JOURNAL OF THE LONDON BUDDHIST VIHARA
|ISSUE No. 16 MAY 2000 B. E. 2544 ISSN 1368-1516|
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
RELIGION AND SOCIETY
by Most Venerable Dr. Medagama Vajiragnana, Sangha Nayaka of Great Britain,
Head of the London Buddhist Vihara
A distinctive feature of the modern world is the amazing acceleration in the pace of change that has taken place in all aspects of life. Of course, as Buddhists, we know that change is always with us, but it is the speed at which change is taking place today which makes our era different from those that have preceded us. Science and technology seem to dominate the whole world. There are remarkable improvements in the standard of living achieved with the help of modern scientific and technological inventions. Also life expectancy has been increased and child mortality has been reduced. In the field of medical science we see miraculous achievements.
The world has become a small place due to the revolution in communications technology. It has become a 'Global Village' where different nations, religions, cultures, and traditions are regularly in contact with each other. Anything that happens in one part of the world at any moment is known immediately in other parts of the world. All the bad news spreads much faster than the good news!
But for all of these many benefits, there is a dark side as well. People should be relaxed, just, compassionate, considerate, tolerant, patient and friendly. Yet, sadly, most of these social values seem to be missing in many quarters of society. In spite of the scientific and technological advancement of contemporary society much anxiety, stress and dissatisfaction is felt by people in all walks of life. Friendliness, kindness and lovableness are not felt between one man and another. On the contrary, there prevails much mistrust and suspicion in every society, leading at times to hostility. Contact between one man and another has become almost mechanical, so that there is no fellow-feeling based on caring and compassion. This is a serious obstacle to the existence of a smooth-running, happy and contented society. The process of communication has become de-humanised. Face-to-face communication between two human beings has been replaced by impersonal media, such as the fax and e-mail. The pace of life has increased to such an extent that, even when we do meet face-to-face, the emphasis is on speed of communication. In many families it is no longer a daily practice to share a leisurely meal together and discuss matters of mutual interest. Instead one family member rushes into the kitchen, grabs some fast food and rushes out again. Other members of the family eat in the same fashion and there is no time to communicate properly and develop vital interpersonal skills.
There is another important aspect to consider. The mounting rates of crime are alarming. This refers especially to murder, robbery, sexual offences and various kinds of terrorism. Drug abuse has become a dreadful problem penetrating every part of the world. Most of these crimes are committed by people making use of scientific and technological knowledge for the fulfilment of their own aims. Filial piety has been rejected and parental discipline flouted. Many members of society have abandoned their traditional and time-honoured customary roles in favour of modernisation. The impact of this modern industrial mentality has had a crippling effect on traditional religious and social values and beliefs.
Once when I visited a hospital I heard a member of staff talking to another person working there, saying, 'No. 15 in ward 6: dead.' It took a couple of minutes for me to understand that they were talking about a patient, a human being, not a commodity like a bed or chair, etc. It may be for the sake of convenience they have adopted this method of giving numbers to patients following the bed numbers they are in, but it has gone beyond that so-called 'convenience'. Here there is no fellow feeling or feeling for a living being to whom we can show our love and kindness. Man has become a machine where there is no heart, and this human machine has a mechanical relationship with other human machines.
This mentality is, no doubt, being shaped by the education system. Education policy throughout the world is job-oriented today. It emphasises intellectual knowledge alone. The whole system has been geared to achieve the end of giving and obtaining knowledge which is connected with the intellect. There is hardly any room in this system for the development of the emotional side of man, of qualities like love, kindness, compassion, sympathy, benevolence, charity and such human qualities. The result of this one-sidedness is a lack of development of the Total Personality in so-called 'educated' people. A great deal of unrest has resulted among those young people who are forced to receive this poor quality education. In fact they are victims of a system based on an unsound philosophy. There should be a system of education which promotes both wisdom and compassion; there should be a humanising content in education. The teaching of human values is entirely dependent on the human content of education. Otherwise we would be producing robots.
It is here where religions can play an important role. As far as Buddhism is concerned, the Buddha advised monks to reciprocate the support given by the laity in providing for their material needs. The monks should be available for the laity to accumulate merit by supporting them in the attainment of their spiritual goals. The community of monks (Sangha) is considered as an incomparable field of merit and, in return, the Sangha should lead the lay people along the path to happiness.
