BUDDHISM IN A NUTSHELL by Narada Mahathera Copyright 1982, 1995 Buddhist Publication Socie
BUDDHISM IN A NUTSHELL
Copyright 1982, 1995 Buddhist Publication Society
* * *
DharmaNet Edition 1995
Transcription: Bradford Griffith
Proofreading & Formatting: John Bullitt
This electronic edition is offered for free distribution
via DharmaNet by arrangement with the publisher.
P.O. Box 4951, Berkeley CA 94704-4951
* * * * * * * *
//Buddhism in a Nutshell// first appeared in 1933. Since then several
editions were published by various philanthropic gentlemen for free
For a fuller exposition of the subjects dealt with here, readers are
kindly requested to read the revised and enlarged edition of //The
Buddha and His Teachings// published in 1980.
Permission may freely be obtained to reprint or to translate this
Colombo, Sri Lanka.
7th May 1982.
* * * * * * * *
BUDDHISM IN A NUTSHELL
//Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma-Sambuddhassa//
On the fullmoon day of May, in the year 623 B.C., there was born in
the district of Nepal an Indian Sakya Prince named Siddhattha Gotama,
who was destined to be the greatest religious teacher in the world.
Brought up in the lap of luxury, receiving an education befitting a
prince, he married and had a son.
His contemplative nature and boundless compassion did not permit him
to enjoy the fleeting material pleasures of a Royal household. He
knew no woe, but he felt a deep pity for sorrowing humanity. Amidst
comfort and prosperity, he realized the universality of sorrow. The
palace, with all its worldly amusements, was no longer a congenial
place for the compassionate prince. The time was ripe for him to
depart. Realizing the vanity of sensual enjoyments, in his
twenty-ninth year, he renounced all worldly pleasures and donning the
simple yellow garb of an ascetic, alone, penniless, wandered forth in
search of Truth and Peace.
It was an unprecedented historic renunciation; for he renounced not in
his old age but in the prime of manhood, not in poverty but in plenty.
As it was the belief in the ancient days that no deliverance could be
gained unless one leads a life of strict asceticism, he strenuously
practiced all forms of severe austerities. "Adding vigil after vigil,
and penance after penance," he made a superhuman effort for six long
His body was reduced to almost a skeleton. The more he tormented his
body, the farther his goal receded from him. The painful,
unsuccessful austerities which he strenuously practiced proved
absolutely futile. He was now fully convinced, through personal
experience, of the utter futility of self-mortification which weakened
his body and resulted in lassitude of spirit.
Benefiting by this invaluable experience of his, he finally decided
to follow an independent course, avoiding the two extremes of
self-indulgence and self-mortification. The former retards one's
spiritual progress, and the latter weakens one's intellect. The new
way which he himself discovered was the Middle Path, //Majjhima
Patipada//, which subsequently became one of the salient
characteristics of his teaching.
One happy morning, while He was deeply absorbed in meditation, unaided
and unguided by any supernatural power and solely relying on His
efforts and wisdom, He eradicated all defilements, purified Himself,
and, realizing things as they truly are, attained Enlightenment
(Buddhahood) at the age of 35. He was not born a Buddha, [*] but He
became a Buddha by His own striving. As the perfect embodiment of all
the virtues He preached, endowed with deep wisdom commensurate with
His boundless compassion. He devoted the remainder of His precious
life to serve humanity both by example and precept, dominated by no
personal motive whatever.
* [An Awakened or Enlightened One.]
After a very successful ministry of 45 long years the Buddha, as every
other human being, succumbed to the inexorable law of change, and
finally passed away in His 80th year, exhorting His disciples to
regard His doctrine as their teacher.
The Buddha was a human being. As a man He was born, as a man He
lived, and as a man His life came to an end. Though a human being, He
became an extraordinary man (//Acchariya Manussa//), but He never
arrogated to Himself divinity. The Buddha laid stress on this
important point and left no room whatever for anyone to fall into the
error of thinking that He was an immortal divine being. Fortunately
there is no deification in the case of the Buddha. It should,
however, be remarked that there was no Teacher, "ever so godless as
the Buddha, yet none so god-like."
The Buddha is neither an incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu, as is
believed by some, nor is He a savior who freely saves others by His
personal salvation. The Buddha exhorts His disciples to depend on
themselves for their deliverance, for both purity and defilement
depend on oneself. Clarifying His relationship with His followers and
emphasizing the importance of self-reliance and individual striving,
the Buddha plainly states: "You should exert yourselves, the
Tathagatas [*] are only teachers."
* [Lit., Thus who hath come.]
The Buddhas point out the path, and it is left for us to follow that
path to obtain our purification.
"To depend on others for salvation is negative, but to depend on
oneself is positive." Dependence on others means a surrender of one's
In exhorting His disciples to be self-dependent the Buddha says in the
//Parinibbana Sutta//: "Be ye islands unto yourselves, be ye a refuge
unto yourselves, seek not for refuge in others." These significant
words are self-elevating. They reveal how vital is self-exertion to
accomplish one's object and, how superficial and futile it is to seek
redemption through benignant saviors and to crave for illusory
happiness in an after life through the propitiation of imaginary Gods
or by irresponsive prayers and meaningless sacrifices.
Furthermore, the Buddha does not claim the monopoly of Buddhahood
which, as a matter of fact, is not the prerogative of any specially
graced person. He reached the highest possible state of perfection
any person could aspire to, and without the close-fist of a teacher he
revealed the only straight path that leads thereto. According to the
Teaching of the Buddha anybody may aspire to that supreme state of
perfection if he makes the necessary exertion. The Buddha does not
condemn men by calling they wretched sinners, but, on the contrary, He
gladdens them by saying that they are pure in heart at conception. In
His opinion the world is not wicked but is deluded by ignorance.
Instead of disheartening His followers and reserving that exalted
state only to Himself, He encourages and induces them to emulate Him,
for Buddhahood is latent in all. In one sense all are potential
One who aspires to become a Buddha is called a Bodhisatta, which,
literally, means a wisdom-being. This Bodhisatta ideal is the most
beautiful and the most refined course of life that has ever been
presented to this ego-centric world, for what is nobler than a life of
service and purity?
As a Man He attained Buddhahood and proclaimed to the world the latent
inconceivable possibilities and the creative power of man. Instead of
placing an unseen Almighty God over man who arbitrarily controls the
destinies of mankind, and making him subservient to a supreme power,
He raised the worth of mankind. It was He who taught that man can
gain his deliverance and purification by his own exertion without
depending on an external God or mediating priests. It was he who
taught the ego-centric world the noble ideal of selfless service. It
was He who revolted against the degrading caste system and taught
equality of mankind and gave equal opportunities for all to
distinguish themselves in every walk of life.
He declared that the gates of success and prosperity were open to all
in every condition of life, high or low, saint or criminal, who would
care to turn a new leaf and aspire to perfection.
Irrespective of caste, color or rank He established for both
deserving men and women a democratically constituted celibate Order.
He did not force His followers to be slaves either to His Teachings or
to Himself but granted complete freedom of thought.
He comforted the bereaved by His consoling words. He ministered to
the sick that were deserted. He helped the poor that were neglected.
He ennobled the lives of the deluded, purified the corrupted lives of
criminals. He encouraged the feeble, united the divided, enlightened
the ignorant, clarified the mystic, guided the benighted, elevated the
base, dignified the noble. Both rich and poor, saints and criminals
loved Him alike. Despotic and righteous kings, famous and obscure
princes and nobles, generous and stingy millionaires, haughty and
humble scholars, destitute paupers, down-trodden scavengers, wicked
murderers, despised courtesans -- all benefited by His words of wisdom
His noble example was a source of inspiration to all. His serene and
peaceful countenance was a soothing sight to the pious eyes. His
message of Peace and Tolerance was welcomed by all with indescribable
joy and was of eternal benefit to every one who had the fortune to
hear and practice it.
Wherever His teachings penetrated it left an indelible impression upon
the character of the respective peoples. The cultural advancement of
all the Buddhist nations was mainly due to His sublime Teachings. In
fact all Buddhist countries like Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia,
Vietnam, Laos, Nepal, Tibet, China, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, etc., grew
up in the cradle of Buddhism. Though more than 2500 years have
elapsed since the passing away of this greatest Teacher, yet his
unique personality exerts a great influence on all who come to know
His iron will, profound wisdom, universal love, boundless compassion,
selfless service, historic renunciation, perfect purity, magnetic
personality, exemplary methods employed to propagate the Teachings,
and his final success -- all these factors have compelled about
one-fifth of the population of the world today to hail the Buddha as
their supreme Teacher.
Paying a glowing tribute to the Buddha Sri Radhakrishnan states: "In
Gautama the Buddha we have a master-mind from the East second to none
so far as the influence on the thought and life of the human race is
concerned, and, sacred to all as the founder of a religious tradition
whose hold is hardly less wide and deep than any other. He belongs to
the history of the world's thought, to the general inheritance of all
cultivated men, for, judged by intellectual integrity, moral
earnestness, and spiritual insight, He is undoubtedly one of the
greatest figures in history.
In //The Three Greatest Men in History// H.G. Wells writes: "In the
Buddha you see clearly a man, simple, devout, lonely, battling for
light -- a vivid human personality, not a myth. He too gave a message
to mankind universal in character. Many of our best modern ideas are
in closest harmony with it. All the miseries and discontents are due,
he taught, to selfishness. Before a man can become serene he must
cease to live for his senses or himself. Then he merges into a great
being. Buddha in different language called men to self-forgetfulness
500 years before Christ. In some ways he is nearer to us and our
needs. He was more lucid upon our individual importance and service
than Christ and less ambiguous upon the question of personal
St. Hilaire remarks "The perfect model of all the virtues He preaches.
His life has not a stain upon it."
Fausboll says -- "The more I know of Him, the more I love Him."
A humble follower of his would say -- "The more I know Him, the more I
love Him; the more I love Him, the more I know Him."
* * *
THE DHAMMA: Is it a Philosophy?
