WHAT IS THE TRIPLE GEM?
Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
Translated from the Thai by
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DharmaNet Edition 1994
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Parts of this analysis of the Triple Gem were originally used to teach
new monks here at the temple and have been printed twice in book form.
Now that a group of people who feel that the book would beneficial to
Buddhists at large have pooled their resources and asked permission to
print it a third time, I have decided to expand it into a handbook for
all Buddhist adherents -- i.e., for all who have declared the Buddha,
Dhamma, and Sangha to be their refuge. Once we have made such a
declaration, we are duty-bound to learn exactly what the Buddha,
Dhamma, and Sangha are. Otherwise, we will follow our religion
blindly, without realizing its aims or the benefits -- called 'punna,'
or merit -- that come from its practice, inasmuch as Buddhism is a
religion of self-help.
Furthermore, we as Thai people are known throughout the world as
Buddhists, but my feeling is that there are very few of us who know
the standards of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. Although many of us
are 'Buddhist,' we are Buddhist mostly through custom, not through
Altogether, there are two ways of adhering to the religion:
rationally and irrationally. To adhere to the religion irrationally
means to adhere to it blindly, following one's teachers or companions,
holding to whatever they say is good without showing any interest as
to whether it really is good or not. This is like a person of no
discernment who uses whatever paper money comes his way: If it turns
out to be counterfeit, he'll be punished and fined in a variety of
ways. This is what it means to adhere to the Buddha, Dhamma, and
To adhere to the religion rationally means not to follow one's own
prejudices or those of one's teachers or companions, but to follow the
principles of the texts; holding to the Dhamma-Vinaya as one's
standard, like a legal document affixed with the government seal,
carrying the force of law throughout the land, making exceptions for
no one. Whoever then transgresses the law can't be regarded as a good
citizen. So it is with the religion: If we want to know if a
practice is good or bad, right or wrong, worthy of respect or not, we
should check it against the standards established by the Buddha, which
are eight in number: Any behavior that --
1. leads to passion,
2. leads to the compounding of suffering,
3. leads to the accumulation of defilement,
4. leads to over-weaning ambition,
5. leads to discontent with what one has -- i.e., having this,
one wants that (greed that goes beyond moderation),
6. leads to socializing (of the wrong sort),
7. leads to laziness,
8. leads one to be burdensome to others:
None of these eight forms of behavior qualify as the doctrine or
discipline of Buddhism. Once we know that these forms of behavior are
not what the Buddha intended, we should abandon them completely.
Thus, all of us who respect the Buddha's teachings should -- instead
of working at cross-purposes -- join our hearts to cleanse and correct
the practice of the religion. Monks, novices, lay men, and lay women
should make a point of helping each other in the area of reform.
Whatever is already good, we should maintain with respect. Whatever
isn't, we should exert pressure to improve. We'll then meet with
what's truly good, like rice: If you cook good, clean, husked white
rice, you'll eat with pleasure. If you cook unhusked rice, or a
potful of husks, they'll stick in your own throat. If we let any bad
factions go uncorrected, they will burden the hearts of their
supporters, who will become like people who cook rice husks to eat.
Are we going to let one another be so stupid as to eat rice husks?
By and large, though, most lay people don't see this as their duty.
As for the monks and novices, they throw the responsibility on the lay
people, and so we do nothing but keep throwing it back and forth like
this. When things have a bearing on all of us, we should by all means
unite our hearts and accept joint responsibility. Only things that
have no bearing on us should we leave to others. Unless we act in
this way, what is good -- the religion -- will fall from our grasp.
And when the religion falls from our grasp, lay men (//upasaka//) will
become obstacles (//upasak//), i.e., they'll keep creating obstacles
in the way of finding merit. Lay women (//upasika//) will become the
color of crows (//sika//), i.e., dark and evil in their behavior.
Novices will become sham novices, careless, spattered, and filthy; and
monks (//phra//) will become goats (//phae//), missing out on the
flavor of the Dhamma, like the nanny goat who has to go hungry because
her milk has been taken and drunk by people more intelligent than she.
In India, for instance, there are hardly any monks left to make merit
Monks are the important faction, because they are the front-line
troops or standard-bearers in the fight with the enemy -- evil.
Ordinarily, soldiers have to adhere to the code of their army and to
be sincere in performing their duties. As for the duties enjoined by
the religion, they are two:
1. //Gantha-dhura//: studying the scriptures. Once we know the
scriptures, though, we can't stop there. We have to put them into
practice, because the level of study is simply knowledge on the level
of plans and blueprints. If we don't follow the blueprints, we won't
receive the benefits to be gained from our knowledge. And when we
don't gain the benefits, we're apt to discard the texts, like a doctor
who knows the formula for a medicine but doesn't use it to cure any
patients. The medicine won't show any benefits, and this will cause
him to go looking for a living in other ways, discarding any interest
to pursue that formula further. Thus, putting the scriptures into
practice is one way of preserving them, for once we have put them into
practice and see the results arising within us -- i.e., our own bad
qualities begin to wane -- we will appreciate the value of the
scriptures and try to keep them intact. This is like a doctor who is
able to use a medicine to cure a fever and so will preserve the
formula because of its use in making a living. Thus, the Lord Buddha
set out a further duty, in the area of practice, for those who are
2. //Vipassana-dhura//: the practice of tranquillity and insight
meditation. These two practices are our primary duties as monks and
novices. If we don't devote ourselves to these two lines of practice,
we'll become a fifth column within the religion, enemies of the good
standards of the Dhamma and Vinaya. Monks will become political
monks, war-making monks, loudspeaker monks -- loudspeaker monks are
those who can teach others but can't teach themselves. They can speak
Dhamma, but their hearts have no Dhamma, and so they become the
enemies of those who practice the Dhamma and Vinaya rightly and well.
