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...

Anger or violence of mind is called dosa (hatred). Dosa is not only violent but it also soils the mind. It is not only wild and rude, but also depressive resulting in inferiority complex and living in fear; they all belong to the category of dosa or hatred (ill will).

In brief sorrow, grief, fear, depression, anger, grudge, frightening others with abusive language, attacking, planning to kill other people - all of these are dosa.

Since dosa is with both fear and violence, the angry, violent person is also easily frightened. Be aware of such persons. (Violence is called ascending hatred, whereas fear is called descending hatred.)

The Story of a Lass

In India, there once was a young lady who suffered from the evil consequences of hatred. The story is related here not only to clarify the concept of dosa but also to remind the parents who used to force their sons and daughters into marriage without the their consent, without love between bride and bridegroom.

A young lad and a young lady in this story were not acquainted with each other before. They were betrothed and married by arrangement of their parents. Though the young lady, being a daughter of a good family, did her chores dutifully, the young lad neither appreciated her services nor loved her sincerely. She began to be disappointed because he did not care for her in spite of her amiably attending to him. She was unhappy and was often lost in despair. Her husband, having no love lost for his wife, when seeing her cheerless behaviour hated her more and more and became violent. Although she was unsatisfied with her husband’s behaviour, there was no choice for her but to carry on with her household duties.

However, she being not a lifeless rock, but a living being with a sentiment, often attempted suicide. Although she suffered much from disappointment, unpleasantness, unhappiness and fear, she bore the suffering till she got two children. But at last she could not bear the burden any more and wrote a letter to her husband away on business which runs thus—

“My lord, though you had become my husband married by order of my parents, I really loved you and tried to win your love. But it was all in vain. I was accused of cheating and concealing my faults; and I was so disappointed that I often tried to resort to suicide, but it was a failure because of my children. Anyhow, it is of no use to live any more. After writing this letter, I will take my own life after putting poison in my children’s food.”

Having read this letter, the husband reflected over her goodwill and returned home quickly, only to find three dead bodies. He also shot himself in remorse. ( in this story, hatred is prominent.) When one happens to fall into such a situation, one should try to be broad-minded and treat one’s wife kindly.


In conjunction with dosa (hatred), makkha, palasa, soka, parideva, dukkha, domanassa and upayasa which are common to lay life should also be studied. Of them, makkha means ingratitude or being blind to the good turns of others; it is a kind of dosa. There are many good deeds done by others to a person since his childhood such as the good deeds of his parents, teachers, good friends, etc. If he does not regard the good deeds as such and does not thank them and is ungrateful to them saying, “No good deed have they done to me. I need not be grateful to them,” and becomes blind to them, this is makkha.

Some people are not only blind to the benevolence of their benefactors, but also do wrongs to them. They are called mittadubbhi (the wicked who have done wrong to their friends). Gratitude is similar to a debt, a deferred payment. Although you cannot yet return benevolence to them, you should regard your benefactors as benefactors. When you get a chance to repay the gratitude you should do so with all your heart.

Dhamma: If you take shelter under a tree, don't break its boughs and branches. Those who break its boughs and branches are the wicked ones.

The Grateful Son

In a certain town there once was a lad who worked hard as a common labourer and looked after his widowed mother. His mother was immoral and was having affairs secretly. His friends who knew about the mother felt pity for the lad and disclosed the affair to him. However, he said, “Let my mother be happy; whatever she does, I shall attend to her.” (Good sons and daughters are as rare as good parents.)

Note: In this story, the immorality of his mother is her own burden. The work of attending on her is the duty of the son. In attending to such a single mother, the sons and daughters need not regard themselves as looking after her as a mother, instead, they should bear in mind that they are repaying their old debts of gratitude to a great benefactor. Therefore, every good man or woman who wishes to gain benefit in the present and next existences through out samsara, should try to repay his or her old debt of gratitude to great benefactors. The Bodhisatta, when he was an animal, repaid the gratitude of his mother elephant. (A white elephant looking after his blind mother elephant was captured by the king. He refused to take food in protest, told the king about his mother, and was released.)

