulncss,
thc lour cßorts, thc lour roads to powcr, thc nvc controlling lac
ultics, thc nvc powcrs, thc scvcn limbs ol cnlightcnmcnt, or thc
Noblc ¡ightlold Path, lamiliarity with thcsc lactors ol cnlight
cnmcnt can manilcstly and immcdiatcly aid our progrcss toward
that goal.
.o6 .o·
·bhidharma in Æaily Iifc
n this last chaptcr ! would likc to locus on somc ol thc idcas
considcrcd in Chaptcrs .c through ¡c, rclating thcm to daily
lilc and to our practicc ol thc 8uddha’s tcaching. ! havc dis
cusscd thc Abhidharma cxtcnsivcly, and somc ol thc matcrial is
rathcr tcchnical. Although it may not bc possiblc to makc com
plctc usc ol what wc havc lcarncd, ! hopc it will rcmain in thc
corncr ol your mind, and that you will bc ablc to rcturn to it and
usc it as timc gocs by.
! would likc to bcgin by drawing your attcntion to thc lun
damcntal oricntation ol thc 8uddha and 8uddhism toward thc
wholc qucstion ol spiritual progrcss. You will rccall that thc
majority ol thc thirtyscvcn lactors conducivc to cnlightcnmcnt
(scc Chaptcr ¡c) rclatc to cßort and to thc mind. Tc cmphasis
in 8uddhism has always bccn on thcsc two aspccts, in markcd
contrast to othcr rcligious traditions, whcrc thc most lrcqucnt
answcrs to thc qucstion ol spiritual progrcss rclcr to latc or
gracc – in othcr words, to somc powcr outsidc us (whcthcr an
impcrsonal, unsccn powcr, likc latc, or a pcrsonal powcr, likc
God) that dctcrmincs our progrcss and dcstiny. Fatc and gracc
wcrc typical answcrs givcn by othcr traditions in thc 8uddha’s
timc, and thcy rcmain so today. Such approachcs havc onc thing
in common: thcy rcly on somcthing outsidc us, ovcr which wc
havc littlc or no control.
Tc 8uddha, howcvcr, taught that it is onc’s own mind and
cßort that dctcrminc onc’s progrcss and dcstiny. Mind and cßort
.o· .oo
arc thc kcys to sclldcvclopmcnt, as is clcarly rcßcctcd in thc
thirtyscvcn lactors ol cnlightcnmcnt. Tis is why it has oltcn
bccn said that thc mind is thc most valuablc thing wc havc. Tc
mind has somctimcs bccn likcncd to a wishlulnlling gcm, in
that it can grant rcbirth in lortunatc or unlortunatc statcs. !t
is on thc basis ol mind that onc crosscs thc thrcshold ol con
ditioncd cxistcncc and cntcrs thc supramundanc statcs ol thc
noblc oncs. !t is thc mind which dctcrmincs this, and it docs so
through intcntional action, or karma – thc cxprcsscd will ol thc
mind, which rcsults in thc particular conditions in which wc
nnd oursclvcs.
Vc can also scc thc importancc ol thc mind rcßcctcd in
thc lour roads to powcr (scc Chaptcr ¡c), which arc mcntal lac
tors that can aßcct and control mattcr. Vhat wc nccd to do is
intcnsily, cultivatc, and clcvatc thc mind. Vc can scc this clcarly
whcn wc look at thc nvc lactors ol absorption or intcnsincation
(jhananga) and thc nvc hindranccs (nivarana), two aspccts ol our
ordinary, mundanc consciousncss (scc Chaptcr .¡). Tc nvc hin
dranccs arc typical ol vcry low lcvcls ol conscious dcvclopmcnt,
such as thc consciousncss ol animals, which is saturatcd with
thcsc lactors. Tc prcscncc ol thcsc hindranccs mcans that onc’s
mind is totally conditioncd and manipulatcd by various stimuli.