Thus I ask all Buddhists not to turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to
these problems. If we hold that it's none of our business, the
consequences could well flare up and spread to burn us. For this
reason, I ask that we all help one another to look after the religion.
Actually, all human beings born need a set of customs and traditions
-- called religion -- to which they give special respect. Otherwise,
we will have no principles of good and evil or of moral virtue.
Whatever religion this may be is up to the individual adherents. I
ask only that they respect their religion sincerely and rightly, for
the sake of true purity.
If we were to use only worldly knowledge to keep order, it would
work only in public places. In private or secret places, order
wouldn't last. But as for religion, once people have studied so that
they really know good and evil, they wouldn't dare do evil, either in
public or in private. Religion is thus one of the important mainstays
of the world. If we human beings had no moral virtue imbedded in our
hearts, even the greatest power on earth would be able to keep us in
line only temporarily, and even then it wouldn't be able to influence
our minds the way the moral virtue that comes from religion can. For
this reason, the practice of moral virtue is one way of helping the
religion and the world.
Now, I'm not claiming to be a heavenly being or anyone special. I'm
simply a person who wishes the religion well. So if anything in this
book is defective -- in terms of the expression or the Pali -- I hope
that knowledgeable people will forgive me, for it's not the case that
I'm expert in a wide range of matters.
Phra Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
Wat Paa Khlawng Kung
(The Shrimp Canal Forest Monastery)
* * * * * * * *
I. Buddham saranam gacchami:
I go to the Buddha for refuge.
Ordinarily, for the world to experience happiness and harmony, there
has to be a teaching or tradition generally respected as good. This
being the case, Bodhisattvas arise -- people who develop goodness on
the grand scale for the sake of attaining right self-awakening. Once
they have reached this goal, they are termed 'Buddhas,' Awakened Ones.
For Bodhisattvas to succeed in this direction, they have to devote
themselves to perfecting ten virtues --
1. //Dana-parami//: charity.
2. //Sila-parami//: morality.
3. //Nekkhamma-parami//: renunciation of sensuality (and of the
4. //Panna-parami//: the search for discernment.
5. //Viriya-parami//: persistence.
6. //Khanti-parami//: endurance, patience.
7. //Sacca-parami//: truthfulness.
8. //Adhitthana-parami//: determination.
9. //Metta-parami//: benevolence.
10. //Upekkha-parami//: equanimity (in proper cases, i.e., in
areas that are beyond one's control).
These ten perfections are the factors that enable a Bodhisattva to
succeed in becoming an Arahant, a Pure One. Once he attains this
state, three qualities -- called 'actualized virtues' -- arise in his
//Panna-guna//: sharp discernment.
//Karunadhiguna//: compassion for living beings throughout the
These qualities enable the Buddha to teach the Dhamma in a
beneficial way. His conduct in this area is of three sorts: Having
achieved his own purposes (//attattha-cariya//), he acts for the
benefit of living beings throughout the world (//lokattha-cariya//)
and teaches the Dhamma to his own circle of relatives
There are three aspects to the Buddha: 1) The physical aspect --
the body (elements, aggregates (//khandha//), and sense media), which
is the external aspect of the Buddha, called '//Buddha-nimitta//,' or
the symbol of the Buddha. (This is like the bark of a tree.) 2) The
good practices he followed -- such as virtue, concentration, and
discernment, which are aspects of his activity. These are called
'//dhamma-nimitta//' of the Buddha, symbols of his inner quality.
(These are the sapwood.) 3) //Vimutti// -- release from ignorance,
craving, attachment, and kamma; attaining nibbana, the supreme
quality, a quality that does not die (//amata-dhamma//). (This is the
heartwood, or essence of the Buddha .)
A person of little intelligence will use bark to build himself a
home; a person of medium intelligence will use sapwood; while a person
of sharp intelligence will build his home of heartwood. So it is with
those of us who take refuge in the Buddha. But in any case we're
better off than people without a home. Like rats or lizards who have
to live in the hollows of trees and are in for trouble if people set
the trees on fire: If we place our trust in our life, our bodies, or
our worldly possessions, we'll have no refuge when the fires of death
reach us. Or as when a boat sinks in the middle of the ocean: A
person without a life-vest is in serious danger. For this reason, we
should educate ourselves so as to find a refuge that will benefit us
both in this life and in lives to come.
