Buddhism for Students Part II

11) “Whom did the Buddha teach that we should believe?”


IF YOU ARE asked this, then answer with the Buddha’s advice from
the Kālāma Sutta. We are to believe what we clearly see for ourselves to be the case. Now it is necessary to understand what is meant by the expression “seeing clearly”. It means seeing clearly without needing to use reasoning, without needing to speculate, without needing to make assumptions. We should see, as clearly as we see in the case of a present physical object, that, taking this and doing this, this effect is produced. This is the meaning of “seeing clearly”. There is no need to rely on reasoning or supposition. In Buddhism, we are taught not to believe anyone, not to believe anything, without having seen clearly for ourselves that the truth in question is so.
We can see what is meant here from the following questions.

Why are we warned not to believe the Tripiṭaka (the Buddhist Canon)? not to believe a teacher? not to believe what is reported or rumoured? not to believe what has been reasoned out? not to believe what has been arrived at by means of logic? The principles are a help towards right understanding, because all blind credulity is foolishness. Suppose we were to open the Tripiṭaka and read some passage and then believe it without thinking, without testing it, without any critical examination. This would be foolish belief in the Tripiṭaka, which the Buddha condemned. Believing what a teacher says without having used our eyes and ears, without criticizing, and without having seen for ourselves that what he says is really so, this is what is meant here by “believing a teacher”. It is the same with believing any report or rumour that happens to arise.

“Believing in what has been arrived at by way of logic” means that, having learn how to reason correctly and being experienced in reasoning we come to the conclusion that a certain proposition must be logically so. But this is still not good enough; we are not to put our trust in this sort of reasoning.

But here we must be careful and take good note that this discourse does not forbid us to read the Tripiṭaka. Nor does it forbid us to consult a teacher, to listen to reports and rumours, or to use logical reasoning. Rather it means that although we may have read, listened, and heard, we should not simply accept what is offered in these ways unless we have first thought it over, considered it carefully, fathomed it out, examined fully, and seen clearly for ourselves that it really is so.

For instance, the Buddha taught that greed, anger, and delusion are the causes that give rise to suffering. If we ourselves are not yet acquainted with greed, anger, and delusion, then there is no way that we can believe this, there is no need to believe it, and to believe it would, in such a case, be foolish. But when we know ourselves what greed is like, what anger is like, and what delusion is like; and that whenever they arise in the mind, they produce suffering as if they were fires burning us; then we can believe on the basis of our own experience.

So what the Buddha taught in this connection appears in the Tripiṭaka as follows. Having read or having heard something, we must investigate until we have seen clearly the fact being taught. If still we don’t see it clearly, we must fall back on reasoning and then leave it for a while.

So to start with, we shall believe and practise no more than we have seen clearly to be the case. Then gradually, we shall come to believe and see more and more clearly. This is a very popular teaching of the Buddha. If someone from another country asks you about it, do explain it properly. If you explain it wrongly, you may misrepresent the Buddha’s teaching. Not believing the Tripiṭaka, not believing the teacher, not believing reports and rumours, not believing reasoning by way of logic — these have a hidden meaning. We must search for it. To believe straight away is foolishness. The Buddha condemned this firmly and definitely. He told us not to believe until we have put it to the test and have come to see it clearly. Then we may believe.

To believe straight away is foolishness; to believe after having seen clearly is good sense. That is the Buddhist policy on belief: not to believe stupidly, not relying only on people, text-books, conjecture, reasoning, or whatever the majority believes, but rather to believe what we see clearly for ourselves to be the case. This is how it is in Buddhism. We Buddhists make it our policy.


12) “Which way of practice constitutes walking the ordinary path and which the shortest and quickest path?”

WE MIGHT ANSWER “The Noble Eightfold Path” — of which you have already heard — namely, right understanding, right aim, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. This is called the Noble Eightfold Path. It has a most orderly arrangement which can be grouped under the aspects of morality, concentration, and insight. It forms a great system of practice, which we refer to as walking the ordinary path. It is for people who cannot take the quicker path. It is not a wrong path, it is the right path; however, it is on the ordinary level and takes a long time.

The Buddha has taught a short cut as well. He said that when we do not grasp at the six sense organs (āyatanas) and the things associated with them as being self-entities, then the Noble Eightfold Path will simultaneously arise of its own accord in all of its eight aspects. This is a most important and fundamental principle of Dhamma.

