Buddhism for Students Part V

41) “How far should we take interest in these things called psychic powers (iddhis)?”


FIRST OF ALL, we shall say something about the iddhis themselves. The word iddhi means “power”. It was originally an everyday word, a household term applied to things with the ability to promote success in perfectly normal ways. Anything with the ability to promote success was called an iddhi. The meaning was then extended to cover success in marvellous, miraculous ways, until we come across the sort of iddhis that are exclusively mental phenomena. Because they are mental, they have productive and beneficial properties that render them far more marvellous and wide-ranging than anything physical. They are like our labour-saving devices. Nowadays we have tractors that can build roads and so on. These too would have been called iddhis. But these are physical marvels. The iddhis we are concerned with here have to do with the mind; they are mental, not physical.

An exponent of iddhis (psychic powers) has trained his mind to such a degree that he can cause other people to experience whatever sensations he wishes to have them feel. He can cause others to see things with their own eyes just as he wishes them to see, to hear clearly and distinctly such sounds as he wishes them to hear, to smell just as he wishes them to smell, to experience taste sensations as if really experiencing them with the tongue, and to feel as if through the skin softness, hardness, and other such tactile stimuli. The process can then be extended until the demonstrator is able to cause the other person to experience fear, love or any mental state without realizing why. The iddhis are thus extremely useful and quite wonderful.

But this kind of mental phenomenon does not produce physical things. The psychic powers are incapable of creating real physical things of any practical value. They alone can’t create bhikkhu’s huts, temples, rice, fish, or food, so that one might live without any problems. This sort of thing can’t happen. The objects appear to exist or are experienced as existing in eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, or mind for only as long as the iddhi is being demonstrated. Thereafter they disappear. So the iddhis are not capable of building a hut or a temple by themselves. There definitely has to be a lay supporter to build and offer it. For instance, Jetavana and Veluvana had to be built and offered to the Buddha. And several times the Buddha went without food because of famine and had to eat rice set out as horse feed, and only a handful of it a day.

This serves to remind us that the physical and mental are two distinct and different realms. It is possible to demonstrate iddhis of both types. The Buddha did not deny mental iddhis, but he strongly disapproved of demonstrating them because they are mere illusions. He therefore prohibited the demonstration of them by bhikkhus, and he himself refrained from it. We don’t come across it in the Tripiṭaka that the Buddha demonstrated iddhis. There do exist accounts of the Buddha demonstrating iddhis, but they occur only in commentaries and other works. Consequently, the truth of these accounts is dubious — though really there is no need for us to judge them true or false.

The Buddha once said, “The various iddhis that are demonstrated — flying through the air, becoming invisible, clairaudience, clairvoyance and the like — are sāsavāandupadhikā,” Sāsavā means “associated with āsavas” (the “cankers” of attachment to sensual pleasure, attachment to becoming, attachment to false views, and attachment to ignorance). In other words, iddhis performed with grasping and clinging, or motivated by grasping and clinging, are called sāsavā. The performance of upadhikā iddhisis motivated by upadhi. Upadhi means “grasping and clinging”. They are likewise iddhis motivated by attachment. They are demonstrated by a mind that grasps and clings. Iddhis of this sort are sāsavāand upadhikā.

Now let us turn our attention to the opposite kind of iddhi — anāsavā and anuppdhikā —namely the ability to control one’s own mind at will. We shall take as a particular example the subject of unpleasantness. Here one causes oneself to see an unpleasant thing as unpleasant, to see a pleasant thing as unpleasant, to see everything as unpleasant to see everything as pleasant, then to see everything as neither of these, as neither pleasant nor unpleasant. This is one example demonstrating the ability to control the mind so completely that constant mindfulness and equanimity can be maintained in the presence of sense objects — shapes and colours, flavours, odours, sounds, and tactile objects

— which influence the mind. The possession of mindfulness, constant awareness, and equanimity is an iddhi. It is an iddhi of the type called anāsavā (free of āsava) and anuppadhikā (free of upadhi, not defiled, not grasping, and not a basis for grasping). These are the things called the iddhis, and this is how we ought to view them.

The real iddhis that are demonstrated in order to cause the arising of psychic miracles, the sāsavā and upadhikā types, are still difficult to perform. To master them involves much practice, which is organized into a great system. It can be done, genuinely achieved and demonstrated, by only a very few people. But there is a spurious variety too, based on pure deception, sheer trickery, sometimes involving the use of incantations. These are not the real things at all.

There are people who can demonstrate what are apparently genuine iddhis, but to acquire those skills is very difficult and requires arduous training. By contrast, the anāsavā and anupadhikā iddhis lie within the capabilities of most people. This sort is worth thinking about. As it is, we are interested in the sort of iddhis we can’t perform but aren’t interested in the most beneficial ones (which we can produce). These things called iddhis certainly have a great attraction for us, but our thinking on the subject needs to be completely revised. 

42) “Where do happiness and unsatisfactoriness originate?” or at least, “Where does unsatisfactory originate?”


IT IS GENERALLY said that happiness and suffering arise from previous kamma. This is the least correct answer. Suffering is something that arises from causes and conditions, and these causes and conditions are of several sorts, kinds, and varieties.

