A Survey of Paramattha Dhammas

by Sujin Boriharnwanaket | 129,875 words

A Survey of Paramattha Dhammas is a guide to the development of the Buddha's path of wisdom, covering all aspects of human life and human behaviour, good and bad. This study explains that right understanding is indispensable for mental development, the development of calm as well as the development of insight The author describes in detail all ment...

Chapter 2 - The Buddha

The Omniscient Buddha, the Exalted One, attained parinibbāna, his final passing away, between the twin Sāla trees in the Salwood, a place of recreation for the Mallas of the city of Kusināra. From then on the living beings in this world had no longer the opportunity to hear the teaching of the Dhamma directly from the Buddha himself. However, the Buddha left us the Dhamma and the Vinaya he had taught and laid down as our teacher, representing him after he had finally passed away[1] .

The measure of regard and respect Buddhists have for the Buddha’s excellent Dhamma is in accordance with the degree of their knowledge and understanding of the Dhamma and Vinaya. Even if a man would see the outward appearance of the Buddha, emanating his excellence, and hear the teaching of the Dhamma directly from him, or seize the hem of his garment and walk behind him step by step, but would not understand the Dhamma, he would not really see the Buddha. But if one sees and understands the Dhamma one is called a person who sees the Tathāgata[2] .

There are three levels of understanding of the Buddhist teachings, the Dhamma as taught by the omniscient Buddha, namely:

  1. the level of pariyatti or study of the Dhamma and Vinaya
  2. the level of paṭipatti or practice, the development of understanding of the Dhamma with the purpose to realize the Dhamma by which defilements are eradicated and the ceasing of dukkha is reached,
  3. the level of paṭivedha or penetration, the direct realization of the Dhamma by which defilements are eradicated and the ceasing of dukkha is reached.

The saying of the Buddha that whoever sees the Dhamma sees the Tathāgata, refers to the seeing and realization of the Dhamma the Buddha attained at the moment of his enlightenment. This is the Dhamma consisting of the nine supra-mundane or lokuttara Dhammas[3] . The direct realization of the Dhamma, which is the level of paṭivedha, is the result of the practice, paṭipatti, the development of the understanding of the Dhamma. The level of paṭipatti must depend on pariyatti, the study of the Dhamma and the Vinaya. The study is the refuge on which we are depending, it is the way leading step by step to the Dhamma of the level of paṭipatti, the practice, and then to the Dhamma of the level of paṭivedha, the realization.

The Dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha, has been preserved by memorizing and was passed on by oral tradition. It was recited from memory as heard from the disciples who were arahats and who had established the three parts of the teachings, called the Tipitaka at the first Council, held shortly after the Buddha’s parinibbāna in Rājagaha. The Dhamma was recited from memory and passed on until it was committed to writing in the first century B.C.

The Dhamma and Vinaya as established at the Council by the disciples who were arahats consists of three parts, namely:

  1. the Vinaya Piṭaka
  2. the Suttanta Piṭaka
  3. the Abhidhamma Piṭaka

The Vinaya Piṭaka concerns mostly the rules of conduct for the monks so that they could lead the "holy life" (brahma cariya[4] ) perfectly, to the highest degree. The Suttanta Piṭaka concerns mostly the principles of the Dhamma as preached to different people at different places. The Abhidhamma Piṭaka deals with the nature of Dhammas, realities, and their interrelation by way of cause and result.

The Buddha had realized through his enlightenment the true nature of all realities and also their interrelation by way of cause and effect. The Buddha explained the Dhamma which he had realized through his enlightenment in order to help other beings living in this world. In his incomparable wisdom, purity and compassion he explained the Dhamma from the time of his enlightenment until the time of his parinibbāna, his final passing away. The Buddha fulfilled the perfections in order to become the perfectly enlightened One, the Arahat, the Sammāsambuddha[5] . He was endowed with extraordinary accomplishments (in Pali: sampadā)[6] , and these were the "accomplishment of cause" (hetu), the "accomplishment of fruition" (phala) and the "accomplishment of assistance to other beings" (sattupakāra[7] ).

As regards the "accomplishment of cause", this is the fulfilment of the right cause, namely the perfections necessary to attain enlightenment and become the Sammāsambuddha.

