Abhidhamma in Daily Life (by Ashin Janakabhivamsa)

by Ashin Janakabhivamsa | 66,666 words

English translation of "Abhidhamma in Daily Life" by Professor Ko Lay. Revised by Sayadaw U Silananda, International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University, Yangon, 1999...

Lobha is greed, i.e., craving for sensual pleasures. But wanting to attain Nibbana, wanting to get Dhamma, wanting to be learned, wanting wealth for giving in charity to the poor, are not lobha. They are called chanda (desire) which will be dealt with later.

Other Terms for Greed

Lobha is also termed pema or tanha or raga or samudaya. The term pema is used for the love exchanged between sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives or members of the family, relatives, etc. Therefore pema means sincere love. This kind of sincere love is also called samyojana, which means binding. Samyojana binds one person to another as a rope does. It makes one inseparable from the other.

The five kinds of object, namely, sight, sound, smell, taste and touch, are sensuous objects; desired and cherished by people they are called kamaguna (kama=desirable + guna cords).

Like hunger and thirst, intense desire for these desirable objects that surpass ordinary wish is called tanha, craving. One who hankers after another of the opposite sex is labelled “mad with lust”. Tanha means craving or hunger. Of the five sensuous objects, bodily touch (sexual union) is the most longed for, when it is called raga, lust. Raga also means clinging or attachment to something. Just as colour fastening on dyed cloth, raga is lobha which clings to a person. [These are not literal meanings; they are classified according to common usage.]

In the classification of the Four Noble Truths, lobha is termed samudaya. It means the cause of suffering or suffering-to-be. All beings who cannot do away with lobha have to wander round and round in the cycle of rebirths accompanied by suffering.

The suffering, immense or petty, being undergone now by all beings, originates in this tanha, lobha or samudaya. Therefore the more intense the greed, the more severe the suffering, and the less intense the greed, the less there is suffering. If there is no greed, there is no suffering at all. The mind which arises with lobha, is called the greedy mind, craving mind, lustful mind, or bonded mind. Persons with such minds are called the greedy, the craving, the lustful or the fettered.

Greed Does Not Get Diminished

If greed which is called craving or lust is not controlled by Dhamma, and allowed to go on by itself, it will never get diminished. As the protruding horn of a calf grows longer and longer as it grows older, the greed of a man which accompanies him since the embryonic stage increases with age. The aged who cannot control greed are blamed with the words “The hair-knot droops with size; foolishness grows with age.”

Drinking Salty Water

Since birth children begin to love their parents, relatives and friends, etc. As they grow older they develop fondness and affection for playmates and friends. As they are being led by basic instinct, they become thirstier and thirstier for love as if they had drunk salty water. Then they drink it again and again and become more and more thirsty. Being thirsty for sensual pleasures, they indulge in them as they are unable to see the impending sufferings; they swirl about merrily in the sea of love.

“Love! Love! The more they love, the more they are insatiate, just as they cannot quench their thirst by drinking salty water. Love, pema or tanha, turns a blind eye to one’s defects; expecting happiness through love, one nurtures love. This is the way of love, the nature of love.” (An ancient Myanmar poem.)

How lobha Leads to the Four Woeful Abodes

Just as the smallest particle of a stone sinks in water, even petty greed can lead to the four woeful worlds if not supported by wholesome deeds. Therefore, there are many people who have become petas (miserable ghosts) because of attachment to their spouses, sons, daughters or wealth while on the death-bed. At the time of our Lord Buddha, a bhikkhu became a louse after his death because of attachment to his new robe. It is said that he was emancipated from the life of being a louse only after seven days.

Lobha Will Not Lead to the Four Woeful Worlds If Supported by Wholesome Deeds

Even though there is attachment, pema and tanha, for each other people will not be thrown down to the lower woeful worlds if they get the support of wholesome deeds. For example, a stone sinks in water, but will float if carried on a boat. Therefore, in the Jataka stories, there are instances of those who were not yet free from tanha and pema becoming close partners to fulfil Paramis (Perfections) together.

Point to Ponder

Having established a harmonious relationship, husband and wife do not want to part with each other; they want to fulfil Paramis (Perfections) together and attain Nibbana. A good lady, Sumitta by name, made a wish to be always together with the Bodhisatta Sumedha; Mahakassapa-to-be and Bhadda-to-be did the same. They fulfilled their Paramis together for many aeons. Are these instances of chanda, wish, (which will be dealt with hereafter) or of tanha-pema? It needs to be pondered upon.