Another comparison: The sages of the past used the term
'//Buddha-ratana//,' comparing the Buddha to a jewel. Now, there are
three sorts of jewels: artificial gems; gemstones, such as rubies or
sapphires; and diamonds, which are held to be the highest. The
aspects of the Buddha might be compared to these three sorts of
jewels. To place confidence in the external aspect -- the body of the
Buddha or images made to represent him -- is like dressing up with
artificial gems. To show respect for the practices followed by the
Buddha by giving rise to them within ourselves is like dressing up
with rubies and sapphires. To reach the quality of deathlessness is
like dressing in diamonds from head to toe.
But no matter what sort of jewels we use to dress up in, we're
better off than savages who go around hanging bones from their necks,
who look unkempt and -- what's more -- are bound to be haunted by the
bones they wear. The bones, here, stand for the body, i.e., our
attachment to the body as really being ours. Actually, our body comes
for the most part from the bodies of other animals -- the food we've
eaten -- so how can we seriously take it to be our own? Whoever
insists on regarding the body as his or her own is like a savage, or a
swindler -- and, as a swindler, is bound to receive punishment in
proportion to the crime. Thus, we should regard the body as money
borrowed for the span of a lifetime, to be used as capital. And we
should search for profits so as to release ourselves from our debts,
by searching for another, better form of goodness: the qualities of
the Buddha that he left as teachings for all of his followers. These
qualities, briefly put, are --
1. //Sati//: the continual mindfulness (wakefulness) found in
the factors of jhana.
2. //Panna//: the intuitive discernment that comes from
developing mental concentration.
3. //Vimutti//: release from defilement
These are qualities that all Buddhists should develop within
themselves, so as to gain Awakening, following the example of the
Buddha, becoming Savaka Buddhas (Disciple Buddhas), an opportunity
open -- without exception and with no restrictions of time or place --
to all who follow his teachings.
Buddhists who revere the Buddha in the full sense of the word should
have two sorts of symbols with them, to serve as reminders of their
1. //Buddha-nimitta//: representatives of the Buddha, such as
Buddha images or stupas in which relics of the Buddha are placed.
This sort of reminder is like a nation's flag.
2. //Buddha-guna//: the qualities that form the inner symbol of
the Buddha, i.e., the proper practice of his teachings. Whoever takes
a stand in this manner is bound to be victorious both within and
without, safe from such enemies as temptation and mortality.
Our nation's flag and the people of our nation are two different
things. Just as our flag will have value only if the people of our
nation are good and preserve the fullness of the nation's qualities;
so too, we Buddhists have to respect both our flag -- images of the
Buddha -- and the qualities of the Buddha if we are to be good
Buddhists. Otherwise, we will suffer from not having fulfilled our
To take an example, we Thai people, in order to be Thai in the full
sense, have to possess a number of qualifications: the ability to
speak and to read Thai, acquaintance with Thai customs and traditions,
the ability to benefit ourselves (//attattha-cariya//) and to spread
those benefits to help care for the needs of our parents, spouses, and
children (//natatthacariya//). And not only that: If we have the
ability and the energy -- physical, mental, financial, or the energy
of our virtues -- we should expand those benefits to help our fellow
human beings in general throughout the nation (//lokatthacariya//).
This is what it means to be Thai in the full sense of the word. In
the same way, we who revere the image of the Buddha and the Buddha's
good qualities should have them with us at all times if we are to
receive the full benefits that come from being Buddhist and to
maintain the peace and well-being of Buddhists at large.
* * *
II. Dhammam saranam gacchami:
I go to the Dhamma for refuge.
There are three levels to the Dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha --
A. //Pariyatti//: studying the words of the Buddha as recorded
in the Canon -- the Discipline, the Discourses, and the
B. //Patipatti//: following the practice of moral virtue,
concentration, and discernment as derived from one's study of
C. //Pativedha//: Liberation.
A. The study of the Dhamma can be done in any of three ways --
1. //Alagaddupama-pariyatti//: studying like a water viper.
2. //Nissaranattha-pariyatti//: studying for the sake of
3. //Bhandagarika-pariyatti//: studying to be a storehouse
Studying like a water viper means to study the words of the Buddha
without then putting them into practice, having no sense of shame at
doing evil, disobeying the monastic code, making oneself like a
poisonous snake-head, full of the fires of greed, anger, and delusion.
Studying for the sake of emancipation means to study the Buddha's
teachings out of a desire for merit and wisdom, with a sense of
conviction and high regard for their worth -- and then, once we have
reached an understanding, bringing our thoughts, words, and deeds into
line with those teachings with a high sense of reverence and respect.
To try to bring the Buddha's teachings in line with ourselves is the
wrong approach -- because, for the most part, we are full of
defilements, cravings, views, and conceits. If we act in this way we
are bound to be more at fault than those who try to bring themselves
into line with the teachings: Such people are very hard to find fault
Studying to be a storehouse keeper refers to the education of people
who no longer have to be trained, i.e., of Arahants, the highest level
of the Noble Ones. Some Arahants, when they were still ordinary,
run-of-the-mill people, heard the Dhamma directly from the Buddha once
or twice and were able immediately to reach the highest attainment.