As regards the "accomplishment of fruition", this is the attainment of four fruits or results which are the following accomplishments:

  1. The accomplishment of wisdom (ñāṇa sampadā), the wisdom arising with the path-consciousness, at the moment of his enlightenment[8]. This wisdom is the basis and root-cause of his omniscience and his ten powers[9] (dasa bala).
  2. The accomplishment of abandoning (pahāna sampadā). This is the complete eradication of all defilements, together with all accumulated tendencies to conduct which may not be agreeable, called in Pali: vāsanā. Vāsanā is conduct through body or speech, which may not be agreeable and has been accumulated in the past. This disposition can only be eradicated by a Sammāsambuddha[10] .
  3. The accomplishment of power (ānubhāva sampadā), which is the power to achieve what one aspires to.
  4. The accomplishment of physical excellence (rupa-kāya sampadā). This consists of the special bodily characteristics manifesting his excellent qualities accumulated in the past[11] and also, apart from these, other physical qualities, which were pleasing to the eye, impressive to all people and giving them joy.

When the cause, the perfections, has been fulfilled, it is the condition for the accomplishment of the fruition, the attainment of enlightenment and becoming the Sammāsambuddha. Not just for his own sake did he become the Sammāsambuddha and gained freedom from dukkha (suffering, inherent in the cycle of birth and death). He fulfilled the perfections in order to attain enlightenment and acquire omniscience of the Dhamma so that he could teach the Dhamma to the living beings in this world who could thereby also become liberated from dukkha. If the Buddha had fulfilled the perfections in order to eradicate defilements and to become freed from dukkha only for his own sake, he could not be called the Sammāsambuddha.

There are two kinds of Buddha:

  1. the Sammāsambuddha
  2. and the Pacceka Buddha or "Silent Buddha"[12] .

As regards the Sammāsambuddha, he is someone who has realized by his profound wisdom, all by himself, the truths concerning all Dhammas which he had never heard before, and has attained omniscience of those Dhammas as well as mastery of special powers in the field of knowledge.

As regards the Pacceka Buddha, he is someone who by himself has thoroughly realized the truths concerning all Dhammas which he had never heard before, but who has not attained omniscience of them nor mastery of special powers in the field of knowledge.

Thus, the cause, the fulfillment of the perfections, brings its result which is the attainment of Buddhahood accordingly. Cause and result are different in the case of the Sammāsambuddha and of the Pacceka Buddha.

The third accomplishment of the Buddha regards the assistance to living beings (sattupākara). This is the accomplishment of constant assistance to the living beings of this world because of his disposition and his effort to do so. He wanted to help even people of evil character such as Devadatta[13] . In the case of people whose faculty of understanding was not yet strong enough the Buddha waited with the teaching of Dhamma until the time was ripe for them. He taught Dhamma with the sole purpose to help people to gain freedom from all dukkha, without any consideration of gaining possessions, honor and so on for himself.

When the Sammāsambuddha had fulfilled the accomplishment of cause and the accomplishment of fruition, he was ready to help those who were receptive of his teaching be freed from dukkha, and this was the accomplishment of assistance to other beings. Thus, he was the Sammāsambuddha because he fulfilled the three accomplishments of cause, of fruition and of assistance to other beings.

Therefore, the Dhamma which the Sammāsambuddha taught is the Dhamma he completely penetrated when he attained enlightenment. Through the realization of the Dhamma at the time of his enlightenment his defilements were completely eradicated. The Buddha taught the Dhamma he had realized himself so that those who practiced the Dhamma accordingly would also become free from defilements.

The followers of the Buddha should investigate and study the truth of the Dhamma which the Buddha realized through his enlightenment, in order to find out what this truth exactly is. In which way is the truth the Buddha realized different from the truth of the conventional world?

The Buddha realized the truth by his enlightenment and taught it to his followers so that they too would have understanding and practice the Dhamma accordingly until they would realize the truth themselves. The truth the Buddha taught is that everything which appears is a type of Dhamma[14] , a reality, which is not self, not a being not a person. All Dhammas which arise do so because there are conditions for their arising, such as attachment, anger, regret, unhappy feeling, happy feeling, jealousy, avarice, loving kindness, compassion, seeing, hearing; all of them are different types of Dhammas. There are different kinds of Dhamma because they arise because of different conditions.

One erroneously takes attachment, anger and other Dhammas which arise for self, for being, for person, and that is wrong view, wrong understanding. It is wrong understanding because those Dhammas, after they have arisen, fall away, disappear, are subject to change all the time, from birth to death. The reason for erroneously taking Dhammas for self, being or person, is ignorance of the truth of Dhammas. Whenever one sees one takes the seeing which is a kind of Dhamma for self, one clings to the idea of "I see". When one hears one takes the Dhamma which hears for self, one clings to the idea of "I hear". When one smells one takes the Dhamma which smells for self, one clings to the idea of "I smell". When one tastes one takes the Dhamma which tastes for self, one clings to the idea of "I taste". When one experiences tangible object through the body-sense one takes the Dhamma which experiences this for self, one clings to the idea of "I experience". When one thinks of different subjects one takes the Dhamma which thinks for self, one clings to the idea of "I think".

