Buddhism for Students Part IV

31) “What is meant by living rightly?”

RIGHT LIVING” REALLY has a special meaning of its own. To live rightly is simply to maintain conditions such that the mental defilements cannot obtain nourishment and cannot develop. Hence, it is nothing other than living all the time with a mind that is free and empty (cit waang), that is, a mind that views the entire world as something empty and does not clutch or grab at anything as being a self or belonging to a self. Then, though one will continue to speak, think, and act; to seek, use, and consume things; one will not have the idea of grasping at any one of them as being a self. Just acting with constant awareness, acting wisely, acting with insight into the circumstances in which one is involved — that is what is known as “living rightly”. In other words, living rightly is living in such a way that the defilements have no means of arising and no means of obtaining nourishment.

We could also say it amounts to keeping to the Noble Eightfold Path. This is right living because right understanding, the first aspect of the Noble Path, is simply the knowledge, the understanding, the unobscured and perfect insight, that there is nothing that should be grasped at or clung to. Thus, in striving, in speaking, in any activity whatsoever, there is simply no grasping or clinging.

If we live rightly as described, the defilements become undernourished and emaciated. They fall away of their own accord and become completely extinct. There is no way they can arise again, because one has given up the habit of letting them arise. This is important because the things called anusaya (unwholesome tendencies), which build up within us, are only a matter of familiarity with defilement. However, one who doesn’t know this looks upon the defilements as permanent entities or selves, and thus falls into the wrong view of eternalism (sassata-diṭṭhi).To hold that the defilements are permanent entities lying deep within the character is to be an eternalist, one who clings to belief in an eternal self or soul. Those who have insight and understanding based on Buddhist principles cannot regard these things as independent and permanent entities or selves. There is a reason for their existence; they arise in conformity with causal laws. When they arise too frequently, one becomes used to them and regards them as permanent aspects of one’s nature. Believing them to be permanent misleads us to think they are lying in wait deep within us all the time.

Do understand that the anusaya are only our habitual tendencies, the
results of a process of familiarization. This is how the word “anusaya” is used.


32) “Is it difficult or easy to be an arahant?”


ALMOST EVERYONE ANSWERS that it is extremely difficult. No one dares to think or speak of it as being easy. Here again, let us keep to the principle of not giving unqualified answers. Anyone who gives unqualified answers, saying, for example, “there is” or “there is not”, “it is easy” or “it is difficult”, is not a follower of the Buddha.

The Buddha’s principle is that of causality. If we act rightly through understanding the principle of causality, being anarahant is easy. If we go against the principle of causality, it is extremely difficult. Only because we are accustomed to the defilements does it appear difficult to become anarahant. Here we ought to bear in mind that saying of the Buddha, “If we live rightly, the world will not be empty of arahants.”This living rightly is not difficult, it is not beyond our capacity. Blockade the defilements to prevent their obtaining nourishment. If we want to kill a tiger, we could pen him in with nothing to eat, and he would die of his own accord. It would not be necessary for us to go in, confront the tiger, and let him bite and claw us. This is what is meant by saying it is not beyond our capacity. This is the technique, and it lies within our abilities.

Therefore, being an arahant will be easy or not depending on whether we use the right or the wrong methods. If we follow what the Buddha said, it is not difficult. “Live rightly and the world will not be empty of arahants.”

33) “Would we be able to recognize an arahant if we met one?”


PEOPLE LIKE ASKING this very much. For instance there are some who doubt if we could recognize an arahant now living in the world. If asked whether we could recognize an arahant if one came walking along, we should consider the following. In the event that we didn’t recognize this one and never could recognize any of the  them, then even arahants themselves would not be able to recognize one another as such.
It is said that the Elder Sariputta did not know that Lakuṇṭaka bhaddiya was an arahant, also. He carried on expounding Dhamma to him, the purpose of which was to make possible the attainment of arahantship. This shows that Sariputta did not know that Lakuṇṭaka bhaddiya was an arahant. However, if it was always the case that we did recognize an arahantas such, then even a god in the Brahma world who was himself no arahant would be able to recognize which people were arahants. He could prophesy who would die having attained nibbāna and who would die without having attained nibbāna.

Thus, if asked whether we should be able to recognize an arahant or not, we must say that we might be able to or not, depending on the circumstances. Even arahants themselves might not recognize one another as such. So we ought not to give an unqualified answer, saying that we could recognize one or that we could not, as do the teachers in temple preaching halls, who like being dogmatic about such things.