!n opposition to thcsc nvc hindranccs arc thc nvc lactors ol
absorption, which arc also prcscnt cvcn in thc consciousncss
ol animals. Tc nvc absorptions countcr and cvcntually clim
inatc thc nvc hindranccs. Tus wc can rcducc thc controlling
powcr ol thc hindranccs to whatcvcr cxtcnt wc can cultivatc thc
!n a scnsc, wc arc standing at a crossroads. All tcn lactors,
.o· .oo
hindranccs and absorptions, arc prcscnt in our minds, and it is
a qucstion ol whcthcr wc allow thc hindranccs to dominatc or
dcvclop thc lactors ol intcnsincation so that thcy bcgin to domi
natc our minds. Tis is a vcry important battlc bccausc as long as
thc hindranccs prcdominatc wc arc vcry likcly to scc thc rcsults
in this lilc and in thc ncxt lilc, in thc lorm ol rcbirth in unla
vorablc or miscrablc statcs. 8ut il our minds arc raiscd by culti
vating thc nvc lactors ol absorption, wc rcach a highcr lcvcl ol
dcvclopmcnt in both this lilc and thc ncxt.
Òncc wc havc intcnsincd and clcvatcd thc powcr ol our
minds by dcvcloping thc nvc lactors ol absorption, wc can moti
vatc and dircct our minds in a particular dircction. Tis is donc
through thc nvc controlling lacultics: laith, cncrgy, mindlulncss,
conccntration, and wisdom (scc Chaptcr ¡c). !t has bccn said
that, to practicc thc Ðharma, two things arc csscntial: (.) laith
and (:) wisdom. Visdom is thc main thing, whilc laith is thc
prcrcquisitc. !n somc non8uddhist traditions, laith mcans blind
adhcrcncc, but in thc 8uddhist tradition, laith mcans conndcncc
in thc possibility ol succcss. !n othcr words, il wc do not bclicvc
wc can succccd, thcrc will bc no chancc ol achicving succcss no
mattcr what wc try to do. !n this scnsc spiritual practicc without
laith is likc a burncd sccd that will ncvcr put lorth thc sccdling
ol spiritual progrcss, no mattcr how rich thc soil or how carc
lully wc tcnd it.
Faith and wisdom arc thc nrst and last ol thc nvc controlling
lacultics. Togcthcr with thc rcmaining thrcc lacultics ol cncrgy,
mindlulncss, and conccntration, thcy arc prcscnt in thc Noblc
¡ightlold Path (scc Chaptcr ·, Chaptcr 6 and Chaptcr ·). ¡ncrgy,
mindlulncss, and conccntration corrcspond to thc thrcc lactors
¡cc ¡c.
ol right cßort, right mindlulncss, and right conccntration ol thc
mcntal dcvclopmcnt group ol thc ¡ightlold Path.
Faith is rclatcd to thc morality group ol thc ¡ightlold Path
bccausc it is laith, altcr all, which compcls us to obscrvc thc rulcs
ol good conduct and bclicvc in thc law ol karma at thc bcginning
ol our practicc. Unlcss and until wc havc achicvcd supcrnormal
lcvcls ol consciousncss (likc thc 8uddha and his lorcmost disci
plcs, who wcrc ablc to dircctly pcrccivc thc cßccts ol wholcsomc
and unwholcsomc actions), wc must rcly on laith to crcatc thc
loundation ol our practicc ol morality.
Visdom corrcsponds cxactly to thc wisdom group ol thc
¡ightlold Path. !n thc nvc controlling lacultics, thcrclorc, wc
havc in gcrminal lorm thc cight stcps ol thc Noblc ¡ightlold
To summarizc, to progrcss toward our goal ol cnlightcn
mcnt, wc nccd to intcnsily, clcvatc, and motivatc our minds. Tc
way wc can do this is (.) to cultivatc thc nvc lactors ol absorp
tion to rcducc thc inßucncc ol thc nvc hindranccs, and thcn
(:) to dcvclop thc nvc controlling lacultics and conncct thcm to
our practicc ol thc Noblc ¡ightlold Path. Vhcn thc nvc con
trolling lacultics bccomc unshakablc, thcy dcvclop into thc nvc
powcrs (scc Chaptcr ¡c), which bring with thcm thc supramun
danc statcs ol thc noblc oncs.