Ignorance is a cause, craving is a cause, attachment is a cause, and kamma is a cause too. Now in saying that suffering comes from kamma, we ought to have in mind new kamma, kamma in the present life, that is to say, the brand-new ignorance, craving, and attachment of this life. Think of these as the factors responsible for suffering, the roots causing the arising of suffering. We must realize that old kamma is unable to stand up to new kamma, because we have the power to produce new kamma. New kamma, the third type of kamma, is capable of abolishing old kamma completely (see No.14).Old kamma consists of just good kamma and bad kamma. There is no other sort of old kamma. New kamma, however, can be any one of three lands, the third kind being simply the Noble Eightfold Path. When we cause it to arise, it suppresses the first and second types of kamma. If we live the Path thoroughly, that is, put a complete end to the defilements, the new kamma (the Noble Path) completely overwhelms the old kamma, both good and bad. That is to say, old kamma (the first and second types only) cannot stand up to new kamma (the third type).

So we ought to take an interest in this thing called the Noble Path. I spoke before about what it is like if we practise the ordinary old way, and what it is like if we practise the short cut method (see No. 13). The practice of the short cut method consists in direct self-examination with a view to destroying grasping at the ideas of “self” and “belonging to self”. That new kamma will be of the third type, the most powerful kamma. Once arisen it will be razor sharp and capable of destroying a great quantity of longstanding old kamma. Suffering arises from new kamma, from today’s ignorance, craving, and attachment. These arise through our having seen shapes and colours, heard sounds, smelt odours, and tasted flavours just yesterday and the day before. They can be wiped out by new kamma which we have to produce too. Don’t be deceived into thinking it is all due to previous kamma. Previous kamma can be traced back to a series of causes which can be wiped out! So don’t ignore new kamma of this third type. It is capable of annihilating old kamma absolutely and completely.


43) “Where can we put an end to suffering/unsatisfactoriness (dukkha)?”


WE DON’T PUT an end to suffering in the monastery, in the forest, in the home, or on the mountain. We have to put an end to suffering right at the cause of suffering itself. What we must do is investigate and find out the way suffering arises in us each day and from what root it originates. Then we have to cut off that particular root. Yesterday’s suffering has already been and gone.It can’t come back, it is over and done with. It is suffering that arises today, right now, that is the problem. Suffering that may arise tomorrow is not as yet a problem, but the suffering arising and existing right now must be eradicated. So then, where is it to be eradicated? It must be eradicated at its root. We must study life until we realize that, as the Buddha said, suffering arises simply from grasping and clinging.

It is usually proclaimed eloquently, but ambiguously, that birth, aging, and death are suffering. But birth is not suffering, aging is not suffering, death is not suffering where there is no attachment to “my birth”, “my aging”, “my death” At the moment, we are grasping at birth, aging, pain, and death as “ours”. If we don’t grasp, they are not suffering, they are only bodily changes.

The body changes thus, and we call it “birth”; the body changes thus, and we call it “aging”; the body changes thus, and we call it “death”; but we fail to see it as just bodily changes. We see it as actual birth, and what is more, we call it “my birth”, “my aging”, and “my death”. This is a multiple delusion because “I” is a delusion to start with; so seeing a bodily change as “my birth”, or “my aging” is yet a further delusion. We fail to see that these are simply bodily changes. Now just as soon as we do see these as only bodily changes, birth, aging, and death disappear, and “I” disappears at the same time. There is no longer any “I”, and this condition is not suffering.

The Buddha said, “Birth is suffering, aging is suffering, death is suffering”, and the majority of people, almost all in fact, misunderstand him. They point to the condition of birth, the condition of aging, and the condition of death as being suffering. Some can’t explain it at all. Some, hesitant and uncertain, explain it vaguely and ambiguously, evasively hemming and hawing. This is because they forget that the Buddha said “Sañkhittena pañcupādānakkhandhā dukkhā” (the five aggregates, when clung to, are suffering). The aggregates are body and mind; together they constitute the person. If there is grasping at anything as being “I” or “mine”, then the five aggregates are suffering. Those five aggregates are a heavy burden, a source of suffering. There is fire and brimstone in those five aggregates. So the five aggregates, if associated with grasping and clinging, are suffering.


Now suppose these five aggregates are in the condition known as “aging”. If the mind does not grasp at and cling to them as “aging”, or as “my aging”, then they will not be suffering. We shall then see the body as empty, the feelings as empty, the perceptions as empty, the willed activities as empty, and consciousness as empty. We shall see the whole flowing and swirling conditioning of everything as empty. Without clinging it cannot be suffering. Such are pure pañcakkhandha (aggregates dissociated from grasping). Such are the five aggregates of an arahant, or what we presume to call the five aggregates of an arahant. For really, an arahant cannot be described as being the owner of the five aggregates, but we look on those aggregates as being the receptacle of the virtues of arahantship. That type of mind cannot grasp at the aggregates in any way as being “mine”, still we presume to call them the pure pañcakkhandha of an arahant.
Where to put an end to suffering? We have to eliminate suffering at the root of suffering, namely grasping and clinging to things. Suffering due to attachment to wealth must be eradicated there in that attachment. Suffering due to grasping and clinging to the illusions of power, prestige, honour, and fame must be eradicated there in that grasping and clinging. Then wealth, power, and prestige will not be in themselves suffering. So find out where it arises and eliminate it there. In the words if the old-time Dhamma experts, “whichever way it goes up, bring it down that same way.”


44) “To really know something, how much do we have to know?”


I ADVISE AND BEG you to listen particularly to the words of the Buddha that I am about to quote. The Buddha said that to really know any object, we must know five things about it, namely: (1) What are the characteristics or properties of the object? (2) From what does the object arise? (3) What is its assāda, its enticing quality, its appeal, its allurement? (4) What is the ādīnava, the hidden danger, the sinister power to harm that lies concealed in it? (5) What is the nissaraṇa, the trick by means of which we can get the better of it? What is the device, the skillful means of escaping from the grip of this object?

