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Mihintalava - The Birthplace of Sri Lankan Buddhist Civilization

Swimming against the current

"In that person a deep yearning for the undefined nibbana has arisen. He has already touched it mentally. He is called a swimmer against the current-an upstream bound person. He has already started the process towards nibbana." (Dhammapada - verse 218)

A temple in Mongolia

The objective of Buddhist Teachings is to enlighten the worldlings on 'reality' - the true nature of things- and show them the way to escape from the wandering cycle of births and deaths called the samsara, which is an ever ongoing process dependent on conditions; and not according to one's mere wishes.

This is the unsatisfactory feature of samsara, referred to as 'dukka' in Buddhist parlance. One cannot exercise control over one's future births.

In this situation one may be re-born in any of the 31 plains of existence from niraya-hell-to the realm of the brahmas', dependent on the kammic force that would surface at the time of death. It is like the game of 'snakes and ladders', but more snakes than ladders!

One can be re-born in the deva world due to some past good deeds (kamma) but once the force of the good kamma is exhausted there will be the descending journey which could even be to the very bottom of the plains of existence- avicci or the animal world or the realm of hungry ghosts. Of course it is also dependent on kamma - this time a bad kamma that has generated the force.

No one can interfere with this process. No, not even the Buddha.So, if we want to 'drift on' with the samsaric flow we do not have to strive for it. Like a stick that floats with the flow of water in a stream, we could also get drifted with the samsaric flow.

This is the way to be with the current which is called 'anusothagami'. This is effortless. But, if and when none gets disgusted of existence through penetration into the true nature of things one will have to exert enormous effort and swim upstream; this is known as 'patisothagami'.

Now, how does such realization-the truth of dukka- dawn on a person? It happens only by coming to know the Dhamma - the Noble Teachings - from another who is a kalyanamitta. A person might become disenchanted with existence due to various reasons.

It may be due to one's interest in finding a solution to the fleeting nature of vicissitudes of human life. It may be due to a traumatic and shocking experience like the recent tsunami. During the time of the Buddha Patachara underwent such an experience which led her to the path of Dhamma. I do not have to recount her sad story, as it is so well known to Buddhists.

Patachara became almost insane and neurotic and she went to the Buddha in utter despair. The Buddha was her kalyanamitta. On following the advice by the Buddha she finally escaped the samsaric danger. She achieved this by swimming against the current.

Upatissa and Kolitha (later Venerable Sariputta and Moggallana) were turned towards the path of Dhamma on hearing the nature of conditionality taught by the Buddha, as explained by monk Assaji in a concise statement. Ven. Assaji was their kalyanamitta. Likewise, our own King, Devanampiyatissa embraced Buddhism on hearing the Dhamma from arahant Mahinda on Poson full moon day.


Now the question is, what is the current against which one has to swim for deliverance from the samsaric suffering; and where does it flow?

The currents are the influxes or the taints - asava- that steadily flow in one's consciousness or the mind. They are (1) wrong views (dittasava) or ignorance (avijjasava) (2) sense desire (kamasava) and (3) desire for existence (bhavasava). These influxes manifest in the form of fetters - samyojana-that keep a being bound to the samsara. It is only by freeing from these fetters that one could escape the cycle of births and deaths.

There are ten fetters created by the influxes. Following fetters are created due to wrong view:

Belief in an eternal
self, (sakkaya ditti)
Skeptical doubt, (vicikicca)
Belief in the efficacy of vows
and rituals for deliverance,
Conceit, (mana)
Restlessness, (uddacca) and
Ignorance. (avijja)

Sense desire creates:

Attachment to sensual pleasures (kama raga), and Aversion (patigha).

Desire for existence gives rise to:

Attachment to fine-material existence (rupa raga), and Attachment to immaterial existence (arupa raga).

Those who have attempted to swim upstream would know how difficult and strenuous a task it is. One has to constantly swim against the current. No question of relaxing or resting. Also one has to know the correct technique to undertake the task.

Similarly an aspirant who undertakes the task of overcoming the steady flow of influxes should adopt the right technique to do so. It is the technique that has been revealed by the Buddha: the Noble Eightfold Path. There is no other way to accomplish the task of swimming against the samsaric current. Paramis

But we know that mere understanding of the technique alone will not be sufficient to swim against the current unless one has the required energy for this exercise. In the same way, mere understanding of the Noble Eightfold path is not enough to overcome the samsaric current unless one is fortified with the ten perfections or the paramis.

They are (1) perfection in giving (dana), (2) morality (sila), (3) renunciation (nekkamma), (4) wisdom (panna), (5) Energy (viriya), (6) patience (khanthi), (7) truthfulness (sacca), (8) resolution (aditthana), (9) loving-kindness (metta), and (10) equanimity (upekka).

The paramis are like the fuel that provides energy to an engine. The task of perfecting paramis would proportionately differ according to one's goal. If one aspires to be a Samma Sambuddha which is the highest achievement in the process of enlightenment, it would be an enormous task running to many incalculable eons; for Pacceka Buddhahood it would be less; and for a Savaka Buddha (i.e an arhant) the period of time one should practise paramis would be very much less.

