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Buddhist Outlook on Daily Life

Nina van Gorkom


Mental Development

The Buddha said that one should realize the impermanence of all things. Everybody is subject to old age, sickness and death. All thins are susceptible to change. What one is enjoying today may be changed tomorrow. Many people do not want to face this turth; they are too attached to the pleasant things which one can enjoy through eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body-sense. They do not realize that these things are not true happiness.

The Buddha cured people's ignorance by helping them to have right understanding about their life; the taught them Dhamma. The Buddha taught different ways of developing wholesomeness: dana or generosity, sila or morality, and bhavana or mental develpment. Bhavana is a way of kusala kamma which is on a higher level, because wisdom is developed through bhavana.

One may wonder why wisdom (in Pali, panna) is necessary. The answer is that only rnderstanding things as they are can eleminate ignorance. Out of ignorance people take what is unwholesome for wholesome. ignorance causes sorrow. The Buddha always helped people to have right understanding about their different cittas. He explained what akusala cittas are in order that people could develop more wholesomeness.

One can verfy in one's daily life that the Buddha taught the truth. His teachings are true not only for Buddhists, but for everybody, no matter what race or nationality he is or what religion he professes. Attachment or greed (in Pali, lobha), anger or aversion (in Pali, dosa), and ignorance (in Pali, moha) are common to everybody, not only to Buddhists. Should not everyone eradicate lobha, dosa and moha?

People do not always realize that lobha, dosa and moha lead to sorrow. They may recognize unwholesomeness when it is coarse, but not when it is more subtle. For example, they may know that the citta is unwholesome when lobha is as coarse as greed or lust, but not when it is more subtle, such as when there is attachment to beautiful things or to dear people. Why is it unwholesome to have attachment to one's relatives and friends?  It is true that we cannot help having lobha, but we should realize that attachment is not the same as pure loving-kindness, there can be moments of attachment too. Attachment is not wholesome; it will sooner or later bring unhappiness. Although people may not like to see this truth, they will one day experience that lobha brings unhappiness. Through death we are bound to lose people who are dear to us.

And when sickness or old age affect our sense faculties we may no longer be able to enjoy beautiful things through eyes and ears.

If we do not have the right understanding of the realities of life we will not know how to bear the loss of dear people. We read in the 'Udana' (Khuddaka Nikaya, Udana, Chapter VIII, Pataligama, par. 8) that Visakha lost her granddaughter. She came to see the Buddha with 'wet clothes and wet hair.'  The Buddha said to her:

'Why, Visakha! How is it that you come here with clothes and hair still wet at an unseasonable hour?'

  'O, sir, my dear and lovely granddaughter is dead!  That is why I come here with hair anc clothes still wet at an unseasonable hour.'

  'Visakha, would you like to have as many sons and grandsons as there are men in Savatthi?'

  'Yes, sir, I would indeed!'

  'But how many men do you suppose die daily in Savatthi?'

  'Ten, sir, or maybe nine, or eight. Maybe seven, six, five or four, three, two; maybe one a day dies in Savatthi, sir. Savatthi is never free from men dying, sir.'

  'What think you, Visakha?  In such case would you ever be without wet hair and clothes?'

  'Surely not, sir! Enough for me, sir, of so many sons and grandsons!'

  'Visakha, whoso have a hundred things beloved, they have a hundred sorrows. Whoso have ninety, eighty...thirty, twenty things beloved ... whoso have ten ... whoso have but one thing beloved, have but one sorrow. Whoso have no one thing beloved, they have no sorrow. Sorrowless are they are passionless. Serene are they, I declare.'

People who see that it is unwholesome to be enslaved by attachment to people and to things around themselves, want to develop more understanding of realities through bhavana (mental development). Studying the Buddha's teachings and explaining them to others is kusala kamma of the kind of bhavana. In studying the teachings panna will be developed. If we want to understand what the Buddha taught it is essential to read the Buddha's teachings as they have come down to us at the present time in the 'Three Collections'; the 'Vinaya', the 'Suttanta' and the 'Abhidhamma'. Study alone, however, is not enough. We should experience the truth of Dhamma in daily life. Only then will we know things as they really are. Teaching Dhamma to other people is kusala kamma of a high degree. In this way one not only helps other people to have more understanding about their life, one develops one's own understanding as well. Teaching Dhamma is the most effective way of helping other people to find true happiness.

Another way of kusala kamma included in bhavana is tranquil meditation or 'samatha bhavana'. In samatha one concentrates on one object of meditation in order to purify oneself of lobha, dosa and moha. When one is more advanced in concentration one can attain different stages of jhana or absorption-concentration. The jhanacittas are kusala cittas; when the citta is jhanacitta there is no lobha, dosa or moha. At the moment of jhana one develops kusala kamma. Jhana is not the same as the trance which might be experienced after taking certain drugs. Those who take drugs want to obtain the desired end in an easy way and their action is prompted by lobha. Those who apply themselves to samatha have the sincere wish to purify themselves of lobha, dosa and moha; they do not look for sensational or thrilling experiences.

