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Buddhist Outlook on Daily Life

Nina van Gorkom


The Teaching of Dhamma

The Buddha proved his compassion for men in his teaching of Dhamma. One may wonder why it is especially the teaching of Dhamma that proves the Buddha's compassion. Are there no other ways of helping people, such as visiting the sick and speaking kind words to other people in order to make them happy? It is true that one can help one's fellow men in doing good deeds and in speaking kind words. However, it is not possible to give them true happiness in this way. When one is kind to other people one might help them in so far as one can make them feel more relaxed or less depressed for a moment. However there are people who tend to go on being anxious and depressed, no matter how kindly one treats them.

The Buddha knew that the deepest cause of happiness and sorrow is within man. It is not possible to give other people real happiness; one can only be a condition for them to feel happy for a while. The Buddha helped people in the most effective way: he helped them to have 'right understanding' about their life, about themselves, and about the way to find true happiness.

His disciples followed his example and helped people by teaching them Dhamma. We read in the 'Channovada-sutta' (Majjhima Nikaya III, Salayatana-vagga) that Sariputta and Maha Cunda visited a sick monk whose name was Channa. First they asked Channa how he was feeling, and they offered to give him good food and medicine, and to attend personally to his needs if he wanted this. However, they knew that kind words and deeds are not enough. When it was the right moment they spoke to him about Dhamma, in order to help him to have right understanding about his life.

In the 'Discourse on the Analysis of the Undefiled' (Aranavibhanga-sutta, Majjhima Nikaya III, Vibhanga-vagga) we read that the Buddha told his disciples that they should not say of other people that they are walking the right path or the wrong path. They should neither approve of people nor disapprove of them but teach which cause brings which effect. They should simply teach Dhamma. Dhamma means everything that is real. The Buddha helped people to develop right understanding about everything one can experience, no matter whether it is good or bad.

If one wants to eliminate defilements one should first understand what are akusala cittas and what are kusala-cittas and be aware of them when they arise. Only when we can be aware of cittas when they appear will we know them as they are. We will not know cittas by speculation. As we have seen, a citta does not last. It arises and then falls away immediately to be followed by the next citta. There is only one citta at a time. Life consists of an unbroken series of cittas, arising and falling away continuously. There is no moment without citta. There are many kinds of cittas which perform different functions such as seeing, hearing and thinking. Moreover there are akusala cittas and kusala cittas. An akusala cittaand a kusala citta cannot arise at the same moment since there can be only one citta at a time. However, akusala cittas and kusala cittas might arise with very few moments in between, even during the time one is doing a good deed. When the kusala citta has fallen away, regret about one's good deed might arise. This is akusala.

In the 'Channovada-sutta' mentioned above we read that the monk Channa suffered severe pains. As he could not stand the pains any longer he committed suicide. The Buddha knew that before the moment of his death Channa had kusala cittas after the akusala cittas which moved him to perform this unwholesome deed. He was able to purify himself of defilements after his deed. The Buddha said therefore: 'He took the knife to himself without incurring blame.' We do not know about the citta of someone else merely from the outward appearance of his deeds, because we do not know each different moment of citta. We can only know with regard to ourselves at which moments akusala cittas or kusala cittas arise.

Akusala cittas can be rooted in three different unwholesome 'roots', or 'akusala hetus'. They are:

- attachment (in Pali, 'lobha')
- aversion or ill-will (in Pali, 'dosa')
- ignorance (in Pali, 'moha')

By the word 'root' is meant the foundation of the citta. The root is the foundation of the citta just as the root of a tree supports the tree and makes it grow. There are many different degrees of these three akusala hetus.

All akusala cittas are caused by moha or ignorance. Ignorance is, for example, not knowing what is unwholesome and what is wholesome, and not knowing which cause brings which result in life. There are many intensities of moha. An animal has a great deal of moha; it does not realize at all what it is doing, it does not know how to cultivate wholesomeness. however, not only animals have moha: human beings can have a great deal of moha as will. There is moha when one does not realize one's bodily movements, as for example, when one plays with one's fork and spoon, or when one stands up and walks to the other side of the room without being aware of the movement of the body. Moha can only be completely eradicated when one has attained the fourth and last stage of enlightenment, when one has become an 'arahat'.

When lobha (attachment) arises together with moha, the citta is called a 'lobha-mula-citta', or a citta rooted in attachment. (Mula means root; it is the same as 'hetu'.) At that moment there is not only moha, which is common to all akusala cittas, but there is lobha as well. A lobha-mula-citta has moha and lobha as roots; it is different from the citta which is rooted only in moha, the ignorance about realities. Lobha can be greed, lust, selfish desire, and it can be a very subtle form of attachment as well, a form of attachment one can hardly recognize if one does not yet have the right understanding.