So, to really know something we must answer these questions:

First: What are its properties?
Second: What is its origin, its birthplace?
Third: What is its assāda, its attraction?

Fourth: What is its ādīnava, its harmful property, its danger?

Fifth: What is the nissaraṇa, the means of escape from the power of the object?

There are five questions altogether. If you study any object from these five points of view, you will get the better of that object. At the present time, you may be studying on the graduate level or postgraduate level. But if we are not studying from these five points of view, then we are mastered by objects, that is to say, by the world. If we study the world in terms of these five aspects, there is no way we shall be mastered by the world. So let us be careful about studying the world. Why are we studying? For what ultimate purpose are we studying? If we are studying so as to build peace in the world, then let us be very careful. Our studies will bring no beneficial results at all if not based on this Buddhist principle.


You have probably never heard of these things called the assāda, ādīnava, and nissaraṇa, yet the Tripiṭaka is full of them. These three words — assāda, ādīnava, and nissaraṇa, hardly ever present themselves to our eyes or ears, but please remember that they appear frequently in the Tripiṭaka. When the Buddha wished to impart a real knowledge of anything, he taught along these lines. Sometimes he cut it short, considering only the last three points. What is the nature of the object’s assāda (its allurement)? What is the nature of it sādīnava (its harmful properties)? Every object has both attractive and harmful qualities. What is the nature of the nissaraṇa (the cunning manoeuvre by means of which we can get the better of it)?

There is, so to speak, a hook hidden in that bait hanging there. The assāda is the juicy bait enticing the fish to bite. The concealed hook is the ādīnava, that is, the dangerous, cruel power to harm which lies hidden inside the bait. And the nissaraṇa is the technique for outwitting the hook and bait. The fish must have a technique for eating the bait without becoming hooked. The thing called the bait then no longer functions as bait, but becomes instead a good piece of food, which the fish can happily swallow without getting hooked.

Therefore, we ought always to look at the world in terms these five aspects. One aspect of the world, the assāda, the bait, lures us until we become so deeply engrossed in it that we turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to all else. But there is a hook inside it. People who get hooked up on the world cannot break free; they have to drown in the world, that is, in suffering. Now, the ariyans (individuals well advanced in practice) look and see that the assāda, the ādīnava, and the nissaraṇa are such and such. They are thus able to live in the world, swallowing the bait of the world without becoming caught on the hook. They know every object well enough to be fully aware of these five things. Its properties, its samudaya (root cause), its assāda (bait), its ādīnava (hook), and the nissaraṇa (strategem). To know any object we have to learn about and come to know all these five factors, or at a minimum the last three.


No matter what things we come into contact within the course of our studies and other activities, we ought to apply this principle to them all. Then we shall know how to discriminate, and shall be able to reap the greatest reward without being hurt. This is called “really knowing”. By acting on this knowledge, it will be an easy task to practise Dhamma and leave behind the defilements. Viewing the world in terms of these five aspects, we shall see it as filled up with assāda or attractive allurement on the outside and ādīnava or danger on the inside. We shall know the world as a swindle, a counterfeit, a deception, an illusion, and shall not become hooked upon it, not become infatuated with it. A mind that always operates with insight will view colours and shapes, flavours, odours, sounds, tactile objects, and mental images rightly in terms of these five aspects. It will not be overpowered by them and there will not develop craving and attachment to the idea of selfhood. Freedom will become its normal day-to-day condition. Ultimately it is not beyond our power to practise Dhamma and make progress towards nibbāna. 


45) “What is it to attain the Stream of Nibbāna?”


THINK BACK TO the word “nibbāna” in the sense already discussed, that is, as the highest good attainable by humanity (see No. 29). If, in any one lifetime, one does not come to know the state called nibbāna, or fails even to taste the flavour of nibbāna, that life has been wasted.

“Stream of Nibbāna” refers to a course that has reached the stage that ensures a flowing and tending only towards nibbāna. It flows towards the extinction of unsatisfactory, with no back flow in the direction of suffering and the Woeful States. We call this course “The Stream”.

One who has attained the Stream is a sotapanna (Stream-enterer). A sotapannaha has not yet attained complete nibbāna. The Stream enterer attains diṭṭhadhamma-nibbāna (see No. 27), or tadanga nibbāna (coincidentalnibbāna),orwhat ever sort of nibbāna is appropriate in one’s case. But having attained the real Stream of Nibbāna,one will never again become attached to the assāda and ādīnava (bait and hook) of the world. The world never again will be able to deceive one. This doesn’t mean, for instance, that one gives up all connection with the world, or even all indulgence in sensuality. It means simply that one’s mind has begun to view these things as unworthy of grasping and clinging. It is practically certain that it will not grasp and cling, though it may still do so in occasional moments of unawareness.


To be a sotapanna, one must give up three of the “fetters” (sañyojana),namely belief in a permanent ego-entity (sakkāyadiṭṭhi), doubt(vicikicchā),and superstition (sīlabbata-parāmāsa). To give up ego-belief is to give up one kind of delusion, to give up doubt is to give up another kind of delusion, and to give up superstition is to give up a third kind of delusion. He has not yet given up sensual desire (kāma-rāga), the fourth fetter. A sakidāgāmī (“Once-returner”, one stage more advanced than the sotapanna) has not altogether given it up either. This means that though one may not be able to give up sensual desire, still one does not fall right into the pit of sensuality. Though one may make contact with or indulge in sensuality, one will do so mindfully, as an ariyan (the Noble One/Enlightened One). But don’t forget that one has given up ego-belief, doubt, and superstition. This is the criterion for one’s having attained to the Stream of Nibbāna and being certain to carry on toward nibbāna itself.