As the Sigalovada Sutta explains, clergy should restrain their followers from committing evil deeds. They should induce them to develop compassionate feelings towards others, wishing them well at all times. They should encourage them to engage in religious deeds. Also they should teach them the appropriate teachings, Dhamma, and they should dispel any doubts that may arise in their minds regarding religious teachings. They should teach them the path leading to heaven. The Anukampaka Sutta says that the clergy must try to establish them in a high moral life, assist them to learn the Dhamma, visit them when they are sick, pacify them with good admonitions, stabilise them in mindfulness, visit them regularly to engage them in meritorious deeds and, make good use of those things which have been offered with faith. This emphasises the fact that mutual help between clergy and laity is indispensable for the overcoming of suffering. In this way we can see that a major part of social life, which is not taken care of in general education, can be regulated by religious teaching in order to make a peaceful society.
All social, moral, spiritual and cultural values in Buddhism are centred around one's actions, words and thoughts. These are interrelated, interconnected and they interact. Social behaviour is based on very deeply-rooted feelings in man. Buddhism shows us that the whole range of ills, suffering and evils which afflict society are caused by prejudices (agati) such as Partiality or Greediness, Hatred, Fear and Ignorance. It is evident that these prejudices disturb good human relationships and violate the most fundamental principles of a just society. One becomes prejudiced due to one of these four. By removing them we pave the way for a healthy society in which everyone can grow as an individual and strive towards perfection.
Regarding socialisation, we can say that to socialise a person one has to practise positive qualities of mind such as love (metta), compassion (karuna) appreciative joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha). Whoever practises these sublime modes of living becomes free from prejudices. He is free from any kind of discriminative tendencies based on class, caste, colour or creed, national or international boundaries, etc.
Metta is universal love. 'Love is the deepest human need'. It is something you do. It is a process, which concerns itself deeply with the well-being of people, animals, trees and plants, in fact of everything that lives. Metta is goodwill, benevolence and lovingkindness. It has the characteristic of devotion to the welfare of others. It is particularly effective in counteracting anger - not suppressing it, but removing it as one would remove a poison, for surely anger is a poison in our lives. Strange as it may seem at first, affection can also be a problem, for it is usually limited to one or a few persons, whereas the culmination of metta is a sense of solidarity with all beings. Universal love does not degenerate into greed or possessive love.
Karuna, active compassion, concerns itself with removing the suffering of others. As it is explained in the scriptures 'When others are afflicted with sorrow, the hearts of those with Karuna quiver.' This is the antidote to our aggressive tendencies. It should be distinguished from that kind of grief which really amounts to self-pity. Karuna is the essential antidote to the poison of cruelty, but it does not degenerate into grief or dejection.
Mudita, sympathetic joy, is not to be confused with mere sympathy (which is often empty). It is the antidote to jealousy and has the characteristic of rejoicing at others' success and prosperity. It does not degenerate into loose behaviour or crude merry-making.
Lastly, there is Upekkha or equanimity, which is a perfect, unshakable balance of mind rooted in Insight. It is the result of deliberate and hard training. True tranquillity should be able to meet all the vicissitudes of life with equilibrium. It should not be confused with a mere feeling of indifference. It is an active quality, regarding all beings equally. Or, to put in another way, we do not select particular people or groups for our love and compassion to the exclusion of others. This does not degenerate into indifference or lack of concern.
These are the qualities which we should cultivate so as to be able to regulate our relationships with those around us at all levels of society. They are, to begin with, social qualities, but they can be developed into highly blissful spiritual states.
Feelings are not things which we can control. We cannot make ourselves love or hate someone. We cannot suddenly develop an all-embracing love of humanity. Feelings come and go by themselves. Well, if we cannot control our feelings, what can we control? The answer is, we can control our actions, provided we make sufficient effort to by-pass our feelings. These principles are universal. If followed they will promote, in any society of whatever race, creed or political philosophy, the blessings of good citizenship, integrity, brotherhood and peace.