Palasa (Ill will)

Palasa is a kind of dosa, ill will, which competes with superiors. A person cannot tolerate those who are superior to him in morality, concentration, knowledge, wealth, beauty or civility, so he competes with them saying “What’s the difference between him and me?” This he says in spite of knowing that they are better than he is. But if he is sincerely mistaken that he has such qualities in him and competes with others, it cannot be called palasa.

Soka (Sorrow)

Soka means sorrow, domanassa-vedana, (mental factor of suffering) which will be discussed later on. The state of being unhappy on coming across unpleasant incidents, is called soka, sorrow. Wherever sorrow appears, hatred will also accompany it. Therefore sorrow should also be understood in conjunction with hatred. Sorrow arises frequently in the hearts of people nowadays. Sorrow arises due to the deaths of their relatives, due to loss of wealth, due to mishaps of their friends— all such sorrow is called soka.

A Kind of Domanassa (Mental Suffering)

There is also a kind of domanassa, (mental suffering) which is mistaken to be sorrow. One is at times anxious about health of dear ones; anxious about beloved ones not returning in due time after a journey; anxious about one’s offspring in many ways. Such anxiety is not sorrow. Anxiety encoded in the thought, “They will be in trouble when I pass away,” is not sorrow; it is merely domanassa (mental suffering).

Can You Benefit From Sorrow or Anxiety?

The above mentioned sorrow or anxiety are really uncomfortable states of mind; they endanger the mind, creating heartfelt sorrow and intense anxiety. They are painful forces and influences; one in no way gains anything from these. In reality they burn the heart and harm the mind without yielding a single benefit. Therefore a wise person will avoid great anxiety or sorrow with steadfast mindfulness (sati) and prepare beforehand to meet adverse situations. For example, parents who are anxious of the health of their children should take caution in nutrition, mode of travel, etc., in daily life. If unavoidable illness occurs, the only reasonable action is to call in a doctor, not to be unnecessarily anxious.

If there is impending danger along a particular journey, parents should stop their children going on that journey. If they have to travel to such places, precautionary measures should be taken for them before hand. Parents should place a reliable person in charge of their children to protect them. Even after taking such safety measures and precautions for them, should the children meet danger or even death, for not following the guidance of parents, no sorrow should be shown; they deserve no sorrow or remorse at all. If parents still feel sorrow for the loss of their children despite adequate precaution, they are very foolish indeed. Indeed in this age many youngsters do not follow the discipline and guidance of their elders and most of them encounter great danger and harm. So, is it reasonable and proper to feel sorrow at these situations? Teachers and parents should ponder over these facts.

Parideva (Weeping or Lamentation)

Weeping or lamentation is called parideva. But at the root of these lamentations lie dosa and domanassa (mental pain). Most people feel sorrow and grief when they see the coining of the fall in status, office, fame, power, wealth, etc. They also feel downhearted, which is soka, a form of domanassa. When they cannot keep soka under control, there occurs the sound of weeping which is called parideva, lamentation. What people call 'the fire of parideva' is actually not the sound of weeping, but the burning of dosa and domanassa extreme enough to cause the sound of weeping occur.

Can One Benefit From Weeping?

Like anxiety, weeping also is useless without any benefit at all. As it is natural to cry over the sudden loss of relatives and loved ones, one should not blame them. Even the Venerable Ananda wept when the Buddha passed into Nibbana. But today quite a number of people are seen to weep aloud and show extreme distress to attract the pity of others. When one hears melancholic crying and grief, one also becomes sorrowful and all happiness fades.

So, seeing the impact of grief and loud crying on others one should not do so. Loud weeping, in fact, displays one’s lack of self-control. Therefore even if people should lament being overcome by grief, they should exercise self-control and try to wipe out the tears quickly. And people can conquer lament by taking the examples of noble persons who can restrain their intense grief and severe losses. And people can get consolation by means of wise sense of urgency (samvega), i.e., sense of weariness in the sufferings one is faced with.

How the Bodhisatta Consoled Himself

In one of their previous existences, the Bodhisatta and his spouse (the Yasodhara-to-be), after renouncing their immense wealth, became hermits and dwelled in a forest. The hermitess was very adorable, and her cheerful appearance won respect and admiration from all who saw her.