So it is a matter of giving up misunderstanding. One must give up misunderstanding before giving up sensual desire (kāma-rāga). Sensual desire is not as yet a dangerous and terrifying problem or enemy. What is terrifying is delusion. In the texts there is a saying that the most putrid thing of all is a mind clinging to self, to ego. The Buddha did not point to sensuality as the most foul-smelling thing; he pointed to delusion. We generally tend to overestimate and overvalue the extent of a sotapanna’s giving up of involvement in sensuality. When its standard is thus misconceived, the whole picture becomes distorted and there is no way things can be brought into agreement. So it is essential that we know what it is to attain the first stage, the Stream of Nibbāna. Not sensual desire but ignorance is what must be given up first.

1. Ego-belief (sakkāya-diṭṭhi) consists in self-centredness.  Self-centredness, as it normally occurs every day, comes from failure to perceive suññatā (emptiness) even in a crude way. The mind is confused and not free; consequently there is ego-belief. So to be a sotapanna one must give up ego-belief for good and all. In the normal course of events it arises and ceases, arises and ceases. Every day ego-belief is present many times, over and over. But there are also times when it is not present. We have to study what it is like to have ego-belief and what it is like to be free of ego-belief. When there is self-centredness,  that is sakkāya-diṭṭhi.


2. Doubt
or hesitancy as to what may be taken as certain, hesitancy as to whether or not to believe the Buddha, and hesitancy as to whether or not to practise for the absolute and complete extinction of suffering on the supramundane level. Because there is this hesitancy, one is not sufficiently interested in Dhamma. It is hard to be interested in Dhamma even for five minutes a day. Yet one is interested in such things as fun and laughter, food and drink, study and learning, business and work, for hours and hours a day. If the time spent on fun and laughter were devoted instead to developing an interest in Dhamma, one would come to understand it quickly. The most important kind of hesitancy is hesitancy about whether or not it would be a good thing to adopt the Buddha’s means of extinguishing suffering. Indecision about setting out on the Path to the extinction of suffering constitutes a great problem and a great danger. Most people consider the prospect lacking in flavour, unpleasant, unagreeable, and devoid of attraction, because they are infatuated by the allurements of the world. So hesitancy must be eradicated. We are subject to suffering; we must be resolute about putting an end to suffering.


3. Chronic superstition. Have a look at yourself and see what sort of chronically superstitious behaviour is to be found in you. You have been taught to fear harmless little lizards and similar animals until it has become a habit. This is superstition. It is primitive and childlike. You have been brought up to believe in sacred trees, sacred mountains, sacred temples, sacred spirit houses: all this too is superstition. To sum up, sīlabbata-parāmāsa is superstition with regard to things one does oneself. Taking certain things which should be used in a particular way and using them in a different way — for instance, letting charitable deeds reinforce selfishness when they should be used to eliminate it — this is superstition. So there are charitable deeds which are superstition, and there is rigorous adherence to moral precepts by both bhikkhus and lay people which is superstition. Chronically superstitious and false understanding with respect to anything at all is covered by the term sīlabbata-parāmāsa.


Please bear with me while I give just one more example of the third fetter: the four Woeful States, which are depicted on the walls of temples — hell, the realm of beasts, the realm of hungry ghosts (petas), and the realm of cowardly demons (asuras). These are known as the Four Woeful States. We are taught to believe that on dying we may descend into the Woeful States. We are never taught that we fall into woeful states every day. Such woeful states are more real and more important than those on temple walls. Don’t fall at all! If you don’t fall into these woeful states now, you will be sure not to fall into any woeful states after death. This is never taught, so people never get to the essence and real meaning of the words


“Four Woeful States”. The Buddha was not a materialist. He did not take the body as his reference standard as does the story of the hell where one is boiled and fried in a copper pan. The Buddha took mind as his reference standard. 


46) “What is the meaning of the Four Woeful States?”


THE FIRST OF the Four Woeful States is hell. Hell is anxiety (in Thai, literally “a hot heart”). Whenever one experiences anxiety, burning, and scorching, one is simultaneously reborn as a creature of hell. It is a spontaneous rebirth, a mental rebirth. Although the body physically inhabits the human realm, as soon as anxiety arises the mind falls into hell. Anxiety about possible loss of prestige and fame, anxiety of
any sort — that is hell.


Now rebirth in the realm of beasts is stupidity. Whenever one is inexcusably stupid about something: stupid in not knowing that Dhamma and nibbāna are desirable, stupid in not daring to come into contact with or get close to Buddhism, stupid in believing that if one became interested in Dhamma or Buddhism it would make one old-fashioned and odd. That is how children see it, and their parents too. They try to pull back and move far away from Dhamma and religion. This is stupidity. Regardless of what sort of stupidity it is, it amounts to rebirth as an animal. As soon as stupidity arises and overwhelms one, one becomes an animal. One is a beast by spontaneous rebirth, by mental rebirth. This is the second Woeful State.

