A Discourse on Paticcasamuppada

by Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw | 62,614 words

The Paticcasamuppada refers to “The Doctrine of Dependent Origination”. This is the English translation done by U Aye Maung Published by U Min Swe Buddhasasana Nuggaha Organization Rangoon, Burma....

Chapter 1 - Avijja Leads To Sankhara

To them sensual pleasure is the source of happiness, Nibbana as the extinction of nama rupa is undesirable and the way to it is arduous and painful. So they seek to gratify their desire through three kinds of action (kamma) viz., bodily action, verbal action and mental action. Some of these actions may be ethically good and some may be ethically bad. Some people will practise dana, etc. for their welfare hereafter, while some will resort to deceit or robbery to become rich.

A Pali synonym for kamma (action) is sankhara. Sankhara is also of three kinds, viz., sankhara by thought, sankhara by speech and sankhara by body. Sankhara pre supposes cetana (volition). The function of cetana is to conceive, to urge or to incite and as such it is the mainspring of all actions. It is involved in killing, alms giving, etc. The yogi knows its nature empirically through contemplation.

In another sense there are three kinds of sankharas, viz., punnabhi (wholesome) sankhara, with its good kammic result, apunnabhi (unwholesome) sankhara, with its bad kammic result and anenjabhi sankhara that leads to wholesome arupajhana which literally means immobile jhana. Rupajhana and all the good actions having the kammic results in the sensual world are to be classified as punnabhi sankhara. Punna literally means something that cleanses or purifies. Just as a man washes the dirt off his body with soap, so also we have to rid ourselves of kammic impurities through dana, sila and bhavana. These good deeds are conducive to welfare and prosperity in the present life and hereafter.

Another meaning of punna is the tendency to fulfil the desire of the doer of the good deed. Good deeds help to fulfil various human desires, e.g. the desire for health, longevity, wealth and so forth. If a good deed is motivated by the hope for Nibbana, it leads to a life that makes it possible to attain his goal or it may ensure his happiness and welfare till the end of his last existence. Abhisankhara is the effort to do something for ones own welfare. It tends to have good or evil kammic results. So punnabhi sankhara is good deed with good kammic result. There are eight types of good deed in sensual sphere (kamavacarakusala) and five types in fine material sphere (rupavacara). All these may be summed up as of three kinds, viz., dana, sila and bhavana.

Giving dana gladly means wholesome consciousness which is kammically very fruitful. So the donor should rejoice before, during and after the act of alms giving. In the scriptures, this kind of dana is credited with great kammic productivity. The attitude of the donor may also be one of indifference (upekkha) but, if the mind is clear, his act of dana too has high kammic potential Any act of alms giving that is based on the belief in kamma is rational and it may bear fruit in the form of rebirth with no predisposition to greed, ill will and ignorance. An act of dana that has nothing to do with a sense of its moral value or the belief in kammic result is good but unintelligent and it will lead to rebirth with no great intelligence. It may bear such kammic fruit in everyday life but it does not make the donor intelligent enough to attain the path in his next life.

Again one may do a good deed spontaneously without being urged by others (asankharika kusala); some do good deeds at the instigation of others (sasankharika kusala). Of these two kinds of good deeds, the former is kammically more fruitful than the latter. When we consider the four kinds of good deeds mentioned earlier in terms of these last two attributes, we have a total of eight types of wholesome consciousness in the sensual sphere. Whenever we do a good deed, we are prompted to do so by one of these kusala dhammas; when we practise concentration and meditation, we have to begin with these eight types of wholesome dhammas.

If it is bhavana that can lead to jhana, the yogi attains rupavacara jhana when his samadhi is well developed. Jhana means total concentration of mind on an object of mental training. Samatha jhana is concentration for bare tranquillity. Jhana samadhi is like the flame burning in still air. According to the Suttas, the rupavacara jhana has four levels; in Abhidhamma it has five levels.