After the Buddha had realized through his enlightenment the truth of all Dhammas, he taught this truth to his followers so that they too would understand that Dhammas are not self, not a being, not a person. He taught about paramattha Dhammas, ultimate realities, each with their own characteristic which is inalterable. The characteristics of paramattha Dhammas cannot be changed by anybody, no matter whether he knows them or does not know them, no matter whether he calls them by a name in whatever language or does not call them by a name. Their characteristics are always the same. The Dhammas which arise do so because there are the appropriate conditions for their arising and then they fall away. Just as the Buddha said to the venerable Ānanda[15] : "Whatever has arisen, come into being because of conditions, is by nature subject to dissolution."

Because of ignorance one has wrong understanding and takes the Dhammas which arise and fall away for self, being or person. This is the cause of desire and ever growing infatuation with one’s rank, title or status, with one’s birth, one’s family, the color of one’s skin and so on. In reality, what one sees are only different colors appearing through the eyes, not self, not a being, not a person. The sound one hears is not self, not a being, not a person. What appears through the senses are only different kinds of Dhammas which arise because of their appropriate conditions.

The wrong view which takes Dhammas for self, being or person has been compared to the perception of a mirage. People who are traveling in the desert may perceive ahead of them a mirage of water, but when they come close the mirage disappears because in reality there is no water. The mirage they perceived was a deception, an optical illusion. Even so is the wrong understanding which takes Dhammas for self, being or person, a deception caused by ignorance, by wrong perception or remembrance, by wrong belief.

Words such as being, person, woman or man are only concepts used to designate what we see or hear. Moreover, it is evident that the different colors, sounds, odors, cold, heat, softness, hardness, motion or pressure, even though their characteristics have such variety, could not appear if there were no Dhammas which can experience them, namely, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, experiencing cold, heat, softness, hardness, motion or pressure, knowing the meaning of the different things and thinking.

The Dhammas which can experience different things such as the Dhamma which experiences color, the Dhamma which experiences sound, the Dhamma which experiences odor, flavor, cold, heat, softness, hardness, motion, pressure, the Dhamma which knows the meaning of the different things and the Dhamma which thinks about different subjects, all these Dhammas which experience different things have been classified by the Sammāsambuddha as citta, consciousness.

Footnotes and references:


Dialogues of the Buddha II, no 16, Maha-Parinibbāna Sutta.


Khuddaka Nikāya, Minor Readings, "As it was said" (Itivuttaka), The Threes, Ch V, no. 3. Tathāgata is an epithet of the Buddha.


There are eight types of lokuttara cittas (supra mundane consciousness) which realize the lokuttara Dhamma which is nibbana. There are four stages of enlightenment and for each of those there are two types of lokuttara citta, path consciousness and fruition consciousness. This will be explained later on.


Brahmacariya, the life of those who develop satipaṭṭhāna, right understanding of realities, in order to become an arahat.


Universal Buddha, who found the Path all by himself and could teach the truth to others.




Satta is being and upakāra is assistance.


The magga-citta is the lokuttara citta, supra-mundane citta, experiencing nibbāna and eradicating defilements. It is accompanied by wisdom, paññā, which is called magga-ñāṇa.


These powers are his perfect comprehension in the field of wisdom, such as comprehension of deeds (kamma) which bring their appropriate results, comprehension of the elements, the khandhas (mental and physical phenomena), the sense fields, comprehension of the inclinations of other beings, remembrance of his former lives, knowledge of the passing away and rebirth of other beings, the destruction of defilements. (Middle Length Sayings I, no. 12, "The Greater Discourse on the Lion"s Roar").


Even arahats, those who have no defilements, can have behavior which is not pleasing, such as speaking fast or running, accumulated in the past. Such conduct is not motivated by akusala citta, unwholesome consciousness, since they have eradicated all defilements.


See "Dialogues of the Buddha" III, no. 30, "The Marks of the Superman".


Puggala Paññātti, "Designation of Human Types", Ch I, Division of Human Types by One, 28, 29. Pacceka is derived from the Pali paṭi eka, by himself. Eka means alone.


He tried to kill the Buddha on various occasions.


Dhamma has several meanings, it does not only mean doctrine. In this context Dhamma means everything which is real, reality.


Dialogues of the Buddha II, no. 16, Maha Parinibbāna Sutta, Ch V, 144.

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