First of all, we must recall that the six sense organs (āyatanas) are the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Each of these six organs has five aspects. In the case of the eye, the first aspect is the eye itself; the second is the visual object that makes contact with the eye; the third is the consciousness (viññāṇa) that comes to know that visual object making contact with the eye; the fourth is the action of contact (phassa) effected between consciousness, eye, and visual object; and the fifth is the pleasurable or painful mental feeling (vedanā) that may arise as a result of the contact. There are five aspects. The eye has these five aspects. The ear has five also, the nose has five, and so on. Each one of these plays a part in causing us to become unmindful and to grasp at something as being self. Thus we grasp at the consciousness that comes to know and see via the eye. Because we can be aware of it, we jump to the conclusion that it must be a self. In this way we grasp at and cling to eye-consciousness as being the self, or grasp at eye-contact (fourth aspect) as self, or cling to eye-contact-feeling (fifth aspect), whether pleasant or unpleasant, as self. Sometimes it happens that a melodious sound comes to the ear, and we grasp at the awareness of the melody as being a self. Sometimes a tasty flavour comes to the tongue, and we may grasp at the awareness of tastiness as being a self.

Each of the six sense organs has five aspects, making altogether thirty aspects. Any of these can be grasped at as being a self, clung
to with the greatest ease many times over in a single day. As soon as we grasp and cling, suffering results. We have erred and have enmeshed ourselves in a mass of suffering. This is not walking the Path. The Buddha, however, taught us not to grasp at the six sense organs and the things connected with them. By keeping constant watch, we shall come to see that none of them is a self, and the Noble Eightfold Path will exist in us at that very same moment. At that moment there will exist right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. To practise non-grasping at the six sense organs is to cause the entire Eightfold Path to arise immediately. The Buddha considered this a short cut.

In one of his discourses the Buddha taught the quickest short cut — emptiness. Not to hold that there is selfhood regarding eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, or mind causes the arising of the entire Noble Eightfold Path in a single moment. If we do not decide to take the short cut, then we study the Noble Eightfold Path of morality, concentration, and wisdom (insight). To practise it from the very beginning, going gradually and by slow degrees, uses up much time. So we find that in Buddhism there is an ordinary way and there is a short cut.



13) “What role does kamma play in Buddhism?


MANY WESTERNERS HAVE written books on Buddhism, and they seem to be most proud of the chapters dealing with kamma (Sanskrit, karma) and rebirth. But their explanations are wrong, quite wrong every time. Those Westerners set out to explain kamma, but all they really say is that good kamma is good and evil kamma is evil. “Do good, receive good; do evil, receive evil”, and nothing more, is exactly the same doctrine as is found in every religion. This is not kamma as it is taught in Buddhism.

With rebirth it is the same. They make their assertions just as if they had seen with their own eyes the very same individuals being reborn. This misrepresents the Buddha’s main message, which teaches the non-existence of “the individual”, of “the self”. Even though “I” am sitting here now, yet there is no individual to be found. When there is no individual, what is there to die? What is there to be reborn? The Buddha taught the non-existence of “the individual”, of “the person”. Thus, birth and death are matters of relative truth. The writers of books entitled “Buddhism” generally explain kamma and rebirth quite wrongly.

Do pay close attention to this matter of kamma.To be the Buddhist account it must deal with the cessation of kamma, not just with kamma itself and its effects — as found in all religions. To be the Buddha’s teaching it must deal with the cessation of kamma.

A sabbakammakkhayaṃ-patto is one who has attained the cessation of all kamma. The Buddha taught that kamma ceases with the ceasing of lust, hatred, and delusion (rāga, dosa, and moha). This is easy to remember. Kamma ceases when lust, hatred, and delusion cease, that is, when the mental defilements cease. If lust, hatred, and delusion do not cease, kamma does not cease. When lust, hatred, and delusion do cease, old kamma ceases, no present kamma is produced, and no new future kamma is produced — thus kamma past, present, and future ceases. When a person puts an end to lust, hatred, and delusion, kamma ceases. This is how it must be explained. Only such an account of kamma can be called the Buddhist account.

So we find there is a third kind of kamma. Most people know of only the first and second kinds of kamma, good and evil kamma. They don’t know yet what the third kind of kamma is. The Buddha called the first kind of kamma black or evil kamma, and the second kind white or good kamma. The kind of kamma that can be called neither-black-nor-white is that which puts an end to both black kamma and white kamma. This third kind of kamma is a tool for putting a complete stop to both black and white kamma. The Buddha used these terms “black kamma”, “white kamma”, and “kamma neither-black-nor-white”. This third type of kamma is kamma in the Buddhist sense, kamma according to Buddhist principles. As has been said, to put an end to lust, hatred, and delusion is to put an end to kamma. Thus, the third kind of kamma is the ending of lust, hatred, and delusion; in other words, it is the Noble Eightfold Path. Whenever we behave and practise in accordance with the Noble Eightfold Path,  that is the third type of kamma. It is neither black nor white; rather it brings to an end black kamma and white kamma. It is world-transcending (lokuttara), above good and above evil.

