And a Life Sublime
by Venerable Professor Dhammavihari | 22,946 words
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambuddhassa (Adoration to my Buddha, The Glorious, The Worthy, The Fully Enlightened One) To the cherished memory of Athandra Deepanie: a dear daughter and a loving sister This little gift of the dhamma is offered for the furtherance of her pursuit of the goal of Nibbana....
The word wayfarer or magganuga is used in Buddhist texts to denote the disciple who is intent on treading the path to release from suffering as announced and indicated by the Master. As the venerable Ananda puts it to the Brahmin Gopaka Moggallana, in reply to a question about the relationship between the Master and his disciples, the Buddha is the propounder of the hitherto unknown way [ anakkhatassa maggassa akkhata ], the knower of the way [ magga__a maggavida ] and the one who is skilled in the way [ maggakovido ]. The disciples thereafter [ paccha samannagata ] tread the way [ magganuga ca pana etarahi savaka viharanti paccha samannagata ti. M.111.8 ].
Let us now talk about the life of the true Buddhist disciple who with a deep conviction accepts the teaching of the Buddha as the only way to release from dukkha or the sufferings of life. We are thus immediately brought face to face with the two concepts of dukkha and nirodha in Buddhism, nirodha being the total cessation or the ceasing to be of the unsatisfactory continuation of the process of living which is called bhavana. It is this cessation and none other that we refer to as nibbana [ bhava nirodho nibbanau . S. II. 117]. By whatever other name one calls it, the net result in nibbana is this and no other. This is also the final goal of our religious striving, our endeavor to achieve concentration of mind and beyond it perfect development of wisdom.
The message of Buddhism primarily focuses attention on this predicament [or the unpleasant situation ] in which man finds himself. At this stage, it is good for us to be immediately reminded of the vocabulary which the Bodhisattva himself uses as he reflects on this problem: Kicchau vata yam loko apanno jayati ca jayati ca mayati ca cavati ca uppajjati ca. [ S.I1.104 ]. His observation is that the world indeed is plunged in a very distressing situation. It is distressing because of the concomitants of life such as the painful changes in the process of growth and maturity called jara, which also brings in its wake vyadhi or disease, terminating in death or maraoa. It is the reality of these which invariably led many among the mortals to speculate on the absence of these failings like decay, disease and death, in their unpleasantly manifest gross form, in the life in the heavenly worlds.[ In the heavenly worlds known to the Buddhists, none of those failings of decay, disease and death are grossly manifest.] It is for this same reason that in more recent times, well motivated men were driven to look for their solution in such remedial measures like organ transplant. It is an adventure as thoroughly visualized as the plan to grow vegetables on the moon to meet world shortages on this planet. This, we know, was announced in the western world, in a credibly serious mood, in the sixties and seventies of this century. But this is not to see the problem in its totality.
In the Buddhist texts we are reliably informed that this plight of man stretches infinitely through time and space. But we note with regret the hyper intellectual slant today to view the human problem as presented in Buddhism to be a matter of one life time, contained within a single frame of birth to death. It is here that our saddha or reliance [ or trusting in, of course, in the Buddha and his teaching ] comes in, for without it we would reject both concepts of dukkha and nirodha which are the basics [ numbers one and three ] of the four noble truths [ i.e. cattari ariya saccani ] which deliver to the world the message of Buddhism. [ See Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta at S. V. 421f. and Vin. I. 10 ]. It is this third dimension of life, namely the sausaric one, which we have to seriously bear in mind. While Buddhist texts repeatedly speak of it as anamatagga yau bhikkhave sausaro pubba koni na pa__ayati [ at S. 11. 178 and S.V. 226 ] which means Infinite is this life process of man and its first beginning is not discernible, yet there are people even within the Buddhist fold who would have us believe that both the problem of man and its solution are matters only of one life time.
This life process of man, which we come to take note of from his present conceivable existence, it must remembered, descends into our midst from the past and stretches across into the incalculable future, again beyond our ken. If this were not true, the Bodhisattva during his observations quoted above [ S. 11.104 ], would not go on to continue his remarks as mayati ca cavati ca uppajjati ca : dies, passes away from one existence to another, and is born [ again ]. And also talking of final release, the Buddha speaks of it as the absence of a regeneration of all this in a new life beyond the present. This result is equated to the absence of all that which were described as the ills of life [ Yattha natthi ayatiu punabbhavabhinibbatti tattha natthi ayaiu jati jara maraoau. S.11.65f. & 103f. ]. It is the totality of this process, found to be here as well as hereafter [ idha loke patinnhitau paraloke patinnhitau ] which is referred to in Buddhism as sausara.