The non-aggressive, moral and philosophical system expounded by the
Buddha, which demands no blind faith from its adherents, expounds no
dogmatic creeds, encourages no superstitious rites and ceremonies, but
advocates a golden mean that guides a disciple through pure living and
pure thinking to the gain of supreme wisdom and deliverance from all
evil, is called the Dhamma and is popularly known as Buddhism.
The all-merciful Buddha has passed away, but the sublime Dhamma which
He unreservedly bequeathed to humanity, still exists in its pristine
Although the Master has left no written records of His Teachings, His
distinguished disciples preserved them by committing to memory and
transmitting them orally from generation to generation.
Immediately after His demise 500 chief Arahats [*] versed in the
Dhamma [**] and Vinaya, [***] held a convocation to rehearse the
Doctrine as was originally taught by the Buddha. Venerable Ananda
Thera, who enjoyed the special privilege of hearing all the
discourses, recited the Dhamma, while the Venerable Upali recited the
* [Literally, the Worthy Ones. They are the enlightened disciples who
have destroyed all passions.]
** [The Teaching.]
*** [The Discipline.]
The //Tipitaka// was compiled and arranged in its present form by
those Arahats of old.
During the reign of the pious Sinhala King Vattagamani Abhaya, about
83 B.C., the Tipitaka was, for the first time in the history of
Buddhism, committed to writing on palm leaves (ola) in Ceylon.
This voluminous //Tipitaka//, which contains the essence of the
Buddha's Teaching, is estimated to be about eleven times the size of
the Bible. A striking contrast between the Tipitaka and the Bible is
that the former is not a gradual development like the latter.
As the word itself implies, the //Tipitaka// consists of three
baskets. They are the Basket of Discipline (//Vinaya Pitaka//), the
Basket of Discourses (//Sutta Pitaka//), and the Basket of Ultimate
Doctrine (//Abhidhamma Pitaka//).
The //Vinaya Pitaka// which is regarded as the sheet anchor to the
oldest historic celibate order -- the Sangha -- mainly deals with
rules and regulations which the Buddha promulgated, as occasion arose,
for the future discipline of the Order of monks (//Bhikkhus//) and
nuns (//Bhikkunis//). It described in detail the gradual development
of the //Sasana// (Dispensation). An account of the life and ministry
of the Buddha is also given. Indirectly it reveals some important and
interesting information about ancient history, Indian customs, arts,
The Vinaya Pitaka consists of the five following books:
1. //Parajika// Pali -- Major Offenses
2. //Pacittiya// Pali -- Minor Offenses
3. //Mahavagga// Pali -- Greater Section
4. //Cullavagga// Pali -- Shorter Section
5. //Parivara// Pali -- Epitome of the Vinaya
The //Sutta Pitaka// consists chiefly of discourses, delivered by the
Buddha himself on various occasions. There are also a few discourses
delivered by some of His distinguished disciples such as the Venerable
Sariputta, Ananda, Moggallana, etc., included in it. It is like a
book of prescriptions, as the sermons embodied therein were expounded
to suit the different occasions and the temperaments of various
persons. There may be seemingly contradictory statements, but they
should not be misconstrued as they were opportunely uttered by the
Buddha to suit a particular purpose: for instance, to the self-same
question He would maintain silence (when the inquirer is merely
foolishly inquisitive), or give a detailed reply when He knew the
inquirer to be an earnest seeker. Most of the sermons were intended
mainly for the benefit of Bhikkhus and they deal with the Holy life
and with the expositions of the doctrine. There are also several
other discourses which deal with both the material and moral progress
of His lay followers.
This Pitaka is divided into five Nikayas or collections, viz:
1. //Digha Nikaya// (Collection of Long Discourses).
2. //Majjhima Nikaya// (Collection of Middle-Length Discourses).
3. //Samyutta Nikaya// (Collection of Kindred Sayings).
4. //Anguttara Nikaya// (Collection of Discourses arranged in
accordance with numbers).
5. //Khuddaka Nikaya// (Smaller Collection).
The fifth is subdivided into fifteen books:
1. //Khuddaka Patha// (Shorter texts)
2. //Dhammapada// (Way of Truth)
3. //Udana// (Paeans of Joy)
4. //Iti Vuttaka// ("Thus said" Discourses)
5. //Sutta Nipata// (Collected Discourses)
6. //Vimana Vatthu// (Stories of Celestial Mansions)
7. //Peta Vatthu// (Stories of Petas)
8. //Theragatha// (Psalms of the Brethren)
9. //Therigatha// (Psalms of the Sisters)
10. //Jataka// (Birth Stories)
11. //Niddesa// (Expositions)
12. //Patisambhida Magga// (Analytical Knowledge)
13. //Apadana// (Lives of Arahats)
14. //Buddhavamsa// (The History of the Buddha)
15. //Cariya Pitaka// (Modes of Conduct)
The //Abhidhamma Pitaka// is the most important and the most
interesting of the three, containing as it does the profound
philosophy of the Buddha's Teaching in contrast to the illuminating
and simpler discourses in the Sutta Pitaka.
In the //Sutta Pitaka// is found the conventional teaching (//vohara
desana//) while in the //Abhidhamma Pitaka// is found the ultimate
To the wise, Abhidhamma is an indispensable guide; to the spiritually
evolved, an intellectual treat; and to research scholars, food for
thought. Consciousness is defined. Thoughts are analyzed and
classified chiefly from an ethical standpoint. Mental states are
enumerated. The composition of each type of consciousness is set
forth in detail. How thoughts arise, is minutely described.
Irrelevant problems that interest mankind but having no relation to
one's purification, are deliberately set aside.
Matter is summarily discussed; fundamental units of matter, properties
of matter, sources of matter, relationship between mind and matter,
The Abhidhamma investigates mind and matter, the two composite factors
of the so-called being, to help the understanding of things as they
truly are, and a philosophy has been developed on those lines. Based
on that philosophy, an ethical system has been evolved, to realize the
ultimate goal, Nibbana.
The //Abhidhamma Pitaka// consists of seven books:
1. //Dhammasangani// (Classification of Dhammas)
2. //Vibhanga// (The book of Divisions)
3. //Katha-Vatthu// (Points of Controversy)
4. //Pubbala-Pannatti// (Descriptions of Individuals)
5. //Dhatu-Katha// (Discussion with reference to elements)
6. //Yamaka// (The Book of Pairs),
7. //Patthana// (The Book of Relations)
In the Tipitaka one finds milk for the babe and meat for the strong,
for the Buddha taught His doctrine both to the masses and to the
intelligentsia. The sublime Dhamma enshrined in these sacred texts,
deals with truths and facts, and is not concerned with theories and
philosophies which may be accepted as profound truths today only to be
thrown overboard tomorrow. The Buddha has presented us with no new
astounding philosophical theories, nor did He venture to create any
new material science. He explained to us what is within and without
so far as it concerns our emancipation, as ultimately expounded a path
of deliverance, which is unique. Incidentally, He has, however,
forestalled many a modern scientist and philosopher.
Schopenhauer in his "World as Will and Idea" has presented the truth
of suffering and its cause in a Western garb. Spinoza, though he
denies not the existence of a permanent reality, asserts that all
phenomenal existence is transitory. In his opinion sorrow is
conquered "by finding an object of knowledge which is not transient,
not ephemeral, but is immutable, permanent, everlasting." Berkeley
proved that the so-called indivisible atom is a metaphysical fiction.
Hume, after a relentless analysis of the mind, concluded that
consciousness consists of fleeting mental states. Bergson advocates
the doctrine of change. Prof. James refers to a stream of
The Buddha expounded these doctrines of Transiency, (//Anicca//),
Sorrow (//Dukkha//), and No-Soul (//Anatta//) some 2500 years ago
while He was sojourning in the valley of the Ganges.
It should be understood that the Buddha did not preach all that He
knew. On one occasion while the Buddha was passing through a forest
He took a handful of leaves and said: "O Bhikkhus, what I have taught
is comparable to the leaves in my hand. What I have not taught is
comparable to the amount of leaves in the forest."
He taught what He deemed was absolutely essential for one's
purification making no distinction between an esoteric and exoteric
doctrine. He was characteristically silent on questions irrelevant to
His noble mission.
Buddhism no doubt accords with science, but both should be treated as
parallel teachings, since one deals mainly with material truths while
the other confines itself to moral and spiritual truths. The subject
matter of each is different.
The Dhamma He taught is not merely to be preserved in books, nor is it
a subject to be studied from an historical or literary standpoint. On
the contrary it is to be learnt and put into practice in the course of
one's daily life, for without practice one cannot appreciate the
truth. The Dhamma is to be studied, and more to be practiced, and
above all to be realized; immediate realization is its ultimate goal.
As such the Dhamma is compared to a raft which is meant for the sole
purpose of escaping from the ocean of birth and death (//Samsara//).
Buddhism, therefore, cannot strictly be called a mere philosophy
because it is not merely the "love of, inducing the search after,
wisdom." Buddhism may approximate a philosophy, but it is very much
Philosophy deals mainly with knowledge and is not concerned with
practice; whereas Buddhism lays special emphasis on practice and
* * *
IS IT A RELIGION?
It is neither a religion in the sense in which that word is commonly
understood, for it is not "a system of faith and worship owing any
allegiance to a supernatural being."
Buddhism does not demand blind faith from its adherents. Here mere
belief is dethroned and is substituted by confidence based on
knowledge, which, in Pali, is known as //Saddha//. The confidence
placed by a follower on the Buddha is like that of a sick person in a
noted physician, or a student in his teacher. A Buddhist seeks refuge
in the Buddha because it was He who discovered the Path of
A Buddhist does not seek refuge in the Buddha with the hope that he
will be saved by His personal purification. The Buddha gives no such
guarantee. It is not within the power of a Buddha to wash away the
impurities of others. One could neither purify nor defile another.
The Buddha, as Teacher, instructs us, but we ourselves are directly
responsible for our purification.
Although a Buddhist seeks refuge in the Buddha, he does not make any
self-surrender. Nor does a Buddhist sacrifice his freedom of thought
by becoming a follower of the Buddha. He can exercise his own free
will and develop his knowledge even to the extent of becoming a Buddha
The starting point of Buddhism is reasoning or understanding, or, in
other words, //Samma-ditthi//.