This being the case, they lacked a wide-ranging knowledge of worldly
conventions and traditions; and so, with an eye to the benefit of
other Buddhists, they were willing to undergo a certain amount of
further education. This way of studying the Dhamma is called
'//sikkha-garavata//': respect for the training.
B. The practice of the Dhamma means to conduct oneself in line with
the words of the Buddha as gathered under three headings:
-- Virtue: proper behavior, free from vice and harm, in terms of
one's words and deeds.
-- Concentration: intentness of mind, centered on one of the
themes of meditation, such as the breath.
-- Discernment: insight and circumspection with regard to all
fashioned things, i.e., physical properties, aggregates, and
To conduct oneself in this manner is termed practicing the Dhamma.
By and large, though, Buddhists tend to practice the Dhamma in a
variety of ways that aren't in line with the true path of practice.
If we were to classify their ways of practice, there would be three:
1. //Lokadhipateyya -- putting the world first.
2. //Attadhipateyya -- putting the self first.
3. //Dhammadhipateyya -- putting the Dhamma first.
To put the world first means to practice for the sake of such
worldly rewards as prestige, material gains, praise, and sensual
pleasures. When we practice this way, we are actually torturing
ourselves, because undesirable things are bound to occur: Having
attained prestige, we can lose it. Having acquired material gains, we
can lose them. Having received praise, we can receive censure.
Having experienced pleasure, we can see it disintegrate. Far from the
paths, fruitions, and nibbana, we torture ourselves by clinging to
these things as our own.
To put the self first means to practice in accordance with our own
opinions acting in line with whatever those opinions may be. Most of
us tend to side with ourselves, geting stuck on our own views and
conceits because our study of the Dhamma hasn't reached the truth of
the Dhamma, and so we take as our standard our own notions, composed
of four forms of partiality --
a. //Chandagati//: doing whatever we feel like doing.
b. //Bhayagati//: fearing certain forms of power or authority,
and thus not daring to practice the Dhamma as we truly should.
(We put certain individuals first.)
c. //Dosagati//: acting under the power of anger, defilement,
craving, conceits, and views.
d. //Mohagati//: practicing misguidedly, not studying or
searching for what is truly good; assuming that we're already
smart enough, or else that we're too stupid to learn; staying
buried in our habits with no thought of extracting ourselves
from our sensual pleasures.
All of these ways of practice are called 'putting the self first.'
To put the Dhamma first means to follow the Noble Eightfold Path --
a. Right View: seeing that there really is good, there really is
evil, there really is stress, that stress has a cause, that it
disbands, and that there is a cause for its disbanding.
b. Right Aspiration: thinking of how to rid ourselves of whatever
qualities we know to be wrong and immoral, i.e. seeing the harm in
sensual desires in that they bring on suffering and stress.
c. Right Speech: speaking the truth; not saying anything divisive
or inciteful; not saying anything coarse or vulgar in situations where
such words would not be proper; not saying anything useless. Even
though what we say may be worthwhile, if our listener isn't interested
then our words would still count as useless.
d. Right Action: being true to our duties, not acting in ways that
would be corrupt or would bring harm to ourselves or others.
e. Right Livelihood: obtaining wealth in ways that are honest,
searching for it in a moral way and using it in a moral way.
f. Right Effort: persisting in ridding ourselves of all that is
wrong and harmful in our thoughts, words, and deeds; persisting in
giving rise to what would be good and useful to ourselves and others
in our thoughts, words, and deeds, without a thought for the
difficulty or weariness involved; acting persistently so as to be a
mainstay to others (except in cases that are beyond our control).
g. Right Mindfulness: being mindful and deliberate, making sure
not to act or speak through the power of inattention or forgetfulness,
making sure to be constantly mindful in our thoughts (being mindful of
the four frames of reference).
h. Right Concentration: keeping the mind centered and resilient.
No matter what we do or say, no matter what moods may strike the
heart, the heart keeps its poise, firm and unflinching in the four
levels of //jhana//.
These eight factors can be reduced to three -- virtue,
concentration, and discernment -- called the middle way, the heart of
the Buddha's teachings. The 'middleness' of virtue means to be pure
in thought, word, and deed, acting out of compassion, seeing that the
life of others is like your own, that their possessions are like your
own, feeling benevolence, loving others as much as yourself. When
'you' and 'they' are equal in this way, you are bound to be upright in
your behavior, like a well-balanced burden that, when placed on your
shoulders, doesn't cause you to tip to one side or the other. But
even then you are still in a position of having to shoulder a burden.
So you are taught to focus the mind on a single preoccupation: This
can be called 'holding in your hands' -- i.e., holding the mind in the
middle -- or concentration.
The middleness of concentration means focusing on the present, not
sending your thoughts into the past or future, holding fast to a
single preoccupation (//anapanaka-jhana//, absorption in the breath).