Lobha can be accompanied by a pleasant feeling. For instance, when we enjoy beautiful music there is a lobha-mula-citta. Then the citta is akusala, although this kind of lobha is not as gross as greed or lust. One might be inclined to think that whenever there is a pleasant feeling, the citta which is accompanied by this feeling must be a kusala citta. However, when there is a pleasant feeling, the citta can either be a kusala citta or an akusala citta. For instance, when we feel happy while doing a good deed, the citta is a kusala cittawith a pleasant feeling. When we feel happy because of beautiful music or a beautiful view, the citta is akusala: it is a lobha-mula-citta with a pleasant feeling. We can be deluded about the truth very easily. We find feeling so important that we cannot see anything else. We are unable to see whether the citta is akusala or kusala because we think only of the feeling at that moment.

Lobha-mula-cittas can be accompanied either by a pleasant feeling or by an indifferent feeling. When we want to do something such as standing up, walking, taking hold of an object, the lobha-mula-cittas which arise are accompanied by an indifferent feeling. We do not, usually, have a happy feeling when we stand up or when we reach for a glass of water. We cannot help having lobha very often. All people except arahats are bound to have lobha.

The Buddha did not speak to those who still have defilements in terms of 'sin' or 'punishment'. The Buddha pointed out everything which is real and he explained which cause would bring which effect. The bad deeds one does will bring about their own results, just as a seed produces a tree. This is the law of 'kamma' and 'vipaka', of cause and effect. The Buddha explained to his disciples that they should neither approve of people nor disapprove of them; they should simply teach Dhamma. Thus one will know what is real. Lobha is real and one should therefore know what lobha is, what its characteristic is, and when it arises.

Another unwholesome root is dosa, or aversion. When the cittawhich arises is accompanied by dosa and moha, the citta is called 'dosa-mula-citta', or a citta rooted in dosa. At that moment there is not only moha, which is common to all akusala cittas, but there is dosa as will. dosa appears in its coarsest form as anger or ill-will. There is dosa when one hurts or kills a living being, when one speaks harsh words, or when one curses. Dosa is always accompanied by an unpleasant feeling.

There are more subtle forms of dosa as well: dosa can be a slight aversion when we see or hear something unpleasant, or when we are in a bad mood. Dosa can be recognized by the feeling which accompanies it. Even when there is a very vague feeling of uneasiness we can be sure there is dosa. Dosa arises quite often in a day. We cannot help having dosa when there is a loud noise or an ugly sight.

There are three 'wholesome roots' or 'sobhana hetus', which are the opposite of the akusala hetus. They are:

- non-attachment ('alobha')
- kindness ('adosa')
- wisdom ('amoha' or 'panna')

Kusala cittas are not accompanied by lobha, dosa or moha. They are always accompanied by alobha and adosa but not always by panna. Thus a cittacan be kusala without wisdom (panna). One can, for example, help other people without understanding that helping is kusala and that wholesome deeds bring wholesome results. However, when there is panna the citta is more wholesome. If one observes the precepts only because they are rules, prescribed in the teachings, without any understanding of the reasons for those precepts, ill deeds can be suppressed for some time. However, if the temptations are too strong the precepts will be broken. If one has understanding about unwholesome and wholesome deeds and knows the effect of those deeds, one will not break the precepts very easily. We can develop more wholesomeness in understanding realities and their causes and effects.

Everyone, except the arahat, has both akusala cittas and kusala cittas. Each cittaarises when there are the right conditions. Cittas cannot arise without conditions. It depends on many conditions whether there will be an akusala citta or a kusala citta. We have all accumulated conditions for both unwholesomeness and wholesomeness. If the present citta is unwholesome one accumulates a condition for more unwholesomeness and if the present citta is wholesome one accumulates a condition for more wholesomeness. For example, if we have a slight feeling of aversion, there is a dosa-mula-citta. If dosa-mula-cittas occur quite often, we accumulate dosa; dosa might become a habit. If the dosa which is accumulated becomes a strong habit, it could easily be the condition for unwholesome deeds and unwholesome speech.

One may wonder how one can accumulate unwholesomeness and wholesomeness, as each citta which arises falls away completely. Each citta which arises does fall away completely but it conditions the next citta. That is the reason why the next citta has the accumulations of the previous citta as well. If we understand how different the accumulation of people are we will be less inclined to blame other people when they do wrong. We will try to help them to have right understanding about accumulations. If we have more understanding about the conditions which make us act the way we do we will be able to lead a more wholesome life.

One may wonder what the Buddha taught about the will or the intention which motivates ill deeds and good deeds. Is there on 'free will' which can direct one's actions, speech and thoughts? When we think of 'free will', we generally think of a 'self' which could have control over our decisions to do good or to do wrong. However, cittas arise because of conditions; there is no 'self' which can let cittas arise at will.

The Pali term 'kamma' literally means action. In reality kamma is intention or volition. It's not that which is generally understand by 'free will'. Kamma does not stay, it arises and falls away with each citta. One cannot say that it is 'self' or that it belongs to a 'self'. Kamma is volition which motivates good or bad deeds. For example, there is akusala kamma through the body if one hits someone; there is akusala kamma through speech if one speaks harsh words or if one curses someone; and there is akusala kamma through the mind if one has the intention to take away something which belongs to someone else, or if one plans to kill someone.