The third Woeful State is the condition of a peta, a ghost that is chronically hungry because his desires continually outrun the supply of goods. It is a chronic mental hunger which a person suffers from, not hunger for bodily food. For instance, one wants to get a thousand baht (Thai money). Then having just got the thousand baht, one suddenly wants to get ten thousand baht. Having just got the ten thousand baht, one suddenly wants to get a hundred thousand baht. No sooner has one got the hundred thousand baht, it’s a million baht that one wants, or a hundred million. It is a case of chasing and never catching. One has all the symptoms of chronic hunger. One further resembles a hungry ghost in having a stomach as big as a mountain and a mouth as small as a needle’s eye. The intake is never sufficient for the hunger, so one is all the time a peta. The peta’s direct opposite is the person who, on getting ten satang ( 100 satang equal 1 baht) is content with getting just the ten satang, or on getting twenty satang is content with twenty. But don’t get the idea that being easily satisfied like this means one falls into decline and stops looking for things. Intelligence tells one what has to be done, and one goes about doing it the right way. In this way, one is filled to satisfaction every time one goes after something. One enjoys the seeking and then is satisfied. This is how to live without being a peta, that is, without being chronically hungry. Going after something with craving constitutes being a peta. Going after something intelligently is not craving: then one is not a peta; one is simply doing what has to be done.


Thus, a wish such as the wish to extinguish suffering is not craving. Don’t go telling people the wrong thing, spreading the word that mere wishing is craving or greed. To be craving or greed it must be a wish stemming from stupidity. The wish to attain nibbāna is a craving, if pursued with foolishness, infatuation, and pride. Going for lessons in insight meditation without knowing what it is all about is craving and greed; it is ignorance that leads to suffering because it is full of grasping and clinging. However, if a person wishes to attain nibbāna, after clearly and intelligently perceiving suffering and the means whereby it can be extinguished, and in this frame of mind steadily and earnestly learns about insight meditation in the right way, then such a wish to attain nibbāna is not craving, and it is not suffering. So wishing is not necessarily always craving. It all depends on where it has its origin. If it stems from ignorance or the defilements, the symptoms will be similar to those of chronic hunger — that chasing without ever catching. We speak of this chronically hungry condition as spontaneous rebirth as a hungry ghost (peta).


The last Woeful State is the realm of the asuras (cowardly demons). First to explain the word asura: sura means “brave”, a means “not”, thus asura means “not brave” or “cowardly”. Take it that whenever one is cowardly without reason, one has been spontaneously reborn an asura. Being afraid of harmless little lizards, millipedes, or earthworms is unjustified fear and a form of suffering. To be afraid unnecessarily, or to be afraid of something as a result of pondering too much on it, is to be reborn as anasura. We all fear death, but our fear is made a hundred or a thousand times greater by our own exaggeration of the danger. Fear torments a person all the time. He is afraid of falling into hell and in so doing becomes an asura. Thus he is actually falling into the Four Woeful States every day, day after day, month after month, year in and year out. If we act rightly and don’t fall into these Woeful States now, we can be sure that after dying we shall not fall into the Woeful States depicted on temple walls.


This interpretation of the Woeful States agrees in meaning and purpose with what the Buddha taught. These sorts of false belief regarding the Four Woeful States should be recognized as superstition. The most pitiable thing about Buddhists is the inaccurate way we interpret the teaching of the Buddha and the stupid way we put it into practice. There’s no need to go looking for superstition in other places. In the texts there are references to people imitating the behaviour of cows and dogs; these were practices current in India at the time of the Buddha. There is no more of that these days, but behaviour does exist now which is just as foolish and much more undesirable. So give up all this superstition and enter the Stream of Nibbāna. To give up belief in a permanent ego entity, to give up doubt, and to give up superstition is to enter the Stream of Nibbāna and have the Dhamma-eye — the eye that sees Dhamma and is free of delusion and ignorance.


Bear in mind that in us worldlings there is always a certain measure of ignorance and delusion in the form of ego-belief, doubt, and superstition. We must move up a step and break free of these three kinds of stupidity in order to enter the Stream ofNibbāna. From that point on there is a flowing down hill, a convenient sloping down towards nibbāna, like a large stone rolling down a mountainside. If you are to become acquainted with nibbāna and the Stream of Nibbāna, if you are to practise towards attaining nibbāna, then you must understand that these three kinds of delusion and stupidity must be given up before one can give up sensual desire and ill-will, which are fetters of a higher and more subtle order. Simply giving up these three forms of ignorance constitutes entering the Stream of Nibbāna. To completely give up self-centredness, hesitancy in pin pointing one’s life objective, and in grained superstitious behaviour is to enter the Stream of Nibbāna. You can see that this kind of giving up is universally valuable and applicable to every person in the world. These three forms of ignorance are undesirable.


Just as soon as a person has succeeded in giving them up he becomes an ariyan, a Noble One. Prior to this he is a fool, a deluded person, a lowly worldling, not at all an ariyan. When one has improved and progressed to the highest level of worldling, one must advance still further, until one reaches the stage where there is nowhere to go except enter the Stream of Nibbāna by becoming a sotapanna. Then one continues to progress and flow on to nibbāna itself.

The practice that leads away from grasping, self-centredness, and delusion is to observe all things as unworthy of being grasped at or clung to. This results in the eradication of hesitancy, blind grasping, and self-centredness. So we ought to start taking an interest in non-attachment right this very minute, each of us at the level most appropriate for us. If you fail in an examination there is no need to weep. Determine to start again and do your best. If you pass an examination you should not become carried away; you should realize that this is the normal way of things. This will then mean that there has arisen some understanding of non-grasping and non clinging.

When you are sitting for an examination, you should forget about yourself. Take good note of this! When starting to write an examination answer, you should forget about being yourself. Forget about the “me” who is being examined and who will pass or fail. You may think beforehand of how to go about passing the examination and plan accordingly, but as soon as you start to write, you must forget all that. Leave only concentration, which will pierce through the questions and seek out the answers.