As for the middleness of discernment: No matter what preoccupations
may come passing by, you are able to rid yourself of all feelings of
liking or disliking, approval or rejection. You don't cling, even to
the one preoccupation that has arisen as a result of your own actions.
You put down what you have been holding in your hands; you don't
fasten on to the past, present or future. This is release.
When our virtue, concentration, and discernment are all in the
middle this way, we're safe. Just as a boat going down the middle of
a channel, or a car that doesn't run off the side of the road, can
reach its destination without beaching or running into a tree; so
too,people who practice in this way are bound to reach the qualities
they aspire to, culminating in the paths and fruitions leading to
nibbana, which is the main point of the Buddha's teachings.
So in short, putting the Dhamma first means to search solely for
purity of heart.
C. The attainment of the Dhamma refers to the attainment of the
highest quality, nibbana. If we refer to the people who reach this
attainment, there are four sorts --
1. //Sukha-vipassako//: those who develop just enough
tranquility and discernment to act as a basis for advancing to
liberating insight and who thus attain nibbana having mastered
only //asavakkhaya-nana//, the knowledge that does away with
the fermentation of defilement.
2. //Tevijjo//: those who attain the three skills.
3. //Chalabhinno//: those who attain the six intuitive powers.
4. //Catuppatisambhidappatto//: those who attain the four forms
To explain //sukha-vipassako// (those who develop insight more than
tranquility): //Vipassana// (liberating insight) and
//asavakkhaya-nana// (the awareness that does away with the
fermentation of defilement) differ only in name. In actuality they
refer to the same thing, the only difference being that //vipassana//
refers to the beginning stage of insight, and //asavakkhaya-nana// to
the final stage: clear and true comprehension of the four Noble
To explain //tevijjo//: The three skills are --
a. //Pubbenivasanussati-nana//: the ability to remember past
lives -- one, two, three, four, five, ten, one hundred, one
thousand, depending on one's powers of intuition. (This is a
basis for proving whether death is followed by rebirth or
b. //Cutupapata-nana//: knowledge of where living beings are
reborn -- on refined levels or base -- after they die.
c. //Asavakkhaya-nana//: the awareness that enables one to do
away with the fermentations in one's character (sensuality.
states of being, ignorance).
To explain //chalabhinno//: The six intuitive powers are --
a. //Iddhividhi//: the ability to display miracles -- becoming
invisible, walking on a dry path through a body of water,
levitating, going through rain without getting wet, going
through fire without getting hot, making a crowd of people
appear to be only a few, making a few to appear many, making
oneself appear young or old as one likes, being able to use
the power of the mind to influence events in various ways.
b. //Dibbasota//: clairaudience; the ability to hear far
distant sounds, beyond ordinary human powers.
c. //Cetopariya-nana//: the ability to know the thoughts of
d. //Pubbenivasanussati-nana//: the ability to remember
e. //Dibba-cakkhu//: clairvoyance; the ability to see far
distant objects, beyond ordinary human powers. Some people
can even see other levels of being with their clairvoyant
powers (one way of proving whether death is followed by
rebirth or annihilation, and whether or not there really are
other levels of being).
f. //Asavakkhaya-nana//: the awareness that does away with the
fermentation of defilement.
To explain //catuppatisambhidappatto//: The four forms of acumen are
a. //Attha-patisambhida//: acumen with regard to the sense of
the Doctrine and of matters in general, knowing how to explain
various points in line with their proper meaning.
b. //Dhamma-patisambhida//: acumen with regard to all mental
c. //Nirutti-patisambhida//: acumen with regard to linguistic
conventions. (This can include the ability to know the
languages of living beings in general.)
d. //Patibhana-patisambhida//: acumen in speaking on the spur
of the moment, knowing how to answer any question so as to
clear up the doubts of the person asking (like the Venerable
This ends the discussion of the virtues of the four classes of
people -- called Arahants -- who have reached the ultimate quality,
nibbana. As for the essence of what it means to be an Arahant,
though, there is only one point -- freedom from defilement: This is
what it means to attain the Dhamma, the other virtues being simply
The three levels of Dhamma we have discussed are, like the Buddha,
compared to jewels: There are many kinds of jewels to choose from,
depending on how much wealth -- discernment -- we have.
All of the qualities we have mentioned so far, to put them briefly
so as to be of use, come down to this: Practice so as to give rise to
virtue, concentration, and discernment within yourself. Otherwise,
you won't have a refuge or shelter. A person without the qualities
that provide refuge and shelter is like a person without a home -- a
delinquent or a vagrant -- who is bound to wander shiftlessly about.
Such people are hollow inside, like a clock without any workings:
Even though it has a face and hands, it can't tell anyone where it is,
what time it is, or whether it's morning, noon, or night (i.e., such
people forget that they are going to die).
People who aren't acquainted with the Dhamma within themselves are
like people blind from birth: Even though they are born in the world
of human beings, they don't know the light of the sun and moon that
enables human beings to see. They get no benefit from the light of
the sun and moon or the light of fire; and being blind, they then go
about proclaiming to those who can see, that there is no sun, no moon,
and no brightness to the world. As a result, they mislead those whose
eyes are already a little bleary. In other words, some groups say
that the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha don't exist, that they were
invented to fool the gullible.