As we give further thought to what has been discussed so far and consider from the Buddhist angle the contributory factors which sustain this sausaric process, we discover ignorance or avijja and craving or taoha as what underlie this [avijja navaraoanau sattanau taohasauyojananau sandhavatau saüsaratau. op.cit.178 ]. On further investigation we discover that sausara also implies existence both in the human plane and in several others above and below it. This is what we discover as we proceed from the known and the seen, i.e. life here and now, in the direction of the unknown and the unseen, i.e. of what is beyond this life, beyond death. This journeying into a life beyond or gati is said to be fivefold : Pa_ca kho ima Sariputta gatayo. Katama pa_ca. Nirayo tiracchana yoni pitti visayo manussa deva. [ M.I. 73 ]. In a superior state above man stands deva, and immediately below devas is the human. There are three inferior states below the human, viz. hells of torture [ niraya ], animal world [ tiracchana yoni ] and the realm of famishing ghosts [ preta = pitti visaya ].
Here it is well to remember that true humility with regard to limitations of our knowledge and our ability to know can be extremely rewarding. Let us profit by knowing that there are limits to our cocksureness even in this space age of high class scientific achievement and that failures are possible even with the surest of calculations. This did happen even with very sophisticated space ships [fired through the NASA] like the Mars Observer [unmanned] which ended up in disaster after eleven months of very successful travel in outer space, and the German sponsored research shuttle Discovery [with a team of scientists within] which generated repeated engine trouble before its final take off.
Now bring to mind what you know or have heard before about sugati and duggati, i.e. better or worse states of existence over to which we go after death, in terms of our moral and immoral conduct or sucarita and duccarita [...kayena...vacaya...manasa sucaritau caritva kayassa bheda parammaraoa sugatiu saggau lokau upapajjati and ...duccaritau caritva apayau duggatim vinipatau nirayau upapajjati. A.111.385 ]. This self operative law of moral equity is also referred to in Buddhist texts as journeying from light to darkness and darkness to light and vice versa, thus indicating four clear types: 1. tamo tamaparayano, 2. tamo jotiparayano, 3. jotitamaparayano, 4. joti jotiparayano. [A.11.85f.].This is essentially part of Buddhist belief and all our ethics and patterns of good religious living are tied up with this.
The more spiritually developed disciples recount with convincing vividness their sojourning in sausara. You and I both must meet these disciples, for they alone can deepen our convictions and give us greater stability in our path of spiritual progress [not by cutting and filing and putting in the fire the words of the Buddha]. In our opinion it is more than a stupid venture either to ask for or attempt to provide laboratory proof for these elements in religion.
Let me also now tell you that you cannot be a reasonably good Buddhist, worthy of your brand name in the market, without knowing enough of Buddhist thought and enough of the story of Buddhism. I shall now open out for you the Thera- and Theri- gatha and present to you Thera Gotama [Thag. 258-260] from among the Theras and Theri Sisupacala [Thig. 196-203) and Theri Sumedha (Thig. 448-522) from the Theris for real serious study. If these names do not mean much to you as you hear them, I presume you know more about the dramatic miracles of Thera Moggallana and the harrowing versions of the Patacara story [which in truth is the story of Kisagotami. See Therigatha vv. 213-223]
Thera Gotama whom we referred to above, impresses on us the reality of sausara, i.e. the wide range of existence or gati which is painful and perilous and subject to laws of change in which we are liable to find ourselves. He also knows of the heavenly worlds and the rapa and arapa bhavas, some of these existences being of reduced corporeality and limited psychic activity. Sooner or later, one has to acquire the necessary sense and sanity to reject them all outright, even though at times these apparently higher planes are made to look attractive and consequently turn out to be misleading. This sense of good judgment in rejecting the apparitional enchantment of the heavenly worlds is clearly evident in a cryptic verse in the Samyutta Nikaya [ S.I. 33 ] which runs as follows.
That forest resounding with
The voices of the celestial nymphs
Is to me verily a haunt of goblins.