There seems to be however, a misconception that paramis are only for those aspiring to be a Buddha i.e. a bodhisatta. No, even to develop the mind to the level of enlightenment as an arhant, one has to perfect the paramis, of course to a lesser degree.

It must be emphasized that, it is only when the paramis are perfected one will be able to accomplish the task of swimming against the samsaric current. It is due to this reason, that is, not perfecting the paramis that we are still unable to make up our minds to undertake the up-stream swim!

Now what happens when one successfully completes the upstream swim? Strangely he swims and enters into another stream.

He is now called 'a stream winner' - sothapanna; for he has entered the stream that leads him eventually to his desired goal.

By these similes of 'up-stream swim' and the 'stream entry' the Buddha has, on the one hand conveyed the relentless determination with which one must undertake the exercise to overcome the craving for existence, and on the other hand the 'leading on' nature of Dhamma when one clears the initial stage of progress - sothappana. In him, the one who has entered the stream, the flow of influxes is now greatly minimized.

He is now an 'arya puggala' who has released himself from the less strong fetters and is now in the process of breaking up the stronger ones for final escape.

Quoting the Enlightened One as found in one of the suttas in the Anguttara Nikaya.

"These four persons are to be found in the world. What four?

The person who goes with the stream; he who goes against the stream; he who stands firm; and he who has crossed over, has gone to the other shore and stands on dry land; a saint. Of what nature is the person who goes with the stream/ He is one who indulges his sense desire and commits wrong deeds. Of what nature is he who goes against the stream? He is one who does not indulge in his sense desires and does not commit wrong deeds.

He lives the pure and chaste life, (though) in painful (struggle), with difficulty, sighing and in tears. Of what nature is he who stands firm? He is one who after destroying the five lower fetters, is reborn spontaneously (in the celestial world) and there he reaches nibbana, without ever retuning from that world to the sensuous sphere.

And of what nature is he who has crossed over, has gone to the other shore and stands on dry land: a saint? He is one who after destroying the cankers, realize in this very life, by himself, the canker-free liberation of the heart and liberation by wisdom, and comprehending it fully abides in it.

These four persons, O monks, are found in the world".

Three types of patients

There are, O monks, three types of patients found in the world. What three?

There is one patient: whether or not he obtains proper nourishment, proper medicine, and adequate nursing, he will not recover from his illness.

There is another patient: whether or not he obtains all these things, he will recover from his illness. There is still another patient who will recover from his illness only if he receives proper nourishment, proper medicine and adequate nursing, but not if he lacks these. For him, O monks, a special diet, curative medicine and good nursing are prescribed. But apart from him, also the other two types of patients should be attended to.

These three types of patients are found in the world. Similarly, monks, there are three other types of persons comparable to those three patients.

There is one type of person: whether or not he has the chance of seeing the Tathagata and of listening to the Dhamma and Discipline proclaimed by Him, he will not enter the path of assurance and will not reach perfection in wholesome states.

There is another person: whether or not he had the chance of seeing the Tathagata and of listening to the Dhamma and Discipline proclaimed by Him, he will in any case enter upon the path of assurance and will reach perfection in wholesome states.

Again, there is one person who will enter upon the path of assurance and will reach perfection in wholesome states only if he has the chance of seeing the Tathagata and of listening to the Dhamma and Discipline proclaimed by Him, but not if he lacks this opportunity.

It is for this person, O monks, that instruction in the Dhamma has been prescribed. But apart from him, the two others should also be instructed in the Dhamma.These are the three types of persons found in the world who are comparable to the three patients. Anguttara Nikaya

In this body, a fathom in length

The orientation of society towards spiritual realities is more pronounced today than ever before, and the spirit of inquiry is more alive than any other time. From planet to man and to the smallest grain, everything in nature is interpenetrated by several worlds.

The Kyakyaw Mahamuni Image in Myanmar

Man possesses a body with which to function in each world. These refined bodies have been weighed by scientists; that the human-aura can be photographed by special means. The vibrations of the astral body have been recorded by instruments.

The three bodies of man were visibly demonstrated at the 'Mayfair Hotel', in London, by Dr. Alexender Cannon, a medical specialist and an atomic scientist of repute. Three chairs were placed on the stage, where a healthy person was put into a deep hypnotic trance on the first chair.

A beam of an electric light of a very high voltage was focussed enclosing the chairs. Then, the refined matter in and around the physical body of the sitter became visible to the scientists.

Then the astral body of the sitter was commanded to sit on the second chair. Two bodies were connected together by a rapid vibration. When the doctor placed his hand closer to the eye of the astral counterpart, the physical body responded. Then the etharal body of the sitter was commanded to sit on the third chair.

A radiant energy without any form moved away to the third chair from the second, maintaining its link with the astral counterpart. When the doctor put his hands closer to the eyes of the astral body as before the physical body failed to respond.