THE TIMELESS MESSAGE OF VESAK
by Dr. Bodhipriya Subadra Siriwardena
This is the year 2543 in the Buddhist calendar and the Buddhist world is celebrating another Vesak that dawns on the full-moon day of the month of May or Vaisakha. The three special events of the Birth, the Enlightenment and the Parinibbana (Death) of the Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, took place on three Vesak full-moon days in the 6th century BC. It is the Birth anniversary of the noblest human being who made an incomparable contribution to human thought and wisdom, which is valid for all time for the welfare of mankind. He was the Great Being who abandoned the luxuries of material life and with a heart brimming with boundless compassion set forth to seek and understand the realities and problems of the world. The birth of the Buddha was an epoch-making event which took place in Lumbini. This is situated to the northeast of Benares between the two cities of Kapilavattu and Devdaha in northeast India on the frontier of Nepal. In the 3rd century BC, the great Buddhist Indian Emperor Asoka erected a stone pillar on this holy spot. The Brahmi inscription engraved on it reads " hide Buddha jate Sakyamuni" - Here was born the Buddha, the sage of the Sakyans. The pillar can still be seen to this day.
In His 35th year, Siddhatta Gotama, seated cross-legged under the Bodhi tree on the banks of the River Neranjara at Gaya immersed in deep contemplation, realised the four noble truths of the reality of what is Dukkha - Suffering, the causes of Dukkha, the cessation of Dukkha and the method or path leading to it. His mind became free from lobha - sensual craving, dosa - hatred - moha -the defilement of ignorance. Thus on a Vesak full-moon day he became the Buddha - the All-Knowing One, the Great Teacher, the Enlightened One, by His own efforts without the help of gods or other beings. The knowledge and the truths which the Buddha comprehended were revealed in his teachings over a period of 45 years. They are known as the Dhamma and are embodied in the Pali Tipitaka, which is now accessible in several Eastern and Western living languages.
The third event commemorated on the Vesak full-moon day is the Buddha's Parinibbana (Death), which occurred at the age of 80 at Kusinara not far from Gaya. This commemoration is a mark of gratitude and veneration to the Master who rendered a noble service for the welfare of humankind with His teachings delivered by word of mouth, by precept and by example. Due especially to the benevolent missions of Emperor Asoka in the 3rd century BC, the Buddha's teachings spread to countries around India. This spread has been authenticated by historical evidence. During the latter part of the 19th century and during the 20th century Buddhism has reached and is spreading in the western world, mainly through the good efforts, enthusiasm and perseverance of some dedicated individuals and the printed word.
Therefore it is once again appropriate to refresh our minds and reflect on the message embodied in the Buddha's teachings and take stock of ourselves during this first Vesak in the new millennium. It is the responsibility of the entire human species to pause and examine whether we have actually progressed in the highest sense of the word, whether we encounter any obstacles in the way of real progress and if so how we should seek and follow the path of progress. Most of us believe that humankind has reached the summit of progress. With the advancement of science and technology many discoveries and inventions have produced numerous devices to facilitate and accelerate our material lives. At the same time numerous faster and lethal devices are also continuing to be produced to maim, cause pain and destruction to living beings, property and the natural environment. Some scientists produce life-easing and life-saving drugs while others produce harmful drugs that derange the human mind and kill people.
Though the world is not engaged in a third world war, it is not free from conflicts and war. In whichever direction one turns, there is a war raging somewhere within or between countries. Instead of encouraging peace, other countries are competing with one another for the production and sale of their weapons to the warring peoples and are indirectly participating in war for economic gains. There is hardly any country that is enjoying real peace, and freedom from fear, threats and insecurity, owing to the atrocities committed by human beings against their fellow beings, other species of living beings and the environment. Muggings, plundering, burglary, rape, abuse of children and the elderly, domestic violence, road-rage, arson, murder, torture, terrorism, race-related and cult-related violence and numerous other crimes are committed every minute. They are being perpetrated somewhere on a small or a large scale by men, women and even children, by representatives of all races, age groups, religions and economic, social and educational levels. Though a variety of reasons and circumstances motivate each erring person into action, in terms of Buddhist teachings, there is one single reason common to all. This is the defilement of the mind by the triple forces of lobha - avarice, dosa - hatred and moha - ignorance, and their inability or reluctance to realise that actions have inevitable results sooner or later. Judging from these happenings it is right to conclude that humankind has reached the heights of civilization, knowledge, scientific advancement and progress only in their material aspects. But man is unable to conquer and discipline his own mind, understand the realities of the world and abide by a rational ethical code.
