FUNDAMENTALS OF BUDDHISM
Originally published by
Bauddha Sahitya Sabha: 1949, 1956, 1968
Wheel Publication no. 394/396
Copyright 1994 by the Buddhist Publication Society
BUDDHIST PUBLICATION SOCIETY
KANDY Sri Lanka
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DharmaNet Edition 1995
Transcribed directly from BPS Pagemaker files
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
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I. The Essence of Buddhism (Radio Lecture, Colombo, 1933)
II. Kamma & Rebirth (Lecture, Ceylon University, 1947)
III. Paticca-Samuppada: Dependent Origination (Second Lecture
under the Dona Alphina Ratnayaka Trust, University College,
IV. Mental Culture (Based on a lecture delivered in Tokyo, 1920)
About the Author
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THE ESSENCE OF BUDDHISM
I shall give a short exposition of the essence of the genuine teaching
of the Buddha, such as we still find it in the Buddhist scriptures
handed down to us in the Pali language.
There are many among the listeners who are not Buddhists, and to
whom therefore, in many cases, the original teaching of the Buddha is
a thing almost unknown. It goes without saying that it will not be
possible for these, within the limits of the time allowed to my talk,
to gain a thorough and full understanding of such a profound and wide
subject. Yet some of you may pick up and take hold of certain ideas
that appear important; and these may prove an inducement to further
inquiry into this immensely profound world of thought. Even should
these words have no other effect than to remove at least some of the
many prejudices and false ideas about the Buddha's doctrine, it would
be ample reward.
Does it not, for instance, appear ironical that this most sober of
all the religious doctrines is still considered by many Westerners as
some sort of idolatry or mysticism? Did not the German philosopher
Friedrich Nietzsche, already long years ago, understand and lay stress
upon this //absolute soberness// and clearness of Buddhism when he
Buddhism is a hundred times more realistic than Christianity. It
has entered upon the inheritance of objectively and coolly
putting problems. It came to life after several hundred years of
philosophical development. The notion of "God" is done away with
as soon as it appears. Prayer is out of the question. So is
asceticism. No categorical imperative. No coercion at all, not
even within the monastic community. Hence it also does not
challenge to fight against those of a different faith. Its
teaching turns against nothing so impressively as against the
feeling of revengefulness, animosity and resentment.
Now, before beginning with the exposition of the Buddha's teaching,
we should get acquainted in a few words with the personality of the
Buddha. The term "Buddha" literally means the "Enlightened One." It is
a name won by the Indian sage Gotama on his enlightenment under the
Bodhi-tree at Buddhagaya in India. He was born as the son of an Indian
king on the borders of modern Nepal, about 600 years before Christ. In
his 29th year he renounced the worldly life and exchanged his princely
career for that of a homeless mendicant. After six years of hard
striving he at last attained his goal: deliverance from the round of
rebirths, or Samsara. The Buddha describes this time in his own words
Bhikkhus, before I had attained to full enlightenment, myself
being still subject to birth, decay, disease, death, sorrow and
impurity, I too was seeking after that which is subject to birth,
decay, disease, death, sorrow and impurity. And so, bhikkhus,
after a time, while still young, a black-haired lad, in my
youthful prime, just come to budding manhood's years, against the
wishes of father and mother weeping and lamenting, I cut off hair
and beard and, clad in the yellow robe, went forth from home to
homelessness. Thus vowed to homelessness, I was striving after
the highest good, the incomparable path to supreme peace.
At first the future Buddha learnt under two great yogis who had
attained to a high state of supernormal psychical powers and
faculties. But neither of them could satisfy him, as their teachings
did not lead to real everlasting peace and deliverance of mind. So he
left them again after having fully realized their teaching. Thereafter
he met five ascetics, who were practising the severest forms of
self-torture and mortification of the flesh, with the hope of gaining
deliverance in this way. The future Buddha became one of their party.
He subjected himself with utmost perseverance to extreme fasting and
self-torture, till at last he looked like a mere skeleton. And utterly
exhausted, he broke down and collapsed. He now came to understand that
bodily mortification is vain and useless, and will never lead to peace
of heart and to deliverance. He henceforth gave up fasting and bodily
mortification and sought refuge in moral and mental development. And
with calm and serene mind he began to look into the true nature of
Wherever he turned his eyes, he found only one great reality: the
law of suffering, the unsatisfactoriness of all forms of existence. He
understood that the destiny of beings is not the outcome of mere blind
chance, nor does it depend upon the arbitrary action of an imaginary
creator, but that our destiny is to be traced back to our own former
actions, or kamma. He beheld the sick and the leper, and he saw in
their misery and suffering only the result of actions, or kamma, done
in former lives. He beheld the blind and the lame, and he saw in their
debility and helplessness only the painful harvest of seeds sown by
themselves in former lives. He beheld the rich and the poor, the happy
and the unhappy; and wherever he turned his eyes, there he saw this
law of retribution, the moral law of cause and effect, the Dhamma.
This Dhamma, or universal moral law discovered by the Buddha, is
summed up in the //Four Noble Truths//: the truths about the universal
sway of suffering, about its origin, its extinction, and the path
leading to its extinction.
(I) The first truth, about the universality of //suffering//,
teaches, in short, that all forms of existence are of necessity
subject to suffering.
(II) The second truth, about the //origin of suffering//, teaches
that all suffering is rooted in selfish //craving// and //ignorance//,
in //tanha// and //avijja//. It further explains the cause of this
seeming injustice in nature, by teaching that nothing in the world can
come into existence without reason or cause; and that not only all our
latent tendencies, but our whole destiny, all weal and woe, results
from causes which we have to seek partly in this life, partly in
former states of existence.
The second truth further teaches us that the future life, with all
its weal and woe, must result from the seeds sown in this and former
(III) The third truth, or the truth about the //extinction of
suffering//, shows how, through the extinction of craving and
ignorance, all suffering will vanish and liberation from this Samsara
(IV) The fourth truth shows the way, or the means by which this
goal is reached. It is the //Noble Eightfold Path// of right
understanding, right thought, right speech, right bodily action, right
livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration of
From these Four Noble Truths we shall pick out and clear up such
points as are essential for a general knowledge of the Dhamma. In
doing so, we shall at the same time refute a number of widespread
prejudices concerning the Buddha's teaching.
Let us, however, first outline the Noble Eightfold Path, for it is
this path of righteousness and wisdom that really constitutes the
//essence of Buddhist practice// -- the mode of living and thinking to
be followed by any true follower of the Buddha.
(1) The first stage of the Eightfold Path is, as already stated,
//right understanding//, i.e. understanding the true nature of
existence, and the moral laws governing the same. In other words, it
is the right understanding of the Dhamma, i.e. of the Four Noble
(2) The second stage of the Eightfold Path is //right thought//,
i.e. a pure state of mind, free from sensual lust, from ill-will, and
from cruelty; in other words, thoughts of self-renunciation, of
goodness, and of mercy.
(3) The third stage is //right speech//. It consists of words which
are not false, not harsh, not scandalous, not frivolous, i.e. truthful
words, mild words, pacifying words, and wise words.
(4) The fourth stage is //right bodily action//, i.e. abstaining
from intentional killing or harming of any living creature, abstaining
from dishonest taking of others' property, abstaining from adultery.
(5) The fifth stage is //right livelihood//, i.e. such a livelihood
as does not bring harm and suffering to other beings.
(6) The sixth stage is //right effort//. It is the fourfold effort
which we make in //overcoming// old and //avoiding// fresh bad actions
by body, speech and mind; and the effort which we make in
//developing// fresh actions of righteousness, inner peace and wisdom,
and in //cultivating// them to perfection.
(7) The seventh stage is //right mindfulness//, or alertness of
mind. It is the ever-ready mental clarity whatever we are doing,
speaking, or thinking and in keeping before our mind the realities of
existence, i.e. the impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and phenomenality
(//anicca//, //dukkha//, //anatta//) of all forms of existence.
(8) The eighth stage is //right concentration// of mind. Such a
kind of mental concentration is meant, as is directed towards a
morally wholesome object, and always bound up with right thought,
right effort and right mindfulness.
Thus the Eightfold Path is a path of morality (//sila//), of mental
training (//samadhi//), and of wisdom (//panna//).
//Morality// therein is indicated by right speech, right bodily
action, and right livelihood. //Mental training// is indicated by
right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration of mind. And
//wisdom// is indicated by right understanding and right thought.
Thus this liberating Eightfold Path is a path of inner culture, of
inner progress. By merely external worship, mere ceremonies and
selfish prayers, one can never make any real progress in righteousness
and insight. The Buddha says: "Be your own isle of refuge, be your own
shelter, seek not for any other protection! Let the truth be your isle
of refuge, let the truth be your shelter, seek not after any other
protection!" To be of real effect, to ensure an absolute inner
progress, all our efforts must be based upon our own understanding and
insight. All absolute inward progress is rooted in right
understanding, and without right understanding there is no attainment
of perfection and of the unshakable peace of Nibbana.
Belief in the moral efficacy of mere external rite and ritual
(//silabbata-paramasa//) constitutes, according to the Buddha's
teaching, //a mighty obstacle to inner progress//. One who takes
refuge in mere external practices is on the wrong path. For, in order
to gain real inner progress, all our efforts must necessarily be based
on our own understanding and insight. Any real progress is rooted in
right understanding, and without right understanding there will be no
attainment of unshakable peace and holiness. Moreover, this blind
belief in mere external practices is the cause of much misery and
wretchedness in the world. It leads to mental stagnation, to
fanaticism and intolerance, to self-exaltation and contempt for
others, to contention, discord, war, strife and bloodshed, as the
history of the Middle Ages quite sufficiently testifies. This belief
in mere externals dulls and deadens one's power of thought, stifles
every higher emotion in man. It makes him a mental slave, and favours
the growth of all kinds of hypocrisy.
The Buddha has clearly and positively expressed himself on this
point. He says: "The man enmeshed in delusion will never be purified
through the mere study of holy books, or sacrifices to gods, or
through fasts, or sleeping on the ground, or difficult and strenuous
vigils, or the repetition of prayers. Neither gifts to priests, nor
self-castigation, nor performance of rites and ceremonies can work
purification in him who is filled with craving. It is not through the
partaking of meat or fish that man becomes impure, but through
drunkenness, obstinacy, bigotry, deceit, envy, self-exaltation,
disparagement of others and evil intentions -- through these things
man becomes impure."
"There are two extremes: addiction to sensual enjoyment, and
addiction to bodily mortification. These two extremes the Perfect One
has rejected, and discovered the //Middle Path// which makes one both
to see and to know, which leads to peace, to penetration,
enlightenment and liberation. It is that Noble Eightfold Path leading
to the end of suffering, namely right understanding, right thought,
right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right
mindfulness, and right concentration of mind."
Inasmuch as the Buddha teaches that all genuine progress on the
path of virtue is necessarily dependent upon one's own understanding
and insight, all //dogmatism is excluded// from the Buddha's teaching.
//Blind faith// in authority is //rejected// by the Buddha, and is
entirely opposed to the spirit of his teaching. In the Kalama Sutta
the Buddha says:
Do not go merely by hearsay or tradition, by what has been handed
down from olden time, by rumours, by mere reasoning and logical
deductions, by outward appearances, by cherished opinions and
speculations, by mere possibilities, and do not believe merely
because I am your master. But when you yourselves have seen that
a thing is evil and leads to harm and suffering, then you should
reject it. And when you see that a thing is good and blameless,
and leads to blessing and welfare, then you should do such a
One who merely believes or repeats what others have found out, such
a one the Buddha compares with a blind man. One who desires to make
progress upon the path of deliverance must experience and understand
the truth for himself. Lacking one's own understanding, no absolute
progress is possible.
The teaching of the Buddha is perhaps the only religious teaching
that requires //no belief in traditions//, or in certain historical
events. It appeals solely to the understanding of each individual. For
wherever there are beings capable of thinking, there the truths
proclaimed by the Buddha may be understood and realized, without
regard to race, country, nationality or station in life. These truths
are universal, not bound up with any particular country, or any
particular epoch. And in everyone, even in the lowest, there lies
latent the capacity for seeing and realizing these truths, and
attaining to the Highest Perfection. And whosoever lives a noble life,
such a one has already tasted of the truth and, in greater or lesser
degree, travels on the Eightfold Path of Peace which all noble and
holy ones have trod, are treading now, and shall in future tread. The
universal laws of morality hold good without variation everywhere and
at all times, whether one may call oneself a Buddhist, Hindu,
Christian or Muslim, or by any other name.
It is the //inward condition// of a person and his deeds that
count, not a mere name. The true disciple of the Buddha is far removed
from all dogmatism. He is //a free thinker in the noblest sense of the
word//. He falls neither into positive nor negative dogmas, for he
knows: both are mere opinions, mere views, rooted in blindness and
self-deception. Therefore the Buddha has said of himself. "The Perfect
One is //free from any theory//, for the Perfect One //has seen//:
Thus is //corporeality//, thus it arises, thus it passes away; thus is
//feeling//, thus it arises, thus it passes away; thus is
//perception//, thus it arises, thus it passes away; thus are the
//mental formations//, thus they arise, thus they pass away; thus is
//consciousness//, thus it arises thus it passes away."
I. This important truth of the //phenomenality// and emptiness of
all existence can be, and ought to be, understood by everyone for
According to the Buddha's teaching, our so-called individual
existence is in reality nothing but //a mere process of physical and
mental phenomena//, a process which since time immemorial was already
going on before one's apparent birth, and which also after death will
continue for immemorial periods of time. In the following we shall see
that the above five //khandhas//, or //groups of existence//, in no
way constitute any real ego-entity, or //atta//, and that no
ego-entity exists apart from them, and hence that //the belief in an
ego-entity is merely an illusion//.
That which we call our physical body is merely a name for a
combination of manifold component parts, and in reality constitutes no
entity, no personality. This is clear to everyone without further
argument. Everybody knows that the body is changing from moment to
moment, that old cells are continually breaking down and new ones
arising; in brief, that the body will be quite another body after a
few years, that nothing will have remained of the former flesh, bones,
blood, etc. Consequently, the body of the baby is not the body of the
school boy, and the body of the young man is not the body of the
grey-haired old man. Hence the body is not a persisting something, but
rather a continually changing process of arising and passing away,
consisting of a perpetual dying out and arising anew of cells. That,
however, which we call our mental life is a continually changing
process of feeling, perceptions, mental formations and states of
consciousness. At this moment a pleasant feeling arises, the next
moment a painful feeling; this moment one state of consciousness, the
next moment another. That which we call a being, an individual, a
person does not in itself, as such, possess any independent abiding
reality. In the absolute sense (//paramattha//) no individual, no
person, is there to be found, but merely perpetually changing
combinations of physical states, of feelings, volitions and states of
What we call "chariot" has no existence apart from and independent
of axle, wheels, shaft, etc. What we call "house" is merely a
convenient name for stone, wood, iron, etc., put together after a
certain fashion, so as to enclose a portion of space, but there is no
separate house-entity as such in existence.
In exactly the same way, that which we call a "being," or an
"individual," or "person," or by the name "I" or "he," etc., is
//nothing but a changing combination of physical and mental
phenomena//, and has no real existence in itself.
The words "I," "you," "he," etc., are merely terms found useful in
conventional or current (//vohara//) speech, but do not designate
realities (//paramattha-dhamma//). For neither do these physical and
mental phenomena constitute an absolute ego-entity, nor yet does there
exist, outside these phenomena, any ego-entity, self, or soul, who is
the possessor or owner of the same. Thus, when the Buddhist scriptures
speak of persons, or even of the rebirth of persons, this is done only
for the sake of easier understanding, and is not to be taken in the
sense of ultimate truth. This so-called "being," or "I," is in the
absolute sense nothing but a perpetually changing process. Therefore
also, to speak of the suffering of a "person," or "being," is in the
absolute sense incorrect. For it is //not a "person," but a
physico-mental process// that is subject to transiency and suffering.
In the absolute sense there are only numberless processes,
countless life-waves, in this vast ever-surging ocean of bodily
states, of feelings, perceptions, volitions and states of
consciousness. Within these phenomena there exists nothing that is
persistent, not even for the brief span of two consecutive moments.
These phenomena have merely momentary duration. They die every
moment, and every moment new phenomena are born; a perpetual dying and
coming to birth, a ceaseless heaving of waves up and down. All is in a
state of perpetual flux; "//panta rhei//" -- //all things are
flowing// -- says the Greek philosopher Heraclitus. The old forms fall
to pieces, and new ones are born. One feeling disappears, another
appears in its place. One state of consciousness exists this moment,
another the following moment. Everywhere is found a perpetual change
of material and mental phenomena. In this way, moment follows upon
moment, day upon day, year upon year, life upon life. And so this
ceaselessly changing process goes on for thousands, even aeons of
years. An eternally surging sea of feelings, perceptions, volitions
and states of consciousness: such is existence, such is Samsara, the
world of arising and passing away, of growing and decaying, a world of
sorrow, misery, lamentation and despair.
Without a real insight into this phenomenality, or //egolessness//
(//anatta//) or //impersonality// of all existence, it will be
impossible to understand the Four Noble Truths rightly.
