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Thursday, 17 March 2011






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Buddhist Spectrum

Buddhist meditation and depth psychology

Mind is the forerunner of all (evil) conditions.
Mind is their chief, and they are mind-made.
If, with an impure mind, one speaks or acts,
Then suffering follows one
Even as the cart wheel follows the hoof of the ox.
Mind is the forerunner of all (good) conditions.
Mind is their chief, and they are mind-made.
If, with a pure mind, one speaks or acts,
Then happiness follows one
Like a never-departing shadow.

These words, which are the opening lines of the Dhammapada, were spoken by Gotama Buddha 2500 years ago. They illustrate the central theme of Buddhist teaching, the human mind.

Buddhism is probably the least understood of all major religions. Indeed, from an Occidental viewpoint we might well question whether it warrants the title of religion. In the West we are accustomed to thinking of theology in terms of God, revelation, obedience, punishment, and redemption.

The themes of creation, worship, judgment, and immortality have been major concerns in the Christian heritage and are virtually inseparable from our concept of religion. Against such a cultural background Western man views Buddhism and in so doing unconsciously projects his own concepts, values and expectations. Erroneously he perceives ceremonies and bowing as examples of worship or even idolatry.

Vaguely equated

He may extol its scientific world view or abhor and condemn its “atheism.” The Buddha is vaguely equated with God or Jesus, and meditation is suspected of being a hypnotic approach to mysticism or an escape from reality.

However, such erroneous notions of the Dhamma, the teaching of the Buddha, are not entirely the result of Western ignorance and ethnocentrism. Before his demise the Buddha predicted that within a thousand years his doctrine would fall into the hands of men of lesser understanding and would thereby become corrupted and distorted. Such has been the case throughout much, if not most, of the Orient.

Ritual has replaced self-discipline, faith has replaced insight, and prayer has replaced understanding.

If the basis of Christianity is God, the basis of Buddhism is mind. From the Buddhist viewpoint, mind or consciousness is the core of our existence. Pleasure and pain, good and evil, time and space, life and death have no meaning to us apart from our awareness of them or thoughts about them.

Whether God exists or does not exist, whether existence is primarily spiritual or primarily material, whether we live for a few decades or live forever — all these matters are, in the Buddhist view, secondary to the one empirical fact of which we do have certainty: the existence of conscious experience as it proceeds through the course of daily living.

Therefore Buddhism focuses on the mind; for happiness and sorrow, pleasure and pain are psychological experiences. Even such notions as purpose, value, virtue, goodness, and worth have meaning only as the results of our attitudes and feelings.

Buddhism does not deny the reality of material existence, nor does it ignore the very great effect that the physical world has upon us.

On the contrary, it refutes the mind-body dichotomy of the Brahmans and says that mind and body are interdependent. But since the fundamental reality of human existence is the ever-changing sequence of thoughts, feelings, emotions, and perceptions which comprise conscious experience, then, from the viewpoint of early Buddhism, the primary concern of religion must be these very experiences which make up our daily lives.

Most significant of these are love and hate, fear and sorrow, pride and passion, struggle and defeat.

Conversely, such concepts as vicarious atonement, Cosmic Consciousness, Ultimate Reality, Buddha Nature, and redemption of sins are metaphysical and hypothetical matters of secondary importance to the realities of daily existence.

Displeasurable experience

Therefore, in Buddhism the most significant fact of life is the first noble truth, the inevitable existence of dukkha. Dukkha is a Pali word embracing all types of displeasurable experience — sorrow, fear, worry, pain, despair, discord, frustration, agitation, irritation, etc. The second noble truth states that the cause of dukkha is desire or craving. In various texts this cause is further explained as being threefold — greed, hatred, and delusion.

Five components

Again, on other occasions the Buddha divided the cause of suffering into five components — sensual lust, anger, sloth or torpor, agitation or worry, and doubt. On still other occasions he listed ten causes of dukkha — belief that oneself is an unchanging entity; scepticism; belief in salvation through rites, rules and ceremonies; sensual lust; hatred; craving for fine-material existence; craving for immaterial existence; conceit; restlessness; and ignorance. The Third Noble Truth states that dukkha can be overcome, and the Fourth Truth prescribes the means by which this is achieved.