Indeed, the persons in the stories were good virtuous people. The wish to associate with the virtuous is kusala-chanda, (wholesome wilful) desire. They were also persons of morality who were practising Paramis. In the Pali Canon, mention is made thus: “The wish of the virtuous is always fulfilled. Through chanda everything is accomplished.” Therefore, even though they might have had tanha and pema which bind them together, because of their strong chanda (wholesome wish) the Bodhisatta, etc., became partners in fulfilling Paramis together as determined by the wholesome deeds they had performed.

Ijjhati bhikkhave silavato cetopanidhi, visuddhatta.”

Bhikkhus, the wish of the virtuous is fulfilled because it is pure.” (Anguttara Nikaya.)

Nakulapita and Nakulamata

At the time of the Buddha there lived a wealthy man, Nakulapita and his wife, Nakulamata. They had been together for many existences. They had become Sotapannas (Stream-winners) since they first paid homage to the Buddha. This couple had been the parents, or elder uncle and aunt or uncle and aunt of the Bodhisatta in many previous existences. They were very fond of the Buddha as though he was their own son and were so intimate with him that they asked him any question. Once the wealthy man said: "Venerable Sir, I took Nakulamata as my wife since my youth. Since then I hadn't even thought of infidelity, let alone actually doing it. I had always wanted to be in the presence of Nakulamata in the present life and I always want to be so throughout the samsara.

On hearing the words of Nakulapita, his wife also said frankly, “Venerable Sir, I came with him to his house since my youth. Since then I hadn't thought of anyone else. I had always wanted to be with him in the present life; and I always want to be with him throughout the samsara”

The Buddha said: “If man and wife, who are leading a harmonious life, wish to be together in the next existences, they should have the same faith, saddha, the same morality, sila, the same liberality, caga and the same level of knowledge, panna”.

As the husband has pure faith, just so the wife should have the same. As he has pure morality, just so she should have. If one of them wishes to give charity, the other must comply. If she donates, he should encourage her. If he donates, she should be delighted. Their wisdom and knowledge must be same too.

For further clarification, the passage from Pancavudha Pyo (a Myanmar poem) is translated as follows:

“In the human abode, if husband and wife are in harmony and willing to be together, if they have the same liberality, morality, faith and confidence, they will be together in samsara like glorious devas and devis who are together in the heavenly abodes all along the cycle of rebirths.”

Note on the Story

The love between husband and wife, who had already become Sotapannas (Stream-winners), should be considered first. As they loved each other sincerely enough, they did not think of being unfaithful. As their minds were so pure they held each other in high esteem and did not want to be separated from each other. They always wanted to be together in samsara. Although such a wish to be together is chanda based on lobha, the tanha, pema and lobha of these virtuous noble people would bind them to each other, and all their meritorious actions would lead them to a good destination.


In some cases, tanha-lobha is also called maya. Therefore, the nature of maya will be explained herein. Maya is like a magician, a conjurer. Just as the magician picks up a stone and makes the audience believe it to be a gold nugget; just so does maya conceal one’s faults. It means one who exercises maya pretends to be flawless though one is not.

Woman’s Maya

Once there was a professor and his student. The student’s wife used to do wrong with another man. On the day of doing wrong she waited upon her husband more tenderly than ever. But, on the day of doing no wrong, she treated him as a slave. The student was unable to understand the peculiar mood of his wife. He was confused and related his experience to his professor. The professor had to expound to him the nature of women.

Note: In the story, as she wanted to conceal her faults on the day of adultery, she pretended to be very affectionate to her husband. That artfulness, craftiness, is maya. In some cases it is also called tankhanuppatti-nana, instant wit (tankhana at that moment; uppatti-nana — knowledge that appears). It is not real knowledge, but only spurious knowledge or simple cleverness. Real knowledge is concerned with only good matters.

A Crafty Wife

A housewife used to do wrong with her manservant. Once her husband saw her kissing the servant. As she noticed that she had been seen, she went to the husband and said: “Darling, this lad is dishonest. He had eaten your share of cookies. When I asked him, he denied. So I sniffed his mouth, and got the smell of cookies. We should not let him stay in our house.”

Note: In the story, the act of kissing the servant was a grave offence. The clever, sudden thought of deceiving and concealing her misdeed is none other than maya. Not only woman but also men have such maya (trickery or pretences).

The Hermit’s Maya

Once there lived at a village a hermit revered by a layman donor. For fear of robbers, the layman donor hid one hundred pieces of gold in a hole near the hermit’s monastery and said, “Venerable Sir, please take care of it.” The hermit said, “Devotee, it is not proper to ask a hermit to do so.”

Then a thought occurred to the hermit: “One hundred pieces of gold will be sufficient for me to live in comfort”, and he dug up the gold and hid it in another place close to a chosen footpath. On the next day after having his breakfast, the hermit said, “My donor, I have been living here for so long that I am inclined to be attached to you. So I must move to another place.” The donor requested him again and again not to do so, but his pleadings were all in vain. All he could do was to see the hermit off at the village gate.