II. In this connection let us come back to the second noble truth,
the origin of suffering, rooted in selfish craving and ignorance
(//tanha// and //avijja//). In order to understand this truth better,
it will be necessary to speak of a doctrine which so often is wrongly
interpreted and misunderstood. It is the Buddhist doctrine of rebirth
(see Chapter II). With regard to this teaching, Buddhism is often
accused of self-contradiction. Thus it is said that Buddhism on the
one hand denies the existence of the soul, while on the other hand it
teaches the transmigration of the soul. Nothing could be more mistaken
than this. For //Buddhism teaches no transmigration at all//. The
Buddhist doctrine of rebirth -- which is really the same as the //law
of causality// extended to the mental and moral domain -- has nothing
whatever to do with the brahmin doctrine of reincarnation, or
transmigration. There exists a fundamental difference between these
According to the brahmanical teaching, there exists a soul
independently of the body which, after death, leaves its physical
envelope and passes over into a new body, exactly as one might throw
off an old garment and put on a new one. Quite otherwise, however, is
it with the Buddhist doctrine of rebirth. Buddhism does not recognize
in this world any existence of mind apart from matter. //All mental
phenomena are conditioned// through the six organs of sense, and
without these they cannot exist. According to Buddhism, //mind without
matter is an impossibility//. And, as we have seen, the mental
phenomena, just as all bodily phenomena, are subject to change, and no
persisting element, no ego-entity, no soul, is there to be found. But
where there is no real unchanging entity, no soul, there one cannot
speak of the transmigration of such a thing.
How then is rebirth possible without something to be reborn,
without an ego, or soul? Here I have to point out that even the word
"rebirth," in this connection, is really not quite correct, but used
as a mere makeshift. What the Buddha teaches is, correctly speaking,
the //law of cause and effect// working in the moral domain. For just
as everything in the physical world happens in accordance with law, as
the arising of any physical state is dependent on some preceding state
as its cause, in just the same way must this law have universal
application in the mental and moral domain too. If every physical
state is preceded by another state as its cause, so also must //this
present physico-mental life be dependent upon causes anterior to its
birth//. Thus, according to Buddhism, the present life-process is the
result of the craving for life in a former birth, and the craving for
life in this birth is the cause of the life-process that continues
But, as there is nothing that persists from one moment of
consciousness to the next, so also no abiding element exists in this
ever changing life-process that can pass over from one life to
//Nothing transmigrates// from this moment to the next, nothing
from one life to another life. This process of continually producing
and being produced may best be compared with a wave on the ocean. In
the case of a wave there is not the smallest quantity of water that
actually travels over the surface of the sea. The wave-structure that
seems to hasten over the surface of the water, though creating the
appearance of one and the same mass of water, is in reality nothing
but a continued rising and falling of ever new masses of water. And
the rising and falling is produced by the transmission of force
originally generated by wind. Just so the Buddha did not teach that it
is an ego-entity, or a soul, that hastens through the ocean of
rebirth, but that it is in reality merely a life-wave which, according
to its nature and activities, appears here as man, there as animal,
and elsewhere as invisible being.
III. There is another teaching of the Buddha which often gives rise
to serious misunderstanding. It is the teaching of //Nibbana, or the
extinction of suffering//. This third noble truth points out that,
through the cessation of all selfish craving and all ignorance, of
necessity all suffering comes to an end, to extinction, and no new
rebirth will take place. For if the seed is destroyed, it can never
sprout again. If the selfish craving that clutches convulsively at
life is destroyed, then, after death, there can never again take place
a fresh shooting up, a continuation of this process of existence, a
so-called rebirth. Where, however, there is no birth, there can be no
death. Where there is no arising, there can be no passing away. Where
no life exists, no suffering can exist. Now, because with the
extinction of all selfish craving, all its concurrent phenomena, such
as conceit, self-seeking, greed, hate, anger and cruelty, come to
extinction, this freedom from selfish craving signifies //the highest
state of selflessness, wisdom and holiness//.
Now this fact -- that after the death of the Holy One, the Arahat,
this physico-mental life-process no longer continues -- is erroneously
believed by many to be identical with annihilation of self,
annihilation of a real being, and it is therefore maintained that the
goal of Buddhism is simply annihilation. Against such a misleading
statement one must enter an emphatic protest. How is it ever possible
to speak of the annihilation of a self, or soul, or ego, where no such
thing is to be found? We have seen that in reality there does not
exist any ego-entity, or soul, and therefore also no "transmigration"
of such a thing into a new mother's womb.
That bodily process starting anew in the mother's womb is in no way
a continuation of a former bodily process, but merely a result, or
effect, caused by selfish craving and clinging to life of the
so-called dying individual. Thus one who says that the non-producing
of any new life-process is identical with annihilation of a self,
should also say that abstention from sexual intercourse is identical
with annihilation of a child -- which, of course, is absurd.
Here, once more, we may expressly emphasize that without a clear
perception of the phenomenality or egolessness (//anatta//) of all
existence, it will be impossible to obtain a real understanding of the
Buddha's teaching, especially that of rebirth and Nibbana. This
teaching of //anatta// is in fact //the only characteristic Buddhist
doctrine//, with which the entire teaching stands or falls.
IV. A further reproach, so often heard against Buddhism, that it is
a gloomy and "pessimistic" teaching, proves entirely unfounded by the
statements already made. For, as we have seen, the Buddha not only
discloses and explains the fact of misery, but he also shows the way
to find total release from it. In view of this fact, one is rather
entitled to call //the Buddha's teaching the boldest optimism ever
proclaimed to the world.//
Truly, Buddhism is a teaching that //assures hope, comfort and
happiness//, even to the most unfortunate. It is a teaching that
offers, even to the most wretched of criminals, prospects of final
perfection and peace, and this, not through blind belief, or prayers,
or asceticism, or outward ceremonies, rites and rituals, but through
walking and earnestly persevering on that Noble Eightfold Path of
inward perfection, purity and emancipation of heart, consisting in
right understanding, right thought, right speech, right bodily action,
right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right
concentration and peace of mind.
The Noble Eightfold Path
1. Right Understanding | ---- Wisdom
2. Right Thought |
3. Right Speech |
4. Right Bodily Action | ---- Morality
5. Right Livelihood |
6. Right Effort |
7. Right Mindfulness | ---- Concentration
8. Right Concentration |
* * * * * * * *
KAMMA AND REBIRTH
When beholding this world and thinking about the destinies of beings,
it will appear to most people as if everything in nature was unjust.
Why, they will say, is one person rich and powerful, but another
person poor and distressed? Why is one person all his life well and
healthy, but another person from his very birth sickly or infirm? Why
is one person endowed with attractive appearance, intelligence and
perfect senses, while another person is repulsive and ugly, an idiot,
blind, or deaf and dumb? Why is one child born amid utter misery and
among wretched people, and brought up as a criminal, while another
child is born in the midst of plenty and comfort, of noble-minded
parents, and enjoys all the advantages of kindly treatment and the
best mental and moral education, and sees nothing but good things all
around? Why does one person, often without the slightest effort,
succeed in all his enterprises, while to another person all his plans
fail? Why do some live in luxury, while others have to live in poverty
and distress? Why is one person happy, but another person unhappy? Why
does one person enjoy long life, while another person in the prime of
life is carried away by death? Why is this so? Why do such differences
exist in nature?
Christianity does not provide us with any reasonable answer to
these questions, nor does it try to find an explanation for them.
Quite to the contrary! Take, for example, the poor, wretched child,
born in misery and among criminals, and actually trained to become a
criminal. Under such circumstances, and without the slightest moral
advice, will such a being ever be able to distinguish between moral
and immoral, between crime and virtue? No, under such conditions the
only way open for him is to become a criminal. And of such a poor and
pitiable being Christianity says -- apart from his present misery and
suffering -- that it is destined after death to eternal punishment in
hell. Could there be found in this world anything more unjust and
cruel than this kind of thinking? It is really the worst form of
fatalism and injustice! For how could a being under those conditions
ever be made responsible for his deeds? Now, as to the question why
such differences exist in the destiny of beings, this question is
satisfactorily answered solely by Buddhism.
Of all those circumstances and conditions constituting the destiny
of a being, none, according to the Buddha's Teaching, can come into
existence without a previous cause and the presence of a number of
necessary conditions. Just as, for example, from a rotten mango seed a
healthy mango tree with healthy and sweet fruits never will come, just
so the evil volitional actions, or evil kamma, produced in former
births, are the seeds, or root-causes, of an evil destiny in a later
birth. It is a necessary postulate of thinking that the good and bad
destiny of a being, as well as its latent character, cannot be the
product of mere chance, but must of necessity have its causes in a
According to Buddhism, no organic entity, physical or psychical,
can come into existence without a previous cause, i.e. without a
preceding congenial state out of which it has developed. Also, no
living organic entity can ever be produced by something altogether
outside of it. It can originate only out of itself, i.e. it must have
already existed in the bud, or germ, as it were. To be sure, besides
this cause, or root-condition, or seed, there are still many minor
conditions required for its actual arising and its development, just
as the mango tree besides its main cause, the seed, requires for its
germinating, growth and development such further conditions as earth,
water, light, heat, etc. Thus the true cause of the birth of a being,
together with its character and destiny, goes back to the
kamma-volitions produced in a former birth.
According to Buddhism, there are three factors necessary for the
rebirth of a human being, that is, for the formation of the embryo in
the mother's womb. They are: the female ovum, the male sperm, and the
karma-energy (//kamma-vega//), which in the Suttas is metaphorically
called "//gandhabba//," i.e. "ghost," or "soul." This kamma-energy is
sent forth by a dying individual at the moment of his death. The
father and mother only provide the necessary physical material for the
formation of the embryonic body. With regard to the characteristic
features, the tendencies and faculties lying latent in the embryo, the
Buddha's teaching may be explained in the following way: The dying
individual, with his whole being convulsively clinging to life, at the
very moment of his death sends forth kammic energies which, like a
flash of lightning, hit at a new mother's womb ready for conception.
Thus, through the impinging of the kamma-energies on ovum and sperm,
there appears just as a precipitate the so-called primary cell.
This process may be compared with the functioning of the
air-vibrations produced through speech, which, by impinging on the
acoustic organ of another man, produce a sound, which is a purely
subjective sensation. On this occasion no transmigration of a
sound-sensation takes place, but simply a transference of energy,
called the air vibrations. In a similar way, the kamma-energies, sent
out by the dying individual, produce from the material furnished by
the parents the new embryonic being. But no transmigration of a real
being, or a soul-entity, takes place on that occasion, but simply the
transmission of kamma-energy.
Hence we may say that the present life-process (//upapatti-bhava//)
is the objectification of the corresponding pre-natal kamma-process
(//kamma-bhava//), and that the future life-process is the
objectification of the corresponding present kamma-process. Thus
nothing transmigrates from one life to the next. And what we call our
ego is in reality only this process of continual change, of continual
arising and passing away. Thus follows moment after moment, day after
day, year after year, life after life. Just as the wave that
apparently hastens over the surface of the pond is in reality nothing
but a continuous rising and falling of ever new masses of water, each
time called forth through the transmission of energy, even so, closely
considered, in the ultimate sense there is no permanent ego-entity
that passes through the ocean of Samsara, but merely a process of
physical and psychical phenomena takes place, ever and again being
whipped up by the impulse and will for life.
It is undoubtedly true that the mental condition of the parents at
the moment of conception has a considerable influence upon the
character of the embryonic being, and that the nature of the mother
may make a deep impression on the character of the child she bears in
her womb. The indivisible unity of the psychic individuality of the
child, however, can in no way be produced by the parents. One must
here never confound the actual cause -- the preceding state out of
which the later state arises -- with the influences and conditions
from without. If it were really the case that the new individual, as
an inseparable whole, was begotten by its parents, twins could never
exhibit totally opposite tendencies. In such a case, children,
especially twins, would, with positively no exception, always be found
to possess the same character as the parents.
At all times, and in probably all the countries on earth, the
belief in rebirth has been held by many people; and this belief seems
to be due to an intuitional instinct that lies dormant in all beings.
At all times many great thinkers too have taught a continuation of
life after death. Already from time immemorial there was taught some
form of metempsychosis, i.e. "transformation of soul," or
metamorphosis, i.e. "transformation of body," etc., thus by the
esoteric doctrines of old Egypt, by Pythagoras, Empedocles, Plato,
Plotinus, Pindaros, Vergil, also by the African negroes. Many modern
thinkers too teach a continuation of the life-process after death.
The great German scientist Edgar Dacque, in his book //The Primeval
World, Saga and Mankind//, speaking about the widespread belief shared
by all peoples of the world in a transmigration after death, gives the
Peoples with culture and acquaintance with science, such as the
old Egyptians and wise Indians, acted and lived in accordance
with this belief. They lost this belief only after the rise of
the naively realistic and rationalistic Hellenism and Judaism.
For this reason it would be better, concerning this problem, not
to assume the bloodless attitude of modern sham-civilization, but
rather adopt a reverential attitude in trying to solve this
problem and grasp it in its profundity.
This law of rebirth can be made comprehensible only by the
subconscious life-stream (in Pali, //bhavanga-sota//), which is
mentioned in the Abhidhamma Pitaka and further explained in the
commentaries, especially the //Visuddhimagga//. The fundamental import
of //bhavanga-sota//, or the subconscious life-stream, as a working
hypothesis for the explanation of the various Buddhist doctrines, such
as rebirth, kamma, remembrance of former births, etc., has up to now
not yet sufficiently been recognized, or understood, by Western
scholars. The term //bhavanga-sota//, is identical with what the
modern psychologists, such as Jung, etc., call the soul, or the
unconscious, thereby not meaning, of course, the eternal soul-entity
of Christian teaching but an ever-changing subconscious process. This
subconscious life-stream is the necessary condition of all life. In
it, all impressions and experiences are stored up, or better said,
appear as a multiple process of past images, or memory pictures, which
however, as such, are hidden to full consciousness, but which,
especially in dreams, cross the threshold of consciousness and make
themselves fully conscious.
Professor James (whose words I here retranslate from the German
version) says: "Many achievements of genius have here their beginning.
In conversion, mystical experience, and as prayer, it co-operates with
religious life. It contains all momentarily inactive reminiscences and
sources of all our dimly motivated passions, impulses, intuitions,
hypotheses, fancies, superstitions; in short, all our non-rational
operations result therefrom. It is the source of dreams, etc."
Jung, in his //Soul Problems of the Present Day//, says: "From the
living source of instinct springs forth everything creative." And in
another place: "Whatever has been created by the human mind, results
from contents which were really unconscious (or subconscious) germs."
And: "The term 'instinct' is of course nothing but a collective term
for all possible organic and psychic factors, whose nature is for the
greater part unknown to us."
The existence of the subconscious life-stream, or
//bhavanga-sota//, is a necessary postulate of our thinking. If
whatever we have seen, heard, felt, perceived, thought, experienced
and done were not, without exception, registered somewhere and in some
way, either in the extremely complex nervous system (comparable to a
phonograph record or photographic plate) or in the subconscious or
unconscious, we would not even be able to remember what we were
thinking at the preceding moment; we would not know anything of the
existence of other beings and things; we would not know our parents,
teachers, friends, and so on; we would not even be able to think at
all, as thinking is conditioned by the remembrance of former
experiences; and our mind would be a complete //tabula rasa// and
emptier than the actual mind of an infant just born, nay even of the
embryo in the mother's womb.
Thus this subconscious life-stream, or //bhavanga-sota//, can be
called the precipitate of all our former actions and experiences,
which must have been going on since time immemorial and must continue
for still immeasurable periods of time to come. Therefore what
constitutes the true and innermost nature of man, or any other being,
is this subconscious life-stream, of which we do not know whence it
came and whither it will go. As Heraclitus says: "We never enter the
same stream. We are identical with it, and we are not." Just so it is
said in the //Milindapanha//: "//na ca so, na ca anno//; neither is it
the same, nor is it another (that is reborn)." All life, be it
corporeal, conscious or subconscious, is a flowing, a continual
process of becoming, change and transformation. No persistent element
is there to be discovered in this process. Hence there is no permanent
ego, or personality, to be found, but merely these transitory
About this unreality of the ego, the Hungarian psychologist
Volgyesi in his //Message to the Nervous World// says:
Under the influence of the newest knowledge the psychologists
already begin to realize the truth about the delusive nature of
the ego-entity, the mere relative value of the ego-feeling, the
great dependency of this tiny man on the inexhaustible and
complex working factors of the whole world. ... The idea of an
independent ego, and of a self-reliant free will: these ideas we
should give up and reconcile ourselves to the truth that there
does not exist any real ego at all. What we take for our
ego-feeling, is in reality nothing but one of the most wonderful
//fata-morgana// plays of nature.
In the ultimate sense, there do not even exist such things as
mental states, i.e. stationary things. Feeling, perception,
consciousness, etc., are in reality mere passing processes of feeling,
perceiving, becoming conscious, etc., within which and outside of
which no separate or permanent entity lies hidden.