A mind free of any “me” or “mine” who will pass or fail immediately comes up agile and clean. It remembers immediately and thinks keenly. So sitting for an examination with proper concentration will produce good results. This is how to apply cit waang (a mind free of the self illusion), or Buddhist non-grasping and non-clinging, when sitting for examinations. In this way you will get good results.

Those who don’t know how to make use of this technique always feel anxious about failing. They become so nervous that they are unable to call to mind what they have learned. They cannot write accurate and orderly answers. Consequently they fail thoroughly. Others become carried away by the idea that “I am brilliant, I am certain to pass.” A student carried away by this sort of grasping and clinging is also bound to do poorly, because he lacks cit waang. On the other hand, for the “person” with cit waang there is no “me” or “mine” involved, so he cannot become panicky or over-confident. There remains only concentration, which is a natural power. Entirely forgetting about self, he can pass well. This is an elementary, most basic example of the effect of non-attachment and of cit waang.


Now a stupid and deluded person, as soon as he hears the word suññata mentioned in temple lecture halls, translates it as “utter emptiness or nothingness”. That is the materialistic interpretation and is how certain groups of people understand it.


The suññata of the Buddha means absence of anything that we should grasp at and cling to as being an abiding entity or self, although physically everything is there in its entirety. If we cling, there is dukkha; if we do not cling, there is freedom from dukkha. The world is described as empty because there is nothing whatsoever that we might have a right to grasp at. We must cope with this empty world with a mind that does not cling. If we want something, we must go after it with a mind free from grasping, so that we get the desired object without it becoming a source of suffering.


Misunderstanding the word “empty”, just this one single word, is a great superstition (sīlappata-parāmāsa) and constitutes a major obstacle to people attaining the Stream ofNibbāna. So let us understand the word “empty”, and all other words used by the Buddha, properly and completely. He described the world as empty because there is nothing in it which can be taken as a self or ego. He answered King Mogha’s question by saying, “Always regard the world as something empty. Always look on this world with all that it contains as something empty.” Viewing it as empty, the mind automatically becomes free of grasping and clinging. There can not arise lust, hatred, and delusion. To succeed in doing this is to be an arahant. If one has not succeeded in doing it, one has to keep on trying; though still an ordinary worldling, one will have less suffering. No suffering arises as long as there is cit waang. Whenever one becomes carried away and lapses, there is suffering again. If we keep good watch, producing emptiness (of self-idea) more and more often and lastingly, we come to penetrate to the core of Buddhism, and come to know the Stream of Nibbāna. 

47) “What were the Buddha’s last instruction to us?”


AS EVERYONE KNOWS, a person who is about to die usually makes out a will, a set of last instructions. When the Buddha was on the point of dying, he said these last words: “All compounded things are subject to decay. Be well equipped with heedfulness!” All things are nothing but a perpetual flowing-on, that is, they are empty (of selfhood). All things are anicca, they change incessantly,  they flow on endlessly. That perpetual flux is devoid of any self or of anything belonging to a self. Be vigilant and well prepared. In other words, don’t be foolish, don’t become infatuated with things, and don’t regard anything as worth grasping at and clinging to. Don’t mindlessly attach to anything. This is what he meant by heedfulness. With such heedfulness we must always be well equipped. Now young people are a problem. Look how completely heedless they are. They regard all sorts of things as thoroughly desirable, as worth grasping at and clinging to. Attaching to things as either desirable or hateful is ultimately a source of distress to oneself and to others. Such people are not carrying out the instructions given in the Buddha’s will. They are wasting the benefit of having been born a human being and of Buddhist parents. They are not carrying out the Buddha’s last wishes.

All of us, young and old, are in a position to carry out the Buddha’s last instructions. Let us not be heedless or mindless. Let us not go thoughtlessly regarding things as worth grasping at and clinging to. Let us always view the world as devoid of any self or of anything belonging to a self. Our minds will be free of grasping; lust, hatred, and delusion will not arise in them. Thus we will accomplish the highest thing which is possible for humanity. In other words, all problems will cease, and that’s all there is to it.

The Buddha gave another final instruction: “Go forth and preach well the doctrine, splendid in its beginning, middle, and end.” I like to interpret this as enjoining us all to teach non-grasping and non-clinging on an elementary level to children, on an intermediate level to adults, and on the highest, most advanced level to those who are heading for the Supreme State and for whom nothing else matters. The Buddha taught only non-grasping, nothing more. It can be taught on different levels to children, to people of middle age, and to old people. Or it can be taken in another way. Teach Dhamma for the benefit of people living in this world, on a low level; for benefits in other worlds, at an intermediate stage; and then for the sake of the highest benefit, which transcends all worlds.

The whole essence of the teaching can be summed up as freedom from suffering through non-attachment. Hence this non-grasping and non-clinging, this absence of any idea of self or of anything belonging to a self, is the most important teaching. So please, every one of you, bear well in mind one word, the one single word that reveals the entire Dhamma, the single syllable waang (empty, void, free),  which in Pali is suññatā— the core and essence of Buddhism. People break the moral precepts because they lack cit waang (mind free of the self-idea). People lack concentration because they do not have cit waang. People have no insight because they do not have cit waang. The Buddha hadcit waang. Cit waang is just what Buddhahood is. The Dhamma is simply the teaching of cit waang, the practice that leads to cit waang, and the fruit of that practice, which is cit waang and ultimately nibbāna. The Sangha consists of people following the Buddha’s system of practice in order to attain cit waang. Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha are summed up in the word waang (free, void, empty). One succeeds in keeping the moral precepts through abstaining from grasping and clinging, and through being free of the mental defilements, free of grasping and clinging. When cit waang has been attained, the defilements are absent and concentration is at its best. When one has come to see things (the world) as empty, one doesn’t grasp or cling to any of them and one has full insight. The Path and Fruit of Nibbāna consist in knowing emptiness and in successively gaining the fruits of emptiness right up to the very culmination. Charity, morality, taking refuge (in Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha), concentration, insight, Path and Fruit, and nibbāna — all these are summed up in the single word waang (empty).