Within the events commemorated on Vesak day is embedded the Buddha's timeless message pinpointing both the causes and the remedies for these chronic maladies of mankind. We should not be content with a mere superficial celebration of Vesak. Instead we should use this opportunity to reflect deeply and recognise that the Buddha's curative message is needed now more than ever before. Prior to his Parinibbana the Buddha emphasised to those present, "When I am gone my teachings will be your master and guide. Practise them and teach them to others. They will be of use for the welfare of the living and for those to come after you."
The Buddha's teachings or the Dhamma are based on the four Noble Truths which are open for investigation and enquiry, and which are not expected to be followed blindly. Many Buddhists are inclined to feel that the original teachings are too lofty to be practised by them in the midst of their busy lives, and are meant only for the Sangha and the elderly. They are quite content to follow only the rituals and beliefs which have arisen around Buddhism. As a result, we fail to notice and comprehend the realistic understanding that life and the world around us are subject to suffering, decay and impermanence, and that illness, old age, the experience of vicissitudes and death are the common lot of everyone, rich or poor, high or low, powerful or weak. All this and our discontent, discomforts, disharmonies, disappointments, imperfections, irritations, frustrations, stress and many other states common to all could be classified as Dukkha - the first Noble Truth.
The second Noble Truth, the cause of Dukkha, is Tanha - desire, craving or covetousness. This is the driving force to acquire more and more material wealth, pleasurable experiences for the senses, for power, etc., through moral or immoral means. It motivates human beings to commit shamfeul crimes against others, and even against one's one self. This is apparent from the untimely deaths and miseries that befall millions of people through tobacco-, drug- and sex-related diseases, acquired voluntarily by the extreme desire for gratification of the senses. Despite the acquisition of a vast mass of worldly knowledge, man is not trying to free himself from moha - ignorance, which blinds his sense of what is morally right and wrong.
The Buddha has revealed the fourth Noble Truth which is an effective remedial course of action for us to follow throughout our lives, enlightening ourselves and gradually overcoming Dukkha. The message of Vesak is to take a pause from our busy daily routines and try to understand the instructions and guidance made clear in this path. We can check whether we are following it, avoiding pitfalls and, if deviations are detected, to make an effort to rectify our errors. This is a path applicable to and to be practised by both the Sangha and the laity, by both the young and the old of both sexes. This is a proven, rational moral code, to be chosen, investigated and adopted by anyone who desires to reduce Dukkha now and hereafter and ultimately to be free from it altogether. For ease of understanding the guidelines taught by the Buddha are divided into three categories, but these are heavily interwoven. These are briefly:-
1. Sila or morality, cultivated through wholesome words, actions and livelihood.
2. Samadhi or mental discipline, cultivated through wholesome effort, mindfulness and concentration.
3. Panna or wisdom, cultivated through right or realistic understanding and the development of wholesome thoughts.
These categories collectively form the Buddhist concept of what is right and wrong, moral and immoral, and they guide us to develop and maintain a good moral conduct through wholesome thought and actions and the elimination of evil thoughts, words and actions. For example, words spoken or printed are right and wholesome only if they are sincere, truthful, meaningful, kind, pleasant and of good use to oneself and to others. Words are wrong and unwholesome if they are untruthful, insincere, harsh, harmful, obscene, slanderous, idle, frivolous and not of good use. Actions are right and wholesome if they accord with the observance of the five precepts - pancasila - and are performed with awareness of and respect for the feelings, life and property of others. Choosing a means of livelihood within the principles of right thought, word and action would undoubtedly prevent one from the vicious categories associated with weapons, intoxicants, poisons, production and sale of tobacco products, harmful drugs, pornography, occupations that degrade and defile the human mind, dishonest profiteering and many others of a negative nature.
In order to do any action, good or evil, the individual needs to think and exert effort. According to the Buddhist concept of right effort, one is to maintain one's existing good qualities in thought, word and action and to develop further unarisen good. It also means abandoning any existing unwholesome understanding in thought and action, and to prevent the same from arising in the future. Every sane person needs to be aware of or be mindful of his thoughts, feelings, words and actions in relation to his environment, and be guided by right understanding in order to dispel evil. Controlling, disciplining and directing one's mind in this manner in every waking moment could be described as Bhavana or mental culture. What matters is the control of the behaviour of one's mind. Right concentration directs mindfulness, eliminating distractions.
