The way or the path
The best of paths is the Eightfold Path. The best of Truths are the Four
Sayings. Non attachment is the best of States. The best of bipeds is the
Seeing One. -Magga Vagga - The Dhammapada
Vicious misinterpretations of Dhamma
This is not my usual brief essay because the subject requires a
certain detail. By 'vicious' I use the Oxford English Dictionary
meaning: 2. (Of language, document, reasoning etc.) incorrect, faulty,
It is a follow-up of my essay on the Satipatthana Sutta and a
response to another by an emeritus Professor of Buddhism, University of
Hawaii. (Daily News, 15th Dec.). He has made gross distortions for a
vicious adaptation of the Teaching of the Buddha to 'explain' the
environment in Dhamma terms.
The Assault of Mara Stone. About A. D. 750 Borobudur, Java
The brow-beat readers with etymology and ontology when the Buddha
says: Here, monks, some misguided men learn the Dhamma - discourses,
stanzas, expositions, verses, exclamations, sayings, birth stories, and
answers to question - but having learnt the Dhamma, they do not examine
the meaning of those teachings with understanding (Panna), and do not
gain a reflective acceptance of them (Ditthinijjanakanthi).
Those teachings, being wrongly grasped by them, conduce to their harm
and Dukkha for a long-time. (Alagaddaupama Sutta). Elsewhere, he says:
'Phrasing is a mere trifle.'
The seminal discovery of the Buddha is this: But, Udayi, let be the
past, let be the future, I shall set you forth the Teaching - When there
is this is, with the arising of this this arises; when there is this not
this this is not, with cessation of this this ceases.
When there is this this is, with arising of this this arises; that is
to say with nescience (Aavijja) as condition (Paccaya) determinations (Sankhara),
with determinations as condition, consciousness (Vinnana); with
consciousness as condition, name and matter (Namarupa); with name and
matter as condition, feeling (Vedana); with feeling as condition,
craving (Tanha); with craving as condition, holding (Upadana); with
holding as condition, being (Bhava); with being as condition, birth (Jati);
with birth as condition, ageing and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain,
grief, and despair (Jara, Marana, Soka, Pariveda, Dukkha, Domanassa,
Upayasa) come to into being.
Thus is the arising of this whole mass of Dukkha (suffering,
dissatisfaction, subjective impermanence, attachment, conflict, belief
in a self and so on). When there is not this this is not, with cessation
of this this ceases; that is to say, with cessation of nescience,
ceasing of determinations... thus is the ceasing of this whole mass of
Note the common wrong translation: When this is, that is etc. The
word 'this' refers to a specific thing (Dhamma, e.g. feeling) while
'that' can mean anything.
Nowhere, in the entirety of the Dhamma - as found only in the Suttas
in particular - does the Buddha apply this exemplification of a
fundamental structural principle to any phenomena other than, as he
often says, 'Monks, formerly and now, what I teach is the arising and
the ceasing of Dukkha.'
It is a travesty to claim that Buddha enunciated an 'explanation' of
genesis of the universe, of earthquakes, tornados, volcanoes, pollution,
terrorism, drug addiction and so on - like Albert Einstein who spent the
last years of his life trying to find a 'formulae for everything'.
The purpose of his teaching for 45 years was to show the way to end
this 'whole mass of Dukkha' - the corporate, degenerating foul fathom
long carcass re-becoming through the millennia - like that ubiquitous
recurring decimal - after he brought his own life to extinction, at 35
This concept is beyond the ken of untaught persons, and more
unintelligible when he further says: That consciousness by which the
Tathagata might be manifested has been eliminated by the Tathagata, cut
off at the root, dug up, made non-existent. It is incapable of future
arising. The Tathagata, great king, is free from reckoning as
consciousness... (Avyakata Samyutta). 'So too, Vaccha, the Tathagata has
abandoned that matter by which one describing the Tathagata might
describe him; he has cut it off at the root, made like a palm stump,
done away with it so that it is no longer subject to future arising. The
Tathagata is liberated from reckoning in terms of matter.