After sometime in the forest, she became weak and ill because she had to eat raw fruits and alms-food instead of the tasty dishes she used to relish as a lay woman. She suffered from dysentery and was feeling very weak. The Bodhisatta helped her along till they came to the city gate. She was gently made to take rest in the road-side shed while the Bodhisatta went into the city for alms-round. She died before the hermit returned from the alms-round. When the townspeople saw the corpse in the roadside shed, they all lamented at her sudden demise though they were no relatives of her. Then they prepared to perform funeral rites.

At that time, the Bodhisatta hermit returned from alms-round and saw the great and sudden loss. Instead of showing intense grief and weeping aloud, he just sat near his wife’s corpse and ate his morning meal. He was calm and composed while others shed tears and wailed. After his meal he preached to them a suitable discourse to extinguish the fire of parideva burning fiercely in them.

Mallika, Wife of General Bandhula

Another interesting story is about Mallika, the wife of General Bandhula. This couple, during the reign of King Kosala, had sixteen twin (thirty two) sons. These sons, together with their followers, used to come to the palace for royal audience.

Seeing their numerous followers, some ministers got envious and told the king made-up stories. They falsely informed the King that Bandhula and his sons would one day conspire against the king, who, lacking due intelligence and wisdom, believed in the slanders. So he ordered his men to trick Bandhula and his sons into a house and burn them alive. The king’s men killed them all by setting the house ablaze.

The next day, when Mallika was about to offer alms to the Venerable Sariputta and his follower bhikkhus, the bad news arrived. Mallika stayed composed and showed no sign of grief. Indeed the loss was really great, but she did not suffer from lament at all and carried on with her meritorious deed.

Note: Of the above two instances, in the case of the Bodhisatta hermit, there is no wonder for his stoicism because he had been fulfilling progressive Paramis (Perfections) in his every existence. He already had ample moral maturity to control himself. But in the case of Mallika, people should emulate her noble ways. She was of the weaker sex, and yet controlled herself by the good thoughts of the meritorious deeds at hand. In our lives we have to face hundreds of problems although we could not live a hundred years. Therefore everyone should try to subdue pain and sorrow, grief and lamentation by all means. For example, when in the face of great sorrow, one should reason like this, “How complete is my fulfilment of Paramis (Perfections)?” A sorrowful experience should be taken as a test of one’s Parami.

Dukkha and Domanassa

Physical suffering is called dukkha and mental suffering domanassa. Everyone feels the impact of earning a living, and other hardships related to it. These impacts cause physical suffering or weariness. In this world people moan “ Oh! Dukkha! Dukkha!” whenever they suffer from physical pain. But it is possible to escape mental suffering whilst experiencing physical suffering. For example, during the countless lives while accumulating Paramis (Perfections), the Bodhisatta had experienced physical pain. He had to suffer physical suffering as Mahosadha and Vessantara. But he had a determination to deliver all kinds of beings from samsara. With great compassion and his resolution to achieve enlightenment, he had been free from mental pain.

These mental suffering such as anxieties, depressions, disappointments and despair pertain to the mind and they are collectively termed domanassa. This is a kind of illness that inflicts the mind. Someone will react like this: “Oh, don't talk about this fellow, I don't want to hear! It gives me much pain.” Such suffering commonly referred to as mental pain, may or may not be accompanied by physical suffering. In this world there are many persons who, although affluent and prosperous, abounding in material wealth, are suffering from mental pain called domanassa. This shows the truth of suffering as taught in the Dhammacakka Sutta which declares “Yam piccham na labhati, tampi dukkham”—suffering due to not getting what one wants as well as not wanting what one gets. Actually this mental suffering is more intense, more severe than physical pain. Thus even a person living a luxurious life cannot endure mental suffering. He would leave his big luxurious house and all his property, and move to a small hut to live happily with the one he loves. He can endure physical poverty but not the pain of mental suffering, that is, separation from his loved one.