Thus, with the Fourth Noble Truth, Buddhism becomes a technique, a discipline, a way of life designed to free people from sorrow and improve the nature of human existence. This aspect of the Dhamma is called the Noble Eightfold Path, and includes moral teachings, self-discipline, development of wisdom and understanding, and improvement of one’s environment on both a personal and social level. These have been dealt with in previous writings and for the sake of brevity will not be repeated here. Suffice it to remind the reader that this essay is concerned with only one aspect of Buddhism, the practice of meditation. The ethical, practical, and logical facets of the Teaching are covered in other publications.

If the cause of suffering is primarily psychological, then it must follow that the cure, also, is psychological. Therefore, we find in Buddhism a series of “mental exercises” or meditations designed to uncover and cure our psychic aberrations.

Mistakenly, Buddhist meditation is frequently confused with yogic meditation, which often includes physical contortions, autohypnosis, quests for occult powers, and an attempted union with God. None of these are concerns or practices of the Eightfold Path.

Buddhist meditation

There are in Buddhism no drugs or stimulants, no secret teachings, and no mystical formulae. Buddhist meditation deals exclusively with the everyday phenomena of human consciousness. In the words of the Venerable Nyanaponika Thera, a renowned Buddhist scholar and monk:

In its spirit of self-reliance, Satipatthana does not require any elaborate technique or external devices. The daily life is its working material. It has nothing to do with any exotic cults or rites nor does it confer “initiations” or “esoteric knowledge” in any way other than by self-enlightenment.

Using just the conditions of life it finds, Satipatthana does not require complete seclusion or monastic life, though in some who undertake the practice, the desire and need for these may grow.

Lest the reader suspect that some peculiarity of the “Western mind” precludes Occidentals from the successful practice of meditation, we should note also the words of Rear Admiral E.H. Shattock, a British naval officer, who spent three weeks of diligent meditation practice in a Theravada monastery near Rangoon:

Basically academic

Meditation, therefore, is a really practical occupation: it is in no sense necessarily a religious one, though it is usually thought of as such. It is itself basically academic, practical, and profitable. It is, I think, necessary to emphasize this point, because so many only associate meditation with holy or saintly people, and regard it as an advanced form of the pious life... This is not the tale of a conversion, but of an attempt to test the reaction of a well-tried Eastern system on a typical Western mind.

Reading about meditation is like reading about swimming; only by getting into the water does the aspiring swimmer begin to progress. So it is with meditation and Buddhism in general. The Dhamma must be lived, not merely thought. Study and contemplation are valuable tools, but life itself is the training ground.

The following passages are attempts to put into words what must be experienced within oneself. Or in the words of the Dhammapada: “Buddhas only point the way. Each one must work out his own salvation with diligence.”

Meditation is a personal experience, a subjective experience, and consequently each of us must tread his or her own path towards the summit of Enlightenment. By words we can instruct and encourage but words are only symbols for reality.

Abhidhamma in practice

Continued from March 3

6. The five disciples were delighted with the Buddha’s discourse and all attained enlightenment, so that, at the end of this discourse, there were six arahants in this world. There is an implication here that, unless one gains insight into the No-self characteristic of existence, it is not possible to start on the path to Enlightenment. Of the ten fetters that bind us down to wanderings in Samsara, belief in a soul is the first to be broken. Hence the profound importance of this discourse.

This second discourse was on a discovery which was revolutionary in human thought. Before the Buddha’s time and even after, religious teachers emphasized the existence of an abiding soul.

Can we verify

A skeptic would say that this soul-less doctrine is one of hopelessness and despair and equates a sentient being to an automaton. On the contrary, the No-self doctrine gives the sentient being the highest sense of responsibility, the greatest amount of encouragement, the highest measure of hope and is conducive to contentment which will be reflected in the disciple’s attitude to other fellow beings, which is the only way to put an end to all the strife on this earth.

Can we verify for ourselves the truth of this aspect of the Buddha’s teaching? The Buddha urged his disciples to investigate the Dhamma. In fact, this investigation is the second of the seven enlightenment factors. In order to convince ourselves about the truth of this doctrine, we have to follow the Noble Eightfold Path. By constant mindfulness and insight meditation, we will know whether this teaching is true or not. The bodily form is subject to disease, decay and death, over which we have no ultimate control.

The body does not decide to move, stand, sit or lie down. These movements are always preceded by a mental directive. So the ultimate truth is that we cannot state that ‘the body is mine’ or ‘I am the body.’ We do, however, use these terms, but this usage is only a conventional expression.

