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 4 - Ignorance And Illusion

Truth and falsehood are mutually exclusive. If you do not know the truth, you accept falsehood and vice versa. Those who do not know the Four Noble Truths have misconceptions about dukkha which, posing as sukha, deceive and oppress them.

Apart from tanha which, when gratified affords pleasure, everything in the sensual world is real dukkha. All sense objects are subject to ceaseless flux and unreliable. Yet to the ignorant person they appear to be good and pleasant. They make him nostalgic about what they regard as their happy days in the past and optimistic about their future. Because of their misconception, they long for what they consider to be the good things in life. This is the cause of their dukkha but they do not realize it. On the contrary they think that their happiness depends on the fulfilment of their desires. So they see nothing wrong with their desire for sensual pleasure. In fact, the truths about the end of dukkha and the way to it are foreign to most people. Some who learn these truths from others or accept them intellectually do not appreciate them. They do not care for Nibbana or the way to it. They think that the way is beset with hardships and privations.

The hope for happiness is the mainspring of human action. Actions in deed, speech or thought are called kamma or sankhara. We have referred to three kinds of sankhara, the two kinds of good kamma comprising the first sankhara, viz., the eight good kammas in the sensual world and the good kammas in the material world; we have also mentioned two kinds of good kamma or consciousness, viz., one associated with intelligence and the other divorced from intelligence. In the practice of vipassana the yogis mind is intelligent if it becomes aware of the real nature of nama rupa (anicca, dukkha, anatta), through contemplation. It is not intelligent if it means little more than the recitation of Pali words and superficial observation. In ordinary morality a sense of moral values is intelligent if it is associated with the belief in the law of kamma.

Some people say that an intelligent act of dana must involve the contemplation of the anicca, dukkha and anatta of the donor, the recipient and the offering. This view is based on Atthasalini (a commentary on Abhidhammapitaka) which mentions the contemplation on the impermanence of everything after giving alms. But the reference is to contemplation after the act of dana, not before or while doing it. Moreover, the object is not to make the act intelligent but to create wholesome kamma in vipassana practice. If by intelligent dana is meant only the dana that pre supposes such contemplation, all the other dana of non Buddhists would have to be dubbed unintelligent acts and it is of course absurd to do so.

The accounts of alms giving by bodhisattas make no mention of contemplation nor did the Buddha insist on it as a pre requisite to an act of dana. The scriptures say only that the kammic potential of dana depends on the spiritual level of the recipient and this is the only teaching that we should consider in alms giving. If the donor and the recipient were to be regarded as mere nama rupa subject to anicca, etc., they would be on equal footing. The act of dana would then lack inspiration and much kammic potential.

In fact the object of alms giving is not vipassana contemplation but the benefits accruing to the donor. So the Buddha points out the would be recipients who can make dana immensely beneficial and the importance of right reflection (belief in kamma).

On one occasion Visakha, the lay woman asked the Buddha for lifelong permission to make eight kinds of offering to the Sangha; these were (1) bathing garments for the bhikkhus, (2) food for guest monks, (3) food for travelling monks, (4) food for sick monks, (5) food for the monk who attended on a sick monk, (6) medicine for the sick monk, (7) rice gruel for the Sangha and (8) bathing garments for the bhikkhunis. The Buddha asked Visakha what benefits she hoped to have in offering such things and the substance of Visakhas reply is as follows.

“At the end of the lent, the bhikkhus from all parts of the country will come to see the Buddha. They will tell the Lord about the death of certain monks and ask him about their rebirth and stages on the holy path that they (the deceased monks) had attained. The Lord will reveal their spiritual attainments. I will then approach the visiting monks and ask them whether their late fellow monks had ever visited Savatthi city. If they say yes, I will conclude that the Noble one who is now at the sotapanna or any other stage on the holy path must have certainly used one of my offerings. This remembrance of my good kamma will fill me with joy. It will be conducive to peace, tranquillity and self development.”

Here it is worthy of note that the reference is not to the contemplation on the impermanence of the namarupa of the deceased monks but to the spiritual attainments that distinguished them in afterlife. Importance is attached to the contemplation that leads to ecstasy and training in self development. Hence, the most appropriate object of contemplation in doing dana is the noble attributes of the recipient such as the noble character of the Buddha when laying flowers at the shrine, the holy life of the bhikkhu when offering food and so forth.

Preaching or hearing the dhamma is a wholesome kamma and it is an intelligent act if the dhamma is understood. Every good deed based on the belief in kamma is an intelligent kamma. Without the belief, a good act is wholesome but unintelligent as are the good acts of some children who imitate the elders and worship the Buddha image and the good acts of some people who reject the belief in kamma but are helpful, polite and charitable.