Thus a real understanding of the Buddha's doctrine of kamma and
rebirth is possible only to one who has caught a glimpse of the
egoless nature, or //anattata//, and of the conditionality, or
//idappaccayata//, of all phenomena of existence. Therefore it is said
in the //Visuddhimagga// (Chap. XIX):
Everywhere, in all the realms of existence, the noble disciple
sees only mental and corporeal phenomena kept going through the
concatenation of causes and effects. No producer of the
volitional act or kamma does he see apart from the kamma, no
recipient of the kamma-result apart from the result. And he is
well aware that wise men are using merely conventional language,
when, with regard to a kammical act, they speak of a doer, or
with regard to a kamma-result, they speak of the recipient of the
No doer of the deeds is found,
No one who ever reaps their fruits;
Empty phenomena roll on:
This only is the correct view.
And while the deeds and their results
Roll on and on, conditioned all,
There is no first beginning found,
Just as it is with seed and tree. ...
No god, no Brahma, can be called
The maker of this wheel of life:
Empty phenomena roll on,
Dependent on conditions all.
In the //Milindapanha// the King asks Nagasena:
"What is it, Venerable Sir, that will be reborn?"
"A psycho-physical combination (//nama-rupa//), O King."
"But how, Venerable Sir? Is it the same psycho-physical
combination as this present one?"
"No, O King. But the present psycho-physical combination produces
kammically wholesome and unwholesome volitional activities, and
through such kamma a new psycho-physical combination will be
As in the ultimate sense (//paramatthavasena//) there is no such
thing as a real ego-entity, or personality, one cannot properly speak
of the rebirth of such a one. What we are here concerned with is this
psycho-physical process, which is cut off at death, in order to
continue immediately thereafter somewhere else.
Similarly we read in the //Milindapanha//:
"Does, Venerable Sir, rebirth take place without transmigration?"
"Yes, O King."
"But how, Venerable Sir, can rebirth take place without the
passing over of anything? Please, illustrate this matter for me."
"If, O King, a man should light a lamp with the help of another
lamp, does the light of the one lamp pass over to the other
"No, Venerable Sir."
"Just so, O King, does rebirth take place without
Further, in the //Visuddhimagga// (Chap. XVII) it is said:
Whosoever has no clear idea about death and does not know that
death consists in the dissolution of the five groups of existence
(i.e. corporeality, feeling, perception, mental formations,
consciousness), he thinks that it is a person, or being, that
dies and transmigrates to a new body, etc. And whosoever has no
clear idea about rebirth, and does not know that rebirth consists
in the arising of the five groups of existence, he thinks that it
is a person, or being, that is reborn, or that the person
reappears in a new body. And whosoever has no clear idea about
Samsara, the round of rebirths, he thinks that a real person
wanders from this world to another world, comes from that world
to this world, etc. And whosoever has no clear idea about the
phenomena of existence, he thinks that the phenomena are his ego
or something appertaining to the ego, or something permanent,
joyful, or pleasant. And whosoever has no clear idea about the
conditional arising of the phenomena of existence, and about the
arising of kammic volitions conditioned through ignorance, he
thinks that it is the ego that understands or fails to
understand, that acts or causes to act, that enters into a new
existence at rebirth. Or he thinks that the atoms or the Creator,
etc., with the help of the embryonic process, shape the body,
provide it with various faculties; that it is the ego that
receives the sensuous impression, that feels, that desires, that
becomes attached, that enters into existence again in another
world. Or he thinks that all beings come to life through fate or
A mere phenomenon it is, a thing conditioned,
That rises in the following existence.
But not from a previous life does it transmigrate there,
And yet it cannot rise without a previous cause.
When this conditionally arisen bodily-mental phenomenon (the
fetus) arises, one says that it has entered into (the next)
existence. However, no being (//satta//), or life-principle
(//jiva//), has transmigrated from the previous existence into
this existence, and yet this embryo could not have come into
existence without a previous cause.
This fact may be compared with the reflection of one's face in the
mirror, or with the calling forth of an echo by one's voice. Now, just
as the image in the mirror or the echo are produced by one's face or
voice without any passing over of face or voice, just so it is with
the arising of rebirth-consciousness. Should there exist a full
identity or sameness between the earlier and the later birth, in that
case milk could never turn into curd; and should there exist an entire
otherness, curd could never be conditioned through milk. Therefore one
should admit neither a full identity, nor an entire otherness of the
different stages of existence. Hence //na ca so, na ca anno//:
"neither is it the same, nor is it another one." As already said
above: all life, be it corporeal, conscious or subconscious, is a
flowing, a continual process of becoming, change and transformation.
To sum up the foregoing, we may say: There are in the ultimate
sense no real beings or things, neither creators nor created; there is
but this process of corporeal and mental phenomena. This whole process
of existence has an active side and a passive side. The active or
causal side of existence consists of the kamma-process
(//kamma-bhava//), i.e. of wholesome and unwholesome kamma-activity,
while the passive or caused side consists of kamma-results, or
//vipaka//, the so-called rebirth-process (//upapatti-bhava//), i.e.
the arising, growing, decaying and passing away of all these
kammically neutral phenomena of existence.
Thus, in the absolute sense, there exists no real being that
wanders through this round of rebirths, but merely this ever-changing
twofold process of kamma-activities and kamma-results takes place. The
present life is, as it were, the reflection of the past one, and the
future life the reflection of the present one. The present life is the
result of the past kammic activity, and the future life the result of
the present kammic activity. Therefore, nowhere is there to be found
an ego-entity that could be the performer of the kammic activity or
the recipient of the kamma-result. Hence Buddhism does not teach any
real transmigration, as in the highest sense there is no such thing as
a being, or ego-entity, much less the transmigration of such a one.
In every person, as already mentioned, there seems to lie dormant
the dim instinctive feeling that death cannot be the end of all
things, but that somehow continuation must follow. In which way this
may be, however, is not immediately clear.
It is perhaps quite true that a direct proof for rebirth cannot be
given. We have, however, the authentic reports about children in Burma
and elsewhere, who sometimes are able to remember quite distinctly
(probably in dreams) events of their previous life. By the way, what
we see in dreams are mostly distorted reflexes of real things and
happenings experienced in this or a previous life. And how could we
ever explain the birth of such prodigies as Jeremy Bentham, who
already in his fourth year could read and write Latin and Greek; or
John Stuart Mill, who at the age of three read Greek and at the age of
six wrote a history of Rome; or Babington Macaulay, who in his sixth
year wrote a compendium of world history; or Beethoven, who gave
public concerts when he was seven; or Mozart, who already before his
sixth year had written musical compositions; or Voltaire, who read the
fables of Lafontaine when he was three years old. Should all these
prodigies and geniuses, who for the most part came from illiterate
parents, not already in previous births have laid the foundations to
their extraordinary faculties? "//Natura non facit saltus//: nature
makes no leaps."
How could we further explain that a child of righteous and bodily
and mentally healthy parents and ancestors, sometimes already
immediately after birth, shows signs of the criminal type, of criminal
tendencies, perceptible by the shape of the skull, by facial
expression, by attitude, movement, etc., recognizable to
phrenologists, physiognomists, etc.?
In any case, we may rightly state that the Buddhist doctrine of
kamma and rebirth offers the only plausible explanation for all the
variations and dissimilarities in nature. From the apple seed only an
apple tree may come, no mango tree; from a mango seed only a mango
tree, no apple tree. Just so, all animate things, as man, animal,
etc., probably even plants, nay even crystals, must of necessity be
manifestations or objectifications of some specific kind of
subconscious impulse or will for life. Buddhism says nothing on the
last-mentioned points; it simply states that all vegetable life
belongs to the germinal order, or //bija-niyama//.
Buddhism teaches that if in previous births the bodily, verbal and
mental kamma, or volitional activities, have been evil and low and
thus have unfavourably influenced the subconscious life-stream
(//bhavanga-sota//), then also the results, manifested in the present
life, must be disagreeable and evil; and so must be the character and
the new actions induced or conditioned through the evil pictures and
images of the subconscious life-stream. If the beings, however, have
in former lives sown good seeds, then they will reap good fruits in
the present life.
In Majjhima Nikaya 135 a brahmin raises the problem:
There are found people who are short-lived, and those that are
long-lived; there are found people who are very sick, and those
that are healthy; there are found people who are hideous, and
those that are beautiful; there are found people who are
powerless, and those that are powerful; there are found people
who are poor, and those that are rich; there are found people who
are of low family, and those that are of high family; there are
found people who are stupid, and those that are intelligent. What
then, Master Gotama, is the reason that among human beings such
inferiority and superiority are found?
The Blessed One gave the reply:
Beings are owners of their kamma, heirs of their kamma; kamma is
the womb from which they have sprung, kamma is their friend and
refuge. Thus kamma divides beings into the high and low.
In Anguttara Nikaya III,40 it is said: "Killing, stealing,
adultery, lying, backbiting, harsh speech and empty prattling,
practised, cultivated and frequently engaged in, will lead to hell,
the animal world or the realm of ghosts." Further: "Whoso kills and is
cruel, will either go to hell, or if reborn as a human, will be
short-lived. Whoso tortures other beings, will be afflicted with
disease. The hater will be hideous, the envious will be without
influence, the stubborn will be of low rank, the indolent will be
ignorant." In the reverse case, a person will be reborn in a heavenly
world; or, if reborn as a human being, will be endowed with health,
beauty, influence, riches, noble rank and intelligence.
George Grimm, in his book //The Doctrine of the Buddha//, tries to
show how the law of affinity may at the moment of death regulate the
grasping of the new germ. He says:
Whoso, devoid of compassion can kill men, or even animals,
carries deep within himself the inclination to shorten life. He
finds satisfaction, or even pleasure, in the short-livedness of
other creatures. Short-lived germs have therefore some affinity
for him, an affinity which makes itself known after his death in
the grasping of another germ, which then takes place to his own
detriment. Even so, germs bearing within themselves the power of
developing into a deformed body, have an affinity for one who
finds pleasure in ill-treating and disfiguring other.
Any angry person begets within himself an affinity for ugly
bodies and their respective germs, since it is the characteristic
mark of anger to disfigure the face.
Whoever is jealous, niggardly, haughty, carries within himself
the tendency to grudge everything to others, and to despise them.
Accordingly, germs that are destined to develop in poor outward
circumstances, possess affinity for him.
Here I should like to rectify several wrong applications of the
term "kamma" prevailing in the West, and to state once for all: Pali
//kamma//, comes from the root //kar//, to do, to make, to act, and
thus means "deed, action," etc. As a Buddhist technical term, kamma is
a name for wholesome and unwholesome volition or will (//kusala//- and
//akusala//-cetana//) and the consciousness and mental factors
associated therewith, manifested as bodily, verbal or mere mental
action. Already in the Suttas it is said: "Volition (//cetana//),
monks, do I call kamma. Through volition one does the kamma by means
of body, speech or mind" (//cetanaham bhikkhave kammam vadami;
cetayitva kammam karoti kayena vacaya manasa//). Thus kamma is
volitional action, nothing more, nothing less.
From this fact result the following three statements:
1. The term "kamma" never comprises the result of action, as most
people in the West, misled by Theosophy, wish this term to be
understood. Kamma is wholesome or unwholesome volitional action and
//kamma-vipaka// is the result of action.
2. There are some who consider every happening, even our new
wholesome and unwholesome actions, as the result of our prenatal
kamma. In other words, they believe that the results again become the
causes of new results, and so //ad infinitum//. Thus they are stamping
Buddhism as fatalism; and they will have to come to the conclusion
that, in this case, our destiny can never be influenced or changed,
and no deliverance ever be attained.
3. There is a third wrong application of the term "kamma," being an
amplification of the first view, i.e. that the term "kamma" comprises
also the result of action. It is the assumption of a so-called joint
kamma, mass-kamma, or group-kamma, or collective kamma. According to
this view, a group of people, e.g. a nation, should be responsible for
the bad deeds formerly done by this so-called "same" people. In
reality, however, this present people may not consist at all of the
same individuals who did these bad deeds. According to Buddhism it is
of course quite true that anybody who suffers bodily, suffers for his
past or present bad deeds. Thus also each of those individuals born
within that suffering nation must, if actually suffering bodily, have
done evil somewhere, here or in one of the innumerable spheres of
existence, but he may not have had anything to do with the bad deeds
of the so-called nation. We might say that through his evil kamma he
was attracted to the hellish condition befitting him. In short, the
term "kamma" applies, in each instance, only to wholesome and
unwholesome volitional activity of the single individual. Kamma thus
forms the cause, or seed, from which the results will accrue to the
individual, be it in this life or hereafter. 
Hence man has it in his power to shape his future destiny by means
of his will and actions. It depends on his actions, or kamma, whether
his destiny will lead him up or down, either to happiness or to
misery. Moreover, kamma is the cause and seed not only for the
continuation of the life-process after death, i.e. for the so-called
rebirth, but already in this present life-process our actions, or
kamma, may produce good and bad results, and exercise a decisive
influence on our present character and destiny. Thus, for instance, if
day by day we are practising kindness towards all living beings,
humans as well as animals, we will grow in goodness, while hatred, and
all evil actions done through hatred, as well as all the evil and
agonizing mental states produced thereby, will not so easily rise
again in us; and our nature and character will become firm, happy,
peaceful and calm.
If we practise unselfishness and liberality, greed and avarice will
become less. If we practise love and kindness, anger and hatred will
vanish. If we develop wisdom and knowledge, ignorance and delusion
will more and more disappear. The less greed, hatred and ignorance
(//lobha//, //dosa//, //moha//) dwell in our hearts, the less will we
commit evil and unwholesome actions of body, speech and mind. For all
evil things, and all evil destiny, are really rooted in greed, hate
and ignorance; and of these three things ignorance or delusion
(//moha, avijja//) is the chief root and the primary cause of all evil
and misery in the world. If there is no more ignorance, there will be
no more greed and hatred, no more rebirth, no more suffering.
This goal, however, in the ultimate sense, will be realized only by
the Holy Ones (Arahats), i.e. by those who, forever and all time, are
freed from these three roots; and this is accomplished through the
penetrating insight, or //vipassana//, into the impermanency,
unsatisfactoriness and egolessness of this whole life-process, and
through the detachment from all forms of existence resulting
therefrom. As soon as greed, hate and ignorance have become fully and
forever extinguished, and thereby the will for life, convulsively
clinging to existence, and the thirsting for life have come to an end,
then there will be no more rebirth, and there will have been realized
the goal shown by the Enlightened One, namely: extinction of all
rebirth and suffering. Thus, the Arahat performs no more kamma, i.e.
no more kammically wholesome or unwholesome volitional actions. He is
freed from this life-affirming will expressed in bodily actions, words
or thoughts, freed from this seed, or cause, of all existence and
Now what is called character is in reality the sum of these
subconscious tendencies produced partly by the prenatal, partly by the
present volitional activity, or kamma. And these tendencies may,
during life, become an inducement to wholesome or unwholesome
volitional activity by body, speech or mind. If, however, this thirst
for life rooted in ignorance is fully extinguished, then there will be
no new entering again into existence. Once the root of a coconut tree
has been fully destroyed, the tree will die off. In exactly the same
way, there will be no entering again into a new existence once the
life-affirming three evil roots -- greed, hate and ignorance -- have
been forever destroyed. Here one should not forget that all such
personal expressions as "I," "He," "Holy One," etc., are merely
conventional names for this really impersonal life-process.
In this connection I have to state that, according to Buddhism, it
is merely the last kammical volition just before death, the so-called
death-proximate kamma, that decides the immediately following rebirth.
In Buddhist countries it is therefore the custom to recall to the
dying man's memory the good actions performed by him, in order to
rouse in him a happy and pure kammical state of mind, as a preparation
for a favourable rebirth. Or his relations let him see beautiful
things which they, for his good and benefit, wish to offer to the
Buddha, saying: "This, my dear, we shall offer to the Buddha for your
good and welfare." Or they let him hear a religious sermon, or let him
smell the odour of flowers, or give him sweets to taste, or let him
touch precious cloth, saying: "This we shall offer to the Buddha for
your own good and welfare."
In the //Visuddhimagga// (Chap. XVII) it is said that, at the
moment before death, as a rule, there will appear to the memory of the
evil-doer the mental image of any evil deed, //kamma//, formerly done;
or that there will appear before his mental eyes an attendant
circumstance, or object, called //kamma-nimitta//, connected with that
bad deed, such as blood or a blood-stained dagger, etc.; or he may see
before his mind an indication of his imminent miserable rebirth,
//gati-nimitta//, such as fiery flames, etc. To another dying man
there may appear before his mind the image of a voluptuous object
inciting his sensual lust.