This is why the Buddha said, “Emptiness is what I teach. A teaching that does not treat of emptiness is someone else’s teaching, an unorthodox teaching composed by some later disciple. All discourses which are utterances of the Accomplished One are profound, have deep significance, are the means of transcending the world, and deal primarily with emptiness (suññatā). “This was spoken by the Tathāgata. On the other hand, “A discourse of any kind, though produced by a poet or a learned man, versified, poetical, splendid, melodious in sound and syllable, is not in keeping with the teaching if not connected with suññatā. “There are these two kinds of discourses. Those dealing with suññatā are utterances of the Buddha; those not dealing with suññatā are utterances of later followers.

So the Buddha considered suññatā and discourses dealing with suññatā to be real essence of Buddhism. This is why he said, “When the teaching of suññatā had died out and no-one is interested in it any longer, then the real essence of the Dhamma will have been lost.”

It is like the drum owned by the Dasāraha kings in ancient times, which was handed down from generation to generation. As it became worn out and dilapidated, it was patched and mended time and time again, over a long period, until eventually consisted of nothing but new materials. The real substance of it had completely disappeared.

When the time comes that bhikkhus no longer are concerned with studying and listening to topics relating to suññatā, which is the subject that they ought to be studying and practising, at that time it can be said that the original substance of Buddhism has been lost completely and that nothing remains but new material, utterances of later disciples, just as happened with the drum. Think it over! The Buddha urged us to teach the Dhamma, splendid in its beginning, middle, and end, in terms of non-grasping and non clinging. But what is the condition of Buddhism at the present time? Is it like the original old drum or does it consist of just new material, just patches? We can find this out for ourselves by simply examining it to see whether or not people are interested in suññatā and practise suññatā.

These were the Buddha’s last instructions to his disciples: to practice heedfulness of this teaching, to proclaim this teaching and to restore the decayed material to fresh and good condition by studying suññatā. This is to be done by digging, probing about, studying, and discussing until such time as the understanding of this teaching has been revived and it can be said that the genuine material has been restored to its original condition.




WE HAVE SUMMED up the Teaching in the form of short sections, so divided as to be easily understood and remembered, together with quotations from the texts. I hope you will remember the points we have discussed in so far as they illustrate fundamental truths that you can keep in mind, and are general principles to make use of in judging and deciding the various questions you will encounter in the future. The Buddha said that if doubt arises on any point, we must compare the doubtful proposition with the general principles. If it fails to fit in with the general principles, reject it as not being a teaching of the Buddha. Whoever made the statement has got it wrong; such a teacher is teaching the wrong thing. Even if he claims to have heard it from the Buddha himself, don’t believe a word of it. If it doesn’t fit in with the general principles, that is, doesn’t fit in with the Suttas and the Vinaya, reject it as not being an utterance of the Buddha. The Buddha’s teaching is nongrasping, non-clinging, suññatā, anattā (non-selfhood), and anything dealing only with elements, rather than with beings, individuals, selves, “I”, and “he” or “she”.
Out in the country, in the district where I come from, people used to have to learn this Pali verse on the first day they went to live in a monastery:

“Yathā paccayaṃ pavattamanaṃ dhàtumattamevetaṃ (These things are merely natural elements ceaselessly concocted by conditions,)

Dhātumattako (Just elements only,)  

Nissatto (Not real beings,)

 Nijjavo (Not individual lives,) 

Suñño (Void of any self-entity.)

They had to learn this as the first thing on the very first day they went to stay in the monastery. They had not yet learned how to pay respect to the Buddha’s image, how to chant, or how to perform the morning and evening services; they had not yet learned how to carry out the pre-ordination procedures. In other words new arrivals were equipped with the highest knowledge, the very essence of Buddhism, right from the first day they entered the monastery to ask for ordination. Whether this custom still exists anywhere I don’t know, and whether applicants for ordination would understand what the verse means I don’t know either. But the objective of this custom was excellent, to give a person the essence of Buddhism right from the day he arrived. “Yathā paccayaṃ, (these things are causally conditioned, that is, they are devoid of selfhood). Dhātumattamevetaṃ, (these things are only elements, that is, they are devoid of selfhood). Nissatto, nijjivo, suñño, (they are empty, nothing individual or personal, devoid of selfhood). “This they were taught on the very first day, but their descendants have let this custom die out. Who will be to blame when the day comes that suññatā is so little understood that there is. nothing left of the original Buddhism?

I hope this has done something to stimulate you good people to do some thinking, and so help nourish and sustain Buddhism. For the sake of the peace and happiness of the world, forget all about that “self”!




IN THE ORIGINAL talks, Ajahn Buddhadāsa provided references (volume and page) to his sources in the Royal Siamese Pali edition of the Tipiṭaka where appropriate. We have translated them into a form that should help interested readers to consult the English translations. They are listed according to the numbers of the Question-Sections as found in the “Contents”.