Samatha can purify the mind, but it cannot eradicate unwholesome latent tendencies. When the citta is not jhanacitta, lobha, dosa and moha can arise again. The person who applies himself to samatha cannot eradicate the belief in a self, and as long as there is the concept of self, defilements cannot be eradicated.

The concept of self can only be eradicated through vipassana. Vipassana or 'insight meditation' is another way of kusala kamma included in bhavana. In vipassana, ignorance about reality is eliminated. One learns to see things as they are in being aware, for example, when one sees, hears, smells, tastes, when one receives impressions through body-sense or when one thinks. When we experience that all things are only nama and rupa which arise and fall away, we will cling less to nama and rupa, and we will be less inclined to take them for self.

What is the reason that we are all inclined to cling to a self? The reason is that because of our ignorance we do not know things as they really are. When one hears a sound, one is ignorant of the different phenomena which occur during the moment one is hearing that sound. One thinks that it is a self who is hearing. However, it is not a self who is hearing; it is a citta which hears the sound. Citta is a mental phenomena, it is nama, that is, the reality which experiences something. The citta which hears experiences the sound. Sound itself does not experience anything. Sound and ear-sense are conditios for hearing. Ear-sense is rupa as well. One may wonder whether it is true that ear-sense does not experience anything. Ear-sense is a kind of rupa in the ear which has the capacity to receive sound, but it does not experience the sound. It is only a condition for the nama which experience the sound. Each citta has its own conditions through which it arises. Seeing has eye-sense as the physical condition and color as the object. There is no self which performs different functions such as seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, receiving impressions through body-sense and thinking. These are different namas each of which arises because of its own conditions.

We read in the 'Greater Discourse on the Destruction of Craving' (Mahatankhasankhaya-sutta, majjhima Nikaya I, Mahayamaka-vagga) that the monk Sati had a misconception about the Buddha's teaqchings. He understood from the Buddha's teachings that consciousness stays, and that it is one and the same consciousness which speaks, feels, and experiences the results of good and bad deeds. Several monks heard about Sati's wrong view. After they had tried in vain to dissuade him from his wrong view, they spoke to the Buddha about him. The Buddha summoned Sati and said to him:

'Is it true, as is said, that a pernicious view like this has accrued to you, Sati: "In so far as I understand Dhamma taught by the Lord it is that this consciousness itself runs on, fares on, not another"?'

  'Even so do I, Lord, understand Dhamma taught by the Lord: it is this consciousness itself that runs on, fares on, not another.'

  'What is this consciousness, Sati?'

  'It is this, Lord, that speaks, that feels, that experiences now here, now there, the fruition of deeds that are lovely and that are depraved.'

  'But to whom, foolish man, do you understand that Dhamma was taught by me thus?  Foolish man, has not consciousness generated by conditions been spoken of in many a figure by me, saying: "Apart from condition there is no origination of consciousness"?  But now you, foolish man, not only misrepresent me beacuse of your own grasp, but you also injure yourself and give rise to much demerit which, foolish man, will be for your woe and sorrow for a long time.'

  ... Then the Lord addressed the monks, saying:

  'Do you, monks, understand that Dhamma was taught by me thus so that this monk Sati, a fisherman's son, because of his own wrong grasp not only misrepresents me but is also injuring himself and giving rise to much demerit?'

  'No, Lord. For in many a figure has consciousness generated by conditions been spoken of to us by the Lord, saying: "Apart from condition there is no origination of consciousness."'

  'It is good, monks, it is good that you understand thus Dhamma taught by me to you, monks. For in many a figure has consciousness generated by conditions been spoken of by me to you, monks, saying: "Apart from condition there is no origination of consciousness."

 ... It is because, monks, an appropriate condition arises that consciousnes sis known by this or that name: if consciousness is know by this or that name: if consciousness arises because of eye and material shapes, it is known as seeing-consciousness; if consciousness arises because of ear and sounds it is known as hearing-consciousness; if consciousness arises because of nose and smells, it is known as smelling-consciousness; if consciousness arises because of tongue and tastes, it is known as tasting-consciousness; if consciousness arises because of body and touches, it is known as tactile-consciousness; if consciousness arises because of mind and mental objects, it is known as mental consciousness. Monks, as a fire burns because of this or that appropriate condition, by that it is known: if a fire burns because of sticks, it is known as a stick-fire; and if a fire burns because of chips, it is known as a chip-fire; and if a fire burns because of grass, it is known as a grass-fire; and if a fire burns because of cowdung, it is known as a cowdung-fire ... Even so, monks, when because of a condition appropriate to it consciousness arises, it is known by this or that name ...'

Thinking about different kinds of nama and rupa and the conditions through which they arise will help us to have right understanding about them. However, it is not the same as the direct experience of the truth. We will know what nama and rupa really are when we can experience their different characteristics as they appear through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body-sense and mind.