Dependent on conditions

The mental components arise, exist for a moment and then perish. They arise dependent on conditions; so, here again, according to the ultimate truth, we cannot state that the ‘mental components are mine’ or ‘I am the mental components.’

Now, according to this teaching of No-self, wherein lies the responsibility, the hope and the possibility of enlightenment? As regards bodily form, we have no ultimate control over it. Even the Buddha and the arahants suffered bodily afflictions. Disease, decay and death cannot be prevented. The young die through accident or disease. Living brings in its trail all the signs of decay. Kamma alone decides the fate of this bodily form. All we can do in this present existence is to avoid the two extremes which the Buddha discarded, namely, indulgence and mortification.

The rest will happen to the bodily form regardless of our interference. This does not mean that, when the body is afflicted by accident or disease, no attempt should be made to alleviate such affliction if ways and means were available. A negative attitude in this respect would amount to one of the extremes, namely, mortification. The Buddha, too, had a physician and his name was Jivaka. On the other hand, it is different with the mental components.

These arise dependent on conditions which are intimately connected with what are called the “roots,” which are either unwholesome or wholesome, found in various combinations and degrees in all worldlings, that is, in those who have not reached Sainthood. The unwholesome roots are:

a. Greed (lobha) in various forms and degrees;

b. Hatred or anger (dosa) in various forms and degrees;

c. Delusion (moha) or ignorance (avijja), particularly with reference to the true nature of phenomena.

In a person tainted with greed and lust, the mental components will be predominantly those associated with greed and lust. As a result, volition will produce actions, bodily, verbal and mental, which will reflect these taints and bring in their trail unpleasant consequences in accordance with the Law of Action and Reaction (kamma). The same applies to the other two roots of an unwholesome nature.

Unwholesome volitions

Even though our past unwholesome volitions are resulting now in painful and unpleasant feelings, perceptions and consciousness, we can accept these with wisdom and set out on a favourable course by replacing the unwholesome roots by wholesome ones, that is:

a. Greed and lust by greedlessness, lustlessness and generosity (aloba);

b. Hate and anger by hatelessness (adosa) and by kindness and goodwill (metta);

c. Delusion by undeludedness (amoha) and by wisdom (pañña).

In the discourse, the Buddha said that, with reference to any of the aggregates, because there is no self (‘soul’), the possibility does not exist whereby it could be said “may my ... be thus” and “may my ... not be thus.” The conclusion to be drawn from this is that it is futile to expect returns from prayer, appeal, entreaty, or offering to an outside source or by wishing and just hoping for the best.

Help we may get from outside in the form of salutary advice and association with the wise, but, in the final analysis, as stated in verse 276 of the Dhammapada, “striving should be done by ourselves, the Tathagatas are only teachers.” How do we strive? It is by following the Eightfold Path.

The unwholesome roots are replaced by wholesome ones; as progress is made and the end of the Path is reached, the Saints have neither unwholesome nor wholesome roots, theirs actions are kammically inoperative, and this is the summum bonum of the Dhamma.


This striving is by no means easy. The Buddha was realistic about this. In verse 239 of the Dhammapada, it is stated: “By degrees, little by little, from time to time, a wise person should remove his own impurities, as a smith removes (the dross) of silver” (Both Dhammapada translations are by Ven. Narada). Confidence in the Threefold Refuge, diligent application and patience will take the disciple along the Path.

What then is the cause of this delusion that a self or soul exists? It is purely subjective, born of ignorance and nourished by the roots, both unwholesome and wholesome. It is lack of insight into the most profound statement ever made, that “bare phenomena roll on.” There is no doer but only the action, there is no speaker but only the utterance, there is no thinker but only the thought.


Going forth with meditation

If one becomes aware that ‘this is the path to Nibbana’ will his fear leave him or will it increase? It leaves him. He becomes fearless. With the fear leaving him joy will arise in him. He will become relaxed. Thereafter he develops the skill to practice the meditation diligently. Therefore we should try to develop an admiration for Satipatthana. We should develop a liking for it. We should attempt to do so.

What have we got to do in this connection? We should develop a liking to associate with worthy friends. We should attempt it. If we form an association with worthy friends in that manner, it becomes possible for us to form an admiration for Satipatthana.

Meditation leads to inner serenity

A person who starts admiring the Satipatthana remains with a happy mind. He lives with a fresh mind. His life is beautiful. The ugly nature of life starts leaving him. The immense fear he had in Sansara starts getting away from him. That is a natural phenomenon. There is nothing strange in it. It is not a delusion. It is something that takes place. All of us should get to like to arrive there.