Now, the Dhamma is something subtle and fine, like the
fire-potential (//tejas//) that exists in the air or in various
elements and that, if we have enough common sense, can be drawn out
and put to use. But if we're fools, we can sit staring at a bamboo
tube [a device for starting fire that works on the same principle as
the diesel engine] from dawn to dusk without ever seeing fire at all.
Anyone who believes that there is no Buddha, Dhamm,a or Sangha, no
series of paths or fruitions leading to nibbana, no consciousness that
experiences death and rebirth, is like the fool sitting and staring at
the bamboo tube.
Here I would like to tell a story as an allegory of those who aren't
acquainted with the Dhamma. There once was a man living in the woods
who, with his five sons, started growing crops in a clearing about a
mile from their home village. He built a small shack at the clearing
and would often take his sons to stay there. One morning, he started
a fire in the shack and told his sons to look after the fire, since he
was going out to hunt for food in the forest. 'If the fire goes out,'
he told them, 'get some fire from my bamboo tube and start it up
again.' Then he set out to search for food for his sons.
After he had left, his sons got so wrapped up in their play that
when they finally took a look at the fire, they found that it was
completely out. So they had the first son go get some fire to start
it up again. The first son walked over and tried knocking on the
bamboo tube, but didn't see any fire. So they had the second son get
some fire from the tube: He opened it up, but didn't see any fire
inside. All he saw were two bamboo chips, but he didn't know what to
do with them. So the third son came over for a look and, since he
didn't see any fire, he took a knife to cut the tube in half, but
still didn't see any fire. The fourth son went over and, seeing the
two halves lying there, shaved them down into thin strips to find the
fire in them, but didn't see any fire at all.
Finally the fifth son went over to look for fire, but before he went
he said to his brothers, 'What's the matter with you guys that you
can't get any fire from the bamboo tube? What a bunch of fools you
are! I'll go get it myself.' With that, he went to look at the
bamboo tube and found it split into strips lying in pile. Realizing
what his brothers had done, and thinking, 'What a bunch of
hare-brains,' he reached for a mortar and pestle and ground up the
bamboo strips to find the tire in them. By the time he ran out of
strength, he had ground them into a powder, but he still hadn't found
any fire. So he snuck off to play by himself.
Eventually, toward noon, the father returned from the forest and
found that the fire had gone out. So he asked his sons about it, and
they told him how they had looked for fire in the bamboo tube without
finding any. 'Idiots,' he thought, 'they've taken my fire-starter and
pounded it to bits. For that, I won't fix them any food. Let 'em
starve!' As a result, the boys didn't get anything to eat the entire
Those of us who aren't acquainted with the brightness of the Dhamma
-- '//Dhammo padipo//' -- that lies within us, who don't believe that
the Dhamma has value for ourselves and others, are lacking in
discernment, like the boys looking for fire in the bamboo tube, and so
we bring about our own ruin in various ways, wasting our lives: born
in darkness, living in darkness, dying in darkness, and then reborn in
more darkness all over again. Even though the Dhamma lies within us,
we can't get any use from it and thus will suffer for a long time to
come, like the boys who ruined their father's fire-starter and so had
to go without food.
The Dhamma lies within us, but we don't look for it. If we hope for
goodness, whether on a low or a high level, we'll have to look here,
inside, if we are to find what is truly good. But before we can know
ourselves in this way, we first have to know -- through study and
practice -- the principles taught by the Buddha.
Recorded Dhamma (//pariyatti dhamma//) is simply one of the symbols
of the Buddha's teachings. The important point is to actualize the
Dhamma through the complete practice of virtue, concentration, and
discernment. This is an essential part of the religion, the part that
forms the inner symbol of all those who practice rightly and well.
Whether the religion will be good or bad, whether it will prosper or
decline, depends on our practice, not on the recorded doctrine,
because the recorded doctrine is merely a symbol. So if we aim at
goodness, we should focus on developing our inner quality through the
Dhamma of practice (//patipatti dhamma//). As for the main point of
Buddhism, that is the dhamma of attainment (//pativedha dhamma//), the
transcendent quality: nibbana.
* * *
III. Sangham saranam gacchami:
I go to the Sangha for refuge.