Visdom, which is thc last group ol practicc in thc Noblc
¡ightlold Path, is particularly rclcvant to thc Abhidharmic studics
wc havc undcrtakcn bccausc wisdom is thc undcrstanding ol ulti
matc rcality, and thc Abhidharma is conccrncd with thc prcscnta
tion ol ultimatc rcality. Vhcn wc spcak ol wisdom, wc havc two
componcnts principally in mind: (.) notscll and (:) cmptincss.
¡cc ¡c.
Vc havc discusscd thc analytical and rclational approachcs
to thc analysis ol pcrsonal cxpcricncc in thc tcaching ol not
scll and in thc tcaching ol dcpcndcnt origination, rcspcctivcly.
Vhcn wc considcr notscll, wc nccd to think ol thc scll in rcla
tion to thc nvc aggrcgatcs. ]ust as thc crroncous idca ol a snakc
cxists dcpcndcnt on and in rclation to thc ropc and darkncss, so
whcn wc look lor thc scll in rclation to thc aggrcgatcs, wc nnd
that it docs not cxist in any way. Tc scll cannot bc lound in any
ol thc aggrcgatcs ol consciousncss, lccling, pcrccption, volition,
and lorm. Tc scll cannot posscss thc aggrcgatcs in thc way wc
might own a car. Tc scll docs not control thc aggrcgatcs. !t docs
not control thc mind, nor docs it control thc body. Tc scll is not
in any way asccrtainablc within or without thc aggrcgatcs.
Having arrivcd at this undcrstanding ol notscll, wc might
look lor a momcnt at thc aggrcgatcs. At this point, wc movc lrom
an analysis ol pcrsonal cxpcricncc in tcrms ol thc nvc aggrcgatcs
to an analysis ol thc nvc aggrcgatcs in tcrms ol dcpcndcnt orig
ination. Tc nvc aggrcgatcs do not originatc by chancc, nor do
thcy originatc without any causc. Tcy originatc dcpcndcnt
ly – dcpcndcnt on thc amictions (ignorancc, craving, and cling
ing) and on karma, volition, and bccoming.
!t has bccn said that intcrdcpcndcnt origination is thc grcat
cst trcasurc ol thc 8uddha’s tcaching. Undcrstanding intcrdc
pcndcnt origination is thc kcy to undoing thc knot that has kcpt
us bound lor so long in samsara. Tc 8uddha himscll said that
hc who sccs intcrdcpcndcnt origination sccs thc Ðharma, and
that hc who sccs thc Ðharma sccs thc 8uddha. Tis is a vcry
cncouraging rcmark, lor il wc can bcgin to scc our daily cxpc
ricncc in tcrms ol intcrdcpcndcnt origination – in tcrms ol thc
conditioncd, rclativc, and cmpty naturc ol thc lactors ol cxpc
ricncc – thcn wc will scc thc Ðharma, and through sccing thc
Ðharma, wc will scc thc 8uddha. !t will thcn no longcr bc truc
to say that wc cannot scc thc 8uddha, that thc 8uddha is not
prcscnt hcrc and now.
! hopc that this study ol thc Abhidharma will not rcmain an
intcllcctual cxcrcisc but will bc applicd to our daily livcs, how
cvcr slightly. Although it may bc dimcult to apply cvcrything
covcrcd in thc coursc ol thcsc last twclvc chaptcrs, ! think all ol
us who havc studicd thc Abhidharma will no longcr makc thc
mistakc ol thinking ol rcality in tcrms ol a unitary, indcpcndcnt,
and pcrmancnt scll and thc csscntial, substantial objccts around
us. !nsolar as wc havc movcd toward a ncw way ol undcrstand
ing rcality in tcrms ol lactors and lunctions that arc intcrdcpcn
dcnt and rclativc, wc havc movcd somc way toward sccing thc
Ðharma and thc 8uddha.

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