The Buddha explained to us that this is the only path. Satipatthana is the only way to develop purity in the mind, to remove suffering and sorrow, to get rid of the nature of sadness and repentance in the mind, to develop the unique wisdom and to attain Nibbana. Try to generate confidence in this principle. Then there fearlessness will rise. Doubts will disappear. Luke warmness in the mind will go off. Laziness will leave you. Such a person will be able to live in joy.

If we form an admiration for Satipatthana for what has it been formed? In respect of what was admiration formed? It was for the path to Nibbana. We are in admiration of the Fourth Noble Truth. If one admires one Noble Truth he gets to admire all Four Noble Truths.

One who develops admiration for Satipatthana develops admiration for the four Noble Truths. If there is admiration for the Noble Truths isn’t Saddha there? That means he has now arrived at Saddha.

That is if we develop an admiration or trust in Satipatthana we would have made a great achievement. Therefore we should not perform useless activities like blind people groping in the dark. Blind people will feel here and there and say ‘What is this? Where is it? Don’t do meaningless things like that. In the manner of a person with good eye sight distinguishing things in broad day light, try to generate trust in Satipatthana which has been explained very clearly. Be willing to do so. Reread it. Read and develop admiration for that Dhamma preached by the Buddha. Remove from the mind ideas like ‘How is that? How is this?’etc.

Leave aside suspicion and doubt. When there is confidence in Satipatthana doubts go off. Leave aside that nature of doubting. Trust in this Dhamma. One who trusts does not get into a hurry. He performs it with patience.

When he practices for sometime he becomes certain of what he has trusted. At this stage if he had any doubt such doubts will gradually start leaving him. If there was any Dhamma which he had trusted, he becomes absolutely certain of such Dhamma. It becomes so confirmed that another person will not be able to make it leave him.

At this stage doubt is annihilated. Doubt will never arise in him in future. It is impossible to annihilate doubt in that manner while retaining doubt. Can we annihilate doubt while retaining doubt? It is impossible to annihilate doubt while keeping it with us.

To get rid of doubt or to annihilate doubt what have we got to do in the first instance?

First of all we must leave aside doubt. That is having confidence. Confidence in the Dhamma means leaving aside the doubt. Does doubt get annihilated merely by believing in the Dhamma? No. Leave aside doubt without doubting. Place confidence in Dhamma after leaving aside doubt.

Develop a confidence in Satipatthana thinking ‘This is what is correct. This is the way’. Develop admiration. Thereafter he starts practicing the Dhamma explained in Satipatthana.

What is the quality we should have to practice that Dhamma? We should get rid of the doubt we had about the Dhamma. Will we practice it if there is no trust in the Dhamma.

It is impossible to get even an iota of the expected results by practicing while retaining doubt. One may say ‘Let us try and see’.

Will he get the results? He is testing. One can never get results from Dhamma by testing. What is close to experimenting is doubt. Therefore leave aside doubt.

Have confidence in the understanding (enlightenment) of the Buddha. What is the nature of the person who believes in the Dhamma? He has patience. What does he do with patience? He starts practicing the Dhamma with patience. Then who is he? One who practices Dhamma? What happens to a person when he practices something? As he practices he develops an understanding about what he practices. He becomes certain about what he practices. An understanding is generated in him. That is what is called becoming certain. What did he have in him before practicing? Was there an understanding? No. What was there earlier? A trust, a confidence was there. He believes in the Dhamma. After believing he practices it with patience. What develops when he practices in that manner? When he practices he develops in himself an understanding about it. What is it called? Certainty.

It gets confirmed in himself. He becomes certain that it is the truth.

After some time we develop a perfect confidence about what we trusted. On that day doubt gets completely eradicated. It never comes back. All this happens during meditation. It happens by improving the mindfulness. To develop mindfulness we have to generate mindfulness. On what should we generate mindfulness? On Satipatthana. If one has trust in Satipatthana based on it he will improve the mindfulness. Then he will be able to develop unshakable admiration for the Noble Truths.

We hope to talk about it in the future. May you get the fortune and the strength to develop a strong admiration in respect of the Four Satipatthana, the way to Nibbana shown by the Buddha. For that we bless you to get the strength and the fortune to come across the association with worthy friends, to develop it and to maintain it.

(Compiled with instructions from Ven Nawalapitiye Ariyawansa Thera.)

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