It is quite simple and rational to realise that good thought, word and action will cause good results and vice-versa, and that it is therefore advisable to cultivate the good courses of action which are profitable in the long run. This is the Buddhist concept of Kamma in a nutshell. Also every action has its corresponding consequence sooner or later, and one cannot escape from it. Good, wholesome deeds or meritorious deeds - punnakamma - are classified into ten categories, and demeritorious deeds - akusalakamma - are also classified into ten categories, but there is no space to elaborate on them here.
The Noble Eightfold Path guides us to purify ourselves from the defilements of greed, hatred and ignorance. It guides us to think, speak and act with understanding, wisdom and mindfulness, directing us to do meritorious deeds bringing wholesome results and to refrain from demeritorious deeds which bring unwholesome results. This is in brief the message embedded in the commemoration of Vesak. The diligent observance of the Five Precepts - pancasila - is the best starting point to translate the Buddha's message into practice. Inhaling the fragrance of the meaningful sayings of the well-known suttas, like the Mangala, Sigalovada, Parabhava and Vyagghapajja, will help us to lay a firm foundation for ethical practice.
SUFFERING: The Five Aggregates
by Ven. Dr. Walpola Rahula
What we call a ‘being’ or an ‘individual’ or 'I', according to Buddhist philosophy, is only a combination of ever-changing physical and mental forces or energies, which may be divided into five groups or aggregates (pancakkhandha). The Buddha says: "In short these five aggregates of attachment are dukkha." Elsewhere he distinctly defines dukkha as the five aggregates: ‘O bhikkhus, what is dukkha? It should be said that it is the five aggregates of attachment.' Here it should be clearly understood that dukkha and the five aggregates are not two different things; the five aggregates themselves are dukkha. We will understand this point better when we have some notion of the five aggregates which constitute the so-called ‘being’. Now, what are these five?
The first is the Aggregate of Matter (Rupakkhandha). In this term ‘Aggregate of Matter’ are included the traditional Four Great Elements: (cattari mahabhutani), namely, solidity, fluidity, heat and motion, and also the Derivatives (upadaya-rupa) of the Four Great Elements. In the term ‘Derivatives of the Four Great Elements’ are included our five material sense-organs, i.e. the faculties of eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body, and their corresponding objects in the external world, i.e. visible form, sound, odour, taste, and tangible things, and also some thoughts or ideas or conceptions which are in the sphere of mind objects (dharmayatana). Thus the whole realm of matter, both internal and external, is included in the Aggregate of Matter.
The second is the Aggregate of Sensations (Vedanakkhandha). In this group are included all our sensations, pleasant or unpleasant or neutral, experienced through the contact of physical and mental organs with the external world. They are of six kinds: the sensations experienced through the contact of the eye with visible forms, ear with sounds, nose with odour, tongue with taste, body with tangible objects, and mind (which is the sixth faculty in Buddhist Philosophy) with mind-objects or thoughts or ideas. All our physical and mental sensations are included in this group.
A word about what is meant by the term ‘Mind’ (manas) in Buddhist philosophy may be useful here. It should clearly be understood that mind is not spirit as opposed to matter. It should also be remembered that Buddhism does not recognize a spirit opposed to matter, as is accepted by most other systems of philosophy and religions. Mind is only a faculty or organ (indriya) like the eye or the ear. It can be controlled and developed like any other faculty, and the Buddha speaks quite often of the value of controlling and disciplining these six faculties. The difference between the eye and the mind as faculties is that the former senses the world of colours and visible forms, while the latter senses the world of ideas and thoughts and mental objects. We experience different fields of the world with different senses. We cannot hear colours, but we can see them. Thus with our five physical sense organs -eye, ear, nose, tongue, body- we experience only the world of visible forms, sounds, odours, tastes and tangible objects. But these represent only a part of the world, not the whole world. What of ideas and thoughts? They are also a part of the world. But they cannot be sensed, they cannot be conceived by the faculty of the eye, ear, nose, tongue or body. Yet they can be conceived by another faculty, which is mind. Now ideas and thoughts are not independent of the world experienced by these five physical sense faculties. In fact, they depend on, and are conditioned by, physical experiences. Hence a person born blind cannot have ideas of colour, except through the analogy of sounds or some other things experienced through his other faculties. Ideas and thoughts which form a part of the world are thus produced and conditioned by physical experiences and are conceived by the mind. Hence mind (manas) is considered a sense faculty or organ (indriya), like the eye or the ear.