To a good man there may appear before his mind any noble deed,
//kamma//, formerly done by him; or an object that was present at that
time, the so-called //kamma-nimitta//; or he may see in his mind an
indication of his imminent rebirth, //gati-nimitta//, such as heavenly
Already in the Suttas there are distinguished three kinds of kamma,
or volitional actions, with regard to the time of their bearing fruit,
namely: (1) kamma bearing fruit in this life-time
(//ditthadhamma-vedaniya-kamma//); (2) kamma bearing fruit in the next
life (//upapajja-vedaniya-kamma//); (3) kamma bearing fruit in later
lives (//aparapariya-vedaniya-kamma//). The explanations of this
subject are somewhat too technical for the general reader. They imply
the following: The kamma-volitional stage of the process in mind
consists of a number of impulsive thought moments, or
//javana-citta//, which flash up, one after the other, in rapid
succession. Now, of these impulsive moments, the first one will bear
fruit in this life-time, the last one in the next birth, and those
between these two moments will bear fruit in later lives. The two
kinds of kamma bearing fruit in this life-time and in the next birth
may sometimes become ineffective (//ahosi-kamma//). Kamma, however,
that bears fruit in later lives will, whenever and wherever there is
an opportunity, be productive of kamma-result; and as long as this
life-process continues, this kamma will never become ineffective.
The //Visuddhimagga// divides kamma, according to its functions,
into four kinds: generative kamma, supportive kamma, counteractive
kamma and destructive kamma, which all may be either wholesome or
Amongst these four kinds, the "generative" (//janaka-kamma//)
generates at rebirth, and during the succeeding life-continuity,
corporeal and neutral mental phenomena, such as the five kinds of
sense-consciousness and the mental factors associated therewith, such
as feeling, perception, sense-impression, etc.
The "supportive" (//upatthambhaka-kamma//), however, does not
generate any kamma-result; but as soon as any other kamma-volition has
effected rebirth and a kamma-result been produced, then it
//supports//, according to its nature, the agreeable or disagreeable
phenomena and keeps them going.
The "counteractive" (//upapilaka-kamma//) also does not generate
any kamma-result; but as soon as any other kamma-volition has effected
rebirth and a kamma-result been produced, then it //counteracts//,
according to its nature, the agreeable or disagreeable phenomena and
does not allow them to keep going on.
Again, the "destructive" (//upaghataka-kamma//) does not generate
any kamma-result; but as soon as any other kamma-volition has effected
rebirth and a kamma-result been produced, then it destroys the weaker
kamma and admits only its own agreeable or disagreeable kamma-results.
In the Commentary to Majjhima Nikaya 135, generative kamma is
compared with a farmer sowing the seeds; supportive kamma, with
irrigating, manuring, and watching the field, etc.; counteractive
kamma,with the drought that causes a poor harvest; destructive kamma,
with a fire that destroys the whole harvest.
Another illustration is this: The rebirth of Devadatta in a royal
family was due to his good generative kamma. His becoming a monk and
attaining high spiritual powers was a good supportive kamma. His
intention of killing the Buddha was a counteractive kamma, while his
causing a split in the Order of monks was destructive kamma, owing to
which he was born in a world of misery. It lies outside the scope of
this short exposition to give detailed descriptions of all the
manifold divisions of kamma found in the Commentaries. What I chiefly
wanted to make clear by this lecture is: that the Buddhist doctrine of
rebirth has nothing to do with the transmigration of any soul or
ego-entity, as in the ultimate sense there does not exist any such ego
or I, but merely a continually changing process of psychic and
corporeal phenomena. And further I wanted to point out that the
kamma-process and rebirth-process may both be made comprehensible only
by the assumption of a subconscious stream of life underlying
everything in living nature.
* * *
Notes to Chapter II
 Here I should add that the Pali term //vipaka//, which I generally
translate by "effect," or "result," is not really identical with
these two English terms. According to the //Kathavatthu//, it
refers only to the kamma-produced "mental" results, such as
pleasurable and painful bodily feeling and all other primary
mental phenomena, while all the corporeal phenomena, such as the
five physical sense-organs, etc., are not called //vipaka//, but
"//kammaja//" or "//kamma-samutthana//," i.e. "kamma-born" or
* * * * * * * *
PATICCA-SAMUPPADA: DEPENDENT ORIGINATION
It is rather with some hesitation that I dare to speak to you on that
profoundest of all Buddhist doctrines, //paticca-samuppada//,
"dependent origination," that is to say, the conditional arising of
all those mental and physical phenomena generally summed up by the
conventional names "living being," or "individual," or "person." Thus,
being well aware of the great difficulty of speaking on this most
intricate subject before an audience perhaps only little acquainted
with Buddhist philosophy, I shall try my utmost to avoid, as far as
possible, all the highly technical or confusing details. I shall use
very plain and simple language, so that any one of you may be able to
follow my explanations. At the same time I shall not lose sight of the
real goal and purpose for which the Buddha taught this doctrine to the
world. Thus I would beg you to listen carefully and give my words full
and undivided attention. And I further beg you to try to retain in
mind those very few technical terms in Pali and English which in the
course of my talk I shall be repeatedly using.
You may not be aware that, up to this day, the real significance
and purpose of //paticca-samuppada// are practically unknown to
Western scholars. By this, however, I do not mean to say that nobody
in the West has ever written or spoken on this doctrine. No, quite the
contrary is the case. For there is no other Buddhist doctrine about
which Western scholars, and would-be scholars, have written and
discussed so much -- but understood so little -- as just this doctrine
of //paticca-samuppada//. If you wish to get a fair idea of those
mostly absurd and immature speculations and fanciful interpretations,
often based on mere imagination, you may read the Appendix to my
//Guide through the Abhidhamma Pitaka//.  It seems that scarcely
one of those Western authors and lecturers has ever put to himself the
question, for what earthly reason the Buddha ever should have thought
it necessary to teach such a doctrine. It was surely not for the sake
of mental gymnastics and dialectics. No, quite to the contrary! For
//paticca-samuppada// shows the causes and conditions of all the
suffering in the world; and how, through the removal of these
conditions, suffering may rise no more in the future. P.S. in fact
shows that our present existence, with all its woe and suffering, is
conditioned, or more exactly said caused, by the life-affirming
volitions or kamma in a former life, and that again our future life
depends on the present life-affirming volitions or kamma; and that
without these life-affirming volitions, no more future rebirth will
take place; and that thereby deliverance will have been found from the
round of rebirths, from the restless cycle of Samsara. And this is the
final goal and purpose of the Buddha's message, namely, deliverance
from rebirth and suffering.
I think that after what you have heard just now, it will not be
necessary to tell you that P.S. is not intended, as various scholars
in the West have imagined, as an explanation of the primary beginning
of all things; and that its first link, //avijja// or ignorance, is
not to be considered the causeless first principle out of which, in
the course of time, all physical and conscious life has evolved. P.S.
simply teaches the conditionality, or dependent nature, of all the
manifold mental and physical phenomena of existence; of everything
that happens, be it in the realm of the physical or the mental. P.S.
shows that the sum of mental and physical phenomena known by the
conventional name "person" or "individual" is not at all the mere play
of blind chance; but that each phenomenon in this process of existence
is entirely dependent upon other phenomena as conditions; and that
therefore with the removal of those phenomena that form the conditions
for rebirth and suffering, rebirth and therewith all suffering will
necessarily cease and come to an end. And this, as already stated, is
the vital point and goal of the Buddha's teaching: deliverance from
the cycle of rebirth with all its woe and suffering. Thus P.S. serves
in the elucidation of the second and third noble truths about the
origin and extinction of suffering, by explaining these two truths
from their very foundations upwards, and giving them a fixed
philosophical form. 
In the discourses of the Buddha, P.S. is usually expounded by way
of twelve links arranged in eleven propositions. They are as follows:
1. //Avijjapaccaya sankhara//: "Through ignorance the
rebirth-producing volitions, or kamma-formations, are
2. //Sankhara-paccaya vinnanam//:"Through the kamma-formations (in
the past life, the present) consciousness is conditioned."
3. //Vinnana-paccaya nama-rupam//:"Through consciousness the mental
and physical phenomena (which make up our so-called individual
existence) are conditioned."
4. //Nama-rupa-paccaya salayatanam//:"Through the mental and
physical phenomena the six bases (of mental life, i.e. the five
physical sense-organs and consciousness as the sixth) are
5. //Salayatana-paccaya phasso//:"Through the six bases the
(sensory and mental) impression is conditioned."
6. //Phassa-paccaya vedana//: "Through (the sensory or mental)
impression feeling is conditioned."
7. //Vedana-paccaya tanha//: "Through feeling craving is
8. //Tanha-paccaya upadanam//:"Through craving clinging is
9. //Upadana-paccaya bhavo//:"Through clinging the process of
becoming (consisting of the //active// and the passive//
life-process, that is to say, the rebirth-producing kammic
process, and as its result, the rebirth-process) is conditioned."
10. //Bhava-paccaya jati//:"Through the (rebirth-producing
//kammic//) process of becoming rebirth is conditioned."
11. //Jati-paccaya jaramaranam//, etc.: "Through rebirth, decay and
death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair are
conditioned. Thus arises this whole mass of suffering (in the
This is in brief the whole P.S. or dependent origination. Now let
us carefully examine the eleven propositions one by one.
* * *
Our first proposition was: //Avijja-paccaya sankhara//: "Through
ignorance the kamma-formations are conditioned."
//Avijja//,  also called //moha//, is delusion, infatuation:
regarding fleeting things as permanent, miserable things as enjoyment,
and egoless things as a self or ego. //Avijja// is ignorance, not
understanding that all our existence is merely an ever-changing
process of mental and physical phenomena; it is not understanding that
these phenomena, in the ultimate sense, do not form any real permanent
entity, or person, or ego; and that there does not exist any permanent
entity in, or behind, these fleeting physical and mental phenomena;
that therefore what we call "I," or "you," or "he," or "person," or
"Buddha," etc., does not, in the ultimate sense (//paramattha//),
possess any reality apart from these ever-changing physical and mental
phenomena of existence. //Avijja//, or //moha//, is the primary
root-condition underlying all moral defilement and depravity. In
//avijja// are rooted all the greed, hatred, conceit, envy and misery
in the world. And the overcoming and extinction of //avijja//, and
therewith of all evil and misery, is the final aim of the Buddha's
teaching, the ideal for any true Buddhist. And it is for these reasons
that //avijja// is mentioned first in the formula of P.S.
By //sankhara//, lit. "formations," are here meant the
rebirth-producing, kammically unwholesome or wholesome volitions
(//cetana//), or volitional activities. Let us therefore remember
//sankhara// as kamma-formations, or simply as kamma. 
Now, all such evil volitions manifested by body, speech or mind, as
above alluded to, are called //akusala// or unwholesome
kamma-formations, as they bring unhappy results, here and in the
after-life. //Kusala// or wholesome kamma-formations, however, are
such volitions, or //cetana//, as will bring happy and pleasant
results, here and in the after-life. But even these wholesome
kamma-formations are still conditioned and influenced by //avijja//,
as otherwise they would not produce future rebirth. And there is only
one individual who no longer performs any wholesome or unwholesome
kamma-formation, any life-affirming kamma. It is the Arahat, the holy
and fully enlightened disciple of the Buddha. For through deep insight
into the true nature of this empty and evanescent process of
existence, he has become utterly detached from life; and he is forever
freed from ignorance together with all its evil consequences, freed
from any further rebirth.
//Avijja// is to all unwholesome kamma-formations, or volitional
activities, an indispensable condition by way of its presence and
simultaneous arising. For example, whenever an evil manifestation of
will, an evil kamma-formation, arises, at that very same moment its
arising is conditioned through the simultaneous arising and presence
of //avijja//. Without the co-arising of //avijja//, there is no evil
kamma-formation. When, for example, an infatuated man, filled with
greed or anger, commits various evil deeds by body, speech or mind, at
that time these evil kamma-formations are all entirely conditioned
through the //co-arising// and //presence// of //avijja//, or
ignorance. Thus if there is no //avijja//, there are no evil
kamma-formations. Therefore it is said that //avijja// is to its
associated kamma-formations a condition by way of //co-nascence//, or
simultaneous arising (//sahajata//). Further, as there is no evil
kamma-formation without the presence of //avijja//, and no //avijja//
without the presence of evil kamma-formations, therefore both are at
any time, and under all circumstances, also //mutual conditions// to
each other (//annam-anna-paccaya//); and thus //avijja// and the evil
kamma-formations are inseparable. In so far as //avijja// is an
ever-present root of all evil kamma-formations, we say that //avijja//
is to the unwholesome kamma-formations an indispensable condition by
way of //root// (//hetu//).
But there is still another and entirely different way in which
//avijja// may be a condition to unwholesome kamma-formations, that
is, as //inducement//. For example, if a man, being filled with greed
or anger, is induced by his infatuation and delusive thoughts to
commit various crimes, such as murder, theft, adultery, etc., in that
case //avijja// is the direct inducement and driving power for the
subsequent arising of all those bad manifestations of will, i.e. of
all those unwholesome kamma-formations. In other words, those bad
unwholesome kamma-formations are conditioned by a preceding state of
//avijja// as a //direct inducement (pakat' upanissaya-paccaya//).
There is still another way in which //avijja// may become an
inducement to unwholesome kamma-formations, namely, as object of
thinking. Suppose somebody remembers some evil and foolish pleasure
once enjoyed by him; and while he is pondering over that former
foolish state, he finds delight in it and becomes again filled with
infatuation and greed for it; or he becomes sad and despondent that he
cannot enjoy it any more. In consequence of wrongly brooding over such
a foolish object, over such a state of ignorance, many evil,
unwholesome states arise in his mind. In such a way, //avijja// may be
to unwholesome kamma-formations a condition by way of //inducement as
Here I have to point out that for a detailed understanding of P.S.,
we should have to know at least something about those twenty- four
different modes in which mental or physical phenomena may be the
condition to other mental and physical phenomena. The entire
//Patthana//, the last book of the Abhidhamma Pitaka, which fills six
bulky volumes, treats exclusively of these twenty-four conditions, or
//paccaya//, which it first describes and then applies to all the
innumerable mental and physical phenomena of existence.  Here we
shall consider only those most prominent ones, which we have already
alluded to and applied to //avijja//, namely: //hetu-paccaya//, root
condition; //sahajata-paccaya//, condition by way of co-nascence, i.e.
co-arising; //annam-anna-paccaya//, condition by way of mutuality;
//upanissaya-paccaya//, condition by way of either direct inducement
(//pakat' upanissaya//), or inducement through object (//aramman'
upanissaya//). Here, it may be mentioned that all these translations
of technical Pali terms are only very inadequate makeshifts, and
should be taken as such. I am therefore giving those technical terms
repeatedly in both languages, in English as well as in Pali.
The //Patthana// Commentary compares the //hetu-paccaya//, or
//root condition//, to the root of a tree. The tree rests on its
roots; and it has life only as long as these roots are not destroyed.
In the same way, all kammically wholesome and unwholesome
kamma-formations are at any time conditioned through the presence and
co-nascence, or simultaneity, of their respective wholesome or
unwholesome roots. The three unwholesome roots are //lobha//,
//dosa//, //moha//, i.e. greed, hate and delusion. The three wholesome
roots are //alobha//, //adosa//, //amoha//, i.e. non-greed, or
unselfishness; non-hate, or kindness; non-delusion, or knowledge.
Let us now consider //sahajata-paccaya//, the condition by way of
co-nascence. //Sahajata//, literally means: "arisen together" or
"arising together," hence our term "co-nascence," or simultaneous
arising. This condition of co-nascence applies, above all, to
consciousness and its concomitant mental phenomena, such as feeling,
perception, volition, sense-impression, attention, etc. For
consciousness and all these mental phenomena are mutually conditioned
through their simultaneous arising. One cannot arise or exist without
the other. All are inseparably associated. Thus if we say that feeling
is to consciousness a condition by way of co-nascence, we mean to say
that without the simultaneous arising of feeling, consciousness will
never be able to arise. In exactly the same way it is with all the
other mental phenomena.
Once a well-known Buddhist author, in a discussion with me, to my
greatest surprise positively declared that there may be painful
feeling without consciousness, for example during a painful operation
whilst being under chloroform. This indeed is a most extraordinary
blunder. How will it ever be possible to feel pain without being
conscious of it? Painful feeling is a mental phenomenon and as such
inseparable from consciousness and the other mental phenomena. If we
do not perceive pain, and are not conscious of pain, how can we feel
pain? Thus consciousness, feeling, perception and all the other mental
phenomena are mutually conditioned by way of co-nascence.
Now let us consider //upanissaya-paccaya//, the condition by way of
//inducement//. This condition is of various kinds, and it forms
combinations with certain other conditions.  It applies to a very
wide field, in fact to anything whatsoever. We shall treat this
condition here only in a very general way, without making any
distinctions. Anything past or future, physical or mental, real or
imaginary, may become an inducement to the arising of mental
phenomena, or of actions, or occurrences.
So, for example, the Buddha and his Dhamma had been a condition for
my coming to the East. So were the Pali scholars whose translations I
had read. So was the first Buddhist lecture I had heard in Germany in
1899. Or Nibbana, as object of our thinking, may become an inducement
to our joining the Order, or living a pure life, etc. Also all those
past thinkers, scientists and artists were by their works and
activities an inducement to the developed culture of later
generations. Money, as object of our desire, may become an inducement
to our making the necessary exertions to get it; or it also may become
an inducement to theft and robbery. Faith, knowledge, mental
concentration, etc., may be a direct inducement to various noble and
unselfish actions. Good or bad friends may be a direct inducement to
good or bad conduct. Suitable or unsuitable climate, food, dwelling,
etc., may be an inducement to physical health or ill-health; physical
health or ill-health to mental health or ill-health. Thus all these
things are conditioned through other things by way of inducement.