This third type of kamma is never discussed by Westerners in their chapters on “Kamma and Rebirth”. They get it all wrong; what they expound is not Buddhism at all. To be Buddhist, they should deal with the third type of kamma, the kamma that is capable of bringing to an end lust, hatred, and delusion. Then the whole lot of old kamma — black kamma and white kamma — ends as well.

Now let us say something more about this third kind of kamma. In this connection the Buddha said, “I came to a clear realization of this through my own sublime wisdom.” This teaching of the distinctly different, third type of kamma was not taken over by the Awakened One from any existing creed or religion. It is something he came to know with his own insight and then taught to all. So we ought to keep in mind that the teaching of this third type of kamma is the real Buddhist teaching on kamma. Any manual on kamma in Buddhism, any book entitled “Kamma and Rebirth”, ought to be written on these lines. Do study closely and take an interest in the Buddhist explanation of kamma. That account of good and bad kamma is found in all religions. Buddhism has it too. It tells us that doing good is good and doing evil is evil. They all teach the same thing. But the Buddha said that merely producing good kamma does not extinguish mental suffering completely and absolutely, because one goes right on being infatuated by and grasping at good kamma. In other words, good kamma still causes one to go round in the cycle of birth and death, albeit in good states of existence. It is not complete quenching, coolness, nibbāna.

So there is a kamma taught exclusively by the Buddha, a third type that does away with all kamma and makes an end of lust, hatred, and delusion. It is through this third type of kamma that one attains nibbāna. 


14) “Would a person necessarily have to have heard the Buddha-Dhamma from the Buddha himself in order to be able to put an end to unsatisfactoriness?”

THERE HAVE BEEN some who have argued vehemently that we should have heard the Dhamma from the Buddha himself, that only then could we really understand. But the Buddha himself said that there were some who, though they had not heard the Dhamma directly from him, would still be able to walk the right path. There were some who, not having heard it from the Buddha, would nevertheless, through continuous reflection, consideration, and study, through constant observation and practice, be able to walk the right path.

So we ought to raise our hands in homage and immerse ourselves in the sincerity of the Buddha that he did not make the Dhamma his own monopoly, that he did not set himself up as indispensable.


15) “If doubt arises as to whether a certain teaching is the Buddha’s or not, how can we settle the matter?”

THE BUDDHA LAID down a principle for testing: examine and measure against the Suttas (discourses), compare with the Vinaya (discipline). This principle is based on not believing anything second hand and not taking anyone else as an authority. If doubt arises concerning a certain statement of some person who claims to have heard it from the Buddha or from a learned group of elders, which he says leads to the cessation of suffering, the Buddha said that it must be tested in two ways:

(1) Examine and measure it against the suttas. The suttas are a setting out of the various discourses which constitute a distinct line. If an utterance will not fit to this line, it must be discarded.

(2) Compare it with the Vinaya. The Vinaya is an exemplary model, a standard, a fixed system. If the utterance in question will not fit to the system, if it does not conform with the Vinaya, then discard it.

Don’t trust any bhikkhu, nor any section of Sangha, nor any group of elders, nor any group of learned and practised individuals who claim to have heard such and such from the Buddha. The Buddha always asked that we, before all else, raise a doubt and investigate.

Then measure it against the Suttas, does it fit? Compare with the Vinaya, does it conform?

This is a means of ensuring that, though Buddhism lasts two thousand years, three thousand years, five thousand years, however many thousands or tens of thousands of years, if this principle remains in use, the religion or Dhamma-Vinaya cannot in any way become distorted or confused. So it is an extremely useful principle. It is called the Great Standard. It is a teaching of the Buddha laying down the use of testing things against the Suttas and the Vinaya. He did not mention the Abhidhamma (the last “basket” of the Pali Canon-Metaphysics).


16) “What did the Buddha say people would be like in succeeding ages?”

THERE IS A discourse in which the Buddha reproves “us people now”, meaning each new generation from the time of the Buddha until now, who “rejoice in unrighteous pleasures, are too much given to covetousness, and are leaning towards false doctrines.” They find great delight in pleasurable excitement of an unrighteous kind, that is to say, they are far too self-centred. They completely lack awareness, and thus their greed has become intense and excessive. They fall into false doctrines, because they have fallen completely under the power of the mental defilements.

The Buddha made this statement more than two thousand years ago, yet he uses the term “people of later ages”, which extends from when the Master made the observation until the present day. Here we have a duty to look at ourselves in this present age. Aren’t people in the world today taking excessive delight in unrighteous pleasures, behaving far too selfishly, and leaning towards false doctrines? Obviously people at present are very different from people at the time of the Buddha. However, if they are to live correctly according to the pattern set by the Buddha, then, although they may take some pleasure in colours, shapes, sounds, scents, and tastes, they will do so with constant mindfulness and right knowledge, and will not let greed become excessive. This means that they will not want the colours, shapes, sounds, scents, tastes, and tactile stimuli more than is necessary, not excessively. The single word “excess”, that is to say, more than necessary, signifies the cause of all the upsets, difficulties, and troubles of the world at this time.