To the seekers of truth the Buddha says:
"Do not accept anything on (mere) hearsay -- (i.e., thinking
that thus have we heard it from a long time). Do not accept
anything by mere tradition -- (i.e., thinking that it has thus
been handed down through many generations). Do not accept
anything on account of mere rumors -- (i.e., by believing what
others say without any investigation). Do not accept anything
just because it accords with your scriptures. Do not accept
anything by mere suppositions. Do not accept anything by mere
inference. Do not accept anything by merely considering the
reasons. Do not accept anything merely because it agrees with
your pre-conceived notions. Do not accept anything merely
because it seems acceptable -- (i.e., thinking that as the
speaker seems to be a good person his words should be accepted).
Do not accept anything thinking that the ascetic is respected by
us (therefore it is right to accept his word).
"But when you know for yourselves -- these things are immoral,
these things are blameworthy, these things are censured by the
wise, these things, when performed and undertaken conduce to
ruin and sorrow -- then indeed do you reject them.
"When you know for yourselves -- these things are moral, these
things are blameless, these things are praised by the wise,
these things, when performed and undertaken, conduce to
well-being and happiness -- then do you live acting
These inspiring words of the Buddha still retain their original force
Though there is no blind faith, one might argue whether there is no
worshiping of images etc., in Buddhism.
Buddhists do not worship an image expecting worldly or spiritual
favors, but pay their reverence to what it represents.
An understanding Buddhist, in offering flowers and incense to an
image, designedly makes himself feel that he is in the presence of the
living Buddha and thereby gains inspiration from His noble personality
and breathes deep His boundless compassion. He tries to follow His
The Bo-tree is also a symbol of Enlightenment. These external objects
of reverence are not absolutely necessary, but they are useful as they
tend to concentrate one's attention. An intellectual person could
dispense with them as he could easily focus his attention and
visualize the Buddha.
For our own good, and out of gratitude, we pay such external respect
but what the Buddha expects from His disciple is not so much obeisance
as the actual observance of His Teachings. The Buddha says -- "He
honors me best who practices my teaching best." "He who sees the
Dhamma sees me."
With regard to images, however, Count Kevserling remarks -- "I see
nothing more grand in this world than the image of the Buddha. It is
an absolutely perfect embodiment of spirituality in the visible
Furthermore, it must be mentioned that there are not petitional or
intercessory prayers in Buddhism. However much we may pray to the
Buddha we cannot be saved. The Buddha does not grant favors to those
who pray to Him. Instead of petitional prayers there is meditation
that leads to self-control, purification and enlightenment. Meditation
is neither a silent reverie nor keeping the mind blank. It is an
active striving. It serves as a tonic both to the heart and the mind.
The Buddha not only speaks of the futility of offering prayers but
also disparages a slave mentality. A Buddhist should not pray to be
saved, but should rely on himself and win his freedom.
"Prayers take the character of private communications, selfish
bargaining with God. It seeks for objects of earthly ambitions
and inflames the sense of self. Meditation on the other hand is
-- Sri Radhakrishnan.
In Buddhism there is not, as in most other religions, an Almighty God
to be obeyed and feared. The Buddha does not believe in a cosmic
potentate, omniscient and omnipresent. In Buddhism there are no
divine revelations or divine messengers. A Buddhist is, therefore, not
subservient to any higher supernatural power which controls his
destinies and which arbitrarily rewards and punishes. Since Buddhists
do not believe in revelations of a divine being Buddhism does not
claim the monopoly of truth and does not condemn any other religion.
But Buddhism recognizes the infinite latent possibilities of man and
teaches that man can gain deliverance from suffering by his own
efforts independent of divine help or mediating priests.
Buddhism cannot, therefore, strictly be called a religion because it
is neither a system of faith and worship, nor "the outward act or form
by which men indicate their recognition of the existence of a God or
gods having power over their own destiny to whom obedience, service,
and honor are due."
If, by religion, is meant "a teaching which takes a view of life that
is more than superficial, a teaching which looks into life and not
merely at it, a teaching which furnishes men with a guide to conduct
that is in accord with this its in-look, a teaching which enables
those who give it heed to face life with fortitude and death with
serenity," [*] or a system to get rid of the ills of life, then it is
certainly a religion of religions.
* [Bhikkhu Silacara]
* * *
IS BUDDHISM AN ETHICAL SYSTEM?
It no doubt contains an excellent ethical code which is unparalleled
in its perfection and altruistic attitude. It deals with one way of
life for the monks and another for the laity. But Buddhism is much
more than an ordinary moral teaching. Morality is only the
preliminary stage on the Path of Purity, and is a means to an end, but
not an end in itself. Conduct, though essential, is itself
insufficient to gain one's emancipation. It should be coupled with
wisdom or knowledge (//panna//). The base of Buddhism is morality,
and wisdom is its apex.
In observing the principles of morality a Buddhist should not only
regard his own self but also should have a consideration for others we
well -- animals not excluded. Morality in Buddhism is not founded on
any doubtful revelation nor is it the ingenious invention of an
exceptional mind, but it is a rational and practical code based on
verifiable facts and individual experience.
It should be mentioned that any external supernatural agency plays no
part whatever in the moulding of the character of a Buddhist. In
Buddhism there is no one to reward or punish. Pain or happiness are
the inevitable results of one's actions. The question of incurring
the pleasure or displeasure of a God does not enter the mind of a
Buddhist. Neither hope of reward nor fear of punishment acts as an
incentive to him to do good or to refrain from evil. A Buddhist is
aware of future consequences, but he refrains from evil because it
retards, does good because it aids progress to Enlightenment (Bodhi).
There are also some who do good because it is good, refrain from evil
because it is bad.
To understand the exceptionally high standard of morality the Buddha
expects from His ideal followers, one must carefully read the
Dhammapada, Sigalovada Sutta, Vyaggapajja Sutta, Mangala Sutta,
Karaniya Sutta, Parabhava Sutta, Vasala Sutta, Dhammika Sutta, etc.
As a moral teaching it excels all other ethical systems, but morality
is only the beginning and not the end of Buddhism.
In one sense Buddhism is not a philosophy, in another sense it is the
philosophy of philosophies.
In one sense Buddhism is not a religion, in another sense it is the
religion of religions.
Buddhism is neither a metaphysical path nor a ritualistic path.
It is neither sceptical nor dogmatic.
It is neither self-mortification nor self-indulgence.
It is neither pessimism nor optimism.
It is neither eternalism nor nihilism.
It is neither absolutely this-worldly nor other-worldly.
It is a unique Path of Enlightenment.
The original Pali term for Buddhism is Dhamma, which, literally, means
that which upholds. There is no English equivalent that exactly
conveys the meaning of the Pali term.
The Dhamma is that which really is. It is the Doctrine of Reality. It
is a means of Deliverance from suffering, and Deliverance itself.
Whether the Buddhas arise or not the Dhamma exists. It lies hidden
from the ignorant eyes of men, till a Buddha, an Enlightened One,
realizes and compassionately reveals it to the world.
This Dhamma is not something apart from oneself, but is closely
associated with oneself. As such the Buddha exhorts:
"Abide with oneself as an island, with oneself as a Refuge.
Abide with the Dhamma as an island, with the Dhamma as a Refuge.
Seek no external refuge."
-- Parinibbana Sutta
* * *
SOME SALIENT FEATURES OF BUDDHISM
The foundations of Buddhism are the four Noble Truths -- namely,
Suffering (the //raison d'etre// of Buddhism), its cause (i.e.,
Craving), its end (i.e., Nibbana, the Summum Bonum of Buddhism), and
the Middle Way.
What is the Noble Truth of Suffering?
"Birth is suffering, old age is suffering, disease is suffering,
death is suffering, to be united with the unpleasant is
suffering, to be separated from the pleasant is suffering, not
to receive what one craves for is suffering, in brief the five
Aggregates of Attachment are suffering."
What is the Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering?
"It is the craving which leads from rebirth to rebirth
accompanied by lust of passion, which delights now here now
there; it is the craving for sensual pleasures (//Kamatanha//),
for existence (//Bhavatanha//) [*] and for annihilation
* [Craving associated with "Eternalism" (//Sassataditthi//) (Comy)]
** [Craving associated with "Nihilism" (//Ucchedaditthi//) (Comy)]
What is the Noble Truth of the Annihilation of Suffering?
"It is the remainderless, total annihilation of this very
craving, the forsaking of it, the breaking loose, fleeing,
deliverance from it."
What is the Noble Truth of the Path leading to the Annihilation of
"It is the Noble Eightfold Path which consists of right
understanding, right thoughts, right speech, right action, right
livelihood, right endeavor, right mindfulness, and right
Whether the Buddhas arise or not these four Truths exist in the
universe. The Buddhas only reveal these Truths which lay hidden in
the dark abyss of time.
Scientifically interpreted, the Dhamma may be called the law of cause
and effect. These two embrace the entire body of the Buddha's
The first three represent the philosophy of Buddhism; the fourth
represents the ethics of Buddhism, based on that philosophy. All
these four truths are dependent on this body itself. The Buddha
states: "In this very one-fathom long body along with perceptions and
thoughts, do I proclaim the world, the origin of the world, the end of
the world and the path leading to the end of the world." Here the
term world is applied to suffering.
Buddhism rests on the pivot of sorrow. But it does not thereby follow
that Buddhism is pessimistic. It is neither totally pessimistic nor
totally optimistic, but, on the contrary, it teaches a truth that lies
midway between them. One would be justified in calling the Buddha a
pessimist if He had only enunciated the Truth of suffering without
suggesting a means to put an end to it. The Buddha perceived the
universality of sorrow and did prescribe a panacea for this universal
sickness of humanity. The highest conceivable happiness, according to
the Buddha, is Nibbana, which is the total extinction of suffering.
The author of the article on Pessimism in the Encyclopedia Britannica
writes: "Pessimism denotes an attitude of hopelessness towards life,
a vague general opinion that pain and evil predominate in human
affairs. The original doctrine of the Buddha is in fact as optimistic
as any optimism of the West. To call it pessimism is merely to apply
to it a characteristically Western principle to which happiness is
impossible without personality. The true Buddhist looks forward with
enthusiasm to absorption into eternal bliss."