Indeed, there are many ways to overcome sorrow, depression, anxiety or disappointments in life and keep oneself in a happy state. But we can be sure that these ways of adapting oneself to changing circumstances are not easy to follow for the not so wise. In a nutshell, people should be far-sighted and plan ahead for the future. And one must be diligent and industrious in carrying out one’s plans. Yet, if there be failures and disappointments despite one’s efforts, one should not despair. These are due to the effects of bad Kamma. (Try again with more vigour for, should one really strive hard, one can become even a Fully-Enlightened One.) It is important that one should maintain one’s integrity and remain calm and composed in the face of the ups and downs of life, known as Lokadhammas, which are eight in number.

  1. Labha    = Acquiring wealth, requisites, etc.,
  2. Alabha    = Not acquiring wealth, requisites, etc.,
  3. Yasa    = Having followers,
  4. Ayasa    = Not having followers,
  5. Ninda    = Being blamed,
  6. Pasamsa    = Being praised,
  7. Sukha    = Happiness,
  8. Dukkha    = Suffering.

These are four good and four bad circumstances in life. When you encounter the four good conditions, you must not be elated and proud. When you encounter the other four you must not be distressed. If you feel either elated or distressed, you are getting perturbed, you, are being tossed about in the sea of worldly storms. Those who are emotionally unstable and easily moved from a state of elation to one of depression are the victims of domanasa. Those who want to get mental peace in the ups and downs of life must have a steadfast mind.

Labha and Alabha

Everyone should honestly earn a living and work for material gain by lawful means. In doing so, one may accumulate wealth, which should not be the cause to be elated or boastful. On the other hand some people, while earning a livelihood, encounter material loss, and get poorer and poorer. In such a case one must not cry over it; instead, one must remain composed and calm. It must be understood that even a king may have to give up his sceptre and crown, bringing the country into servitude. Therefore, one should build up fortitude to remain calm and composed under the stress of vicissitudes of life.

Yasa and Ayasa

Teachers, leaders and great men ought to have a retinue of followers. As a fence protects a building it encloses, so followers usually protect their leaders and render service to them. In turn, leaders should reward their followers. Generosity brings in a large number of followers; and they should be treated with due respect. Leaders must have the good will to enhance the life of the followers. Even servants and menials should be treated like co-workers and friends. As a result they will give full protection and good service. If, in spite of one’s goodwill, one has few or no followers, there is no need to be worried. On the other hand, when one is surrounded by many followers one should not be conceited and haughty.

Fame is an asset not only in this one life but also in the future lives. Great and noble tasks can be accomplished only by persons of great fame and quality. A saying goes. Gunavante passanti jana—People revere persons of rank and status." Everyone should cultivate wisdom, intelligence and perseverance to attain great fame. One should not be conceited for one’s fame; nor should one be depressed for not being famous.

Ninda and Pasamsa

Envious and jealous persons and fault-finders are in abundance everywhere. In this life, therefore, it is very difficult to be praised and very easy to be blamed. Nevertheless one should try to live righteously by means of mindfulness. No one is immune from blame. Even the bull created by Sakka, King of Devas, was blamed for the softness of its dung. So there is a saying, “Hate sees only faults; love sees only praise; fondness leads to trust.” In this life ill will is prolific and fault-finders are abound.

But those who blame others should ask themselves “Are we free from faults? Are we flawless?” No one is flawless like the Bodhisatta Mahosadha, King Vessantara, Venerable Kassapa, Venerable Sariputta, or Venerable Ananda. In the case of women they are far from being faultless like Amara, Kinnari, Maddi, and Sambula, the four exemplary ladies.

In a village, a young boy told his father that a neighbour falters in speech. He stuttered: "Oh father! Our neighbour . . . ah.. . .ah, has..... has..... fal....ter....ing.. spe.. .ech. He was probably oblivious of the fact that he himself had the same defect.

Some fault-finders cover up their own faults and conceal their shortcomings. They are hypocrites who do steal but pretend to be innocent, like a wily cat.

Sometimes, due to envy and jealousy, people blame others but usually they emulate their ways. Gossips slander a young girl when a young man frequently visits her but these gossips actually want the young man to visit them.

Such are the ways of the world. It is only natural to come across the eight vicissitudes already mentioned. A victim of slander may not be as blameworthy as critics make out to be. Sometimes a trivial fault may be exaggerated. So it is best to appraise one’s fault by oneself in the light of ottappa (moral fear) and hiri (moral shame).