Vaccha, the Tathagata he is profound, immeasurable, hard to fathom
like the ocean. (Aggivaccagotta Sutta). Apropos, the word 'immeasurable'
is widely misunderstood by zealous monks as meaning 'superhuman, beyond
All measurement is from a here to a there, with in-betweens. In the
Buddha, there is neither a here nor a there nor any in-between. He is
thus immeasurable. See the discourse to Bahiya. With attainment of
Arhatship - and Nibbana - there is no one here. Empty phenomena just
roll on - empty of self. It is extinction of self, and ipso facto, of
consciousness, the end of coming to being, and Dukkha.
This is a key word in the Dhamma. The Buddha chose to use it in his
last words, to summarise 45 years of teaching: Vyadhamma sankhara,
Appamadena Sampadetha: it is the nature of sankhara to disappear, strive
unremittingly. Sankhara do not just disappear (Sankhara Nirodha). If it
were the case, the Teaching would be pointless. We can sit and wait.
The common popular translation of Sankhara is 'formations' along with
other idiosyncratic bizarre renderings such as 'preparations,
fabrications, and dispositions'. And the popular Establishment
interpretation is that sankhara is Kamma (action) - by reversing the
statement: It is intention that I call Kamma. In some contexts sankhara
does mean 'intention' (Cetana). While all cetana are Sankhara, all
Sankhara are not cetana, as for example Ayu-sankhara. See the
Culavedalla Sutta for the three classes of sankhara.
Venerable Nanavira Thera of Bundala, (Englishman, BA Honours, at 21
years, Modern Classics, mathematician, Cambridge, Sotapanna at 44 years)
gives the accurate, elegant and apposite translation 'determinations.'
(Clearing the Path, Writings of Nanavira Thera, Vol. I, BCC, 125,
Anderson Road, Dehiwela, Sri Lanka, 2001, re-produced by me.) I shall
not here go into its detailed exegesis.
In the Culavedalla Sutta, 'Sankhara means a thing from which some
other thing is inseparable - in other words, a necessary condition. If a
Sankhara is something upon which something else depends, we can say that
the 'something else' is determined by the first thing, i.e. by the
Sankhara, which is therefore a 'determination' or a 'determinant'.
It will be convenient to use the word determination when we need to
translate Sankhara.' (Ibid, p. 25)
Nowhere has the Buddha spoken about a 'stream of consciousness' (Bhavangasota)
as claimed by the professor. The concept is from the Visuddhimagga of
Achariya Buddhagosha, or from the Abhidhamma, both of which are not the
Words of the Buddha. I have read neither.
But I assert that Buddhagosha is responsible for gross distortion the
Dhamma, as in the chapter 'Cittavitti, 'mental process, cognitive.' 'It
is, perhaps, not superfluous to remark that this doctrine, of which so
much use is made in the Visuddhimagga (and see also in
Abhidhammatthasangha), is a pure scholastic invention and has nothing to
do with the Buddha's Teaching (or, indeed, with anything else).
It is, moreover, a vicious doctrine, totally at variance with
paticcasamuppada, setting forth the arising of experiences as a
succession of items each coming to an end before the next appears (Imassa
nirodha idam uppajjati). (Ibid, p. 62). Arising and ceasing are like two
sides of a coin.
'Consciousness' is a hard subject. I shall here only say that
consciousness is mere presence; and since there cannot be presence
without something being present, it is what distinguishes living from
non-living, such as tables and chairs. Any series of Paticcasamuppada
(dependent arising) - and there are several - 'boils down' to Vinnana
paccaya (conditioned by consciousness). Our 'problem' is consciousness.
No one can be conscious of consciousness. It cannot be syringed out to
look at it, without by consciousness.
There are no states of un-consciousness. Even in sleep we are
conscious. Reflex actions (like the knee jerk) are mere movements like
trees swaying in the wind. And consciousness is discontinuous - like a
monkey swaying through trees, holding a branch here, letting it go, and
grabbing another... Consciousness, the Sun's Kinsmen shows seems nothing
but a conjuring trick!(Samyutta 22.95). So the Buddha has nowhere
explained or described what is consciousness.