The third is the Aggregate of Perceptions (Sannakkhandha). Like sensations, perceptions also are of six kinds, in relation to six internal faculties and the corresponding six external objects. Like sensations. they are produced through the contact of our six faculties with the external world. It is the perceptions that recognize objects whether physical or mental.
The fourth is the Aggregate of Mental Formations (Samkharakkhahdha). In this group are included all volitional activities both good and bad. What is generally known as karma or kamma comes under this group. The Buddha’s own definition of karma should be remembered here: ‘O bhikkhus, it is volition (cetana) that I call karma. Having willed, one acts through body, speech and mind.’ Volition is ‘mental construction, mental activity. Its function is to direct the mind in the sphere of good, bad or neutral activities.’ Just like sensations and perceptions, volition is of six kinds, connected with the six internal faculties and the corresponding six objects (both physical and mental) in the external world. Sensations and perceptions are not volitional actions. They do not produce karmic effects. It is only volitional actions such as attention (manasikara) will (chanda), determination (adhimokkha), confidence (saddha), concentration (samadhi), wisdom (panna), energy (viriya) desire (raga), repugnance or hate (patigha) ignorance (avijja), conceit (mana), idea of self (sakkaya-ditthi) etc. - that can produce karmic effects. There are 52 such mental activities which constitute the Aggregate of Mental Formations.
The fifth is the Aggregate of Consciousness (Vinnanakkhandha). Consciousness is a reaction or response which has one of the six faculties (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind) as its basis and one of the six corresponding external phenomena (visible form, sound, odour, taste, tangible things and mind-objects, i.e. an idea or thought) as its object. Mental consciousness (mano vinnana) has the mind (manas) as its basis and a mental object i.e., an idea or thought (dhamma) as its object So consciousness is connected with other faculties. Thus, like sensation, perception and volition, consciousness also is of six kinds, in relation to six internal faculties and corresponding six external objects.
It should be clearly understood that consciousness does not recognize an object. It is only a sort of awareness - awareness of the presence of an object. When the eye comes in contact with a colour, for instance blue, visual consciousness arises which simply is awareness of the presence of colour; but it does not recognize that it is blue. There is no recognition at this stage: it is perception (the third Aggregate discussed above) that recognizes that it is blue. The term ‘visual consciousness’ is a philosophical expression denoting the same idea as is conveyed by the ordinary word ‘seeing’. Seeing does not mean recognizing. So are the other forms of consciousness.
It must be repeated here that according to Buddhist philosophy, there is no permanent, unchanging spirit which can be considered ‘Self’, or ‘Soul’, or ‘Ego’, as opposed to matter, and that consciousness (vinnana) should not be taken as ‘spirit’ in opposition to matter. This point has to be particularly emphasized, because a wrong notion that consciousness is a sort of Self or Soul that continues as a permanent substance through life, has persisted from the earliest time to the present day.
One of the Buddha’s own disciples, Sati by name, held that the Master taught: "It is the same consciousness that transmigrates and wanders about." The Buddha asked him what he meant by ‘consciousness’. Sati’s reply is classical: "It is that which expresses, which feels, which experiences the results of good and bad deeds here and there."
"To whomever, you stupid one," remonstrated the Master, "have you heard me expounding the doctrine in this manner? Haven’t I in many ways explained consciousness as arising out of conditions: that there is no arising of consciousness without conditions?" Then the Buddha went on to explain consciousness in detail: "Consciousness is named according to whatever condition through which it arises: on account of the eye and visible forms arises a consciousness and it is called visual consciousness; on account of the ear and sounds arises a consciousness, and it is called auditory consciousness; on account of the nose and odours arises a consciousness, and it is called olfactory consciousness; on account of the tongue and tastes arises a consciousness, and it is called gustatory consciousness; on account of the body and tangible objects arises a consciousness, and it is called tactile consciousness; on account of the mind and mind-objects (ideas and thoughts) arises a consciousness and it is called mental consciousness."
Then the Buddha explained it further by an illustration. A fire is named according to the material on account of which it burns. A fire may burn on account of wood, and it is called wood-fire. It may burn on account of straw, and then it is called straw-fire. So consciousness is named according to the condition through which it arises.