34) “Where could we meet an arahant?”


WE MUST LOOK for an arahant in the extinction of the mental defilements. Don’t go busily searching for one in the forest, in a monastery, in a cave, on a mountain, in a village, in a city, or in a meditation centre. You can go looking for an arahant in the extinction of the defilements. Carry out whatever tests or investigations or experiments will prove to you the extinction of the defilements. If this is not possible, then there is no need to search, no need to seek. You will know for yourself, that’s all.

Where there is extinction of the defilements, there is the arahant. 


35) “Lay people cannot be arahants, can they?”


DON’T GO GIVING an unqualified answer to this question either, saying they can or cannot. It must be answered by saying that an arahant has transcended laity and monkhood alike. Please note that the belief that one who becomes an arahant must hurry off and be ordained within seven days or else die was made by overconfident, assertive teachers of later ages, and appears only in commentaries, sub-commentaries, and other such post-canonical works. An arahant must always transcend laity and monkhood. No one can make an arahant into a lay person (i.e. a worldly person), but he lives above and beyond the state of monkhood too.

Therefore, don’t go making statements as to whether an arahant can live at home or not. Even though they might take an arahant and force him to live at home, they could never make him into a householder. He has transcended both laity and monkhood. 

36) “How is it that a ‘man-killer’ could be an arahant?”


THIS CAN BE very easily answered. That which is called “the person” (or “the individual”) has to be killed before one can be an arahant. If what we call “the person” has not been killed, there is no way one can be an arahant. One has first to kill the idea of “the person”, of “self”, of “I” and “he” or “she”, of “animal” and “being”. That is, there must cease to be any attachment to the ideas that this is an animal, this is a person, this is an abiding entity, this is a self. To do this is to kill the person or to kill off the thing we refer to as “the person”. Doing this, one simultaneously becomes an arahant. Hence it is said that one has to kill off the person before one can be an arahant. The Buddha sometimes used stronger words than these. He said on several occasions that the parents must be killed before one can be an arahant. The parents are the mental defilements such as ignorance, craving, and clinging, or any karmic activities that function as parents or propagators coming together to give birth to the “I”, to the idea of “the person”. So one has to kill them off; one has to kill the parents of that person so that one can be an arahant.

Then there is the story of Angulimala, a notorious killer. Angulimala became an arahant when he killed off the person. When he heard the word “stop” from the Buddha, he understood it in its right sense. Some people, through misunderstanding, try to explain that the Buddha, in saying that he had stopped, meant that he had stopped killing people as Angulimala was still doing when they met.

That is, they explain that the Buddha had stopped, whereas Angulimala had not but was still going about killing people. This is not the right explanation. When the Buddha said “I have stopped,” he meant “I have stopped being ‘the person’, have completely ceased being ‘the person’.” Angulimala understood it rightly as completely ceasing to be the person, with the result that he too was able to kill off the person, to kill the idea of being this individual. Thus Angulimala became an arahant like the Buddha.

Even the simple word “stop” in this story has been completely misunderstood by most people. It has been wrongly understood, wrongly explained, wrongly discussed, and wrongly taught, so that the account becomes self-contradictory. To say that one could become an arahant by merely ceasing to kill people is ridiculous.

So one has to stop being the person and kill the firm belief in individuals, selves, “I”, and “they”, before one can be an arahant. In other words, to become an arahant, kill “the person”. 


37) “What is the world full of?”


SOME PEOPLE WITH a certain outlook answer, “This world is full of suffering/unsatisfactoriness (dukkha).” For instance they say that there is nothing that arises, persists, and passes away but it is a source of suffering. This is correct, but it is hard to understand.
The question should be answered as the Buddha answered it.

“This world is full of empty things. This world is empty. There is nothing that is a “self” or that belongs to a ‘self’.”

Don’t be satisfied with saying simply “In the world there is only suffering/unsatisfactoriness, there is nothing that is not a source of suffering.” This is certainly a correct statement, but it is ambiguous and liable to be misinterpreted; for those same things, if one doesn’t go grasping and clinging at them, are not a source of suffering at all. Let this be well understood. Neither the world nor any of the things that comprise the world is or ever has been in itself, a source of suffering. The moment one goes grasping and clinging, there is suffering; if one does not grasp and cling, there is no suffering. To say that life is suffering is shallow, oversimplified, and premature. Life grasped at and clung to is suffering; life not grasped at or clung to is not suffering.