1) Majjhima-nikāya, Alagaddūpama-sutta (#22)
3) Majjhima-nikāya, Cūḷa-taṇhā-saṅkheyya-sutta (#37)
5) Aṅguttāra-nikāya, Catukka-nipāta, Rhohitassa-vagga (#45)
6) Majjhima-nikāya, Alagaddūpama-sutta (#22)
7) Saṃyutta-nikāya, Mahāvāra-vagga, LV, vi, 3
8) Saṃyutta-nikāya, Mahāvāra-vagga, XLV, i, 76
9)Aṅguttāra-nikāya,Pañcaka-nipāta, The Warrior (#79) 10)Majjhima-nikāya, Cūḷa-saccaka-sutta (#35)
11)Aṅguttāra-nikāya, Tika-nipāta, Mahā-vagga, Kālāma Sutta(#65) 12)Aṅguttāra-nikāya, Tika-nipāta, Enlightenment, (#103) 13)Majjhima-nikāya, Saḷāyatana-vibhaṅga-sutta(#137) 14)Aṅguttāra-nikāya, Tika-nipāta, Devaduta-vagga (#33) Aṅguttāra-nikāya, Catukka-nipāta, Kamma-vagga (#234) 15)Aṅguttāra-nikāya, Tika-nipāta, Puggala-vagga (#22) 16)Aṅguttāra-nikāya, Catukka-nipāta, Sañcetana-vagga (#180) 17)Aṅguttāra-nikāya, Tika-nipāta, Brāhmana-vagga (#56) 18)Aṅguttāra-nikāya, Catukka-nipāta, Uruvelā-vagga(#21) 19)Itivuttaka III, v, iii
20)Digha-nikāya, Mahā-vagga, Mahāparinibbāna-sutta (#16) 21)Sutta-nipāta, Parayana-vagga, Vatthugāthā
22)Majjhima-nikāya, Cūḷa-suññatā-sutta (#121)
23)Paṭisambhidā-magga, Yoganaddha-vagga, Suñña-kathā 24)SaddhammappajjotikāPart I
25)Paṭisambhidā-magga, Paññā-vagga, Vipassanākathā 26)Aṅguttāra-nikāya, Navaka-nipāta, Mahā-vagga (#36) 27)Aṅguttāra-nikāya, Navaka-nipāta, Mahā-vagga (#41) 28)Aṅguttāra-nikāya, Navaka-nipāta, Pancāla-vagga (#51) Aṅguttāra-nikāya, Satta-nipāta, Abyākata-vagga (#52) 29)Majjhima-nikāya, Bhaddāli-sutta (#65)
31)Digha-nikāya, Mahā-vagga, Mahāparinibbāna-sutta (#16) 34)Udāna, Culla-vagga, VII, i and ii
Aṅguttāra-nikāya, Satta-nipāta, Abyākata-vagga (#53) 37)Majjhima-nikāya, Angulimāla-sutta (#86)
39)Itivuttaka, I, iii, 7
40)Aṅguttāra-nikāya, Navaka-nipāta, Sihanāda-vagga (#20) 41) Itivuttaka, III, iv, 4
48) Digha-nikāya, Mahā-vagga, Mahāparinibbāna-sutta (#16)


BUDDHADĀSA BHIKKHU (SLAVE of the Buddha) went forth as a bhikkhu (Buddhist monk) in 1926, at the age of twenty. After a few years of study in Bangkok, he was inspired to live close with nature in order to investigate the Buddha-Dhamma. Thus, he established Suan Mokkhabalārāma (The Grove of the Power of Liberation) in 1932, near his hometown. At that time, it was the only Forest Dhamma Center and one of the few places dedicated to vipassanā (mental cultivation leading to “seeing clearly” into reality) in Southern Thailand. Word of Buddhadāsa Bhikkhu, his work, and Suan Mokkh spread over the years so that now they are easily described as “one of the most influential events of Buddhist history in Siam.” Here, we can only mention some of the more interesting services he has rendered Buddhism.
Ajahn Buddhadāsa has worked painstakingly to establish and explain the correct and essential principles of original Buddhism.

That work is based in extensive research of the Pali texts (Canon and commentary), especially of the Buddha’s Discourses (sutta piṭaka), followed by personal experiment and practice with these teachings. Then he has taught whatever he can say truly quenches dukkha. His goal has been to produce a complete set of references for present and future research and practice. His approach has been always scientific, straightforward, and practical.

Although his formal education only went as far as seventh grade and beginning Pali studies, he has been given five Honorary Doctorates by Thai universities. His books, both written and transcribed from talks, fill a room at the National Library and influence all serious Thai Buddhists.

Progressive elements in Thai society, especially the young, have been inspired by his teaching and selfless example. Since the 1960’s, activists and thinkers in areas such as education, social welfare, and rural development have drawn upon his teaching and advice.

Since the founding of Suan Mokkh, he has studied all schools of Buddhism, as well as the major religious traditions. This interest is practical rather than scholarly. He seeks to unite all genuinely religious people in order to work together to help free humanity by destroying selfishness. This broadmindedness has won him friends and students from around the world, including Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs.

Now he focused his energies on his last project, establishing an International Dhamma Hermitage. This addition to Suan Mokkh is intended to provide facilities for:

— courses which introduce friends, foreign and Thai, to the natural truth explained in the Buddha’s teachings and start them in the Buddha’s system of mental cultivation

— gatherings of representatives from the different religious communities of Thailand (and later the world) in order to meet, develop mutual good understanding, and cooperate for the sake of world peace

— meetings among Buddhists from around the world to discuss and agree upon the “Heart of Buddhism”.