The word //Sangha//, if translated as a substantive, refers to those
who have ordained and are wearing the yellow robe. Translated as a
quality, it refers to all people in general who have practiced
correctly in line with the Buddha's teachings. Members of the
monastic order, however, are of all sorts, and so we have two groups
A. //Sammuti-sangha//: the conventional Sangha.
B. //Ariya-sangha//: the Noble Sangha.
Membership in the conventional Sangha is attained through consent of
the Order, in a formal ceremony with witnesses, following the
procedures set out in the Vinaya. Membership in the Noble Sangha is
attained when the quality of transcendence (//lokuttara dhamma//)
appears in one's heart as a result of one's own behavior and practice,
with no formalities of any sort whatsoever. All Buddhists -- whether
formally ordained or not, no matter what their sex, color, or social
position -- can become members of this Sangha. This is termed being
ordained by the Dhamma, or being self-ordained in a way that cannot be
To speak in abstract terms, the qualities of transcendence, stable
and sure, that appear in the hearts of those who practice -- leading
them solely to the higher realms and closing off the four states of
destitution (//apaya//) -- are, taken together, called the Noble
A. Members of the conventional Sangha, with regard to the way they
conduct themselves, fall into four groups --
1. //Upajivika//: those who are looking simply for ways to make a
living, without looking for any higher virtues to develop within
themselves. They use the yellow robe as a means of livelihood,
without any thought of following the threefold training of virtue,
concentration, and discernment.
2. //Upakilika//: those who become ordained without any respect
for the training, looking simply for pastimes for their own enjoyment
-- collecting plants, playing chess, gambling, buying lottery tickets,
betting on horses -- looking for gain in ways forbidden by the Vinaya,
disobeying the words of the Buddha, disregarding the virtues set out
in the scriptures, undermining the religion.
3. //Upamuyuhika//: those who are close-minded and misguided,
unwilling to train themselves in heightened virtue, concentration, or
discernment. Even though they may have some education and knowledge,
they still keep themselves closed-minded, making excuses based on
their teachers, the time, the place, and their accustomed beliefs and
practices. Stuck where they are, such people are unwilling to change
their ways so as to accord with the principles of the doctrine.
4. //Upanissarana//: those who desire merit and wisdom; who search
for the true principles of the Dhamma and Vinaya; who set their hearts
on studying with reverence and respect, and conduct themselves in line
with what they have learned; who aim for the merit and wisdom offered
by Buddhism, for the path leading to release from suffering; who
rightly follow the Lord Buddha's teachings, i.e., --
a. //Anupavado//: They don't berate others in inappropriate ways.
b. //Anupaghato//: They aren't vindictive.
c. //Patimokkhe ca samvaro//: They stay well within the precepts
of the Patimokkha, and don't disobey the injunctions of the Vinaya --
like good citizens, desired by the nation, who stay within the bounds
of the government's laws. (If people don't keep within the laws of
the land, it will lead only to turmoil, because people who have no
bounds are like farmers who have no boundary markers and who will thus
infringe on one another's property, giving rise to needless disputes
and ill-feeling, serving no purpose whatsoever .)
d. //Mattannuta ca bhattasmim//: They have a sense of moderation
in searching for and using the four necessities of life. They
understand how to make the best use of things -- knowing what's
beneficial and what's harmful, what is and what isn't of use to the
body, considering things carefully before making use of them (in line
with the principles of morality and the Buddha's teachings).
e. //Pantanca sayanasanam//: They favor quiet, secluded places to
stay. To quote from the Canon, these include:
-- //Arannagato va//: going to a forest wilderness, far from human
society, free from social interaction
-- //Sunnagaragato va//: or to uninhabited dwellings, in places
far off the beaten track.
-- //Rukkhamulagato va//: or living under the shade of a tree, in
a cave, or under an overhanging cliff face, so as to aid the heart in
f. //Adhicitte ca ayogo//: They make a persistent effort, through
the practice of concentration, to cleanse the heart, freeing it from
such Hindrances as sensual desire.
//Etam buddhana sasanam//: All of these factors are the teachings
of the Buddhas.
//Na hi pabbajito parupaghati
Samano hoti param vihethayanto//.
How can a person who harms himself and others be a good monk?
These, then are the attributes of the Sangha. In broad terms, they
come down to two sorts:
1. //Sangha-nimitta//: the symbol of having been ordained (the
mode of dress, etc.).
2. //Guna-sampatti//: the inner qualifications -- virtue and
truth -- of those worthy meditators who are held to be the
field of merit for the world.
Those with the necessary resources -- i.e., discernment -- will
obtain a good field. Whatever seed they plant will give a yield well
worth the effort involved, just as an intelligent person who puts his
savings in a safe national bank will protect his capital from loss and
even earn a profit.
Just as a good rice field has four characteristics -- the ground is
level and even, the dike has a water gate that is easy to open and
close, the soil is rich in nutrients, the rainfall comes at the proper
season -- in the same way, members of the Sangha who are to be a field
of merit for the world have to be endowed with the four following
1. The analogy of level, even ground refers to those monks who are
free from the four forms of partiality. Whatever they do in thought,
word and deed, they are free from:
a. //Chandagati// -- i.e., they don't act solely under the
power of their own likes and inclinations;
b. //Dosagati// -- or under the power of ill will or anger
c. //Mohagati// -- or under the power of delusion;
d. //Bhayagati// -- or under the power of fear or apprehension
of any sort whatsoever. They aim at what is right and true as
their major concern, both in the presence of others and in
private, keeping themselves always on a par with their
2. As for the analogy of a water gate that is easy to open and
close, 'closing' refers to exercising restraint so that evil doesn't
arise within us. Restraint has four aspects --
a. //Patimokkha-samvara-sila//: staying within the bounds of
the Monastic Code.
b. //Indriya-samvara-sila//: exercising restraint over our
senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, feeling, and ideation
so as to keep the mind quiet, unagitated, and in good order.
c. //Ajiva-parisuddhi-sila//: searching for the necessities of
life -- food, clothing, shelter, and medicine -- only in ways
that are proper.
d. //Paccaya-paccavekkhana-parisuddhi-sila//: considering the
necessities of life before using them so as not to use them
out of desire or craving.