He describes six kinds: Eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind
consciousness (internal bases, Ayatana) with their six corresponding
external percepts of visible form, sound, smell, taste, touch,
In the untaught, this is indicative consciousness by which one infers
from things. When inference leads to insight, consciousness becomes
non-indicative as in the Arahat (Vinnanam anidassanm). Experience is now
divorced from subject-object duality. (Mulapariyaya Sutta). That is,
things do not point to a self (Phassa Nirodha). It has been extirpated.
There is now direct knowledge. This is private experience of 'absolute'.
In the Mahatanhasankhaya Sutta (No. 38, Majjhima), a monk named Sati,
son of a fisherman, says that as he understands the Dhamma taught by the
Blessed One, it is this same consciousness that runs and wanders through
the round of re-becoming, not another. "Misguided man, to whom have you
known me to teach the Dhamma in that way? Misguided man, in many
discourses have I not stated that consciousness is dependently arisen,
since without a condition there is no origination of consciousness?"
reprimands the Buddha.
The definitive sutta of its dependent arising and ceasing is given in
the Sutta on namarupa in Digha ii, 2.
It is a long discourse to his cousin and personal attendant Venerable
Ananda. Please read and study it. It is critical for getting an insight
of the Teaching.
In the preface to Notes on Dhamma, Nanavira Thera writes: There is
nothing in these pages to interest the professional scholar, for whom
the question of personal existence does not arise; for the scholar's
whole concern is to eliminate or ignore the individual point of view in
an effort to establish the objective truth - a would be impersonal
synthesis of public facts.
The scholar's essentially horizontal view of things, seeking
connexions in space and time, and his historical approach to texts,
disqualify him from any possibility of understanding a Dhamma that the
Buddha himself has called Akalika (not taking time). Only a vertical
view, straight down into the abyss of his own existence, is a man
capable of apprehending the perilous insecurity of his situation; and
only a man who does apprehend this is prepared to listen to the Buddha's
Elsewhere, in a comment to a writer who sent the draft of his book,
Nanavira Thera wrote thus: ... A person who simply makes a collection -
however vast - of ideas, and does not perceive that they are at variance
with one another, has actually no ideas of his own; and if one attempts
to instruct him (which is to say, to alter him) one merely finds that
one is adding to the junk heap of assorted notions without having any
other effect whatsoever...' Ignorance of the traditional Commentaries,
he says, is a positive advantage as leaving less to be unlearned!
Understanding is not 'wisdom'. Here is the OED meaning: being wise;
(possession of) experience and knowledge together with the power of
applying them critically or practically; sagacity, prudence, common
sense; wise sayings.
In translating from Pali to English one must be equally proficient in
both, and should have attained the path. 'No one who has not attained
the path', says Nanavira Thera, 'can assume to be right about the Dhamma'
The Dighanikha Sutta (No. 74 Majjhima) by the Buddha confirms it.
Understanding is Panna - it is the third stage, after seeing (Dassana,
yatha bhutha nana, seeing things as they actually are), and path entry.
The characteristic of the Dhamma is that it is leading onwards (Opanayiko).
Thus, full understanding (Parinna) is by the arahat. Unfortunately, that
is beyond a householder, in this life. Let us be satisfied with panna -
just as the dawn heralds the rising of the sun.
The lost Buddhist heritage of Tibet
Half of Tibet consists of a vast wind-swept plateau dotted by shallow
salt lakes. To the Western travellers and geographers Tibet is the 'Roof
of the World'.
The Tibetans traditionally call their country symbolically the 'Land
of Snow'. The mean altitude of Tibet in the western and central regions
is between 13,000 to 16,400 ft above the mean sea level. Steep
mountains, clad perennially with snow dot the landscape.