Now we shall consider //arammana-paccaya//, the condition by way of
object. The object may be either one of the five sense-objects, as
visible object, sound, smell, taste, or bodily impression; or it may
be any object of the mind. Anything whatever may become the object of
mind, be it physical or mental, past, present or future, real or
imaginary. Thus the visible object, consisting in differences of
colour, light and dark, is called the object-condition to
eye-consciousness, or the visual sense. Similar it is with the four
other senses. Without a physical sense-object no sense-consciousness
ever will arise. Further, past evil deeds, through being the object of
our thinking, may, as we already have seen, become an inducement, or
//upanissaya//, to repeat the same evil deeds; or they may arouse our
disgust or repentance. Thus past evil deeds, by wrong thinking about
them, may become an inducement to an immoral life by way of object;
and by right thinking about them, the same past evil deeds may become
an inducement to a moral life. In a similar way, good deeds, by right
thinking about them, may become an inducement to further noble deeds;
but by wrong thinking about one's own good deeds, they may become an
inducement to self-conceit and vanity, and many other unwholesome
Hence, also such an immoral thing as //avijja// may become a
condition to noble and wholesome kamma-formations. To show this, let
us return to our first proposition: "Through //avijja// are
conditioned the kamma-formations." How may such an evil state as
//avijja// become a condition to noble and wholesome kamma-formations?
It may become so in two ways, either by way of direct inducement, or
inducement as mental object. I shall illustrate this statement by an
example. At the Buddha's time many a heretic, induced by mere vanity
and delusion, went to the Buddha and tried by dialectics to defeat the
Master. However, after a short controversy he was converted: he became
a virtuous follower and life-long supporter of the Blessed One, or
even attained Arahatship. Here, all these virtuous actions, even the
attainment of Arahatship of the new convert, were conditioned by his
former //avijja// as an inducement; had this delusive idea of
defeating the Buddha not arisen in his mind, he perhaps might have
never in his life even visited the Blessed One. Thus //avijja// was to
his noble and wholesome kamma-formations a condition by way of direct
inducement (//pakat'-upanissaya//). Further, suppose we take
//avijja// as object of our contemplation, considering it as something
evil and rejectable, as the root-cause of all misery in the world,
then we thereby may produce many noble and wholesome kamma-formations.
In this case, //avijja// is to these wholesome kamma-formations a
condition by way of inducement as object (//aramman' upanissaya//).
Before proceeding to the second proposition, I wish to call your
attention to the fact that //avijja//, or ignorance, though the main
condition for kamma-formations, is in no way the only condition for
them; and so are the kamma-formations to consciousness, etc. Each of
the conditionally arising phenomena of P.S. is dependent on various
conditions besides those given in the formula, and all may be
interrelated and interdependent in manifold ways.
You may have noticed that nearly always I speak only of
//conditions//, and rarely have I used the word "cause." This word
"cause" is often used in a very vague or wrong sense. "Cause" refers
really to that thing which -- if all the necessary conditions are
present -- by inner necessity is in time followed by another thing as
its "result," so that already in the cause the future result is lying
latent, as it were, just as in the mango seed the future mango tree
And just as from the mango seed only a mango tree may result, never
an apple tree nor any other tree, just so may a cause result only in
just one single thing of a similar character, never in various things
nor in things of a different character. If, for example, a man grows
furious on being scolded, people generally would say that the scolding
man was the cause of the fury. But this is a very vague statement. The
cause of the man's fury really lies in himself, in his own character,
not in the person scolding him. The scolder's words were merely an
inducement to the manifestation of his latent fury. The word "cause"
signifies only one of the many kinds of conditions, and it should, in
Buddhist philosophy, be reserved for kamma, i.e. the rebirth-producing
volitional activities bound up with wholesome or unwholesome roots
(//hetu//), constituting the cause of rebirth, and resulting in
rebirth as their effect, or //vipaka//.
* * *
Herewith we come to the second proposition: //Sankhara-paccaya
vinnanam//: "Through the kamma-formations consciousness is
conditioned." In other words: through kamma, or the volitional
activities, in the past birth, the conscious life in this present
birth is conditioned.
Here the following has to be stated: The five links --
consciousness, mental and physical phenomena, the six bases of mental
life, impression, and feeling (//vinnana//, //nama-rupa//,
//salayatana//, //phassa//, //vedana//) -- refer here only to
kamma-resultant (//vipaka//), neutral phenomena, thus representing the
"passive" side of life. However, the five links -- ignorance,
kamma-formations, craving, clinging, and kammical life-process
(//avijja//, //sankhara//, //tanha//, //upadana//, //kamma-bhava//) --
constitute kamma, thus representing the "active" side of life. 
Hence the five passive links, as consciousness, etc., are to be
considered the five results (//vipaka//), and the five active links,
as //avijja//, etc., the five causes. Thus the life-affirming will, or
volition (//cetana//), manifested in these five kammic causes, is the
seed from which all life has sprung, and from which it will spring
again in the future. Our second proposition therefore shows that our
present conscious life is the result of our kamma-formations produced
in the past life, and that without these prenatal kamma-formations as
the necessary cause, no conscious life would ever have sprung up in
our mother's womb.
Hence, the kamma-formations are to the rebirth-consciousness of the
embryonic being, at its conception in the mother's womb, a condition
by way of //kamma//, or cause. And so are the kamma-formations to all
the morally neutral elements of consciousness. Hence, also the five
kinds of sense-consciousness with desirable and agreeable objects are
the result, or //vipaka//, of the prenatal wholesome kamma-formations;
and those with undesirable and disagreeable objects are the result of
unwholesome kamma-formations. 
* * *
Now we come to the third proposition, namely: //Vinnana-paccaya
nama-rupam//: "Through consciousness the mental and physical phenomena
are conditioned." The meaning of this proposition can be inferred from
the Mahanidana Sutta (DN 15), where it is said: "If //consciousness//
(//vinnana//) were not to appear in the mother's womb, would the
//mental and physical phenomena// (//nama-rupa//) arise?" 
The //mental// phenomena (//nama//) refer here to those seven
universal mental phenomena inseparably bound up with all
kamma-resultant consciousness, even with the five kinds of
sense-consciousness. These seven inseparable universal mental
phenomena are: feeling, perception, impression, volition, vitality,
attention, concentration; in kamma-resultant mind-consciousness they
are increased by three or four further phenomena. The //physical//
phenomena (//rupa//) refer to this body and its various organs,
faculties and functions. 
Now, how are the mental phenomena, or //nama//, conditioned through
consciousness? And how the physical phenomena, or //rupa//?
Any state of //consciousness//, as already explained, is to its
concomitant //mental// phenomena, such as feeling, etc., a condition
by way of //co-nascence//, or simultaneous arising
(//sahajata-paccaya//). Consciousness cannot arise and exist without
feeling, nor feeling without consciousness; and also all the other
mental phenomena which belong to the same state of consciousness are
inseparably bound up with it into a single unit, and have no
independent existence. These mental phenomena are, as it were, only
the different aspects of those units of consciousness which, like
lightning, every moment flash up and immediately thereafter disappear
But how may //consciousness// (//vinnana)// be a condition for the
various //physical// (//rupa//) phenomena?
In planes of existence where both matter and mind exist, e.g. in
the human realm, at the moment of conception consciousness is an
absolutely necessary condition for the arising of organic physical
phenomena; it is a condition by way of //co-nascence//. If there is no
consciousness, no conception takes place, and no organic material
phenomena appear. During life-continuity, however, consciousness
(//vinnana//) is to the already arisen physical phenomena (//rupa//) a
condition by way of //post-nascence//, or later-arising
(//pacchajata-paccaya//), and also by way of //nutriment//
(//ahara//), because consciousness forms a prop and support for the
upkeep of the body. Just as the feeling of hunger is a condition for
the feeding and upkeep of this already arisen body, just so is
consciousness to this already arisen body a condition and support by
its post-nascence, or later arising. If consciousness would rise no
more, the physical organs would gradually cease their functioning,
lose their faculties, and the body would die. In this way we have to
understand the proposition: //vinnana-paccaya nama-rupam//: "Through
consciousness the mental and physical phenomena are conditioned."
* * *
Now, we come to the fourth proposition: //Nama-rupa-paccaya
salayatanam//: "Through the mental and physical phenomena the six
bases of mental life are conditioned." The first five of these bases
are the five physical sense-organs, eye, ear, nose, tongue, body; the
sixth base, the mind base (//manayatana//), is a collective term for
the many different classes of consciousness, i.e. for the five kinds
of sense-consciousness and the many kinds of mind-consciousness. Hence
five bases are physical phenomena, namely, eye, ear, etc., and the
sixth base is identical with consciousness.
In which way, now, are the mental and physical phenomena a
condition for the five physical bases, or sense-organs, and how for
the sixth base, or consciousness? Here we really get four chief
The first question is: How are the mental phenomena (//nama//) a
condition for the five physical bases (//ayatana//), or sense-organs?
The seven inseparable mental phenomena associated with
sense-consciousness, such as feeling, perception, etc., are to the
five physical bases, or sense-organs, a condition by way of
post-nascence, and in other ways. The mental activity during life,
namely, is a necessary support to the five physical bases, or sense
organs, already produced at birth, as explained before.
The second question is: How are mental phenomena a condition to the
mind-base (//manayatana//) or consciousness? The mental phenomena, as
feeling, perception, volition, etc., are at any time to the mind-base,
or consciousness, a condition by way of simultaneous arising, or
You will remember that I repeatedly said that consciousness cannot
arise without the co-arising of feeling and the other phenomena,
because consciousness and all its mental concomitants are inseparably
bound up together, and mutually dependent upon one another. Thus I
have shown how the mental phenomena are a condition to the five
physical bases or sense-organs, as well as to the mind-base or
Now we come to the third question: How are the physical (//rupa//)
phenomena a condition for the five physical bases (//ayatana//), or
sense-organs? The four primary physical elements, i.e. the solid,
fluid, heat, and motion, are to any of the five physical bases, or
sense-organs, at the very moment of their first coming into existence,
a condition by way of simultaneous arising (//sahajata-paccaya//); but
during life these four physical elements are to the five bases, or
sense-organs, a condition by way of foundation (//nissaya//) on which
the sense-organs are entirely dependent. Further, the physical
phenomenon "vitality" (//rupa-jivit' indriya//) is to the five bases,
or sense-organs, a condition by way of presence (//atthi-paccaya//),
etc.; in other words, the five bases, or sense-organs, depend on the
presence of physical life, without which the five sense organs could
The physical phenomenon "nutrition" (//ahara//) is to the five
physical bases a condition by way of presence, because the five
sense-organs can only exist as long as they get their necessary
nutriment. Thus I have shown how the physical phenomena, or //rupa//,
are a condition for the five physical bases, or //ayatana//.
There remains only the fourth question: How are the physical
phenomena (//rupa//) a condition for the mind-base (//manayatana//),
or consciousness? The five physical phenomena, as eye, ear, nose,
etc., are to the five kinds of sense-consciousness, i.e. to seeing,
hearing, etc., a condition by way of foundation (//nissaya//) and by
way of pre-nascence, presence, etc. These five kinds of
sense-consciousness, during life, cannot arise without the pre-arising
(//purejata) of the five physical sense-organs as their foundation
(//nissaya//); therefore without the pre-arising and presence of the
eye, no seeing; without the pre-arising and presence of the ear, no
hearing, etc.; so that, if these five sense-organs are destroyed, no
corresponding sense-consciousness can arise any longer.
In a similar way is the physical organ of mind the condition for
the various stages of mind-consciousness.  In the canonical books
no special physical organ is mentioned by name as the physical
foundation of the mind-consciousness, neither the brain nor the heart,
though the heart is taught as such by all the commentaries, as well as
by the general Buddhist tradition. I think it is my Burmese friend
Shwe Zan Aung who first made this fact known in his //Compendium of
Philosophy//.  For the Buddhist it matters little whether it is
the heart or the brain or any other organ that constitutes the
physical base of mind.
Thus we have seen how the physical (//rupa//) phenomena are a
condition to the mind-base (//manayatana//), or consciousness. And
herewith we have settled the meaning of the proposition: "Through the
mental and physical phenomena the six bases of mental life are
* * *
Now we come to the fifth propostion: //Salayatana-paccaya phasso//:
"Through the six bases sense-impression is conditioned."  In other
words: Conditioned through the physical eye is visual impression,
conditioned through the ear sound impression, conditioned through the
nose smell impression, conditioned through the tongue taste
impression, conditioned through the body bodily impression,
conditioned through the mind-base or consciousness (//manayatana//)
The five physical bases (//ayatana//) are to their corresponding
sense-impressions (//phassa//) a condition by way of foundation
(//nissaya//) and by way of pre-nascence (//purejata//) and in other
ways besides. The five sense-organs are not only the foundation for
consciousness, as we have seen, but also for all its mental
concomitants, hence also for sense-impression. And as these five
bases, or sense-organs, have already come into existence at birth,
they are called a pre-nascent condition (//purejata-paccaya//) to the
later arising five sense-impressions.
The mind-base or consciousness is at any time to its concomitant
sensory or mental impression a condition by way of simultaneous
arising or co-nascence, etc. In other words, eye-consciousness arises
simultaneously with visual impression, ear-consciousness with sound
impression, etc., and mind-consciousness with mental impression.
Also the external physical bases -- the five sense-objects, as the
visual object, sound, smell, etc. -- these too are an indispensable
condition to the arising of sense-impression. So visual impression
could never arise without the pre-arising of the visible object, sound
impression never without the pre-arising of the sound-object, etc.
Hence the arising of the five sense-impressions (//phassa//) depends
on the pre-arising of the visual object, the sound-object, etc.
Therefore the arising of the five sense-impressions depends just as
much on the pre-arising and presence of the five physical
sense-objects as on the pre-arising of the five sense-organs, as
already stated. Thus sense-impression is also conditioned through the
five external physical bases, i.e. through the five sense-objects.
Further, as all the physical sense-objects may also become objects
of mind-consciousness, therefore they are also a condition for
mind-consciousness as well as for its concomitant phenomena, such as
mental impression (//phassa//), etc. Thus without physical sense-organ
and physical sense-object there is no sense-impression; and without
mind and mind-object no mental impression. Therefore it is said:
"Through the six sense bases sense-impression is conditioned."
* * *
Thereafter follows the sixth proposition: //Phassa-paccaya vedana//:
"Through impression feeling is conditioned." There are six kinds of
feeling: feeling associated with visual impression, feeling associated
with sound impression, feeling associated with smell impression,
feeling associated with taste impression, feeling associated with
bodily impression, and feeling associated with mental impression.
//Bodily// feeling may be either agreeable or disagreeable, according
to whether it is the result of wholesome or unwholesome kamma.
//Mental// feeling may be either agreeable, i.e. joy, or disagreeable,
i.e. sadness; or it may be indifferent. The feelings associated with
visual, sound, smell and taste impression, are, as such, always
indifferent, but they may have either desirable or undesirable
objects, according to the kamma in a previous life. Whatever the
feeling may be -- pleasant or painful, happy or unhappy or
indifferent, whether feeling of body or of mind -- any feeling is
conditioned either through one of the five sense-impressions or
through mental impression. And these impressions (//phassa//) are a
condition to their associated feeling (//vedana//) by way of
co-nascence or simultaneous arising, and in many other ways.
Here you will again remember that all the mental phenomena in one
and the same state of consciousness, hence also impression
(//phassa//) and feeling (//vedana//), are necessarily dependent one
upon another by their simultaneous arising, their presence, their
association, etc. But to any feeling associated with the different
stages of mind-consciousness following upon a sense-impression, the
preceding visual or other sense-impression is an inducement by way of
proximity (//anantar' upanissaya-paccaya//). In other words, the
preceding sense-impression is a decisive support, or inducement, to
any feeling bound up with the succeeding mind-consciousness.
Thus we have seen how through sensory and mental impression, or
//phassa//, feeling, or //vedana//, is conditioned.
* * *
Now comes the seventh proposition: //Vedana-paccaya tanha//: "Through
feeling craving is conditioned."
Corresponding to the six senses, there are six kinds of //craving//
(//tanha//), namely: craving for visible objects, craving for sounds,
craving for odours, craving for tastes, craving for bodily
impressions, craving for mind-objects. If the craving for any of these
objects is connected with the desire for sensual enjoyment, it is
called "sensuous craving" (//kama-tanha//). If connected with the
belief in eternal personal existence (//sassata-ditthi//), it is
called "craving for existence" (//bhava-tanha//). If connected with
the belief in self-annihilation (//uccheda-ditthi//) at death, it is
called "craving for self-annihilation" (//vibhava-tanha//).