Then the doctor placed the hand closer to the upper region of the etheral body, the physical body responded as before. It proved that mind is apart from both brain and body, and that mind is connected to the brain and nervous system by invisible vibrations through the mind centres, that exist alongside the spinal cord.

The astral body is known to scientists as bio-plasmic body. In the active state it resembles the physical body in detail. In the passive state it encloses the physical body, as it were in a golden pot. This is known to Buddhists as 'the mind-made-self,' and to the Western cultures as 'the golden-bowl.' The etheral body lies in front of the spinal cord like a streak of silver radiation.

The majority of fibres with the long plexuses pass in front of the thirty three vertebrae of the spinal cord. These plexuses are vortexes of energy. They are the ductless glands of internal secretion. These mind-centres are collectively called etheric body. Life principle of man is there. In Buddhist psychology they are 'the mental-groups', 'cord-of-rebirth' or 'Gandabba'. It is known in the west as 'the silver-cord.' Our village folk referred to it as 'Panakenda'.

The three selves of man as explained to 'Potthapada' by the Fully-Awakened-One, correlates the individual to the three planes of being. They are the world of physical matter, the world of form, and the formless world, comprising the whole supra-cosmos.

"There are three ways of getting a self Potthapada, namely the getting of a physical-body-self, the getting of a mind-made-self, and the getting of a formless-self.

And, what Potthapada is the getting of a physical-body-self? It is that which has form, is composed of the four-great-elements, and is fed on material food.

That is the physical-body-self. And, what Potthapada is the getting of a mind-made-self? It also has form, and is made of minds complete in all its limbs, possessed of the super sense organs. That is the mind-made-self. And what Potthapada is the getting of a formless-self? It is that which has no form, but is made of consciousness. That is the getting of a formless-self.

"Now I Potthapada, impart you the teaching for the rejecting of the getting of any self: a way by practising which, impure conditions can be put away by you, and pure conditions brought to increase, and by which, one in this very life, may attain unto the fulfilment and perfect growth of the wisdom, realising it by his own abnormal powers, so as to abide therein. Now it may well be Potthapada, that this thought might come to you. 'Yes, impure conditions may be put away, pure conditions may be put to increase, and one may even in this life, attain these things and abide therein.

But, yet one remains sorrowful?' But that Potthapada, is not the way to look at it. For when these things are done... there will be, as a result, joy, zest, calm, mindfulness, self-possession and the happy life (and the same may be said of the getting of the mind-made-self and the formless-self). And if Potthapada, others should ask us this question.

'But what friend, is the getting of a physical-body-self, a mind-made-self, and a formless-self (about which you say all this)?' Then we should thus reply: 'It is the same self which we speak... for at the time, when anyone of these modes of self is going on, it is not reckoned as one of the other two. It is only reckoned by the name of that particular personality that prevails.'

For all of them are merely names Potthapada, terms, ways of speaking, definitions of everyday use... these the 'Thathagatha' uses (when He speaks), but He is not deceived by them." (DN 1-194-202) Then the Fully-Awakened-One gave detailed instructions to purify these three illusory selves in gradual stages as 'Sovan', 'Sakadagami' and 'Anagami' and blow out all of them to attain the supra-cosmic state of 'Arahathship', 'Nibbana'.

Once the Fully-Awakened-One instructed 'Rada' on sublimating the 'Sansaric-consciousness': "That desire Rada, that lust, that lure, that craving, those graspings after systems, that mental stand-point, that dogmatic bias, which is concerned with form - that is called the cord of rebirth.

So with sensation, perception, tendencies... that desire, that lust, that lure, that craving, those graspings after systems, that mental standpoint, that dogmatic bias, which is concerned with consciousness, that is called 'the-cord-of-rebirth'.

The ceasing of these is called the ceasing of 'the-cord-of-rebirth'. (S.N. iii). On another occasion the Fully-Awakened-One spoke to Vaccha on the illusory body: formless-self: "At the time Vaccha, when a being lays aside this form, and rise up again in another form, for that I declare craving to be the fuel." (S.N. iv) In the sensuous world consciousness takes birth through a womb thus: "Monks, it is on the conjunction of three things that there is conception.

When there is here a coitus of the parents, but it is not the mother's season, and the 'Gandabba' (the being coming to birth) is not present - For so long there is no conception. When there is here a coitus of the parents, and it is the mother's season, but 'Gandabba' is not present - For so long there is no conception. But monks, when there is here a coitus of the parents, and it is the mother's season, and the 'Gandabba' is present, on the conjunction of these three things, that there is conception." (M.N. - 38) Man is his own ancestor.

The descent of man is from himself. Buddhist meditations are upgraded to attune to the three planes of being.

"In this very body one fathom in length, with its sense impressions, and its thoughts and ideas, are the world, the origin of the world, and likewise, the way that leads to the ceasing" thus spoke the Fully-Awakened-One.



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