The legends have it that divine kings descended on these mountain
peaks, and hence mountains are treated with great honour and respect,
which enables the eco-system to continue undisturbed by man's axe or
The land is intersected by broad and fertile valleys, which in the
central -west are watered by the mighty river Brahamaputra (only river
in India with a male name, others Ganga, Jamuna, Sarasvati, Godavari,
Indu female names) flowing in a westerly eastern direction and its
tributaries, and in the east by the upper reaches of the great rivers of
South-East and Eastern Asia flowing southwards, the Yellow River, the
Yangtse, the Meekong and Salween.
The entire country is agro-pastoral growing barley, the staple food,
peas, buck wheat and various species of fruits and vegetables.
Every effort of this writer to visit Tibet from India became futile
in view of the stringent embargo on visitors to Tibet. Thus this feature
is primarily based on discussions, I have had with the Tibetan Lamas
(Monks) in charge of the Uruvel Cave (Dhungaswari in Bihar State) where
Prince Siddartha engaged himself in self-mortification.
Although Tibet was so close to India, with only the Himalayan ranges
in the middle, it took many centuries before Buddhism reached Tibet.
Indo-Tibetan Buddhist relations commenced in the 7th century AD when
King Srong-Sen-Gam-Po sent a group of erudite delegation to India, who
studied at the famous Indian universities such as Nalanda, Oddantapuri,
Vikramasila etc for eighteen years and then returned home, established
Mahayanic Buddhism in Tibet.
They translated many Mahayana scriptures to the Tibetan language and
initiated Mahayanic rites and rituals. This move was followed by even a
later King Ti-Song-De-Sen and the Indian mystic Padmasabhava established
a monastery at Sam-ye, about thirty miles away from the capital Lhasa in
the model of the Indian University Odantapuri at Nalanda (Bihar State)
where for the first time ordinations were done and a full-fledged Sangha
Sasasana was established in Tibet.
Thus there were exchanges of Buddhist missionaries between the two
countries. Tibetan monks commenced propagating Buddhism in Mongolia,
China and Russia.
Deeply moved by the persecution of Buddhist Monks in Mongolia, after
the take over of the country by Chinese Communists in 1920, Dalai Lama,
the Head of the Government and the Buddhist Order wrote what has been
called his 'political testament' in 1923, farseeing what was in store
for Buddhists in Tibet.
He wrote "It may happen that here in Tibet the religion and the
centres of secular administration may be attacked both from outside and
from the inside..... As regards the monasteries and priesthood, their
lands and other properties will be destroyed.
The officers of the State, ecclesiastical and secular will find their
lands seized and their properties confiscated and they themselves made
to serve the enemies or wander about the country as beggars. All beings
will be sunk in great hardships and in over-powering fear; the days and
nights will drag on slowly in suffering".
In less than twenty years later the prophetic words of the Dalai Lama
came to be fulfilled. In the autumn of 1950, the Communist regime
invaded Tibet. Organised resistance of the Tibetans was ruthlessly and
mercilessly stamped out.
In 1951, again like in 1911 for the first time Chinese Communists
entered the capital Lhasa and Tibet was reduced to a colony of China.
There was a Tibetan uprising in March 1959 soon after the Great Prayer
Ceremony, the Dalai Lama, the 14th successor fled to India.
In 1965, the Chinese established Tibet Autonomous Region' and
vanquished all vestiges of Buddhism and independence of Tibet. Tibetans
approximating to 80,000 sought refuge in India, Nepal, Bhutan, and
several thousands migrated to Europe, especially Switzerland and North
Dalai Lama since 1960 became a honoured guest of India and was
allowed to set up his headquarters in the hill station Dharmasala in the
Himalayan foothills of north-west Delhi thus migrating Tibetans now
continue to perform their Buddhist activities in their adopted homes
without any let or hindrance.
In the past prior to the Communist take over of Gyantse, one of the
three towns in Tibet, more or less a village, stood the famous Stupa of
a thousand images. The most splendid monument was the Potala in Lhasa,
the seat of the Dalai Lama.