Any (kamma-resultant and morally) neutral feeling (//vedana//),
whether agreeable, disagreeable or indifferent, whether happy or
unhappy feeling, may be to the subsequent craving (//tanha//) a
condition either by way of simple inducement, or of inducement as
object. For example, conditioned through pleasurable feeling due to
the beautiful appearance of persons or things, there may arise craving
for such visible objects. Or conditioned through pleasurable feeling
due to pleasant food, craving for tastes may arise. Or thinking of
those feelings of pleasure and enjoyment procurable by money, people
may become filled with craving for money and pleasure. Or pondering
over past pleasures and feelings of happiness, people may again become
filled with craving and longing for such pleasures. Or thinking of
heavenly bliss and joy, people may become filled with craving for
rebirth in such heavenly worlds. In all these cases pleasant feeling
(//vedana//) is to craving (//tanha//) either a condition by way of
simple inducement, or inducement as object of thinking.
But not only agreeable and happy feeling, but even disagreeable and
unhappy feeling may become a condition for craving. For example, to a
man being tormented with bodily pain or oppressed in mind, the craving
may arise to be released from such misery. Thus, through feeling
unhappy and dissatisfied with his miserable lot, a poor man, or a
beggar, or an outcast, or a sick man, or a prisoner, may become filled
with longing and craving for release from such a condition. In all
these cases unpleasant and miserable feeling (//vedana//) of body and
mind forms for craving (//tanha//) a condition by way of inducement,
without which such craving might never have arisen. Even expected
//future// feeling of happiness may, by thinking about it, become a
mighty incentive, or inducement, to craving. Thus, whatever craving
arises depends in some way or other on feeling, be it past, present,
or even future feeling. Therefore it is said: //Vedana-paccaya
tanha//: "Through feeling craving is conditioned."
* * *
Now we have reached the eighth proposition: //Tanha-paccaya
upadanam//: "Through craving clinging is conditioned." //Upadana//, or
clinging, is said to be a name for developed or intensified craving.
In the texts we find four kinds of clinging: sensuous clinging,
clinging to wrong views, clinging to faith in the moral efficacy of
mere outward rules and rituals, and clinging to the belief in either
an eternal or a temporary ego-entity.  The first one, sensuous
clinging, refers to objects of sensuous enjoyment, while the three
other kinds of clinging are connected with wrong views.
Whenever clinging to views or rituals arises, at that very moment
also craving must arise; without the simultaneous arising of craving,
there would be no such attachments to these views and rituals. Hence
craving, or //tanha//, is for these kinds of clinging, or //upadana//,
a condition by way of co-nascence (//sahajata-paccaya//). But besides
this, craving may be to such kind of clinging also a condition by way
of inducement (//upanissaya-paccaya//). Suppose a fool, who is craving
for rebirth in heaven, thinks that by following certain outward moral
rules, or by mere belief in a creator, he will attain the object of
his desire. So he firmly attaches himself to the practice of mere
outward rules and rituals, or to the belief in a creator. In this
case, craving is for such kind of clinging a condition by way of
inducement, or //upanissaya-paccaya//.
To sensuous clinging, or //kamupadana//, however, craving may only
be a condition by way of direct inducement. The craving for
sense-objects itself gradually develops and turns into strong sensuous
clinging and attachment, or //kamupadana//. For example, craving and
desire for objects of sensual enjoyment, for money, food, gambling,
drinking, etc. may gradually grow into a strong habit, into a firm
attachment and clinging.
Thus I have shown how craving is the condition for clinging. As it
is said: //Tanha-paccaya upadanam//: "Through craving clinging is
* * *
Next we come to the ninth proposition: //Upadana-paccaya
bhavo//:"Through clinging the process of becoming is conditioned." Now
this process of becoming or existence really consists of two
processes: (1) the kamma-process (//kamma-bhava//), i.e. the
kammically //active// side of life; and (2) the kamma-resultant
rebirth-process (//upapatti-bhava//), i.e. the kammically //passive//
and morally neutral side of life. The kammically active side of this
life-process is, as we have seen, represented by five links, namely:
ignorance, kamma-formations, craving, clinging, kamma-process
(//avijja//, //sankhara//, //tanha//, //upadana//, //kamma-bhava//).
The passive side of life is represented by five links, namely:
consciousness, mental and physical phenomena, the six bases,
impression, feeling (//vinnana//, //nama-rupa//, //salayatana//,
//phassa//, //vedana//). Thus the five //passive// links, as
consciousness, etc., refer here only to kamma-resultant phenomena, and
not to such as are associated with active kamma. The five //active//
links, as ignorance, etc., are the causes of the five //passive//
links of the future, as kamma-resultant consciousness, etc.; and thus
these five passive links are the results of the five active links. In
that way, the P.S. may be represented by twenty links: five causes in
the past life, and five results in the present one; five causes in the
present life, and five results in the future one. 
As it is said in the //Visuddhimagga// (Chap. XVII):
Five causes were there in the past,
Five fruits are found in present life;
Five causes which are now produced,
Five fruits are reaped in future life.
Let me here recall to you my definition of the term "cause" as
"that which by inner necessity is followed in time by its result."
There are twenty-four modes of conditioning, but only one of them
should be called //cause//, namely, kamma.
Though this kammic cause is in time followed by its result, it
nevertheless may depend on (but not be produced by) a preceding
kamma-result as its inducement condition. Thus for example, feeling,
within the P.S., is a kamma-result; but still, at the same time, it is
an inducement-condition to the subsequent arising of craving, which
latter is a kamma cause.
Now, let us return to our proposition: //upadana-paccaya
bhavo//:"Through clinging the process of becoming is conditioned,"
that is, (1) the kamma-process (//kamma-bhava//), and thereafter, in
the next life, (2) the kamma-resultant rebirth-process
(//upapatti-bhava//). The kamma-process (//kamma-bhava//) in this
ninth proposition is, correctly speaking, a collective name for
rebirth-producing volition (//cetana//) together with all the mental
phenomena associated therewith; while the second link,
"kamma-formations" (//sankhara//), designates as such merely
rebirth-producing volition. But in reality both links amount to one
and the same thing, namely kamma.
Clinging, or //upadana//, may be an inducement to all kinds of evil
and unwholesome kamma. Sensuous clinging, or attachment to
sense-objects and sensual enjoyment, may be a direct inducement to
murder, robbery, theft, adultery, to envy, hatred, revenge; to many
evil actions of body, speech and mind. Clinging to the blind belief in
mere outward rules and rituals may lead to self-complacency, mental
torpor and stagnation, to contempt of others, presumption,
intolerance, fanaticism and cruelty. In all these cases, clinging
(//upadana//) is to the kamma-process (//kamma-bhava//) a condition by
way of inducement, and is a direct inducement to evil volitional
activities of body, speech or mind. Moreover, clinging is to any evil
kamma-process also a condition by way of simultaneous arising.
Thus I have shown how clinging (//upadana//) is the condition of
the kamma-process (//kamma-bhava//). Now I shall show how the
kamma-process (//kamma-bhava//) is the condition for the
kamma-resultant rebirth-process (//upapatti-bhava//). Here we come to
the tenth proposition.
* * *
//Bhava-paccaya jati//:"Through the process of becoming (here
kamma-process) rebirth is conditioned." That means: the kamma-process
dominated by the life-affirming volitions (//cetana//) is the cause of
rebirth. Rebirth includes here the entire embryonic process which in
the human world begins with conception in the mother's womb and ends
with parturition. Thus kamma volition is the seed from which all life
germinates, just as from the mango seed germinates the little mango
plant, which in the course of time turns into a mighty mango tree. But
how does one know that the kamma-process, or kamma volition, is really
the cause of rebirth? The //Visuddhimagga// (XVII) gives the following
Though the outward conditions at the birth of beings may be
absolutely the same, there still can be seen a difference in beings
with regard to their character, as wretched or noble, etc. Even though
the outward conditions, such as sperm, or blood of father and mother,
may be the same, there still can be seen that difference between
beings, even if they be twins. This difference cannot be without
reason, as it can be noticed at any time, and in any being. It can
have no other cause than the pre-natal kamma-process. As also for the
life of those beings which have been reborn, no other reason can be
found, therefore that difference must be due to the pre-natal
kamma-process. Kamma, or volition, indeed, is the cause for the
difference among beings with regard to their character, as high, low,
etc. Therefore the Buddha has said: "kamma divides beings into high
and low." In this way we should understand that the kammic process is
the cause of rebirth.
Thus, according to Buddhism, the present rebirth is the result of
the craving, clinging and kamma volitions in the past birth. And the
craving, clinging and kamma volitions in this present birth are the
cause of future rebirth. But just as in this ever-changing mental and
physical process of existence nothing can be found that passes even
from one moment to the next, just so no abiding element can be found,
no entity, no ego, that would pass from one birth to the next. In this
ever repeated process of rebirth, in the absolute sense, no ego-entity
is to be found besides these conditionally arising and passing
phenomena. Thus, correctly speaking, it is not myself and not my
person that is reborn; nor is it another person that is reborn. All
such terms as "person" or "individual" or "man" or "I" or "you" or
"mine," etc., do not refer to any real entity; they are merely terms
used for convenience sake, in Pali //vohara-vacana//, "conventional
terms"; and there is really nothing to be found beside these
conditionally arising and passing mental and physical phenomena.
Therefore the Buddha has said:
To believe that the doer of the deed will be the same, as the one
who experiences its result (in the next life): this is the one
extreme. To believe that the doer of the deed, and the one who
experiences its result, are two different persons: this is the
other extreme. Both these extremes the Perfect One has avoided
and taught the truth that lies in the middle of both, that is:
Through ignorance the kamma-formations are conditioned; through
the kamma-formations, consciousness (in the subsequent birth);
through consciousness, the mental and physical phenomena; through
the mental and physical phenomena, the six bases; through the six
bases, impression; through impression, feeling; through feeling,
craving; through craving, clinging; through clinging, the
life-process; through the (kammic) life-process, rebirth; through
rebirth, decay and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and
despair. Thus arises this whole mass of suffering.
This phenomenality and egolessness of existence has been
beautifully expressed in two verses of the //Visuddhimagga//:
No doer of the deeds is found,
No one who ever reaps their fruits.
Empty phenomena roll on.
This only is the correct view.
No god nor Brahma can be called
The maker of this wheel of life:
Empty phenomena roll on,
Dependent on conditions all.
In hearing that Buddhism teaches that everything is determined by
conditions, someone might come to the conclusion that Buddhism teaches
some sort of fatalism, or that man has no free will, or that will is
not free. Now, with regard to the two questions: (1) "Has man a free
will?" and (2) "Is will free?" the Buddhist will say that both these
questions are to be rejected for being wrongly put, and therefore
The first question "Has man a free will?" is to be rejected for the
reason that, beside these ever-changing mental and physical phenomena,
in the absolute sense no such thing or entity can be found that we
could call "man," so that "man" as such is merely a name without any
The second question "Is will free?" is to be rejected for the
reason that "will" is only a momentary mental phenomenon, just like
feeling, consciousness, etc., and thus does not yet exist before it
arises, and that therefore of a non-existent thing -- of a thing which
is not -- one could, properly speaking, not ask whether it is free or
unfree. The only admissible question would be: "Is the arising of will
independent of conditions, or is it conditioned?" But the same
question would equally apply also to all the other mental phenomena,
as well as to all the physical phenomena, in other words, to
everything and every occurrence whatever. And the answer would be: Be
it "will," or "feeling," or any other mental or physical phenomenon,
the arising of anything whatsoever depends on conditions; and without
these conditions, nothing can ever arise or enter into existence.
According to Buddhism, everything mental and physical happens in
accordance with laws and conditions; and if it were otherwise, chaos
and blind chance would reign. But such a thing is impossible and
contradicts all laws of thinking.
* * *
Now we have reached the eleventh and last proposition: //Jati-paccaya
jara-maranam//: "Through rebirth decay and death are conditioned."
Without birth there cannot be decay and death. If we had not been
born, we would not have to die, and would not be exposed to all sorts
of misery. Thus rebirth is a necessary condition for decay and death,
and for all other forms of misery. Hence it was said: "Through rebirth
decay and death are conditioned."
Herewith the explanation of the eleven propositions of the
//paticca-samuppada// formula has been brought to a close. From my
explanations you will have seen that the twelve links of the formula
are distributed over three successive lives, and that they may be
applied to our past, present and future lives. The first two links,
//avijja// and kamma-formations, represent the kamma causes in the
past life; the next five links, consciousness, etc., represent the
kamma-results in the present life; the following three links, craving,
clinging and kamma-process, represent the kammic causes in the present
life; and the two last links, rebirth, and decay and death, represent
the kamma-results in the future life.
You ought, however, to remember that the full kammic causes are
five, namely: ignorance, kamma-formations, craving, clinging,
kamma-process existence, and that thus we really get five causes in
the past and five results in the present; five causes in the present
and five results in the future. Therefore it was said:
Five causes were there in the past,
Five fruits are found in present life.
Five causes which are now produced,
Five fruits are reaped in future life.
Now, if there had been no ignorance and no kamma-formations or
life-affirming volitions in the past life, no consciousness and new
life would have sprung up in our mother's womb, and our present birth
would not have taken place. However, if by deep penetration and deep
insight into the evanescent nature and the egolessness of all
existence, one becomes fully detached from all forms of existence, and
freed from all ignorance, craving and clinging to existence, freed
from all those selfish kamma-formations or volitions, then no further
rebirth will follow, and the goal taught by the Buddha will have been
realized, namely, deliverance from rebirth and suffering.
* * *
3 Periods | 12 Factors 20 Modes & 4 Groups |
Past | 1. Ignorance Past causes |
| 2. Kamma-formations 1, 2, 8, 9, 10 |
| 3. Consciousness |
| 4. Mentality-&-Corporeality Present effects 5:|
| 5. Six sense bases 3-7 |
| 6. Impression |
Present | 7. Feeling |
| 8. Craving Present causes 5: |
| 9. Clinging 8, 9, 10, 1, 2 |
Future | 11. Rebirth Future effects 5: |
| 12. Decay-&-death 3-7 |
1. Past causes with present effects (between 2 & 3)
2. Present effects with present causes (between 7 & 8)
3. Present causes with future effects (between 10 & 11)
1. Round of defilements: 1, 8, 9
2. Round of kamma: 2, 10 (part)
3. Round of results: 3-7, 10 (part), 11, 12
1. Ignorance: from past to present
2. Craving: from present to future
* * *
Notes to Chapter III
 Published by the BPS (1983).
 For a detailed exposition of the Four Noble Truths, see
Nyanatiloka, //The Word of the Buddha// (BPS, 1981).
 Literally "not-knowing."
 Thus the Pali word //kamma// (Sanskrit: //karma//) designates in
Buddhist philosophy only rebirth-producing or rebirth-influencing
wholesome or unwholesome action, i.e. volition (//cetana//)
manifested by body, speech, or mind. In no way, however, does
kamma ever signify the //result// of action (//kamma-vipaka//), as
the Theosophists and many Western Buddhists wish this term to be
 Of this gigantic and very important, but most complicated of all
the Abhidhamma works, not a single line had hitherto been
translated into any of the modern languages. Even of the Pali
text, only one sixth, partly in form of an abstract, has been
published by the PTS, London. Mrs. Rhys Davids in her preface to
the //Patthana// text says: "... the text remains very difficult
and obscure to the uninitiated Western mind and I am far from
pretending to solve any one of its problems." For a full synopsis
of it see my //Guide through the Abhidhamma Pitaka//, VII. (Ed.:
Two volumes of the //Patthana// have since been published by the
PTS in English translation under the title //Conditional
 The three classes of //upanissaya-paccaya// are: (1) //pakat'
upanissaya//, simple or direct inducement; (2) //aramman'
upanissaya//, inducement by way of object; (3) //anantar'
upanissaya//, inducement by way of proximity. About the latter see
//Guide through the Abhidhamma Pitaka//, 2nd ed., pp. 119, 131,
 In the //Guide// (p. 137) are given the following examples of how
"a wholesome phenomenon may be to an unwholesome phenomenon a
condition by way of object." This happens e.g., if after having
given alms, etc., one indulges and delights in this act, and
thereby arises greed, evil views, doubt, restlessness, or sadness
("either to oneself, or to others" says the Comy.). Or, if one
indulges and delights in good deeds done formerly, and thereby
arises greed, etc. Or, if after rising from the jhanas, one
indulges and delights in this attainment, and thereby arises
conceit, etc. Or if, while regretting that the jhana (which one
had attained) has vanished, sadness springs up.
 For details of the twenty-four conditions, see Nyanatiloka,
//Buddhist Dictionary// (BPS, 1988): //paccaya//.
 Cf. diagram p. 57.
 It is really the quality of the five sense-objects allotted to
each being that, in the main, decides the degree of his worldly
happiness or unhappiness.
 All such translations of //nama-rupa// as "name and form," etc.,
are totally out of place. //Nama-rupa// = //naman ca rupan ca//
(Majjh. Nik. No. 9), i.e. "the mental and the physical," apart
from its application in the //paticca-samuppada//, is a name for
the five groups of existence, namely: the four //nama-kkhandhas//
or mental groups (feeling, perception, mental formations,
consciousness), and the //rupa-kkhandha//, or corporeality group.