I have read that in Christianity a person who seeks beyond what is needed is “sinful”, is a “sinner”. One who merely seeks after more than is necessary is considered by Christian standards to be a sinner. Perhaps we don’t yet consider ourselves sinners, because we don’t care to or because we really consider ourselves not as yet excessive? Perhaps we think that there is nothing about which we are excessive? This matter can be discussed only with people who are honest with themselves.

In a very good Tibetan book of parables, all the birds assemble together. They voice their opinions and express their thoughts on the way of Dhamma practice that will bring happiness. Each variety of bird speaks its own mind. In the end, all the birds assembled resolve that, “We will not seek food in excess of what is necessary. This is the ultimate.” Finally, they request the whole gathering not to seek more food than necessary. Here the story ends.

One ought to consider that seeking more than one needs is a source of suffering and torment for oneself and a source of trouble to other people all over the world. Think it over! Leaning towards false doctrines means recognizing a thing as wrong, yet wanting that wrong thing without feeling fear or shame, because defilements preponderate and overwhelm one. A person confirmed in this way of thinking is badly fitted to Dhamma. He is by nature directly opposed to it. So if we want to be free of suffering, we must turn to Dhamma.


17) “To whom did the Buddha pay homage?”


THE BUDDHA’S OWN answer was that he paid homage to the Dhamma and he paid homage to a Sangha community with exemplary qualities. A Sangha community who conduct themselves well and practise properly can be said to possess exemplary qualities. So the Buddha respected the Dhamma and a Sangha community of exemplary qualities. We ought to give thought to the fact that even the Buddha himself paid homage to the Dhamma, and if all the members of a community of bhikkhus conducted themselves well and behaved properly as a group, the Buddha paid homage to them as well.
This can be applied to behaviour at the present time, in Thailand or anywhere in the world. This means we ought to respect the Dhamma. If even the most exalted person paid respect to the training rules and communities that practised well, surely so should we.


18) “Where can we find the Buddha?”

THE BUDDHA SAID, “Any person who sees the Dhamma sees the Tathāgata. Any person who sees not the Dhamma sees not the Tathāgata. One who sees not the Dhamma, though he grasp at the robe of the Tathāgata and hold it fast, cannot be said to see the Tathāgata.” “Tathāgata” is the word generally used by the Buddha to refer to himself.

This means that the Buddha is not to be found in the outward physical body. Rather, he is to be found in that high quality in the heart of the Buddha which is called Dhamma. That is the part that must be seen before we can say that we have found the Buddha.

When we prostrate ourselves before the Buddha’s image, we dwell on the image, seeing beyond it to the physical body of the Buddha, which the image represents. Then we look beyond the physical body of the Buddha to his mind, and look beyond his mind until we penetrate to the high qualities present in his mind. We see those qualities as the pure, radiant, peaceful Dhamma, devoid of grasping and clinging, perfectly free. Then we can be said to have found the Buddha.


19) “Does the Buddha exist at this moment or not?”


IF WE ARE asked this question, we can answer it with this saying of the Buddha, “O Ānanda, the Dhamma and the Discipline, which the Tathāgata has taught and demonstrated, let them be your teacher when I have passed away.”

Even now we are studying Dhamma and Discipline, practising Dhamma and Discipline, deriving the benefits of Dhamma and Discipline. Thus, the Teacher still exists. This stanza is well known because it was spoken by the Buddha as he was about to pass away. Please take special note that it tells us that the Teacher still exists.


20) “Did the Buddha bring about the cessation of his kamma?”


IF ASKED THIS, we must be sure not to degrade the Buddha by answering carelessly or recklessly. In fact we can never really vitiate the Buddha, but our words may belittle his worth.

The Buddha must have brought about the complete cessation of his kamma because he wiped out the mental defilements, which is the meaning of “ending kamma”. He transcended every kind of kamma, and it was this very fact that made him famous, that constituted his glory. The sage Gotama had become a sabbakammakkhayaṃ-patto, that is, one who has succeeded in bringing about the cessation of all his kamma. The news of this event spread through India until it reached the adherents of other sects and religions. For instance, a certain brahmin called Bavari sent sixteen disciples to the Buddha, to ask him questions and obtain knowledge from him. Others came to test him. Because of the news that the sage Gotama had become a sabbakammakkhayaṃ-patto, had achieved the complete cessation of his kamma, people in India at that period were full of admiration.

They were overjoyed at hearing the words “sabbakammakkhayaṃ-patto”. It was for just this reason that people became so interested in the Buddha.

We too ought to follow the example of the Buddha and set about the task of putting an end to kamma. 

Please click here to continue to Part III