Dwelling on this point, Buddhaghosa, the great commentator, explains: "...a fire that burns on account of wood burns only when there is a supply, but dies down in that very place when it (the supply) is no longer there, because then the condition has changed but (the fire) does not cross over to splinters, etc, and become a splinter fire and so on; even so the consciousness that arises on account of the eye and visible form arises in that gate of sense organ (i.e., in the eye), only when there is the condition of the eye, visible forms, light and attention, but ceases then and there when it (the condition) is no more there, because then the condition has changed, but (the consciousness) does not cross over to the ear, etc., and become auditory consciousness and so on. . ."
The Buddha declared in unequivocal terms that consciousness depends on matter, sensation, perception and mental formations; and that it cannot exist independently of them. He says:
"Consciousness may exist having matter as its means (rupupayam), matter as its object (ruparammanam), matter as its support (rupapatittham), and seeking delight it may grow, increase and develop or consciousness may exist having sensation as its means. . . or perception as its means. . . or mental formations as its support, and seeking delight, it may grow, increase and develop."
"Were a man to say: I shall show the coming, the going, the passing away, the arising, the growth, the increase or the development of consciousness apart from matter, sensation, perception and mental formations; he would be speaking of something that does not exist."
Very briefly, these are the five Aggregates. What we call a ‘being’ or an ‘individual’ or ‘I’, is only a convenient name or a label given to the combination of these five groups. They are all impermanent, all constantly changing. "Whatever is impermanent is dukkha (Yad aniccam tam dukkham). This is the true meaning of the Buddha’s word: "In brief the five Aggregates of Attachment are dukkha." They are not the same for two consecutive moments. Here A is not equal to A. They are in a flux of momentary arising and disappearing.
"O Brahmana, it is just like a mountain river, flowing far and swift, taking everything along with it; there is no moment, no instant, no second when it stops flowing, but it goes on flowing and continuing. So, Brahmana, is human life, like a mountain river." As the Buddha told Ratthapala: "The world is in continuous flux and is impermanent."
One thing disappears, conditioning the appearance of the next in a series of cause and effect. There is no unchanging substance in them. There is nothing behind them that can be called a permanent self (Atman), individuality, or anything that can be in reality be called ‘I’. Every one will agree that neither matter, nor sensation, nor perception, nor any one of those mental activities, nor consciousness can really be called 'I'. But when these five physical and mental aggregates which are interdependent are working together in combination as physio-psychological machine, we get the idea of ‘I’. But this is only a false idea, a mental formation, which is nothing but one of those 52 mental formations of the fourth Aggregate which we have just discussed, namely, it is the idea of self (sakkaya-ditthi).
These five Aggregates together, which we popularly call a ‘being’, are dukkha itself (samkhara-dukkha). There is no other ‘being’ or ‘I’ standing behind these five aggregates, who experiences dukkha. As Buddhaghosa says: 'Mere suffering exists, but there is no sufferer to be found; the deeds are, but no doer is found.'
There is no unmoving mover behind the movement. It is only movement. It is not correct to say that life is moving, but life is movement itself. Life and movement are not two different things. In other words, there is no thinker behind the thought. Thought itself is the thinker. If you remove the thought, there is no thinker to be found. Here we cannot fail to notice how this Buddhist view is diametrically opposed to the Cartesian cogito ergo sum: "I think, therefore I am." (Excerpt from What the Buddha Taught)
THE SATIPATTHANA SUTTA & PSYCHOTHERAPY
by Yogavacara Rahula, USA
In this paper I want to discuss the Buddha's Satipatthana discourse (The Foundation of Mindfulness) and its relationship to Western psychotherapy as a means for coping with the problem of mans' suffering in the midst of his daily life.
The Satipatthana Sutta was the most significant discourse which the historical Buddha Goatham delivered to his followers some 2500 years ago. It deals with meditative techniques of body and mind awareness which reveal the true nature of the body-mind organism, its relationship to its environment and how it becomes involved with suffering on the physical and mental levels, and how to eliminate this suffering.
The Buddha's Enlightenment was centred primarily on what he called the Four Noble Truths: The Truth that suffering (mental and physical) exists; How this suffering arises and continues; That there is or can be an end to all this suffering; And the practice (the way to live, think and meditate) which leads to the complete end of suffering. Most of the meditation techniques which the Buddha taught in his day were directed at helping the individual first of all, to see his problem face to face, see the causes of it and thereby he would also see the way out of it.