The five material wholesome dhammas (rupakusala dhamma) are those associated with five jhanas. They are accessible only through the practice of samatha that leads to jhana. The eight wholesome dhammas and the five material wholesome dhammas form the punnabhisankhara. Apunnabhisankhara or unwholesome kammas number twelve in terms of consciousness. Here sankhara means volition (cetana). Of the twelve unwholesome sankharas eight are based on greed, two on anger and two on ignorance.

The greed based (lobha mula) consciousness is of eight kinds viz., four with joy and attachment and four without joy, but with attachment (upekkha sahagutta). Of the first four kinds two are bound up with belief and, of the two with the belief or without the belief, one is non spontaneous (sasankharika) and the other is spontaneous (asankharika). Belief is of three kinds, viz., belief in ego entity, belief in immortality of ego, and belief in annihilation of the ego without there being any kammic effect of good or bad deeds.

Few people are free from the belief in ego entity. The belief dominates those who do not know that life is a nama rupa process without a soul or a being. The belief is weak among those who have some knowledge of Buddhist scriptures but their bookish knowledge does not help them to overcome it completely. The yogis who have had a clear insight into the nature of nama rupa through contemplation are usually free from the belief. Yet they may hark back to the belief if they stop contemplating before they attain the path. As for the common people, the ego belief is deep rooted, making them think that it is the self or the ego which is the agent of whatever they do or feel or think. Again those who believe in total extinction after death and reject the idea of future life and kamma have unwholesome consciousness that is bound up with nihilistic beliefs.

Hatred based (dosa mula) consciousness comprises doubt and restlessness. Doubts about the Buddha, Nibbana, anatta and so forth are labelled vicikiccha.

Hatred based consciousness is of two kinds, viz., voluntary consciousness and involuntary consciousness. But there are many kinds of hatred such as anger, envy, anxiety, grief, fear and so forth. Ignorance based (moha mula) consciousness comprises doubt and restlessness. Doubts about the Buddha, Nibbana, anatta and so forth are labelled vicikiccha. The mind is subject to doubt (uddhacca) when it wanders here and there restlessly.

Thus apunnabhisankhara means the eight greed based mental factors, two hatred based mental factors and two ignorance based mental factors. It is opposed to punnabhisankhara. It serves to purify nama rupa, leads to good rebirth with good kammic results whereas the other defiles the nama rupa process and leads to bad rebirth with bad kammic results.

People do evil deeds for their welfare. They kill, steal, rob or give false evidence at court for their wellbeing. Even those who kill their parents do so to achieve their own ends. For example, prince Ajatasattu killed his father to become king. Misguided by his teacher Devadatta, he had concluded that he would be able to enjoy life as a king for a longer period if he could do away with his father and take his place. For his great evil of patricide and the murder of a sotapanna at that, he was seized with remorse and anxiety that caused him physical suffering as well. Later on, he was killed by his son and reborn in hell where he is now suffering terribly for his misdeed.

In the time of Kakusandha Buddha the Mara called Susi did his utmost to harm the Buddha and the Sangha. Failing to achieve his object, he possessed a man and stoned to death the chief disciple Arahat behind the Buddha. For this horrible crime he instantly landed in Avici hell, the lowest of the thirty one worlds of living beings. As a Mara he had lorded it over others but in Avici he lay prostrate under the heels of the guardians of hell. He had hoped to rejoice over the fulfilment of his evil desire, but now he had to suffer for his evil kamma. This is true of evil doers all over the world.

It is the hope for happiness also that forms the mainspring of other two types of action, viz., punnabhisankhara and anenjabhisankhara. Anenjabhisankhara means the four arupajhana kusaladhammas. Anenja means equanimity or self possession. A loud noise nearby may upset the equanimity (samapatti) of a yogi who is absorbed in rupa jhana. But arupa jhana is invulnerable to such distractions. Arupa jhana is of four kinds according as it relates to (1) sphere of unbounded space (akasanancayatana jhana), sphere of nothingness (akincannayatana jhana) and (4) sphere of neither perception nor non perception (nevasannanasannayatana jhana). These four jhanas are the sankharas that lead to the four arupa worlds. Apunnabhisankhara leads to the four lower worlds and punnabhisankhara leads to human, deva and rupa Brahma worlds.

People do these three kinds of kammas or sankharas for their welfare and as a result there arises vinnana or consciousness. With vinnana there also come into being nama rupa, salayatana, phassa, etc., of the new existence.

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