It drives anyone crazy.
How does one finds ones way out of it?
The commentator identifies this as an allusion to Sakkas pleasure park named Nandana and places these remarks in the mouth of an ariyan disciple who is disgusted on discovering that he is accidentally born in the midst of celestial nymphs as a reward for his spiritual endeavors.
Thus it becomes clear why Buddhist biographies must be meaningfully utilized to stimulate followers to make a genuine attempt to accord with the Buddhist way of thinking. Let us now meet Theri Sisupacala who, vividly recollecting her life in the planes of heavenly existence sees it opportune now, through her own honest personal experience, to reject any desire for them. Devas in all planes of existence such as Tavatimsa, Yama, Tusita, Nimmanarati and Vasavatti, she argues, are preoccupied with a notion of selfhood [sakkayasmiu purakkhata ] and are therefore subject to the ills of birth and death [jatimaraoa sarino ]. The only way to happiness and freedom from stress and strain is through the transcendence of this known world of existence or bhava, in the attainment of nibbana. Anything short of it is fraught with danger. The most convincing exposition on this subject is by Theri Sumedha [Thig.453-457]. No Buddhist can afford to be ignorant of these if he is to imbibe true Buddhist values for the salvation of his own self.
Faced with the crisis situation in life of having to opt between two things of extremely divergent attraction she makes a choice with remarkable ease, backed by the depth of a conviction and the firmness of belief in her own value system. Few are seen to be capable of such action but it should be the endeavor of every one to acquire such stature. A royal princess, she rejects her parents proposal to marry her to a reigning monarch, and makes this incisive remark that it is the ignorance of the truths as taught by the Buddha which make people choose or opt for birth in the heavenly worlds. For the heavenly worlds are still part of the sausaric tangle [bhavagatau ].
She further clarifies her own position with these remarks. Note how remarkably resonant they are with the injunctions of the Dhammapada verse no.290 which emphasizes the need in the life of a man to make choices and decisions with courage and wisdom in order to acquire maximum happiness in the process of living. The rejection of what is trifling for the sake of what is great and noble is a sacrifice, which every right thinking man has to do for the enhancement of his happiness. In the Pali, it strikes us as a delightfully candid cameo. Here it is.
Matta sukhapariccaga passe ce vipulau sukhau.
Caje mattasukhau dharo saupassau vipulau sukhau.
If in the rejection of minor sources of happiness,
One does behold happiness much more intense.
The wise do reject the minor, on seeing
Happiness which is immensely great.
In the case of Theri Sumedha, we find here an illustrious example of how a general instruction of the dhamma comes to be specifically applied in the life of a person. Thus she remarks.
For the sake of the joys of trivial sensualities
Reject not happiness which exceeds them by far.
Like a fish that has swallowed a baited hook
Let no man provide an occasion for torments afterwards.
With a vastness of vision acquired, she makes these enlightening observations, scoffing even at the pleasures of the so called sugati states of deva and manussa.
Both in the pleasurable worlds of gods and men,
And in the realms of animals and the Titans [ asura ],
Among the hungry ghosts [ peta ] and the burning hells,
Afflictions are seen to exist in countless number.
What we said so far makes it clear that a true wayfarer in Buddhism is one who accepts the un satifactoriness of life in sausara, i.e. the Buddhist exposition of the truth of dukkha and resolves to bring about a cessation of the life process in sausara in which, well and truly, lies the genesis of dukkha. This amounts to the truth of nirodha. These and these alone which every Buddhist must know form the subject of the Buddhas teaching. While on this subject, let me refer you something I had written as far back as 1964.
Thus it is clear that the fact of dukkha was the starting point of the Buddhas journey of discovery of the causative links. As Buddha, he makes this point crystal clear in more than one place. Thus he tells the Venerable Anuradha. One thing do I teach suffering and the deliverance from suffering [Sadhu sadhu Anuradha. Pubbe ca hau Anuradha etarahi ca dukkha_ c eva pa__apemi dukkhassa ca nirodhan ti. S.IV. 284. See also M.I.140]. Nothing could have been a more realistic approach to moksa or deliverance than an awareness of the presence of suffering and a desire to terminate it. Even in his first sermon to the Pancavaggiya monks [Vin.I. 10], the Buddha discourses on dukkha and the escape there from. This is so fundamentally the dominant theme of Buddhism that even the philosophical expositions of nibbana savor of this. They describe nibbana as being the termination of dukkha: es ev anto dukkhassa [Atthi bhikkhave tadayatanau yattha neva panhava na apo....esevanto dukkhassa ti. Ud. 80 f. ].