The way in which the Buddha tackled this problem was through developing a systematic method of examining and experiencing the body and mind activities through directed and detached awareness. This is all detailed out in his Maha Satipatthana Sutta, the Great discourse of the Setting up of Mindfulness. I will not attempt to detail out here the entire discourse as it be may obtained in many sources of books on Theravada Buddhist Meditation. He teaches us in this discourse how to use our own body and mind as, so to speak, our own test-tube or laboratory to discover exactly what we are made of physically and mentally, what makes us tick, our relationship with the environment, and how we create our own suffering or happiness in our mind. Seeing the situation and problems face to face in one's own direct confrontation with his mind has a much more effective and direct impact than just having someone tell you about it, because this direct confrontation and realization is gained from within and the person understands more clearly and is motivated more effectively in transforming himself.
Buddha's deep wisdom penetrated to the very core of the mind and experienced all the mental processes which gave rise to and created the experience of the world around him. In this experience he saw that the physical body is just an aggregation of material qualities and the mind is just an aggregation of constantly changing sensations, perception, reactions and 'I' centred consciousness which flows like a swift-moving river. He experienced that the individual ego or the feeling of a separate 'I' inside somewhere was merely an illusive notion deeply ingrained in the conditioned patterns of the sub-conscious mind and that it has no concrete, independent or eternal Self-existence.
The Buddha further realized that it is through this basic delusion of 'individual-self' that the alienation and separation from other arises and from which attachment, greed, aversion, hatred and all the other defilements of the mind arise. As this condition grows unchecked there arises all of the other types of mental disturbances and imbalances such as psychosis, schizophrenia, depression and many others which are so prevalent in society today and which affect also the consciousness of society as a whole. The Buddha saw all of this in perspective and therefore he wanted to devise some systematic method of gradual self-discovery which would enable each person to realize face-to- face, within the depths of his own being, how all of his problem originate.
To some extent this is what Western psychotherapy is trying to do. The majority of the patients of psychotherapists suffer from psychic disorientation of different sorts, ego alienation, sociological alienation and so forth. The psychotherapist usually deals with the patient on the basis of being a separate organism who is out of line with the 'norm of Society'. He tries to get to the source of the patient's problems by going back in the patient's history and trying to find something which could serve as a good guide to what has caused the patient's problems such as incidents in childhood etc. The idea is to get the patient back into a so-called normal state of mind, but usually it is still egocentered. The psychoanalyst tries to eliminate the symptoms which the patient has and when the surface symptoms disappear, then he is thought to be cured.
This seems to be the main point or difference in the way psychotherapy handles the situation and how the Buddha sought to remedy the situation. The analyst observes and tries to figure out the patient's problem for him according to the symptoms which the patient is exhibiting, and then gives him advice based on the relationship of his 'individual-Self' to his environment. This type of therapy gets the person back into a more healthy, positive frame of mind about his life and society. But his method still does not tackle the real gut of the problem and that is the ego itself and the way it works itself back into similar problems or further complications. Although the person may find functioning in family and society a smoother process, he still may develop other mental problems such as attachment to things, anger, envy, jealousy, conceit and so forth which stem from deeper reaches of the subconscious.
The Buddha wanted to go to the very root of the whole problem of existence and that was even to realise that the ego as a separate entity was also a mental aberration. It is from this very root delusion/illusion that all other mental conditions and limitations arise. In this way the person no longer conceives himself as a separate individual immersed in an objectified world for his self-centered gratification, but rather he realises that he is just part of a whole integrated, complex manifestation of different forces. He sees the way in which these forces are integrated and how they flow, their cause and effect relationship and thus he is able to get into that harmonious flow. In this way the whole problem of imbalance and suffering on all levels is gradually once and forever solved.
This is, in brief, a look at the general scheme of the situation facing man in the Buddhist conception of man's predicament. We see how the Buddha went about to find the real end to the problem of suffering, by a system of self-discovery and self-psychotherapy to go to the very root of the whole problem and to bring about total reorientation and harmony in life, based on 'Reality'. We can also see that the methods of psychotherapists are well and good insofar as they help the individual regain standard reorientation and balance in regard to functioning in society according to the established norm of that region. But the Buddha went a little further to integrate man's consciousness into the flow of reality, so that no possibility of further complications could arise. It is with the guidance of the Satipatthana Sutta and our own skilful awareness that we can completely harmonise our mind with 'Reality' and transcend all suffering.
Ven. Tawalama Bandula