Ordinarily the enjoyment of sensual pleasures is the highest and only
happiness of the average man. There is no doubt a kind of momentary
happiness in the anticipation, gratification and retrospection of such
fleeting material pleasures, but they are illusive and temporary.
According to the Buddha non-attachment is a greater bliss.
The Buddha does not expect His followers to be constantly pondering on
suffering and lead a miserable unhappy life. He exhorts them to be
always happy and cheerful, for zest (//Piti//) is one of the factors
Real happiness is found within, and is not to be defined in terms of
wealth, children, honors or fame. If such possessions are
misdirected, forcibly or unjustly obtained, misappropriated or even
viewed with attachment, they will be a source of pain and sorrow to
Instead of trying to rationalize suffering, Buddhism takes suffering
for granted and seeks the cause to eradicate it. Suffering exists as
long as there is craving. It can only be annihilated by treading the
Noble Eightfold Path and attaining the supreme bliss of Nibbana.
These four Truths can be verified by experience. Hence the Buddha
Dhamma is not based on the fear of the unknown, but is founded on the
bedrock of facts which can be tested by ourselves and verified by
experience. Buddhism is, therefore rational and intensely practical.
Such a rational and practical system cannot contain mysteries or
esoteric doctrines. Blind faith, therefore, is foreign to Buddhism.
Where there is no blind faith there cannot be any coercion or
persecution or fanaticism. To the unique credit of Buddhism it must
be said that throughout its peaceful march of 2500 years no drop of
blood was shed in the name of the Buddha, no mighty monarch wielded
his powerful sword to propagate the Dhamma, and no conversion was made
either by force or by repulsive methods. Yet, the Buddha was the
first and the greatest missionary that lived on earth.
Aldous Huxley writes: "Alone of all the great world religions Buddhism
made its way without persecution censorship or inquisition."
Lord Russell remarks: "Of the great religions of history, I prefer
Buddhism, especially in its earliest forms; because it has had the
smallest element of persecution."
In the name of Buddhism no altar was reddened with the blood of a
Hypatia, no Bruno was burnt alive.
Buddhism appeals more to the intellect than to the emotion. It is
concerned more with the character of the devotees than with their
On one occasion Upali, a follower of Nigantha Nataputta, approached
the Buddha and was so pleased with the Buddha's exposition of the
Dhamma that he instantly expressed his desire to become a follower of
the Buddha. But the Buddha cautioned him, saying:
"Of a verity, O householder, make a thorough investigation. It
is well for a distinguished man like you to make (first) a
Upali, who was overjoyed at this unexpected remark of the Buddha,
"Lord, had I been a follower of another religion, its adherents
would have taken me round the streets in a procession
proclaiming that such and such a millionaire had renounced his
former faith and embraced theirs. But, Lord, Your Reverence
advises me to investigate further. The more pleased am I with
this remark of yours. For the second time, Lord, I seek refuge
in the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha."
Buddhism is saturated with this spirit of free enquiry and complete
tolerance. It is the teaching of the open mind and the sympathetic
heart, which, lighting and warming the whole universe with its twin
rays of wisdom and compassion, sheds its genial glow on every being
struggling in the ocean of birth and death.
The Buddha was so tolerant that He did not even exercise His power to
give commandments to His lay followers. Instead of using the
imperative, He said: "It behooves you to do this -- It behooves you
not to do this." He commands not but does exhort.
This tolerance the Buddha extended to men, women and all living
It was the Buddha who first attempted to abolish slavery and
vehemently protested against the degrading caste system which was
firmly rooted in the soil of India. In the Word of the Buddha it is
not by mere birth one becomes an outcast or a noble, but by one's
actions. Caste or colour does not preclude one from becoming a
Buddhist or from entering the Order. Fishermen, scavengers,
courtesans, together with warriors and Brahmins, were freely admitted
to the Order and enjoyed equal privileges and were also given
positions of rank. Upali, the barber, for instance, was made in
preference to all other the chief in matters pertaining to Vinaya
discipline. The timid Sunita, the scavenger, who attained Arhatship
was admitted by the Buddha Himself into the Order. Angulimala, the
robber and criminal, was converted to a compassionate saint. The
fierce Alavaka sought refuge in the Buddha and became a saint. The
courtesan Ambapali entered the Order and attained Arhatship. Such
instances could easily be multiplied from the Tipitaka to show that
the portals of Buddhism were wide open to all, irrespective of caste,
colour or rank.
It was also the Buddha who raised the status of downtrodden women and
not only brought them to a realization of their importance to society
but also founded the first celibate religious order for women with
rules and regulations.
The Buddha did not humiliate women, but only regarded them as feeble
by nature. He saw the innate good of both men and women and assigned
to them their due places in His teaching. Sex is no barrier to
Sometimes the Pali term used to denote women is //Matugama//, which
means "mother-folk" or "society of mothers." As a mother, woman holds
an honorable place in Buddhism. Even the wife is regarded as "best
friend" (//parama sakha//) of the husband.
Hasty critics are only making ex parte statements when they reproach
Buddhism with being inimical to women. Although at first the Buddha
refused to admit women into the Order on reasonable grounds, yet later
He yielded to the entreaties of His foster-mother, Pajapati Gotami,
and founded the Bhikkhuni Order. Just as the Arahats Sariputta and
Moggallana were made the two chief disciples in the Order of monks,
even so he appointed Arahats Khema and Uppalavanna as the two chief
female disciples. Many other female disciples too were named by the
Buddha Himself as His distinguished and pious followers.
On one occasion the Buddha said to King Kosala who was displeased on
hearing that a daughter was born to him:
"A woman child, O Lord of men; may prove
Even a better offspring than a male."
Many women, who otherwise would have fallen into oblivion,
distinguished themselves in various ways, and gained their
emancipation by following the Dhamma and entering the Order. In this
new Order, which later proved to be a great blessing to many women,
queens, princesses, daughters of noble families, widows, bereaved
mothers, destitute women, pitiable courtesans -- all, despite their
caste or rank, met on a common platform, enjoyed perfect consolation
and peace, and breathed that free atmosphere which is denied to those
cloistered in cottages and palatial mansions.
It was also the Buddha who banned the sacrifice of poor beasts and
admonished His followers to extend their loving kindness (//Metta//)
to all living beings -- even to the tiniest creature that crawls at
one's feet. No man has the power or the right to destroy the life of
another as life is precious to all.
A genuine Buddhist would exercise this loving-kindness towards every
living being and identify himself with all, making no distinction
whatsoever with regard to caste, colour or sex.
It is this Buddhist Metta that attempts to break all the barriers
which separate one from another. There is no reason to keep aloof
from others merely because they belong to another persuasion or
another nationality. In that noble Toleration Edict which is based on
//Culla-Vyuha// and //Maha-Vyuha// Suttas, Asoka says: "Concourse
alone is best, that is, all should harken willingly to the doctrine
professed by others."
Buddhism is not confined to any country or any particular nation. It
is universal. It is not nationalism which, in other words, is another
form of caste system founded on a wider basis. Buddhism, if it be
permitted to say so, is supernationalism.
To a Buddhist there is no far or near, no enemy or foreigner, no
renegade or untouchable, since universal love realized through
understanding has established the brotherhood of all living beings. A
real Buddhist is a citizen of the world. He regards the whole world
as his motherland and all as his brothers and sisters.
Buddhism is, therefore, unique, mainly owing to its tolerance,
non-aggressiveness, rationality, practicability, efficacy and
universality. It is the noblest of all unifying influences and the
only lever that can uplift the world.
These are some of the salient features of Buddhism, and amongst some
of the fundamental doctrines may be said -- Kamma or the Law of Moral
Causation, the Doctrine of Rebirth, Anatta and Nibbana.
* * *
KAMMA OR THE LAW OF MORAL CAUSATION
We are faced with a totally ill-balanced world. We perceive the
inequalities and manifold destinies of men and the numerous grades of
beings that exist in the universe. We see one born into a condition
of affluence, endowed with fine mental, moral and physical qualities
and another into a condition of abject poverty and wretchedness. Here
is a man virtuous and holy, but, contrary to his expectation, ill-luck
is ever ready to greet him. The wicked world runs counter to his
ambitions and desires. He is poor and miserable in spite of his
honest dealings and piety. There is another vicious and foolish, but
accounted to be fortune's darling. He is rewarded with all forms of
favors, despite his shortcomings and evil modes of life.
Why, it may be questioned, should one be an inferior and another a
superior? Why should one be wrested from the hands of a fond mother
when he has scarcely seen a few summers, and another should perish in
the flower or manhood, or at the ripe age of eighty or hundred? Why
should one be sick and infirm, and another strong and healthy? Why
should one be handsome, and another ugly and hideous, repulsive to
all? Why should one be brought up in the lap of luxury, and another
in absolute poverty, steeped in misery? Why should one be born a
millionaire and another a pauper? Why should one be born with saintly
characteristics, and another with criminal tendencies? Why should
some be linguists, artists, mathematicians or musicians from the very
cradle? Why should some be congenitally blind, deaf and deformed? Why
should some be blessed and others cursed from their birth?
These are some problems that perplex the minds of all thinking men.
How are we to account for all this unevenness of the world, this
inequality of mankind?
Is it due to the work of blind chance or accident?
There is nothing in this world that happens by blind chance or
accident. To say that anything happens by chance, is no more true
than that this book has come here of itself. Strictly speaking,
nothing happens to man that he does not deserve for some reason or
Could this be the fiat of an irresponsible Creator?
"If we are to assume that anybody has designedly set this
wonderful universe going, it is perfectly clear to me that he is
no more entirely benevolent and just in any intelligible sense
of the words, than that he is malevolent and unjust."
According to Einstein:
"If this being (God) is omnipotent, then every occurrence,
including every human action, every human thought, and every
human feeling and aspiration is also his work; how is it
possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and
thoughts before such an Almighty Being.
"In giving out punishments and rewards, he would to a certain
extent be passing judgement on himself. How can this be
combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to him."
"According to the theological principles man is created
arbitrarily and without his desire and at the moment of his
creation is either blessed or damned eternally. Hence man is
either good or evil, fortunate or unfortunate, noble or
depraved, from the first step in the process of his physical
creation to the moment of his last breath, regardless of his
individual desires, hopes, ambitions, struggles or devoted
prayers. Such is theological fatalism."