Nama and rupa succeed one another so rapidly that we do not realize that there are different nama-units and different rupa units. For example, only perceiving sound is a moment which is different from liking or disliking the sound. Knowing what the thing is that is heard, is again a different moment. We are often inclined to find the citta which likes or the citta which dislikes so important that we do not notice the characteristic of the nama or rupa which appears at that moment. Thus we cannot see things as they are; we think that there is a self which likes or dislikes. Like and dislike are only namas arising because of conditions; like and dislike depend on one's accumulations. There are conditions for each citta; there is no self which can let any citta arise at this or at that moment.

We take not only mental phenomena for self, we take tha body for self as well. However, the body consists of nothing but different rupa-elements which arise and fall away. There are many different kinds of rupa. The rupas which can be directly experienced through body-sense are: hardness, softness, heat, cold, motion and pressure. These rupas can be directly experienced through body-sense, there is no need to think about them or to name them. The direct experience of rupas whenever they appear is the only way to know that they are different rupas and that we cannot take them for self.

We should be aware of different characteristic of nama and rupa as they appear through the five sense-doors and through the mind-door. Nama and rupa which we do not know, we take for self. For example, we are not used to being aware of seeing. Seeing is the nama which just perceives colour through the eyes. This type of nama is real and thus it can be experienced. Before one knows what one sees there must be a moment of just perceiving colour through the eyes. One is used to paying attention only to the object one sees, and thus one cannot experience the nama which perceives colour and which arises before the other types of nama which like or dislike or which think about the object in different ways. If one is ignorant of seeing, one takes seeing for self. It is the same with hearing, which is just the perceiving of  sound. If we realize that there should be awareness of the nama and rupa we have not yet been aware of, there will be awareness of these realities more often.

In the beginning we will be inclined to remind ourselves of different namas and rupas until we are used to them. When hearing arises we may remind ourselves that this nama is a reality which just perceives sound through the ears. When we are used to the characteristic of hearing we will realize that it is different from thinking and from other types of nama. We will realize that it is different from rupa. Thus we will be less inclined to take hearing for self.

We can be aware of only one characteristic of nama or rupa at a time. For example, when one hears, there are both hearing and sound, but one cannot be aware of hearing and sound at the same moment. There can be awareness of sound at one moment and of hearing at another moment, and thus one will gradually learn that their characteristics are different.

Only if we learn to be aware of the nama or rupa which appears at the present moment will we see things as they are. Thinking about nama and rupa, reminding ourselves of them or naming realities 'nama' and 'rupa', is still not the direct experience of reality. If we are thinking about nama and rupa in stead of directly experiencing their characteristics, we are clinging to them and we will not become detached from the idea of self. It is beyond control which characteristic presents itself at which moment. We cannot change the reality which has appeared already. We should not htink that there must be awareness of hearing first and after that of thinking about what we heard. Different realities will appear at different moments depending on conditions.

In the beginning we are not able to experience the arising and falling away of nama and rupa. We should just be aware of whatever characteristic of nama or rupa presents itself. When, for exampke. smelling appears, we cannot help smelling. At that moment we should just experience that characteristic, without making any special effort. There is no need to think about it or to remind ourselves that it is smelling, or that it is nama.

It is essential to realize that awareness is a type of nama as well, which can only arise when there are the right conditions. There is no self which is aware or which can have awareness arise at will. Right understanding of the practice of vipassana is a condition for the arising of awareness. When the right understanding has been developed awareness will arise more often. After a moment of awareness there will be a long time without awareness, or there will be moments when we are only thinking about nama and rupa. In the beginning there cannot be a great deal of awareness, but even a short moment of right awareness can help us very much in daily life.

The panna developed in the direct experience of reality is of a higher degree than the panna developed through thinking about reality or the panna developed in samatha. Vipassana is kusala kamma of a very high degree, because vipassana leads to detachment from the concept of self and to the eradication of all defilements. If there is less lobha, dosa and moha, it is for the happiness of the whole world as well.

In the 'Anguttara Nikaya' (Book of the Nine, Chapter II, par. x, Velama) we read that the Buddha spoke to Anathapindika about different degrees of wholesome deeds which bring their fruits accordingly. We read that the Buddha said:

...though with pious heart he took refue in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, greater would have been the fruit thereof, had he with pious heart undertaken to keep the precepts: abstention from taking life ... from intoxicating liquor, the cause of sloth.

  ... though with pious heart he undertook to keep these precepts, greater would have ben the fruit thereof, had he made become a mere passing fragrance of loving-kindness.

  ... though he made become just the fragrance of loving-kindness, greater would have been fruit thereof, had he made become, just for a finger-snap, the perception of impermanence.

The perception of impermanence is developed when there is a moment of right awareness of nama or rupa. One might be sureprised that the perception of impermanence is more fruitful than other kinds of wholesome deeds. In the practice of vipassana we will see how right awareness can change our life and our actions. In being aware we make the best of our life. The time will come when we have to leave this world because of old age, sickness or accident. Is it not better to take leave of the world with full understanding of what things are than to part from the world with aversion and fear?


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

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updated: 17-11-2001