BUDDHIST MONASTIC DISCIPLINE -
Jotiya Dhirasekera p.33.
Such a one who has this knowledge and this conviction is swimming against the current of sausara or is panisotagama and is not carried down stream by the current as it chooses. He is just not flotsam and jetsam in the ocean of sausara. He is a pilot with the vision and vigor to guide his vessel to safety. Being educated as a Buddhist, i.e possessing sammadinnhi and being aware of the significance of tilakkhaoa : anicca dukkha anatta, he knows that in piloting his way to nibbana, he should avoid the danger zones, not run into storms, nor run aground. This adequate schooling in the art of navigation, of being able to ferry oneself out of sausara as is implied in the question How does one cross over this vast flood? [ kathau su tarati oghau at S.1. 214 ], every Buddhist must acquire by himself.
It should be clear by now to both you and me why it is said that Buddhism is a religion for the wise [...pa__avato ayau dhammo nayau dhammo duppa__assa ti. A.1V.229 ]. It is for those who are willing to acquire the necessary wisdom to transcend all that is painful and mundane [... pa__aya c assa disva asava parikkhaoa honti. M.I.160 ]. It is the diligent entry into the religion which paves the way for this wisdom. When we say diligent entry into religion what we mean is that there must be a practical measure of samma dinthi or correct [or corrected] vision, i.e. in other words a basis for choosing to live as a Buddhist. There must be a revision or reconstitution of ones outlook on life. Till one is aware of this and has come to terms with it, there would be no real grounding in sala. No need would be felt for the basic establishment in moral rectitude, which is an invariable pre requisite of Buddhist religious life. Correct vision or sammadinthi of the Buddhist is the conformity in ones belief to the teaching of the four Noble Truths or saccanulomikata _aoa. This is what makes the vision specifically Buddhist. Besides this there would also be the belief in the efficacy of karma [kammassakata _aoa ] which is conceded in the Buddhist texts even to those outside the pale of Buddhism [ See the relevant portion of the Commentary to the Sammaditthi Sutta at MA. I. 177].
This awareness gives life a new sense of direction, a new ease, and comfort. The danger of life in sausara has to be felt to a greater or lesser degree. In Buddhism, it is this, which draws one nearer to religiousness. Theri Sumedha whom we have already quoted above says very emphatically that the absence of this fear turns men into fools: Na ca santasanti bala punappunau jayitabbassa = Fools dread not the fact of being born again and again. [Thig. 455]. It is at this stage that analytical wisdom begins to grow in the Buddhist. He begins to realize that all activity prompted by greed, hatred and delusion [lobha dosa moha ], spiraling out of the basic error of selfhood or egoism contributes to the building up of sausara. Consequently, it must dawn on him that a basic Buddhist need is a gradual but definite and determined withdrawal from ahaukara and mamiukara or notions of I and mine. That process of individuation leading to differentiation as I and the other and the consequent attraction to and repulsion from persons and things in ones day to day life, not only makes life painful but also makes the life process painfully longer. One has to acquire the skill to detect these two vicious tendencies of greed and hostility at work in life. Religious culture, the Buddha tells his own son Rahula in the Maharahulovada Sutta [ M.I. 420-426 ], means the effort to reduce and eliminate these. The word used by the Buddha for this process of culture is bhavana. It is a process of culture or induced growth to free the mind of man from such evil traits like malevolence or vyapada, or harming will or vihesa. Here it is the cultivation of Metta and karuna followed by the other brahmavihara, namely mudita or appreciative joy and upekkha or equanimity. Metta is friendliness between and among persons. It is the attitude of being a friend of every other person, or the state of being free of a feeling of hostility. Its basic assumption is the absence of a state of enmity. Its injunction is love every one as you love yourself . Most people apparently do not know what they should really be doing when they assume they are developing Metta. It cannot stop at being a mere wish or prayer on behalf of another. It is the correction and culturing of ones own attitude towards the rest of the world. This idea is richly expressed in a four line verse in the Sutta Nipata.