-- Spencer Lewis
As Charles Bradlaugh says:
"The existence of evil is a terrible stumbling block to the
Theist. Pain, misery, crime, poverty confront the advocate of
eternal goodness and challenge with unanswerable potency his
declaration of Deity as all-good, all-wise, and all-powerful."
In the words of Schopenhauer:
"Whoever regards himself as having become out of nothing must
also think that he will again become nothing; for an eternity
has passed before he was, and then a second eternity had begun,
through which he will never cease to be, is a monstrous thought.
"If birth is the absolute beginning, then death must be his
absolute end; and the assumption that man is made out of nothing
leads necessarily to the assumption that death is his absolute
Commenting on human sufferings and God, Prof. J.B.S. Haldane
"Either suffering is needed to perfect human character, or God
is not Almighty. The former theory is disproved by the fact
that some people who have suffered very little but have been
fortunate in their ancestry and education have very fine
characters. The objection to the second is that it is only in
connection with the universe as a whole that there is any
intellectual gap to be filled by the postulation of a deity. And
a creator could presumably create whatever he or it wanted."
Lord Russell states:
"The world, we are told, was created by a God who is both good
and omnipotent. Before He created the world he foresaw all the
pain and misery that it would contain. He is therefore
responsible for all of it. it is useless to argue that the pain
in the world is due to sin. If God knew in advance the sins of
which man would be guilty, He was clearly responsible for all
the consequences of those sins when He decided to create man."
In "Despair," a poem of his old age, Lord Tennyson thus boldly attacks
God, who, as recorded in Isaiah, says, "I make peace and create evil."
(Isaiah, xiv. 7.)
"What! I should call on that infinite love that has
served us so well?
Infinite cruelty, rather that made everlasting hell,
Made us, foreknew us, foredoomed us, and does
what he will with his own.
Better our dead brute mother who never has heard
Surely "the doctrine that all men are sinners and have the essential
sin of Adam is a challenge to justice, mercy, love and omnipotent
Some writers of old authoritatively declared that God created man in
his own image. Some modern thinkers state, on the contrary, that man
created God in his own image. With the growth of civilization man's
concept of God also became more and more refined.
It is however, impossible to conceive of such a being either in or
outside the universe.
Could this variation be due to heredity and environment? One must
admit that all such chemico-physical phenomena revealed by scientists,
are partly instrumental, but they cannot be solely responsible for the
subtle distinctions and vast differences that exist amongst
individuals. Yet why should identical twins who are physically alike,
inheriting like genes, enjoying the same privilege of upbringing, be
very often temperamentally, morally and intellectually totally
Heredity alone cannot account for these vast differences. Strictly
speaking, it accounts more plausibly for their similarities than for
most of the differences. The infinitesimally minute chemico-physical
germ, which is about 30 millionth part of an inch across, inherited
from parents, explains only a portion of man, his physical foundation.
With regard to the more complex and subtle mental, intellectual and
moral differences we need more enlightenment. The theory of heredity
cannot give a satisfactory explanation for the birth of a criminal in
a long line of honourable ancestors, the birth of a saint or a noble
man in a family of evil repute, for the arising of infant prodigies,
men of genius and great religious teachers.
According to Buddhism this variation is due not only to heredity,
environment, "nature and nurture," but also to our own kamma, or in
other words, to the result of our own inherited past actions and our
present deeds. We ourselves are responsible for our own deeds,
happiness and misery. We build our own hells. We create our own
heavens. We are the architects of our own fate. In short we
ourselves are our own kamma.
On one occasion [*] a certain young man named Subha approached the Buddha,
and questioned why and wherefore it was that among human beings there
are the low and high states.
* [//Culakamma Vibhanga Sutta// -- Majjhima Nikaya, No. 135.]
"For," said he, "we find amongst mankind those of brief life and those
of long life, the hale and the ailing, the good looking and the
ill-looking, the powerful and the powerless, the poor and the rich,
the low-born and the high-born, the ignorant and the intelligent."
The Buddha briefly replied: "Every living being has kamma as its own,
its inheritance, its cause, its kinsman, its refuge. Kamma is that
which differentiates all living beings into low and high states."
He then explained the cause of such differences in accordance with the
law of moral causation.
Thus from a Buddhist standpoint, our present mental, intellectual,
moral and temperamental differences are mainly due to our own actions
and tendencies, both past the present.
Kamma, literally, means action; but, in its ultimate sense, it means
the meritorious and demeritorious volition (//Kusala Akusala
Cetana//). Kamma constitutes both good and evil. Good gets good.
Evil gets evil. Like attracts like. This is the law of Kamma.
As some Westerners prefer to say Kamma is "action-influence."
We reap what we have sown. What we sow we reap somewhere or some
when. In one sense we are the result of what we were; we will be the
result of what we are. In another sense, we are not totally the
result of what we were and we will not absolutely be the result of
what we are. For instance, a criminal today may be a saint tomorrow.
Buddhism attributes this variation to Kamma, but it does not assert
that everything is due to Kamma.
If everything were due to Kamma, a man must ever be bad, for it is his
Kamma to be bad. One need not consult a physician to be cured of a
disease, for if one's Kamma is such one will be cured.
According to Buddhism, there are five orders or processes
(//Niyamas//) which operate in the physical and mental realms:
i. //Kamma Niyama//, order of act and result, e.g., desirable and
undesirable acts produce corresponding good and bad results.
ii. //Utu Niyama//, physical (inorganic) order, e.g., seasonal
phenomena of winds and rains.
iii. //Bija Niyama//, order of germs or seeds (physical organic
order); e.g., rice produced from rice-seed, sugary taste from
sugar cane or honey etc. The scientific theory of cells and
genes and the physical similarity of twins may be ascribed to
iv. //Citta Niyama//, order of mind or psychic law, e.g.,
processes of consciousness (//Citta vithi//), power of mind
v. //Dhamma Niyama//, order of the norm, e.g., the natural
phenomena occurring at the advent of a Boddhisatta in his last
birth, gravitation, etc.
Every mental or physical phenomenon could be explained by these
all-embracing five orders or processes which are laws in themselves.
Kamma is, therefore, only one of the five orders that prevail in the
universe. It is a law in itself, but it does not thereby follow that
there should be a law-giver. Ordinary laws of nature, like
gravitation, need no law-giver. It operates in its own field without
the intervention of an external independent ruling agency.
Nobody, for instance, has decreed that fire should burn. Nobody has
commanded that water should seek its own level. No scientist has
ordered that water should consist of H2O, and that coldness should be
one of its properties. These are their intrinsic characteristics.
Kamma is neither fate nor predestination imposed upon us by some
mysterious unknown power to which we must helplessly submit ourselves.
It is one's own doing reacting on oneself, and so one has the
possibility to divert the course of Kamma to some extent. How far one
diverts it depends on oneself.
It must also be said that such phraseology as rewards and punishments
should not be allowed to enter into discussions concerning the problem
of Kamma. For Buddhism does not recognize an Almighty Being who rules
His subjects and rewards and punishes them accordingly. Buddhists, on
the contrary, believe that sorrow and happiness one experiences are
the natural outcome of one's own good and bad actions. It should be
stated that Kamma has both the continuative and the retributive
Inherent in Kamma is the potentiality of producing its due effect. The
cause produces the effect; the effect explains the cause. Seed
produces the fruit; the fruit explains the seed as both are
inter-related. Even so Kamma and its effect are inter-related; "the
effect already blooms in the cause."
A Buddhist who is fully convinced of the doctrine of Kamma does not
pray to another to be saved but confidently relies on himself for his
purification because it teaches individual responsibility.
It is this doctrine of Kamma that gives him consolation, hope, self
reliance and moral courage. It is this belief in Kamma "that
validates his effort, kindles his enthusiasm," makes him ever kind,
tolerant and considerate. It is also this firm belief in Kamma that
prompts him to refrain from evil, do good and be good without being
frightened of any punishment or tempted by any reward.
It is this doctrine of Kamma that can explain the problem of
suffering, the mystery of so-called fate or predestination of other
religions, and above all the inequality of mankind.
Kamma and rebirth are accepted as axiomatic.
* * *
As long as this Kammic force exists there is re-birth, for beings are
merely the visible manifestation of this invisible Kammic force. Death
is nothing but the temporary end of this temporary phenomenon. It is
not the complete annihilation of this so-called being. The organic
life has ceased, but the Kammic force which hitherto actuated it has
not been destroyed. As the Kammic force remains entirely undisturbed
by the disintegration of the fleeting body, the passing away of the
present dying thought-moment only conditions a fresh consciousness in
It is Kamma, rooted in ignorance and craving, that conditions rebirth.
Past Kamma conditions the present birth; and present Kamma, in
combination with past Kamma, conditions the future. The present is
the offspring of the past, and becomes, in turn, the parent of the
If we postulate a past, present, and a future life, then we are at
once faced with the alleged mysterious problem -- "What is the
ultimate origin of life?"
Either there must be a beginning or there cannot be a beginning for
One school, in attempting to solve the problem, postulates a first
cause, God, viewed as a force or as an Almighty Being.
Another school denies a first cause for, in common experience, the
cause ever becomes the effect and the effect becomes the cause. In a
circle of cause and effect a first cause is inconceivable. According
to the former, life has had a beginning, according to the latter, it
From the scientific standpoint, we are the direct products of the
sperm and ovum cells provided by our parents. As such life precedes
life. With regard to the origin of the first protoplasm of life, or
colloid, scientists plead ignorance.
According to Buddhism we are born from the matrix of action
(Kammayoni). Parents merely provide an infinitesimally small cell.
As such being precedes being. At the moment of conception it is past
Kamma that conditions the initial consciousness that vitalizes the
fetus. It is this invisible Kammic energy, generated from the past
birth that produces mental phenomena and the phenomenon of life in an
already extent physical phenomenon, to complete the trio that
For a being to be born here a being must die somewhere. The birth of
a being, which strictly means the arising of the five aggregates or
psycho-physical phenomena in this present life, corresponds to the
death of a being in a past life; just as, in conventional terms, the
rising of the sun in one place means the setting of the sun in another
place. This enigmatic statement may be better understood by imagining
life as a wave and not as a straight line. Birth and death are only
two phases of the same process. Birth precedes death, and death, on
the other hand, precedes birth. The constant succession of birth and
death in connection with each individual life flux constitutes what is
technically known as //Samsara// -- recurrent wandering.