Those who are afraid of ghosts dare not go into the dark; when they do, they might see a tree-stump and yell “Ghost! Ghost!” Since their minds entertain the fear of ghosts constantly, they imagine that ghosts are chasing them.

Some people are too much preoccupied with the possible onset of blame so much so that fear plays a dominant part in their lives. In the Samyutta Nikaya, the Buddha said, “One who is too overcome by fear of criticism is like a deer that startles and takes flight at the slightest sound; he is one who is timid, faint-hearted and irresolute.” People too overcome by fear have nothing to gain. They only encourage critics and fault-finders. The timid make easy prey for fault-finders.

On the other hand, criticisms. comments and condemnations are in a way signs of fame: nobody cares to talk of little-known persons. People take notice of only the prominent. For example, the tallest tree is most subject to the impact of strong winds. As you soar higher and higher in society, you are more and more liable to face the eight Lokadhammas, vicissitudes. Therefore you should be indifferent to them bearing in mind that such things are the signs of your fame and success.

Just ask yourself: “How steadfast am I?” Only then will you be able to withstand unjust condemnations and false comments with equanimity. And you must try to live a faultless life.

Just as you ought to be indifferent to blame, you should also be unmoved in the face of praise. You should not be elated by praise. You must be aware that benefits are the fruits of good work or good deeds. Continue to nurture metta (loving-kindness); and share merits thus: “May others receive recognition like me! May they enjoy praises like me!”

Summing up, among the eight worldly circumstances, four are desirable and others undesirable. Since time immemorial all sentient beings had done good and bad deeds in countless past lives, they all will have good and bad effects, or ups and downs, in this life. Situations desirable and undesirable are periodic phases of life. Unflinching, try to withstand the ups and downs and sail across the ocean of samsara through storms and winds towards the peaceful Shore of Nibbana where all sufferings cease.

For example, captains of ocean-going vessels cannot always expect calm and smooth seas in their voyages. They are bound to encounter rough seas, turbulent winds and storms, or rolling waves that may even endanger their ships. Under such circumstances, skilful captains use their intelligence and industry to steer their ships through perilous seas and storms to drop anchor at a safe haven.

Katatta nanakammanam, itthanitthepi agate,

Yoniso tittham sandhaya, tareyya naviko yatha.

Due to deeds of good and bad kamma in past existences, we encounter situations both desirable and undesirable. Come what may, we must be like the captain of a ship; with confidence, zeal and skill, we must face storms and gales and overcome difficulties and dangers. We must be unmoved by the eight worldly conditions to steer straight to drop anchor at the Port of Nibbana.

Maxim: It is natural for everyone to face the eight worldly conditions. We should try to practise mental concentration and nurture a stoical mind.

Upayasa (Intense Anger)

When one comes across material losses, death of loved ones, downfalls or failures, there arises upavasa. intense anger. It means extreme wrath. Ordinary anger leads to violence or even killing, while upayasa gives you superlative anxiety and ire. The flame of anxiety and fury in the heart boil the blood circulating in the body. So a person with intense anger will get lapses or fits, or even lose consciousness.

On the demise of a loved one, a person weeps aloud. This is parideva. When parideva intensifies, he can no longer wail; he will get fits and fall unconscious. But upayasa is even more intense than parideva. Anxiety, soka, is like hot oil in a frying pan. Parideva is like the boiling over of the heated oil. Upayasa is like the complete burning and evaporation of the remaining oil.

Upayasa effects persons who have weak minds and those who depend too much on others. The weaker sex is more prone to suffer from upayasa. Feminine mind and physique are not as strong as the masculine and are often inclined to depend on others due to inadequate wisdom and knowledge concerning strengthening of mind. They easily suffer from soka and parideva which overwhelms their subtle physique easily and develop into the state of upayasa. This in turn causes one to faint.

Even males, when they are physically weak, cannot withstand excessive anxieties. Therefore one needs nutritious food to be physically strong and to bravely face the sufferings arising from upayasa. Every one should first extinguish soka and parideva quickly. Only then will they not pass on to upayasa. (Methods to extinguish soka and parideva have been mentioned earlier.)

Here ends what needs be said about Dosa.

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