The Buddha taught that everyone will experience the result of the kamma he has performed; one will reap what one has sown. Kamma is the cause which produces its result. The result is called 'vipaka'. Akusala kamma will bring an unpleasant result, or akusala vipaka citta; kusala kamma will bring a pleasant result, or kusala vipaka citta.

People are born with different characters and in different circumstances. In the 'Discourse on the Lesser Analysis of deeds' (Culakammavibhaga-sutta, Majjhima Nikaya III, Vibhagavagga) we read that Subha asks the Buddha what the reason is for these differences:

'Now, good Gotama, what is the cause, what is the reason that lowness and excellence to be seen among human beings while they are in human form? For, good Gotama, human beings of short lifespan are to be seen and those of long lifespan; those of many and those of few illness; those who are ugly, those who are beautiful; those of great account; those who are of little account, those of great account; those who are poor, those who are wealthy; those who are of lowly families, those of high families; those who are weak in wisdom, those who are full of wisdom.'

The Buddha answered Subha:

'Deeds are one's own, brahman youth, beings are heirs to deeds.... Deed divides beings, that is say by lowness and excellence.'

Not only birth in a certain plane of existence and in certain surroundings is the result of kamma. All through our life we receive unpleasant and pleasant results. Everyone would like to experience only pleasant things through eyes, ears, noses, tongue and body sense. However, everybody is bound to experience both unpleasant and pleasant things through the five senses, because everyone has performed both akusala kamma and kusala kamma.

A deed which we have performed may produce a result shortly afterwards, or it may produce a result a long time afterwards. We should remember that intention, or kamma, which motivates the deed is a mental phenomenon and that it can therefore be accumulated. Thus it can bring about its result later on. The Buddha taught that the akusala kamma and the kusala kamma we have accumulated all through our life and during countless existences before this life, will produce their results when there are the right conditions for the result to be produced. The vipaka-citta is the result of kamma. When we see unpleasant things, there is at that moment akusala-vipaka, which is the result of akusala kamma. This akusala vipaka citta receives an unpleasant object through the eyes. When we see pleasant things the kusala vipaka citta, which the result of the kusala kamma, receives an unpleasant object through the eyes. When we hear pleasant things the kusala vipaka citta which which is the result of kusala kamma receives a pleasant object through the ears. there is vipaka every time we see, hear, smell, taste, or receive an impression through body-contact. We cannot help there being vipaka; we cannot help seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and receiving impressions through bodily contact. Each citta, and thus each vipaka citta, has its own conditions; nobody can make cittas arise at will. Which particular vipaka citta will arise at the present moment is beyond control. When one does good deeds one can be sure that those deeds will bring a pleasant result, but the moment when the result will take place depends on other conditions as well.

The akusala vipaka citta that experiences an unpleasant object through the eyes, is not the same as the akusala vipaka citta that experiences an unpleasant object through the ears. There is not a 'self' which experiences different unpleasant and pleasant objects through the five senses. Each citta has its own conditions and is different from all other cittas. The more one realizes this truth, the less one will be inclined to believe in a 'self'.

The vipaka cittas arise and fall away within split seconds, like all other types of citta. After the vipaka-cittas have fallen away another type of citta arises; for example, a citta which likes or dislike the object, that is, a lobha-mula-citta or dosa-mula-citta. If people do not know the different type of citta, they may be inclined to think that like or dislike are still vipaka. However, like and dislike arise after the vipaka-cittas have fallen away; they are not the result of kamma. A lobha-mula-citta or a dosa-mula-citta is not vipaka citta, but akusala citta.

Different types of cittas succeed one another very rapidly. For example, when we hear a harsh sound, the vipaka-citta arises at the moment the sound is perceived through the ears and then falls away immediately. The moments of vipaka are very short. After that there might be akusala-cittas. For instance, dislike of the sound might arise, and this follows so closely that it seems to occur at the same moment as the hearing. In reality these citta do not arise at the same moment. Each citta has its own function. A vipaka citta is the result of former akusala kamma or kusala kamma. The like or dislike after the vipaka is unwholesome. We should realize that akusala cittas accumulate and thus only lead to more akusala.

There are many times when we might not know at which moment there is vipaka and at which moment there is akusala citta, because we find our feelings about the thing we experience so important. The pleasant feeling which accompanies the dosa-mula-citta can be so strong that we are carried away by our feelings. Thus we cannot see things as they are.

Part of our life is spent in receiving pleasant or unpleasant results and part of our life is spent in performing unwholesome and wholesome deeds which will condition our behavior in the future and which will also condition the results we will receive in the future. If we understand more about vipaka, which is the result of our own deeds, it will help us to cope with the unpleasant results in our life. We will not blame other people for unpleasant vipaka we receive, because kamma is the real cause of vipaka. We will give in less to our feelings concerning vipaka when we know the different cittas which arise at different moments.

Indeed, the Buddha showed his great compassion in teaching people to understand reality, in teaching them Dhamma.


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Source: Dhamma Study Group, http://www.dhammastudy.com

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updated: 17-11-2001