What is the ultimate origin of life?
The Buddha declares:
"Without cognizable end is this Samsara. A first beginning of
beings, who, obstructed by ignorance and fettered by craving,
wander and fare on, is not to be perceived."
This life-stream flows //ad infinitum//, as long as it is fed by the
muddy waters of ignorance and craving. When these two are completely
cut off, then only, if one so wishes, does the stream cease to flow,
rebirth ends as in the case of the Buddhas and Arahats. An ultimate
beginning of this life-stream cannot be determined, as a stage cannot
be perceived when this life-force was not fraught with ignorance and
The Buddha has here referred merely to the beginning of the
life-stream of living beings. It is left to scientists to speculate
on the origin and the evolution of the universe. The Buddha does not
attempt to solve all the ethical and philosophical problems that
perplex mankind. Nor does He deal with theories and speculations that
tend neither to edification nor to enlightenment. Nor does He demand
blind faith from His adherents. He is chiefly concerned with the
problem of suffering and its destruction. With but this one practical
and specific purpose in view, all irrelevant side issues are
But how are we to believe that there is a past existence?
The most valuable evidence Buddhists cite in favor of rebirth is the
Buddha, for He developed a knowledge which enabled Him to read past
and future lives.
Following His instructions, His disciples also developed this
knowledge and were able to read their past lives to a great extent.
Even some Indian Rishis, before the advent of the Buddha, were
distinguished for such psychic powers as clairaudience, clairvoyance,
thought-reading, remembering past births, etc.
There are also some persons, who probably in accordance with the laws
of association, spontaneously develop the memory of their past birth,
and remember fragments of their previous lives. Such cases are very
rare, but those few well-attested, respectable cases tend to throw
some light on the idea of a past birth. So are the experiences of
some modern dependable psychics and strange cases of alternating and
In hypnotic states some relate experiences of their past lives; while
a few others, read the past lives of others and even heal diseases.
* [See //Many Mansions// and //The World Within// by Gina Cerminara.]
Sometimes we get strange experiences which cannot be explained but by
How often do we meet persons whom we have never met, and yet
instinctively feel that they are quite familiar to us? How often do
we visit places, and yet feel impressed that we are perfectly
acquainted with those surroundings?
The Buddha tells us:
"Through previous associations or present advantage, that old
love springs up again like the lotus in the water."
Experiences of some reliable modern psychics, ghostly phenomena,
spirit communications, strange alternating and multiple personalities
and so on shed some light upon this problem of rebirth.
Into this world come Perfect Ones like the Buddhas and highly
developed personalities. Do they evolve suddenly? Can they be the
products of a single existence?
How are we to account for great characters like Buddhaghosa, Panini,
Kalidasa, Homer and Plato; men of genius like Shakespeare, infant
prodigies like Pascal, Mozart, Beethoven, Raphael, Ramanujan, etc.?
Heredity alone cannot account for them. "Else their ancestry would
disclose it, their posterity, even greater than themselves,
Could they rise to such lofty heights if they had not lived noble
lives and gained similar experiences in the past? Is it by mere
chance that they are been born or those particular parents and placed
under those favorable circumstances?
The few years that we are privileged to spend here or, for the most
five score years, must certainly be an inadequate preparation for
If one believes in the present and in the future, it is quite logical
to believe in the past. The present is the offspring of the past, and
acts in turn as the parent of the future.
If there are reasons to believe that we have existed in the past, then
surely there are no reasons to disbelieve that we shall continue to
exist after our present life has apparently ceased.
It is indeed a strong argument in favor of past and future lives that
"in this world virtuous persons are very often unfortunate and vicious
A Western writer says:
"Whether we believe in a past existence or not, it forms the
only reasonable hypothesis which bridges certain gaps in human
knowledge concerning certain facts of every day life. Our
reason tells us that this idea of past birth and Kamma alone can
explain the degrees of difference that exist between twins, how
men like Shakespeare with a very limited experience are able to
portray with marvelous exactitude the most diverse types of
human character, scenes and so forth of which they could have no
actual knowledge, why the work of the genius invariably
transcends his experience, the existence of infant precocity,
the vast diversity in mind and morals, in brain and physique, in
conditions, circumstances and environment observable throughout
the world, and so forth."
It should be stated that this doctrine of rebirth can neither be
proved nor disproved experimentally, but it is accepted as an
evidentially verifiable fact.
The cause of this Kamma, continues the Buddha, is //avijja// or
ignorance of the Four Noble Truths. Ignorance is, therefore, the
cause of birth and death; and its transmutation into knowingness or
//vijja// is consequently their cessation.
The result of this analytical method is summed up in the //Paticca
* * *
//Paticca// means because of, or dependent upon: //Samuppada//
"arising or origination." //Paticca Samuppada//, therefore, literally
means -- "Dependent Arising" or "Dependent Origination."
It must be borne in mind that //Paticca Samuppada// is only a
discourse on the process of birth and death and not a theory of the
ultimate origin of life. It deals with the cause of rebirth and
suffering, but it does not in the least attempt to show the evolution
of the world from primordial matter.
Ignorance (//Avijja//) is the first link or cause of the wheel of
life. It clouds all right understanding.
Dependent on ignorance of the Four Noble Truths arise activities
(//Sankhara//) -- both moral and immoral. The activities whether good
or bad rooted in ignorance which must necessarily have their due
effects, only tend to prolong life's wandering. Nevertheless, good
actions are essential to get rid of the ills of life.
Dependent on activities arise rebirth-consciousness (//Vinnana//).
This links the past with the present.
Simultaneous with the arising of rebirth-consciousness there come
into being mind and body (//Nama-rupa//).
The six senses (//Salayatana//) are the inevitable consequences of
mind and body.
Because of the six senses contact (//Phassa//) sets in. Contact leads
to feeling (//Vedana//).
These five -- viz., consciousness, mind and matter, six senses,
contact and feeling -- are the effects of past actions and are called
the passive side of life.
Dependent on feeling arises craving (//Tanha//). Craving results in
grasping (//Upadana//). Grasping is the cause of Kamma (//Bhava//)
which in its turn, conditions future birth (//Jati//). Birth is the
inevitable cause of old age and death (//Jara-marana//).
If on account of cause effect comes to be, then if the cause ceases,
the effect also must cease.
The reverse order of the //Paticca Samuppada// will make the matter
Old age and death are possible in and with a psychophysical organism.
Such an organism must be born; therefore it pre-supposes birth. But
birth is the inevitable result of past deeds or Kamma. Kamma is
conditioned by grasping which is due to craving. Such craving can
appear only where feeling exists. Feeling is the outcome of contact
between the senses and objects. Therefore it presupposes organs of
senses which cannot exist without mind and body. Where there is a
mind there is consciousness. It is the result of past good and evil.
The acquisition of good and evil is due to ignorance of things as they
The whole formula may be summed up thus:
Dependent on Ignorance arise Activities (Moral and Immoral)
" " Activities arises Consciousness (Re-birth Consciousness)
" " Consciousness arise Mind and Matter
" " Mind and Matter arise the six Spheres of Sense
" " the Six Spheres of Sense arises Contact
" " Contact arises Feeling
" " Feeling arises Craving
" " Craving arises Grasping
" " Grasping arise Actions (Kamma)
" " Actions arises Rebirth
" " Birth arise Decay, Death, Sorrow, Lamentation, Pain,
Grief, and Despair.
Thus does the entire aggregate of suffering arise. The first two of
these twelve pertain to the past, the middle eight to the present, and
the last two to the future.
The complete cessation of Ignorance leads to the cessation of
The cessation of Activities leads to the cessation of Consciousness.
" " " Consciousness leads to the cessation of mind and matter.
" " " Mind and Matter leads to the cessation of the six
Spheres of Sense.
" " " the six Spheres of Sense leads to the cessation of Contact,
" " " Contact leads to the cessation of Feeling.
" " " Feeling leads to the cessation of Craving.
" " " Craving leads to the cessation of Grasping.
" " " Grasping leads to the cessation of Actions.
" " " Actions leads to the cessation of Re-birth.
" " " Re-birth leads to the cessation of Decay, Death,
Sorrow, Lamentation, Pain, Grief, and Despair.
Thus does the cessation of this entire aggregate of suffering result.
This process of cause and effect continues ad infinitum. The
beginning of this process cannot be determined as it is impossible to
say whence this life-flux was encompassed by nescience. But when this
nescience is turned into knowledge, and the life-flux is diverted into
//Nibbanadhatu//, then the end of the life process of //Samsara//
* * *
ANATTA OR SOUL-LESSNESS
This Buddhist doctrine of re-birth should be distinguished from the
theory of re-incarnation which implies the transmigration of a soul
and its invariable material rebirth. Buddhism denies the existence of
an unchanging or eternal soul created by a God or emanating from a
Divine Essence (//Paramatma//).
If the immortal soul, which is supposed to be the essence of man, is
eternal, there cannot be either a rise or a fall. Besides one cannot
understand why "different souls are so variously constituted at the
To prove the existence of endless felicity in an eternal heaven and
unending torments in an eternal hell, an immortal soul is absolutely
necessary. Otherwise, what is it that is punished in hell or rewarded
"It should be said," writes Bertrand Russell, "that the old
distinction between soul and body has evaporated quite as much because
'matter' has lost its solidity as mind has lost its spirituality.
Psychology is just beginning to be scientific. In the present state
of psychology belief in immortality can at any rate claim no support
Buddhists do agree with Russell when he says "there is obviously some
reason in which I am the same person as I was yesterday, and, to take
an even more obvious example if I simultaneously see a man and hear
him speaking, there is some sense in which the 'I' that sees is the
same as the 'I' that hears."