This life has purpose, it is not pointless. Some people like to say that life has no purpose because they do not know how to give it purpose. If we known how to use this life as an instrument for finding out about the world, about the causes of the world’s arising, about the complete cessation of the world, and about the way of practice leading to the complete cessation of the world, then this life does have purpose. Life, then, is a means of studying, practising, and obtaining the fruits of practice. It is a means of coming to know the best thing that human beings can and ought to know, namely, nibbāna. So remember, this life does have purpose, although for the fool who doesn’t know how to use it, it has no purpose at all.

What is the world full of? Look at it from one point of view and you say, “It is full of suffering,” or simply, “It is suffering.” But look at it from a higher point of view and you can say that it is nothing but an endless process of arising, persisting, ceasing, arising, persisting, and ceasing. If we grasp at and cling to it, suffering will be produced. If we do not grasp at and cling to it, then it simply continues arising, persisting, and ceasing. So we must bear in mind that a person who has become free, who has become an arahant, does not regard these things as a source of suffering, nor of happiness either. The arahant’s unsoiled pañcakkhandha (five aggregates or body-mind complex) cannot be said to be involved in suffering. There is only the causally conditioned flowing, changing, and revolving of the five aggregates.

What is the world full of? It is full of things that arise, persist, and cease. Grasp and cling to them, and they produce suffering (dukkha). Don’t grasp and cling to them, and they do not produce suffering. 3

38) “What sort of merit has little effect and what sort great effect?”


THE BUDDHA TAUGHT, “The value of merit-making which is based on greed has not the sixteenth part of the value of cultivating loving kindness (mettā).”

Merit-making based on greed includes merit-making for publicity, merit-making in exchange for paradise or heaven, merit-making in order to be reborn beautiful or rich, and merit making to gain sensual pleasure. Such merit-making is based on greed. It is solely grasping and clinging. Merit-making that consists of grasping and clinging is still merit-making, but it cannot have the sixteenth part of the value of practising metta. Loving kindness is not based on self-interest; it is practised for the sake of other people. There is universal love for all other people. Merit born of mettā is great merit; merit based on greed does not amount to the sixteenth part of that of metta.

In the Pali language, when it was desired to indicate a great quantitative difference between things, this sort of expression was commonly used, “the sixteenth part taken sixteen times”. Suppose we have one unit of something. Divide it up into sixteen parts and take one of these. Again, divide that part into sixteen parts and take one of them. Then divide that part yet again into sixteen parts. Again take one and divide it. Carry on like this a total of sixteen times to get the sixteenth part.

Merit which is based on greed is described as not worth the sixteenth part of the merit based on loving kindness (mettā).


49) “Where is great merit to be found?”


THE BUDDHA ONCE said, “Developing awareness-of-impermanence  (aniccasañña) for only as long as it takes to click the fingers has more effect and merit value than providing meals for the entire Sangha when led by the Buddha.”

This means that if we could invite the whole Buddhist Sangha together with the Buddha at its head and offer them food, we would still not gain as much merit as by successfully developing awareness of-impermanence for the duration of a click of the fingers. This is a most fundamental point.

So, be wary of great deeds of charity such as some people display in temple halls, because they are concerned with sensual pleasures. Great merit, to be genuine, must be as the Buddha described. Developing awareness-of-impermanence for just a brief moment is far better than all this sort of providing for bhikkhus. 

40) “Where is the happy state to be found? Where do we go to get happiness?”

In the texts, there is a passage which speaks of celestial beings (devatas) dying, passing away, coming to the end of their merit, and coming to the end of their life spans. It also tells of their wishing to attain the happy state, seeking it, and wishing to know where to find it. In the end they come to the conclusion that the happy state is to be found in the realm of human beings. The celestial beings rejoice saying, “May your wishes be fulfilled! Go to the happy state in the human realm!” The expression “happy state in the human realm” signifies that in the human realm impermanence, instability, and non-selfhood can more readily be perceived than in the celestial realm. In the human realm there are enlightened beings, there are arahants, and there are the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. In the celestial realm, that jungle of sensuality, there are none of these things. Thus, celestial beings come to the human realm in search of the happy state. It is ridiculous that human beings here should want to go to the celestial realm for happiness. Yet some people seek paradise, happiness in the next existence, in the realm of celestial beings. They invest in it by making merit, giving to charity, selling their houses and goods, and building things in monasteries. Where is the genuinely happy state to be found? Think it over. 

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