This unique building nestling on a rock on the middle of a fertile
plain was the embodiment of Tibetan Buddhism and culture. It was founded
by the Fifth Dalai Lama and His Chief Minister between 1645 and 1653,
with 13 stories, courtyards, halls, temples as well as a palatial
mansion for the Dalai Lama.
In the Tibetan life festivals and ceremonies Puncuate the day-to-day
life. In the past the ceremony at Jo-Khang Temple, the Cathedral of
Tibet is the oldest and the holiest.
Here the ceremony involves the Lamas (Mons) chasing scapegoats,
symbolising the chasing of evil spirits. Fire offerings are made to
certain Tantric deities. The bell symbolises wisdom, vajra or septre,
skilful means, the two constituents in the path for Buddhahood. The
special crown of the Dalai Lama has five parts, each decorated with one
of the five cosmic Buddhas.
The Tantric mediation is centred on a mandala (circle). In the centre
of the circle sits Aksobhya, one of the five cosmic Buddhas, with the
other four around him in the small concentric circle. The sceptre like
shape on the borders is the vajra. Outside the circle are Bodhisatvas
differentiated from one another with different colours. In the corners
of the square are gateway guarding fierce goddesses.
The Dalai Lama is considered as the reincarnation of Avalokitesvara
Bodhisatva. Avalalokitesvara means the God who looks after the people on
earth, the guardian of land and sea - travellers and the Buddha
aspirant. Since the end of the 16th century the Dalai Lama is both the
religious and secular ruler of Tibet.
The Great Fifth Dalai Lama (1617-1682) consolidated Lamaism and its
sovereignty and consolidated the leading group of Lamas the Yellow Hats
(dGe - lugspa) and made Lhasa the capital.
The Bodhisatva Avalokitesvara is also regarded as an emanation of the
Buddha Amitabha, the God of mercy and compassion, the fountain head of
happiness of all sentient beings. Following the Hindu sculptural
traditions statues of Amitabha is sculptured with several hands, each
hand symbolising a particular power he wields.
In rituals festivals and ceremonies dancers use masks to help the
dancers to be endowed with the power of the God he enacts in his dance.
On the paths leading to shrines and sanctuaries, the Sacred Mantra - "Om
Mani Padme Hum' is exquisitely carved.
In the roof beams of temples such as Jo-Khang Temple in Lhasa every
surface is inscribed with protective and sanctifying texts. In the Jo-khang
Temple, the whole roof is gilded and walls are decorated with murals of
Gods. In case of sickness there are lay reciters of Sutras to recite
The ordinary monk is called a Lama, who is a spell-binder, meditator
are all in one. In praying both the monks and the laity use a prayer
wheel, like a toy, which they hold with one hand turns while praying or
meditating by the movements of the prayer wheel the Sacred Spell is
Every man made castrophe or of nature has a silver lining. This is
manifested in tsunami affected Ache Province of Indonesia, where
separatists had waged an armed struggle and in the wake of tsunami, the
Government and rebels came to dialogue and the problem was settled. In
the massive earthquake of Jammu and Kashmir (India-Pakistan) with
thousands of deaths and unimaginable loss of property, the Indian
Government opted to open four of the five barriers of the 200 km long
line of control, to enable transportation of relief supplies and relief
workers and citizens on either side to visit their relatives after many
decades of segregation.
Similarly the Communist take over of Tibet in 1950 initiated a new
period in the history of the study of Tibetan Buddhism in the West.
Native Tibetan works published by the refugees were accumulated in
depository libraries across the United States, as a result of American
Public Law 480, under the terms of which the huge debts owed by the
Government of India to the United States for shipments of American wheat
provided for famine relief would be repaid in the form of books.
Specifically, a designated number of copies of every book published
in India was to be provided to the Library of Congress, which would then
distribute them to the depository libraries. In this way, the long
mysterious Tibetan archives became as if magically manifest in the
stacks of American university libraries. Thus the West was provided with
an opportunity to know what it was before and after Communist take over
Dalai Lama still continues in exile in India and the damage done to
Tibetan Buddhism has been far greater than the Turkish invasions of
India in the eleventh century AD.