Till recently scientists believed in an indivisible and indestructible
atom. "For sufficient reasons physicists have reduced this atom to a
series of events. For equally good reasons psychologists find that
mind has not the identity of a single continuing thing but is a series
of occurrences bound together by certain intimate relations. The
question of immortality, therefore, has become the question whether
these intimate relations exist between occurrences connected with a
living body and other occurrence which take place after that body is
As C.E.M. Joad says in "The Meaning of Life," matter has since
disintegrated under our very eyes. It is no longer solid; it is no
longer enduring; it is no longer determined by compulsive causal laws;
and more important than all, it is no longer known.
The so-called atoms, it seems, are both "divisible and destructible."
The electrons and protons that compose atoms "can meet and annihilate
one another while their persistence, such as it is, is rather that of
a wave lacking fixed boundaries, and in process of continual change
both as regards shape and position than that of a thing." [*]
* [C.E.M. Joad, //The Meaning of Life//]
Bishop Berkeley who showed that this so-called atom is a metaphysical
fiction held that there exists a spiritual substance called the soul.
Hume, for instance, looked into consciousness and perceived hat there
was nothing except fleeting mental states and concluded that the
supposed "permanent ego" is non-existent.
"There are some philosophers," he says, "who imagine we are every
moment conscious of what we call 'ourself,' that we feel its existence
and its continuance in existence and so we are certain, both of its
perfect identity and simplicity. For my part, when I enter most
intimately into what I call 'myself' I always stumble on some
particular perception or other -- of heat or cold, light or shade,
love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never catch myself... and never
can observe anything but the perception... nor do I conceive what is
further requisite to make me a perfect non-entity."
Bergson says, "All consciousness is time existence; and a conscious
state is not a state that endures without changing. It is a change
without ceasing, when change ceases it ceases; it is itself nothing
Dealing with this question of soul Prof. James says -- "The
soul-theory is a complete superfluity, so far as accounting for the
actually verified facts of conscious experience goes. So far no one
can be compelled to subscribe to it for definite scientific reasons."
In concluding his interesting chapter on the soul he says: "And in
this book the provisional solution which we have reached must be the
final word: the thoughts themselves are the thinkers."
Watson, a distinguished psychologist, states: "No one has ever touched
a soul or has seen one in a test tube or has in any way come into
relationship with it as he has with the other objects of his daily
experience. Nevertheless to doubt its existence is to become a
heretic and once might possibly even had led to the loss of one's
head. Even today a man holding a public position dare not question
The Buddha anticipated these facts some 2500 years ago.
According to Buddhism mind is nothing but a complex compound of
fleeting mental states. One unit of consciousness consists of three
phases -- arising or genesis (//uppada//) static or development
(//thiti//), and cessation or dissolution (//bhanga//). Immediately
after the cessation stage of a thought moment there occurs the genesis
stage of the subsequent thought-moment. Each momentary consciousness
of this ever-changing life-process, on passing away, transmits its
whole energy, all the indelibly recorded impressions to its successor.
Every fresh consciousness consists of the potentialities of its
predecessors together with something more. There is therefore, a
continuous flow of consciousness like a stream without any
interruption. The subsequent thought moment is neither absolutely the
same as its predecessor -- since that which goes to make it up is not
identical -- nor entirely another -- being the same continuity of
Kamma energy. Here there is no identical being but there is an
identity in process.
Every moment there is birth, every moment there is death. The arising
of one thought-moment means the passing away of another thought-moment
and vice versa. In the course of one life-time there is momentary
rebirth without a soul.
It must not be understood that a consciousness is chopped up in bits
and joined together like a train or a chain. But, on the contrary,
"it persistently flows on like a river receiving from the tributary
streams of sense constant accretions to its flood, and ever dispensing
to the world without the thought-stuff it has gathered by the way."
[*] It has birth for its source and death for its mouth. The rapidity
of the flow is such that hardly is there any standard whereby it can
be measured even approximately. However, it pleases the commentators
to say that the time duration of one thought-moment is even less than
one-billionth part of the time occupied by a flash of lightning.
*[See //Compendium of Philosophy//, Tr. by Shwe Zan Aung (Pali Text
Society, London) -- Introduction p. 12.]
Here we find a juxtaposition of such fleeting mental states of
consciousness opposed to a superposition of such states as some appear
to believe. No state once gone ever recurs nor is identical with what
goes before. But we worldlings, veiled by the web of illusion,
mistake this apparent continuity to be something eternal and go to the
extent of introducing an unchanging soul, an Atta, the supposed doer
and receptacle of all actions to this ever-changing consciousness.
"The so-called being is like a flash of lightning that is resolved
into a succession of sparks that follow upon one another with such
rapidity that the human retina cannot perceive them separately, nor
can the uninstructed conceive of such succession of separate sparks."
[*] As the wheel of a cart rests on the ground at one point, so does
the being live only for one thought-moment. It is always in the
present, and is ever slipping into the irrevocable past. What we
shall become is determined by this present thought-moment.
* [Compare the cinematograph film where the individual photographs
give rise to a notion of movement.]
If there is no soul, what is it that is reborn, one might ask. Well,
there is nothing to be re-born. When life ceases the Kammic energy
re-materializes itself in another form. As Bhikkhu Silacara says:
"Unseen it passes whithersoever the conditions appropriate to its
visible manifestation are present. Here showing itself as a tiny gnat
or worm, there making its presence known in the dazzling magnificence
of a Deva or an Archangel's existence. When one mode of its
manifestation ceases it merely passes on, and where suitable
circumstances offer, reveals itself afresh in another name or form."
Birth is the arising of the psycho-physical phenomena. Death is
merely the temporary end of a temporary phenomenon.
Just as the arising of a physical state is conditioned by a preceding
state as its cause, so the appearance of psycho-physical phenomena is
conditioned by cause anterior to its birth. As the process of one
life-span is possible without a permanent entity passing from one
thought-moment to another, so a series of life-processes is possible
without an immortal soul to transmigrate from one existence to
Buddhism does not totally deny the existence of a personality in an
empirical sense. It only attempts to show that it does not exist in
an ultimate sense. The Buddhist philosophical term for an individual
is //Santana//, i.e., a flux or a continuity. It includes the mental
and physical elements as well. The Kammic force of each individual
binds the elements together. This uninterrupted flux or continuity of
psycho-physical phenomenon, which is conditioned by Kamma, and not
limited only to the present life, but having its source in the
beginningless past and its continuation in the future -- is the
Buddhist substitute for the permanent ego or the immortal soul of
* * *
This process of birth and death continues //ad infinitum// until this
flux is transmuted, so to say, to Nibbanadhatu, the ultimate goal of
The Pali word Nibbana is formed of //Ni// and //Vana//. //Ni// is a
negative particle and //Vana// means lusting or craving. "It is
called Nibbana, in that it is a departure from the craving which is
called //Vana//, lusting." Literally, Nibbana means non-attachment.
It may also be defined as the extinction of lust, hatred and
ignorance, "The whole world is in flames," says the Buddha. "By what
fire is it kindled? By the fire of lust, hatred and ignorance, by the
fire of birth, old age, death, pain, lamentation, sorrow, grief and
despair it is kindled."
It should not be understood that Nibbana is a state of nothingness or
annihilation owing to the fact that we cannot perceive it with our
worldly knowledge. One cannot say that there exists no light just
because the blind man does not see it. In that well known story, too,
the fish arguing with his friend, the turtle, triumphantly concluded
that there exists no land.
Nibbana of the Buddhists is neither a mere nothingness nor a state of
annihilation, but what it is no words can adequately express. Nibbana
is a Dhamma which is "unborn, unoriginated, uncreated and unformed."
Hence, it is eternal (//Dhuva//), desirable (//Subha//), and happy
In Nibbana nothing is "eternalized," nor is anything "annihilated,"
According to the Books references are made to Nibbana as
//Sopadisesa// and //Anupadisesa//. These, in fact, are not two kinds
of Nibbana, but the one single Nibbana, receiving its name according
to the way it is experienced before and after death.
Nibbana is not situated in any place nor is it a sort of heaven where
a transcendental ego resides. It is a state which is dependent upon
this body itself. It is an attainment (Dhamma) which is within the
reach of all. Nibbana is a supramundane state attainable even in this
present life. Buddhism does not state that this ultimate goal could
be reached only in a life beyond. Here lies the chief difference
between the Buddhist conception of Nibbana and the non-Buddhist
conception of an eternal heaven attainable only after death or a union
with a God or Divine Essence in an after-life. When Nibbana is
realized in this life with the body remaining, it is called
//Sopadisesa Nibbana-dhatu//. When an Arahat attains Parinibbana,
after the dissolution of his body, without any remainder of physical
existence it is called //Anupadisesa Nibbana-dhatu//.
In the words of Sir Edwin Arnold:
"If any teach Nirvana is to cease
Say unto such they lie.
If any teach Nirvana is to love
Say unto such they err."
From a metaphysical standpoint Nibbana is deliverance from suffering.
From a psychological standpoint Nibbana is the eradication of egoism.
From an ethical standpoint Nibbana is the destruction of lust, hatred
Does the Arahat exist or not after death?
The Buddha replies:
"The Arahat who has been released from the five aggregates is
deep, immeasurable like the mighty ocean. To say that he is
reborn would not fit the case. To say that he is neither reborn
nor not reborn would not fit the case."
One cannot say that an Arahat is reborn as all passions that condition
rebirth are eradicated; nor can one say that the Arahat is annihilated
for there is nothing to annihilate.
Robert Oppenheimer, a scientist, writes:
"If we ask, for instance, whether the position of the electron
remains the same, we must say 'no'; if we ask whether the
electron's position changes with time, we must say 'no'; if we
ask whether the electron is at rest, we must say 'no'; if we
ask whether it is in motion, we must say 'no'.
"The Buddha has given such answers when interrogated as to the
conditions of man's self after death; [*] but they are not
familiar answers from the tradition of the 17th and 18th century
* [Evidently the writer is referring to the state of an Arahat after
* * *
THE PATH TO NIBBANA
How is Nibbana to be attained?