After travelling some distance, the hermit returned and said, “Devotee donor, a blade of thatch from your roof is entangled in my hair. It is improper for a hermit to take things which are not given him.” The simple donor thought him to be so virtuous that he revered him even more.

However, at that moment, a very wise guest putting up at his house said, “Have you ever asked the hermit to keep anything under his care? If so please go and see.” When he did so he could not find the gold, so together with the guest he pursued the hermit and caught him red-handed.

Note: In the story, the hermit returned a blade of thatch to the devotee, in order to hide his theft; this wily act amounts to maya. Thus, as deceit, stratagems (pariyaya, maya) can be employed even by some hermits or samanas, there is much trickery and cheating amongst the laity these days. Few people can be trusted; to associate with honest people is possible only as a result of wholesome deeds done in the previous lives.

Varieties of Maya

Apart from stories about the concealment of one’s faults, there are many other tricks such as show of indignation by trampling rudely to pretend innocence; concealing one’s guilt by way of threatening the accuser or by way of flatteries, etc.

Cunning people as such are commonly found in dwellings, houses, etc., where many people reside together. If during the night someone has discarded filth, night-soil, at an unsuitable place, he will pretend to have done nothing in the morning. If he releases foul wind, he will produce a similar sound by rubbing the leather rug so as to mislead others, i.e., (he will make others think it to be the sound of the leather rug). Thus, there are many kinds of maya. So, the old folks used to say; “One thousand stratagems (pariyaya), a hundred thousand artifices (maya), an infinite number of tricks. Grains from nine mats of sand and leaves from nine cutch trees are needed to reckon the number of tricks called maya, or pariyaya.”


Along with maya, satheyya should also be understood. When one pretends to have certain qualities and make others think highly of him, such kind of lobha is called satheyya. Maya conceals one’s faults and pretends to be faultless, whereas satheyya pretends to have non-existent qualities. Both of them are trickery or deceptions.

Monks' Satheyya

Pretending to be virtuous though not; pretending to have good practice though having none; pretending to be learned though not; such pretences are called satheyya. So long as his pretensions are not discovered by clever lay donors, the pretentious satheyya monk may feel safe. Even when they see through the deceptions, they would opine “That is not our concern, whether he deceives or not.” The monk continues to enjoy the fruits of his satheyya.

Satheyya in the Laity

Satheyya means pretending to be virtuous though not; pretending to have mental concentration though having none; pretending to have ability though not; pretending to be a graduate (B.A., M.A, etc.) though not; pretending to be rich though not, etc.—these are the satheyya in the laity.

Evils of Satheyya

Maya and satheyya are more wicked than lobha (common greed). The following will clarify this fact. Monks, who have no morality, concentration and wisdom, pretending to have them, will boast to be like the virtuous who have real morality, concentration and wisdom. As a result of such pretensions, they will suffer in samsara. The laymen, who happen to take refuge in such monks, will not gain knowledge; offerings given to them will not be of much merit to the donors. There are also cunning people, who pretend to have morality and concentration; many girls come to grief on account of them. Due to the indecent livelihood and the misdeeds of the so-called gentlemen, many people in towns and villages come to lead immoral lives.

Not only do the so-called leaders, who pretend to possess good leadership ability though having none, squander the lives and property of their followers but they also bring about loss of sovereignty and finally the country itself. Some girls put their trust in the men who pretend to be rich and prestigious; when they happen to marry such men their marriage would in no way be blessed and auspicious but end in disaster.

Moreover, if one or both parties conceal their faults with maya and pretend with satheyya to be wealthy, they will be exposed soon after marriage. Then can they love their cheating spouses (or their relatives)? Will they be happy if they live together without sincere love? To be a happily married couple, not only carnal desire but also true, sincere love is essential.

A marriage between Buddhists is not meant for the present life only. If they live in harmony, together they will go to the temple and monastery, make offerings and do good deeds; they are then likely to enjoy the resultant benefits in the cycle of rebirths. If marriages are tainted with maya and satheyya, the couple will do good deeds unwillingly, and consequently be unable to enjoy benefits not only in this life but also in samsara. Therefore, people should be free from maya and satheyya if they ever intend to live a married life together.

Thus, as maya and satheyya deceive one or many people or even the whole country (as in the case of sectarian leaders who pretend to be Buddhas) or the whole world, they should be categorised as very wicked. However, people who regard themselves to be virtuous and have fulfilled Paramis (Perfections) should take care that dishonest and wicked states of mind do not appear in them and in the people who are related with them; and they should all strive to be pure, intelligent, active, righteous and noble-minded personages.

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