Here, in the //paticca-samuppada, nama// stands only for the three
mental groups: feeling, perception, mental formations, whilst
consciousness is singled out, in order to show that all mental and
physical life of beings is dependent on it.
 In the canonical texts only twenty-seven physical phenomena are
mentioned, whilst in the commentaries this number is increased by
the physical seat of mind (lit. 'heart-base'; see pp. 45-46).
 //Mano-vinnana//, or mind-consciousness, does not depend upon the
simultaneous function of any of the five physical sense-organs,
although visible objects, sounds, etc. may nevertheless reappear
as mental objects therein. Of this fact, dream-consciousness
furnishes a vivid illustration.
 Shwe Zan Aung, //Compendium of Philosophy// (London, 1910), pp.
 The literal and usual translation of //phassa// as "contact" is
very ambiguous and misleading. //Phassa// does not denote a
physiological function, but a purely mental phenomenon. It is
heading the list of those fifty phenomena which in Buddhist
classification are summed up in the group of mental formations
(//sankhara-kkhandha//). See Nyanatiloka, //Buddhist Dictionary//
(BPS, 1988), Table II: The Formations Group.
 //Kamupadana//; //ditthupadana//; silabbatupadana;
 The past kamma-process (1-2) and the present kamma-process
(8-10), though here represented by different links, are
nevertheless throughout identical, and both therefore include the
five kammic causes. In the same way, the two links (11-12)
represent the five kamma-results (3-7). See diagram on p. 57.
* * * * * * * *
The whole of the Buddha's teachings may be summed up in three words:
morality, mental concentration and wisdom, //sila//, //samadhi// and
//panna//. This is the threefold division of the Noble Eightfold Path
leading to deliverance from the misery of Samsara. And of this
Eightfold Path, right speech, action and livelihood are included in
morality, or //sila//; right effort, mindfulness and concentration in
mental concentration, or //samadhi//; right understanding and thought
in wisdom, or //panna//.
Of these three stages, morality constitutes the foundation without
which no real progress along the Eightfold Path to purity and
deliverance is possible. The two higher stages, concentration and
wisdom, are brought to perfection by that which in the West usually,
but rather ambiguously, is called "meditation." By this latter term,
the Buddhist Pali term //bhavana// is usually translated.
The word //bhavana// is a verbal noun derived from the causative of
the verb //bhavati//, to be, to become, and therefore literally means
"the bringing into existence," i.e. producing, development. Thus the
development of mind is twofold:
1. Development of mental concentration (//samadhi-bhavana//), or
2. Development of wisdom (//panna-bhavana//), or clear insight
In this popular exposition I only wish to give a general idea of
the authentic method of this twofold mental culture, and I shall not
be going much into details. It is to be regretted that in Sri Lanka
one very rarely meets with laymen, or even monks, who are earnestly
devoting themselves to these two higher stages of Buddhist life. In
Burma and Siam, however, the other two strongholds of original
Buddhism, we still find quite a number of monks and hermits, who are
living in the solitudes of deep forests or in caves, and who, detached
from all worldly wishes and anxieties, are striving for the goal set
forth by our Master, and are training themselves in tranquillity and
insight. Undoubtedly, for the real development of higher life,
solitude, at least temporarily, is an absolute necessity.
Though the concentration exercises may serve various preliminary
purposes, their ultimate object is to reach that unshakable
tranquillity and purity of the mind, which is the foundation of
insight leading to deliverance from the cycle of rebirth and misery.
The Buddha has said: "Now what, monks, is Nibbana? It is the
extinction of greed, hate and delusion (//lobha//, //dosa//,
//moha//). And what, monks, is the path leading to Nibbana? It is
mental tranquillity and insight.
Mental tranquillity (//samatha//) is the unshakable state of mind
gained through the persevering training in mental concentration.
Tranquillity, according to the Commentary //Sankhepavannana//, bestows
a threefold blessing: auspicious rebirth, bliss in this very life, and
mental purity and fitness for insight.
Insight (//vipassana//) is a name for the flashing forth of the
light of wisdom and insight into the true nature of existence, i.e.
into the impermanency, suffering and egolessness (//anicca//,
//dukkha//, //anatta//) of all corporeality, feelings, perceptions,
mental formations and consciousness.
* * *
For the development of concentration and mental tranquillity, there
exist many different exercises. In the //Visuddhimagga// (III-XI)
forty such concentration-exercises are enumerated and minutely
explained, namely: ten kasina exercises, ten cemetery meditations, ten
reflections -- on the qualities of the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha;
on morality, liberality, heavenly beings; further, on death, the body,
in-and-out breathing, and the peace of detachment. Further, the
development of the four divine abodes (all-embracing kindness,
compassion, altruistic joy, equanimity); the four immaterial states;
the perception of the filthiness of food; and the analysis of the four
Before entering into a discussion of some of these forty
concentration exercises, I have first to deal with the three grades of
intensity of concentration, and further to speak of those higher
states of mind called //jhanas//, or mental "absorptions," which may
be attained by a great number of these exercises.
The three grades of intensity of concentration are:
1. Preliminary concentration (//parikamma-samadhi//);
2. Neighbourhood concentration (//upacara-samadhi//);
3. Attainment concentration (//appana-samadhi//).
(1) //Preliminary concentration// is present whenever one directs
one's mind to any of the various objects of concentration.
(2) //Neighbourhood concentration// is that grade of concentration
which approaches, or comes near, the first jhana, and is in many
exercises marked by a mentally visible pure and unshakable mental
image, the so-called reflex-mark, of which we shall speak later.
(3) //Attainment concentration// is that grade of concentration
which is present during the jhanas.
By the jhanas are meant supersensual states of perfect mental
absorption, in which the fivefold sense activity is suspended. The
jhanas can only be attained in absolute solitude and by unremitting
perseverance in the development of concentration. No visual or audible
impressions arise at such a time, no bodily feeling is felt. In this
state the monk appears to the outside world as if dead. But though all
the outer sense-impressions, such as seeing, hearing, etc., have
disappeared, the mind still remains active, perfectly alert and fully
1. The first jhana is a stage of peace, ecstasy and joyful bliss,
yet "thought conception and discursive thinking" (//vitakka-vicara//),
i.e. the so-called "inner speech" or "verbal activities of the mind"
(//vaci-sankhara//), are still at work.
2. As soon as these verbal activities of the mind have ceased, one
has attained the second jhana, which is a state of highest "rapture
and joyful bliss" (//piti//), free from thinking and pondering.
3. After the fading away of rapture and ecstasy, the third jhana is
reached, marked by "equanimous joy" (//upekkha-sukha//).
4. After the complete fading away of joy, a state of perfect
equanimity (//upekkha//) abides, called the fourth jhana.
The mind, after emerging from the fourth jhana, is again and again
described in the suttas as "serene, pure, lucid, stainless, devoid of
evil, pliable, able to act, firm and imperturbable."
Let us now deal separately with some of the concentration
exercises. Amongst those forty exercises described in the
//Visuddhimagga//, the ten kasina exercises resemble somewhat certain
methods of inducing hypnotic sleep, etc., by gazing at bright objects.
Therefore, in order to avoid such an outcome, one must beware of
sleepiness and strive to keep the mind ever alert.
There are four colour kasinas, four element kasinas, space kasina,
and light kasina. In the colour kasina, a blue, yellow, red or white
disk may serve as the object at which to gaze, or flowers, cloth, etc.
of these colours. In the earth kasina exercise the object of our
gazing may be a ploughed field seen from a distance, or a circular
piece of earth prepared for this purpose. In the water kasina exercise
we may gaze at a pond seen from a higher elevation, or at water
contained in a vessel. Similar it is with the fire kasina and wind
As an example how to practise such an exercise, let us consider the
blue kasina exercise. For this purpose let us prepare a round disk
made of paper or cloth, and fix it to the wall of our room. Then
seated before the disk, we fix our whole attention upon this
"preliminary mark" (//parikamma-nimitta//) and so produce "preliminary
concentration" (//parikamma-samadhi//). Now, while constantly gazing
at this blue disk, we must strive to remain mentally alert and
steadfast, in order not to fall into hypnotic sleep, as already
pointed out. At the same time we must keep from our mind all outside
impressions and thoughts on other objects, as well as all those
disturbing and often dangerous mental visions and hallucinations that
may arise. While exclusively fixing our eyes and thoughts on the blue
disk as our sole object, the things around the disk seem, as it were,
to disappear, and the disk itself seems to become more and more a mere
mental phantom. Now, whether the eyes are opened or closed, we
perceive the mentalized kasina disk, which more and more assumes the
appearance of the bright orb of the moon. This is the "acquired mark"
(//uggaha-nimitta//) which, though apparently seen by means of our
physical eyes, is nevertheless produced and perceived only by our
mind, independently of the sense activity of the eye. As soon as this
mentally produced image becomes steady and vanishes no longer, but
remains safely fixed in the mind, we should (according to the
//Visuddhimagga//) move to another place and there continue our
exercise. In fixing our mental eye more and more upon the mentally
produced image or light, it becomes continually steadier and brighter,
till at last it may assume the appearance of the bright morning star,
or something similar. Herewith the mental "reflex mark"
(//patibhaga-nimitta//) is attained, and along with it "neighbourhood
Already during this stage all mental hindrances (//nivarana//)
have, at least temporarily, disappeared and do not arise. No sensual
lust (//kamacchanda//) arises in such a state. No ill-will
(//vyapada//) can irritate the mind. All mental stiffness and dullness
(//thina-middha//) is overcome. No restlessness and anxiety
(//uddhacca-kukkucca//) and no wavering doubt and scepticism
(//vicikiccha//) can any more divert the mind. As long as there is a
possibility for the arising of these five mental hindrances, so long
there can be no lasting tranquillity of the mind. By tenaciously
fixing our mind to the reflex mark we eventually reach the attainment
concentration (//appana-samadhi//) and thereby enter into the first
jhana. And by becoming more and more absorbed, and by the gradual
vanishing, one by one, of thought conception and discursive thinking,
of rapture and joy, we consecutively pass through the three remaining
jhanas, as described before.
Next let us touch upon the "cemetery contemplations." The goal of
these exercises is to create a concentrated and tranquil state of mind
by arousing disgust for the carnal desires and detachment from them.
The objects of the cemetery contemplations, being either real or
imaginary, are: a putrified corpse, a corpse gnawed by wild animals or
by worms, a skeleton, scattered bones, bones crumbled to dust, etc.
Of the remaining concentration exercises, I intend to speak only of
the four "divine abodes" (//brahma-vihara-bhavana//): all-embracing
kindness, compassion altruistic joy and equanimity (//metta//,
//karuna//, //mudita//, //upekkha//).
The development of all-embracing kindness (//metta-bhavana//) is,
according to the //Visuddhimagga//, to be practised somewhat as
First one should think of oneself: "May I be happy! May I be free
from suffering!" Thus, beginning with oneself, one should then in the
same way extend loving and benevolent thoughts to one's teacher, then
to one's friends and companions, then to all persons living in and
around the same house, then to the inhabitants of the nearest street,
then by and by to the whole village or town, then to the whole
country; and making not the slightest difference between friend and
enemy, blood relation and stranger, good people and bad people, one
should finally pervade the whole world with all-embracing kindness.
And not only human beings, but also animals down to the tiniest
insects, all should be embraced with kindness. Identifying ourselves
with all that lives, we should pervade the whole world with
all-embracing kindness, above, below, to all sides, and should rouse
in our innermost heart the fervent wish: "O, that all beings may be
happy! That all beings may be freed from greed, hate and delusion!
That all beings may find deliverance from Samsara!"
By developing all-embracing kindness and goodwill, the heart will
become purified of ill-feeling and anger, and filled with
tranquillity, steadfastness and peace. During this exercise the mind
may eventually reach the ecstasy of the first jhana, and even
gradually pass through the first three jhanas. In a more or less
similar way compassion (//karuna//) and altruistic joy (//mudita//)
are to be developed.
In the Suttas we again and again find the stereotype words:
There, O monks, the monk with all-embracing kindness ... or with
compassion ... altruistic joy ... equanimity ... pervades first
one direction, then the second, then the third, then the fourth,
above, below, round about, in every quarter. And identifying
himself with all, he pervades the entire universe with
all-embracing kindness, with heart grown great, wide, deep,
boundless, free from wrath and anger ... .
In the fourth divine abode, the "development of equanimity"
(//upekkha-bhavana//), all persons and things are regarded with
perfect equanimity and disinterestedness. With unshakable equanimity
the mind looks upon wealth and poverty, happiness and misery, free
from agitation, free from inclination and aversion, steadfast and
unmoved, beyond love and hatred, beyond joy and sorrow.
It may here be mentioned that concentration does not reach the same
degree of intensity in each of the forty exercises. For example, in
some of them only neighbourhood concentration may be reached, as in
the reflections on the Buddha, the Dhamma, the Sangha, etc. The
cemetery contemplations may induce entrance into the first jhana. The
first three divine abodes may induce the first three jhanas. The ten
kasina exercises, however, as well as the exercise of equanimity and
the attention on in-and-out breathing may induce all the four jhanas.
With regard to the nature, or temperament, of the person practising
concentration, it should be noted that the four colour kasinas are
particularly suited to an angry nature, while for an unsteady nature
the kasina disk should be of small size.
* * *
We have already stated that all the concentration exercises, as such,
serve only the purpose of developing mental tranquillity
(//samatha//). Mental tranquillity, however, is the fundamental and
indispensable condition for the successful development of insight
(//vipassana//). And this insight alone possesses the power to confer
immediate entrance to the four stages of holiness, and thus to free us
forever from the ten fetters (//samyojana//) that bind beings to the
ever-turning wheel of existence.
Therefore our Master has said: "May you develop mental
concentration, O monks. For whoso is concentrated in mind, sees things
as they really are." Concerning insight (//vipassana//) we read in the
//Milindapanha//: "Just as when a man brings a lamp into a dark
chamber, the lamp produces light and renders all things visible, just
so does insight, as soon as it arises, dispel the darkness of
ignorance and bring forth the light of knowledge; and sending out its
rays of wisdom, it renders clearly visible the Four Noble Truths. And
thus the earnestly striving monk, with clear and bright insight,
beholds the impermanence, suffering and egolessness of all existence."
And in the //Puggalapannatti//: "Just as a man in a dark and gloomy
night, at the sudden flash of lightning, may with his eyes clearly
recognize objects; even so one may through deep insight, perceive all
things as they really are: 'This is suffering, this is the origin of
suffering, this is the extinction of suffering, this is the path
leading to the extinction of suffering.' "
Hence, just as morality (//sila//) forms the indispensable
foundation for the successful development of mental tranquillity and
concentration, just so, supported by morality, mental tranquillity and
concentration forms the necessary foundation for the development of
wisdom and insight. And insight is the immediate condition for the
entrance into the four stages of holiness.
For the successful development of insight, however, it is not an
absolute necessity to have gained the jhanas. The attainment of
neighbourhood concentration is sufficient for this purpose. Moreover,
during the jhanas the development of insight is not possible, as the
initial practice of this exercise requires abstract thinking and
analysing, while in the first jhana abstract thinking is already weak,
and totally absent in the three higher jhanas.
Insight, as already said, is induced by means of analysis and
intense contemplation on all the phenomena of existence, i.e. on
corporeal phenomena, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and
states of consciousness; by the contemplation on their impersonality,
futility, emptiness and unsubstantiality; by contemplating the fact
that in reality, neither inside nor outside these fleeting phenomena,
is there to be found any ego-entity (//atta//), and that "I" or "self"
or "person," etc., are nothing but conventional names. Really, this
teaching of unsubstantiality and egolessness (//anatta//), together
with the teaching of the conditionedness of all phenomena of
existence, are the only specific doctrines of Buddhism, and without
insight into these profound truths nobody can ever rightly grasp the
Four Noble Truths or enter the path.
All the other teachings of our Master may also be found in other
philosophies or religions. The jhanas have already been attained
before, and independently of, the Buddha. Love was preached by some
other religions. Likewise the impermanency and miserable nature of
existence was taught by others. But the liberating truths of
//impersonality// and //conditionedness// of all existence have, of
all religious teachers, been taught and revealed in full clarity only
by the Buddha. And these are the only specific doctrines on which the
whole Buddhist structure rests.
Hence, as the understanding of egolessness and conditionedness of
existence is the indispensable condition for a real understanding of
the Four Noble Truths, and for deliverance from Samsara, one may
rightly say that none but the Enlightened One has shown the right
method of mental culture, and therewith the right way to deliverance.
The exercises for developing insight (//vipassana-bhavana//) given
in the //Visuddhimagga// (XIV-XXII) are extremely varied. Anyhow, I
shall here briefly indicate the most essential ones. Before, however,
the monk begins with developing his insight, he at first should
acquire a thorough knowledge of the Dhamma and know that the only true
or actual elements in this evanescent existence are the five groups of
existence: corporeal phenomena, feelings, perceptions, mental
formations and states of consciousness. And he should think of their
impermanence, their unsatisfactoriness, their empty and conditioned
nature, as well as of their twofold division into a mental and
corporeal process (//nama-rupa//).