It is by following the Noble Eight-fold Path which consists of Right
Understanding (//Samma-ditthi//), Right Thoughts (//samma-sankappa//),
Right Speech (//samma-vaca//), Right Actions (//samma-kammanta//),
Right Livelihood (//samma-ajiva//), Right Effort (//samma-vayama//),
Right Mindfulness (//samma-sati//), and Right Concentration
1. //Right Understanding//, which is the key-note of Buddhism, is
explained as the knowledge of the four Noble Truths. To understand
rightly means to understand things as they really are and not as they
appear to be. This refers primarily to a correct understanding of
oneself, because, as the Rohitassa Sutta states, "Dependent on this
one-fathom long body with its consciousness" are all the four Truths.
In the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path, Right Understanding
stands at the beginning as well as at its end. A minimum degree of
Right Understanding is necessary at the very beginning because it
gives the right motivations to the other seven factors of the Path and
gives to them correct direction. At the culmination of the practice,
Right Understanding has matured into perfect Insight Wisdom
(//vipassana-panna//), leading directly to the Stages of Sainthood.
2. Clear vision of right understanding leads to clear thinking. The
second factor of the Noble Eight-fold Path is therefore, //Right
Thoughts// (//samma-sankappa//), which serves the double purpose of
eliminating evil thoughts and developing pure thoughts. Right
Thoughts, in this particular connection, are three fold. They consist
i. //Nekkhamma// -- Renunciation of worldly pleasures or the
virtue of selflessness, which is opposed to attachment,
selfishness, and possessiveness;
ii. //Avyapada// -- Loving-kindness, goodwill, or benevolence,
which is opposed to hatred, ill-will, or aversion; and
iii. //Avihimsa// -- Harmlessness or compassion, which is
opposed to cruelty and callousness.
3. Right Thoughts lead to //Right Speech//, the third factor. This
includes abstinence from falsehood, slandering, harsh words, and
4. Right Speech must be followed by //Right Action// which comprises
abstinence from killing, stealing and sexual misconduct.
5. Purifying his thoughts, words and deeds at the outset, the
spiritual pilgrim tries to purify his //livelihood// by refraining
from the five kinds of trade which are forbidden to a lay-disciple.
They are trading in arms, human beings, animals for slaughter,
intoxicating drinks and drugs, and poisons.
For monks, wrong livelihood consists of hypocritical conduct and wrong
means of obtaining the requisites of monk-life.
6. //Right Effort// is fourfold, namely:
i. the endeavor to discard evil that has already arisen;
ii. the endeavor to prevent the arising of unarisen evil;
iii. the endeavor to develop unarisen good;
iv. the endeavor to promote the good which has already arisen.
7. //Right Mindfulness// is constant mindfulness with regard to body,
feelings, thoughts, and mind-objects.
8. Right Effort and Right Mindfulness lead to //Right
Concentration//. It is the one-pointedness of mind, culminating in
the Jhanas or meditative absorptions.
Of these eight factors of the Noble Eightfold Path the first two are
grouped under the heading of Wisdom (//panna//), the following three
under Morality (//sila//), and the last three under Concentration
(//samadhi//). But according to the order of development the sequence
is as follows:
I. Morality (//sila//)
II. Concentration (//samadhi//)
III. Wisdom (//panna//)
Morality (//sila//) is the first stage on this path to Nibbana.
Without killing or causing injury to any living creature, man should
be kind and compassionate towards all, even to the tiniest creature
that crawls at his feet. Refraining from stealing, he should be
upright and honest in all his dealings. Abstaining from sexual
misconduct which debases the exalted nature of man, he should be pure.
Shunning false speech, he should be truthful. Avoiding pernicious
drinks that promote heedlessness, he should be sober and diligent.
These elementary principles of regulated behavior are essential to
one who treads the path to Nibbana. Violation of them means the
introduction of obstacles on the path which will obstruct his moral
progress. Observance of them means steady and smooth progress along
The spiritual pilgrim, disciplining thus his words and deeds, may
advance a step further and try to control his senses.
While he progresses slowly and steadily with regulated word and deed
and restrained senses, the Kammic force of this striving aspirant may
compel him to renounce worldly pleasures and adopt the ascetic life.
To him then comes the idea that,
"A den of strife is household life,
And filled with toil and need;
But free and high as the open sky
Is the life the homeless lead."
It should not be understood that everyone is expected to lead the life
of a Bhikkhu or a celibate life to achieve one's goal. One's
spiritual progress is expedited by being a Bhikkhu although as a lay
follower one can become an Arahat. After attaining the third state of
Sainthood, one leads a life of celibacy.
Securing a firm footing on the ground of morality, the progressing
pilgrim then embarks upon the higher practice of Samadhi, the control
and culture of the mind -- the second stage on this Path.
Samadhi -- is the "one-pointedness of the mind." It is the
concentration of the mind on one object to the entire exclusion of all
There are different subjects for meditation according to the
temperaments of the individuals. Concentration on respiration is the
easiest to gain the one-pointedness of the mind. Meditation on
loving-kindness is very beneficial as it is conducive to mental peace
Cultivation of the four sublime states -- loving-kindness (//Metta//),
compassion (//Karuna//), sympathetic joy (//Mudita//), and equanimity
(//Upekkha//) -- is highly commendable.
After giving careful consideration to the subject for contemplation,
he should choose the one most suited to his temperament. This being
satisfactorily settled, he makes a persistent effort to focus his mind
until he becomes so wholly absorbed and interested in it, that all
other thoughts get ipso facto excluded from the mind. The five
hindrances to progress -- namely, sense-desire, hatred, sloth and
torpor, restlessness and brooding and doubts are then temporarily
inhibited. Eventually he gains ecstatic concentration and, to his
indescribable joy, becomes enwrapt in Jhana, enjoying the calmness and
serenity of a one-pointed mind.
When one gains this perfect one-pointedness of the mind it is possible
for one to develop the five Supernormal Powers (//Abhinna//): Divine
Eye (//Dibbacakkhu//), Divine Ear (//Dibhasota//), Reminiscence of
past births (//Pubbenivasanussati-nana//). Thought Reading
(//Paracitta vijanana//) and different Psychic Powers
(//Iddhividha//). It must not be understood that those supernormal
powers are essential for Sainthood.
Though the mind is now purified there still lies dormant in him the
tendency to give vent to his passions, for by concentration, passions
are lulled to sleep temporarily. They may rise to the surface at
Both Discipline and Concentration are helpful to clear the Path of its
obstacles but it is Insight (//Vipassana Panna//) alone which enables
one to see things as they truly are, and consequently reach the
ultimate goal by completely annihilating the passions inhibited by
Samadhi. This is the third and the final stage on the Path of
With his one-pointed mind which now resembles a polished mirror he
looks at the world to get a correct view of life. Wherever he turns
his eyes he sees nought but the Three Characteristics -- //Anicca //
(transiency), //Dukkha// (sorrow) and //anatta// (soul-lessness)
standing out in bold relief. He comprehends that life is constantly
changing and all conditioned things are transient. Neither in heaven
nor on earth does he find any genuine happiness, for every form of
pleasure is a prelude to pain. What is transient is therefore
painful, and where change and sorrow prevail there cannot be a
permanent immortal soul.
Whereupon, of these three characteristics, he chooses one that appeals
to him most and intently keeps on developing Insight in that
particular direction until that glorious day comes to him when he
would realize Nibbana for the first time in his life, having destroyed
the three Fetters -- self-illusion (//Sakkaya-ditthi//), doubts
(//Vvicikiccha//), indulgence in (wrongful) rites and ceremonies
At this stage he is called a //Sotapanna// (Stream-Winner) -- one who
has entered the stream that leads to Nibbana. As he has not
eradicated all Fetters he is reborn seven times at the most.
Summoning up fresh courage, as a result of this glimpse of Nibbana,
the Pilgrim makes rapid progress and cultivating deeper Insight
becomes a //Sakadagami// (Once Returner) by weakening two more
Fetters -- namely Sense-desire (//Kamaraga//) and ill-will
(//Patigha//). He is called a Sakadagami because he is reborn on
earth only once in case he does not attain Arhatship.
It is in the third state of Sainthood -- //Anagama// (Never-Returner)
that he completely discards the aforesaid two Fetters. Thereafter, he
neither returns to this world nor does he seek birth in the celestial
realms, since he has no more desire for sensual pleasures. After
death he is reborn in the "Pure Abodes" (//Suddhavasa//) a congenial
Brahma plane, till he attains Arhatship.
Now the saintly pilgrim, encouraged by the unprecedented success of
his endeavors, makes his final advance and, destroying the remaining
Fetters -- namely, lust after life in Realms of Forms (//Ruparaga//) and
Formless Realms (//Aruparaga//), conceit (//Mana//), restlessness
(//Uddhacca//), and ignorance (//Avijja//) -- becomes a perfect Saint:
an Arahant, a Worthy One.
Instantly he realizes that what was to be accomplished has been done,
that a heavy burden of sorrow has been relinquished, that all forms of
attachment have been totally annihilated, and that the Path to Nibbana
has been trodden. The Worthy One now stands on heights more than
celestial, far removed from the rebellious passions and defilements of
the world, realizing the unutterable bliss of Nibbana and like many an
Arahat of old, uttering that paean of joy:
"Goodwill and wisdom, mind by method trained,
The highest conduct on good morals based,
This maketh mortals pure, not rank or wealth."
As T.H. Huxley states -- "Buddhism is a system which knows no God in
the Western sense, which denies a soul to man, which counts the belief
in immortality a blunder, which refuses any efficacy to prayer and
sacrifice, which bids men to look to nothing but their own efforts for
salvation, which in its original purity knew nothing of vows of
obedience and never sought the aid of the secular arm: yet spread over
a considerable moiety of the world with marvelous rapidity -- and is
still the dominant creed of a large fraction of mankind."
* * * * * * * *
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* * * * * * * *
TITLE OF WORK: Buddhism in a Nutshell
AUTHOR: Narada Mahathera
AUTHOR'S ADDRESS: N/A
PUBLISHER'S ADDRESS: Buddhist Publication Society
P.O. Box 61
54, Sangharaja Mawatha
Kandy, Sri Lanka
COPYRIGHT HOLDER: Buddhist Publication Society
DATE OF PUBLICATION: 1982
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DATE OF DHARMANET DISTRIBUTION: June 1995
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