Thus, after attaining and rising again from one of the jhanas, the
monk may analyse the just experienced state of jhana. And while doing
so, he will realize that this mental state, called jhana, is nothing
but a heap of rising and passing phenomena: thought conception,
discursive thinking, joy, concentration, feeling, perception, mental
formations and consciousness. And pondering over these phenomena, he
will find that this entire mental process is dependent on
corporeality, and that again corporeality is a name for the four
physical elements and the corporeality depending on them, as e.g. the
sense-organs, objects, etc.
Another monk may divide this mental-corporeal process into its
eighteen elements, i.e. the six sense-organs, six objects, and six
kinds of consciousness, as: eye, visible object, eye-consciousness;
ear, sound, ear-consciousness ... mind, mind-object,
mind-consciousness. And he will understand thus: "Mere mental and
physical phenomena are there, but no being, no personality, can be
When certain things we find combined,
We speak of chariot, speak of car.
Just so, when these five groups appear,
We use the designation "being."
Or just as after building up walls and roof with various materials,
the enclosed space is called a house, just so this bodily structure
built up by bones, flesh, sinews, etc., is called "body."
Or just as a wooden swivel-doll is empty, lifeless and inactive,
but may, by means of a pulling device, move or stand and appear to be
full of life and activity, just so are mind and body as such something
empty, lifeless and inactive; but through the mutual influence of mind
and body upon one another, this psycho-physical structure may move or
stand and appear full of life and activity.
As with the help and aid of ships
Men move across the mighty sea,
Just so conditioned by this body
The mental group is moving on.
As with the help and aid of men
Ships move across the mighty sea,
Just so conditioned by the mind
The body-group is moving on.
Thus the monk contemplates the conditionality of this
psycho-physical process. And he understands how all those bodily and
mental phenomena come to decay and dissolution. And he perceives the
conditioned nature of the bodily and mental groups with regard to
their dependent origination, namely: "Among the phenomena, old age and
death can take place only if there is birth; birth only if there is
the prenatal kamma-process, the kamma-process only if there is
attachment to life ... the kamma-formations only if there is ignorance
and delusion." In this way, all doubts vanish in the monk, such as:
"Have I been in the past?" or: "Have I not been in the past?" etc.
Everywhere, in all the forms of existence, the monk sees only an
ever-changing mental and bodily process, kept going through the
concatenation of causes and effects and other conditions. No doer does
he see beside the deed (kamma), no receiver of the kamma-result. And
he rightly understands that it is only by way of conventional language
(//vohara-vacana//) that the wise with regard to a deed speak of a
"doer," or with regard to the kamma-result (//vipaka//) of a
"receiver" of it.
The monk considers thus: "The kamma-produced five groups
(corporeality, feeling, etc.) of the past have become extinguished
then and there, but conditioned through the past kamma (actions) other
groups have arisen in this existence; yet from the past existence
nothing has passed over to this existence. Also the present groups
produced through the past kamma, will become extinguished here, but
conditioned through the present kamma other groups will arise in the
future; yet from this existence nothing will pass over to the next
"Whatever there is of corporeality ... feelings ... perceptions ...
mental formations ... consciousness, whether past, present or future
... one's own or external ... gross or subtle ... lofty or low ... far
or near: all these phenomena of existence are impermanent ...
unsatisfactory ... non-self. For whatever is non-self is
unsatisfactory and unable to ward off its own impermanence or
oppression due to its arising and disappearing. How could these things
ever assume the role of a feeler, an agent, an experiencer of
consciousness, an abiding personality?"
All these things the monk considers as conditioned, subject to
dissolution and disappearance.
All life and all existence here,
With all its joy and all its pain,
Depends all on a state of mind,
And quick passes that moment by.
The life-groups that have passed away,
At death as well as during life,
Have all alike become extinguished,
And never will they rise again.
Out of the unseen did they rise,
Into the unseen do they pass.
Just as the lightning flashes forth,
So do they flash and pass away.
Also in the external world the monk may observe the three
characteristics. The shoot of the //asoka// tree is at first
light-red, then after two or three days it becomes deep-red. Then it
gets the appearance of a young sprout, then of a ripe sprout, then of
a light-green leaf, then of a blue-green leaf. From this time,
continually depending upon a similar physical continuity, it becomes
after one year a yellow leaf, and detaching itself from the stalk, it
drops to the ground. Thus each time, before the next following stage
has appeared, the former stage dies off.
Further, by means of the eighteen kinds of insight the monk
overcomes the wrong conceptions through their opposites, namely:
1. Through developing the contemplation on impermanence
(//aniccanupassana//), he overcomes the wrong idea of permanence.
2. Through developing the contemplation on unsatisfactoriness
(//dukkhanupassana//), he overcomes the wrong idea of real
3. Through developing the contemplation on non-self
(//anattanupassana//), he overcomes the wrong idea of self.
4. Through developing the contemplation on turning away
(//nibbidanupassana//), he overcomes affection.
5. Through developing the contemplation on detachment
(//viraganupassana//), he overcomes greed.
6. Through developing the contemplation on cessation
(//nirodhanupassana//), he overcomes the arising.
7. Through developing the contemplation on giving up
(//patinissagganupassana//), he overcomes attachment.
8. Through developing the contemplation on dissolution
(//khayanupassana//), he overcomes the wrong idea of something
9. Through developing the contemplation on disappearance
(//vayanupassana//), he overcomes kamma-accumulation.
10. Through developing the contemplation on changeablenes
(//viparinamanupassana//), he overcomes the wrong idea of
11. Through developing the contemplation on the signless
(//animittanupassana//), he overcomes the conditions of rebirth.
12. Through developing the contemplation on the desireless
(//appanihitanupassana//), he overcomes longing.
13. Through developing the contemplation on the void
(//sunnatanupassana//), he overcomes clinging.
14. Through developing higher wisdom and insight (//adhipannadhamma
vipassana//), he overcomes the wrong idea of something
15. Through developing the true eye of knowledge (//yathabhuta
nanadassana//), he overcomes clinging to delusion.
16. Through developing the contemplation on misery
(//adinavanupassana//), he overcomes clinging to desire.
17. Through developing the reflecting contemplation
(//patisankhanupassana)//, he overcomes thoughtlessness.
18. Through developing the contemplation on the standstill of
existence (//vivattanupassana//), he overcomes being entangled in
Having thus, by means of the eighteen kinds of insight, understood
the phenomena with regard to their three characteristics, he has
penetrated the impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and egolessness of all
1. Contemplation on arising and disappearing
(//udayabbayanupassana//): Further, the monk trains himself in insight
with regard to the arising and disappearing of things: "All the
physical and mental phenomena, without having been previously, come to
arise, and arisen they disappear again. Through the arising of the
pre-natal ignorance, craving, kamma, and nutriment, there is
conditioned the arising of corporeality; and through the extinction of
these four causes, the extinction of corporeality takes place."
All life is like a dew drop that dissolves as soon as the sun
rises. Life is like an empty bubble, or like a furrow drawn on the
water which immediately disappears again. Life is something
unsubstantial, unreal, an illusion, a mirage, a phantom, like a
fire-wreath called forth by the circular swinging of a firebrand, or
like a ghost-land, or foam, or a banana-stem (consisting of mere
2. Contemplation on dissolution (//bhanganupassana//): Now, while
knowing that all these formations of existence, once arisen, will soon
again come to extinction, there arises in him the contemplation on
dissolution. As consciousness is conditioned through the physical or
mental objects, he considers it as impermanent. He turns away from it,
no longer delights in it. He detaches himself from it, no longer has
greed for it. He brings it to extinction, does not let it rise again.
He lets it go, and no longer adheres to it. And considering it as
transient, he overcomes the idea of something permanent.
The groups of life become dissolved,
There is no ego to be found.
The dissolution of the groups:
That's what most people would call death.
3. Knowledge consisting in awareness of terror (//bhayat'
upatthana-nana//): Whoso knows how in the past all formations of
existence have become extinguished, how the present ones are coming to
extinction, and how also all the future ones will become extinguished,
to him there arises on that occasion the knowledge consisting in
awareness of terror.
4. Contemplation on misery (//adinavanupassana//): "The arising of
existence is a terror": such knowledge consisting in awareness of
terror, is called the knowledge of misery. "The continuity of
existence ... the course of rebirth ... the entering into existence
... old age, disease, death, sorrow ... lamentation ... despair are a
terror": such knowledge consisting in awareness of terror, is called
the knowledge of misery.
5. Contemplation on turning away (//nibbidanupassana//): While the
disciple in this way understands that all formations of existence are
misery, his mind turns away from all formations, is weary of them, no
longer delights in them.
6. Knowledge of the wish for deliverance (//muncitukamyata-nana//):
Now, while finding no delight in the formations of existence, he
wishes to get rid of them, seeks for escape from them.
7. Reflecting contemplation (//patisankhanupassana//): In order to
find deliverance from all the formations of existence, he reflects on
them and determines their three characteristics.
All formations he understands as impermanent (//anicca//) for their
being without duration, persisting only for a short while, being
limited by their arising and disappearance, perishable, transient,
frail, unsteady, subject to change, without substance, unreal,
conditioned, subject to death.
All formations he considers as unsatisfactory (//dukkha//) for
their being again and again oppressed, their being hard to endure, and
their being the root of all suffering.
All formations he considers as non-self (//anatta//) for their
being something alien, unreal, void, empty, without owner, without
master, without controller: "Empty are all formations, void are they
of any self and of anything pertaining to a self ... I am not anything
to anyone, nor does anything belong to me in any regard." Just as a
reed is hollow and without pith, so also are corporeality, feeling,
perception, mental formations and consciousness empty, void,
impersonal, without master, unfree, something uncontrollable, impotent
8. Knowledge consisting in equanimity with regard to all formations
(//sankharupekkha-nana//): While the monk is thus grasping all the
formations by considering them as empty, and determining their three
characteristics, he gives up fear and anguish and abides in equanimity
with regard to all the formations, no more concerns himself about
them, and no longer conceives the idea of "I" and "mine."
Whoever considers the formations of existence as impermanent
(//anicca//), to him they appear as a passing away. Whoever considers
them as unsatisfactory (//dukkha//), to him they appear as terror.
Whoever considers them as non-self (//anatta//), to him they appear as
9. Adaptation knowledge (//anuloma-nana//): "Now the path will
reveal itself": thus thinking, the monk's mind reflects with
equanimity on all the formations of existence as impermanent,
unsatisfactory and non-self (//anicca//, //dukkha//, //anatta//) and
thereupon his consciousness sinks into the subconscious stream
(//bhavanga-sota//). Immediately thereafter arises awareness at the
mind-door, taking as objects all phenomena just as before, regarding
them as impermanent, unsatisfactory and non-self. Thereafter, in
following up again the interrupted continuity of consciousness, the
three impulsive moments (//javana//), known as the preliminary, access
and adaptation moment (//parikamma//, //upacara//, //anuloma//), flash
up one after the other, with the same phenomena as object. One speaks
of "adaptation" because this knowledge adapts itself to the preceding
eight kinds of insight knowledge performing the same functions, and to
the following elements of enlightenment immediately thereafter.
Adaptation knowledge has the same functions, because it arises
through contemplation of the formations of existence together with
their three characteristics of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and
egolessness. The adaptation knowledge, however, forms the conclusion
for those kinds of insight that have the formations as object, and are
leading to the "ascent," i.e. to the path.
Maturity knowledge (//gotrabhu-nana//): immediately thereafter
follows maturity knowledge, which consists in the turning of the mind
to the supramundane path of "stream-entrance" (//sotapatti//). At that
moment the mind is no longer driving towards all those phenomena, no
longer clinging to them, no longer captivated by them; and
transcending the sphere of the worldling, it enters the sphere of the
noble ones. Just as in the cloudless sky the moon shines pure and
bright, just so, as soon as the darkness of ignorance veiling the
truth is dispersed, maturity knowledge beholds the purity of Nibbana.
Path knowledge (//magga-nana//): Now, following as immediate
continuation upon adaptation knowledge, path consciousness arises by
dispersing and demolishing, forever and all time, the three fetters of
personality belief, sceptical doubt and clinging to rules and rituals
(//sakkayaditthi//, //vicikiccha//, //silabbataparamasa//).
Fruition knowledge (//phala-nana//): immediately upon this path
consciousness there arise, as results, those supramundane states of
consciousness known as the fruits (//phala//) of the path, which
during the life-time may be repeated innumerable times.
The corresponding process also takes place on attaining the three
higher stages of holiness, of which the highest one is identical with
perfect holiness, or Arahatship. 
Herewith we have arrived at the highest and final goal of the
Buddha's teaching. I should, however, like to warn you of the wrong
conclusion, as if, according to the Buddha's teaching, it would be
necessary, for the realization of the paths, to be ever conscious of
all those intricate workings of our mind. This is by no means the
case. Let me tell you that in many places in the investigations
contained in the //Visuddhimagga// the point is rather to give a
scientific explanation of the whole process of gradual development on
the path to deliverance. We have here mostly to do with theoretical
knowledge and hypotheses gained by abstract reasoning, partly perhaps
also with real knowledge gained through intuition by some
extraordinary seers or mystics. In any case, deliverance may, under
favourable circumstances, sometimes be realized already after a very
short time, and with no previous knowledge.
At the conclusion of our subject, therefore, I should like to
summarize the more popular and more intelligible exposition of the
twofold development as given in the Satipatthana Sutta and its
There is only one way to the realization of deliverance, namely,
the four foundations of mindfulness, i.e. the attentive contemplation
of body, feeling, mind, and mind-objects.
For that purpose the monk retires to a solitary place; and sitting
down and directing his whole attention in front of himself, he watches
attentively his in-and-out breathing, and attains thereby mental
concentration and the jhanas.
Or: In going, standing, sitting or lying down, he is well aware and
knows that there is no living entity, no real ego, that moves about,
but that it is a mere conventional mode of speaking, if one says: "I
go, I stand," etc.
He is full of attention and clearly conscious in going and coming,
looking forward and backward, in bending and stretching his body, in
eating, drinking, speaking and keeping silent. Thus in all outer
activities, he is clearly conscious of purpose, utility, duty and
Further: He contemplates the manifold parts of the body, as hairs,
nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, etc.
Further: He analyses the body with regard to the four elements,
i.e. the solid, liquid, heat and motion.
Further: Just as if he would see a corpse thrown to the burial
ground, swollen, blue-black in colour, he draws the conclusion: "Also
this my body has the same nature, will become so, cannot escape it."
Or: Just as if he would see a corpse, a framework of bones, stripped
of flesh, bespattered with blood ... bones disconnected and scattered
in all directions ... bones bleached and resembling shells ... bones
heaped together ... bones weather-worn and crumbled to dust, he draws
the conclusion: "Also this my body has the same nature, will become
so, cannot escape it." Thus he contemplates his own body, other
bodies, and both. He sees how these bodily phenomena are arising and
passing away. And he understands that only corporeality is there to be
found, but no ego-entity.
In contemplating the feelings, he notices the agreeable feeling,
the disagreeable feeling, the indifferent feeling, he sees how these
feelings are arising and passing away, and does not find any
ego-entity within or without the feelings.
In contemplating the mind, he notices when it is filled with greed,
or hate, or delusion, or when it is free from these things; he notices
when the mind is cramped or scattered, concentrated or not. And he
sees how these states of mind are arising and passing away, and knows
that there is no ego-entity to be found.
In contemplating the mind-objects, he notices when one of the
mental hindrances is present, or not present, how it arises, and how
it is overcome. He contemplates the six sense-organs and the
corresponding objects, and the mental fetters conditioned through
them; contemplates the five groups of existence, their arising and
passing away, the seven links of enlightenment, and the Four Noble
Thus he contemplates all the phenomena, sees how they arise and
pass away, and how nowhere any ego-entity can be found.
The Satipatthana Sutta closes with the encouraging words that one
who in this way practises the four foundations of mindfulness,
sometimes even for only seven days, may find deliverance from all
* * *
Notes to Chapter IV
 About the four stages of holiness, see Nyanatiloka, //Buddhist
Dictionary// (BPS, 1988): //ariya-puggala//.
* * * * * * * *
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ven. Nyanatiloka Mahathera (1878-1957) was the first Continental
European in modern times to become a Buddhist monk and one of the
foremost Western exponents of Theravada Buddhism in the twentieth
century. Born in Germany, he developed a keen interest in Buddhism in
his youth and came to Asia intending to enter the Buddhist Order. He
received ordination in Burma in 1903. The greatest part of his life as
a monk was spent in Sri Lanka, where he established the Island
Hermitage at Dodanduwa as a monastery for Western monks. His
translations into German include the //Anguttara Nikaya//, the
//Visuddhimagga//, and the //Milindapanha//. Ven. Nyanatiloka passed
away in Colombo in 1957.
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TITLE OF WORK: Fundamentals of Buddhism: Four Lectures (Wheel
Publication No. 394/396)
AUTHOR: Nyanatiloka Mahathera
AUTHOR'S ADDRESS: N/A (d. 1957)
PUBLISHER'S ADDRESS: Buddhist Publication Society
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DATE OF PUBLICATION: 1994
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