To exercise restraint in these ways is called 'closing.' 'Closing,'
however, can be understood in another way, i.e., exercising restraint
so that corruption doesn't arise in the three areas of our thoughts,
words, and deeds.
a. To close or control our deeds means, in broad terms, not to kill
living beings or to oppress or torment them in any way; not to steal
the belongings of others; and not to engage in sexual misconduct (or
in the sexual act) or to give rein to any sensual desires. Even
though such desires may arise in the heart, we keep them under
control. This is what it means to close our deeds.
b. To close our words means not to tell lies, either to others
people's faces or behind their backs; not to speak divisively, i.e.,
in such a way that will lead to a needless falling-out between people;
not to speak coarsely or abusively, not cursing, swearing or being
vulgar; and not to engage in useless chatter, saying things that are
of no real use to ourselves or our listeners. To be intent on
restraining ourselves in this way is called closing off evil words so
that they don't have a chance to arise.
c. To close off evil thoughts means:
-- //Anabhijjha-visama-lobha//: refraining from the greed that
goes above and beyond our sphere and powers to the point where
dissatisfaction defiles the mind.
-- //Abyapada//: not storing up feelings of ill will to the point
where anger takes over and we let jealousy and displeasure show,
-- //Sammaditthi//: keeping our views correct in line with right
principles, eliminating views that arise from the mind's being clouded
and untrained -- i.e., overpowered by ignorance and delusion -- to the
point of believing that there is no good or evil, and from there to
deeply ingrained unwise mental states. If we take care to ward off
these unwise mental qualities so that they can't arise in our hearts,
they will give way to Right View: seeing that there really is good,
there really is evil; that virtue, generosity, and meditation really
give results; that the paths and fruitions leading to nibbana really
exist. When we see things in this way, we have in effect closed off
evil, preventing it from penetrating our hearts, just as rice farmers
close their dykes to prevent salt-water from flowing into their
As for 'opening,' it refers to practicing the five forms of
a. //Avasamacchariya//: not being possessive of the place over
which we have control, such as our temple or monastery; not preventing
good people from coming to stay. If people are pure in their
behavior, and able to impart what is good to us, we should make room
for them so that they can stay in comfort. Evil people, however,
shouldn't be allowed to infiltrate our group; and bad people who are
already in the group should be expelled. This is how to behave with
discernment in this area.
b. //Kulamacchariya//: not being possessive of our families. On
the external level, this refers to the families who support us. We
don't prevent them from making offerings to other individuals and we
don't prevent capable individuals from teaching and advising them.
Some monks stand in the way of such interchanges, creating barriers
with their thoughts, words, and deeds. Sometimes if their supporters
make merit with other individuals, they even make reprisals, such as
refusing to allow that family to make merit with their own groups or
factions. These worthless attitudes shouldn't be allowed to arise in
On the internal level, being possessive of our 'family' refers to
the heart' s attachment to sensations and mental acts, which form the
family line of unawakened people. We should abandon this attachment
so that we can enter the lineage of the Noble Ones.
c. //Labhamacchariya//: not being possessive of the material gains
we have attained through proper means, not regarding them as being our
own. Material gains, as classified by the Vinaya, are of four sorts:
food,clothing, shelter (lodgings and the items used in them, such as
furniture, matting, etc.), and medicine. We should see that when
people present us with offerings of this sort, they have abandoned an
enemy -- their own stinginess and selfishness -- and have gained in
worth and wisdom through the power of their sacrifice. Anyone who
receives such an offering and clings to it as really being his own is
like a person who collects coconut pulp or sugar cane pulp from which
others have already squeezed and drunk the juice. For this reason,
people of wisdom and discernment aren't possessive of their
belongings. They are always willing to relinquish and share their
gains -- in proportion to the amount they have received -- so that
others can make use of them.
This is external relinquishment. As for internal relinquishment:
Whereas we once ate as we liked, many times a day, we now eat less,
only one meal a day. We use only one set of robes. We relinquish our
comfortable lodgings and undertake the ascetic practice of living in
the forest or under the shade of a tree. If we become ill, we search
for medicine and treat our disease with moderation, in a way that
doesn't create burdens for others. In other words, we relinquish
ourselves as an offering to the religion by putting it into practice.
This is classed as the internal relinquishment of material gain
through the power of our practice and conduct.
d. //Vannamacchariya//: not being possessive of our 'color'
(//vanna//). 'Vanna,' here, can be interpreted in two ways. In one
sense, it refers to social caste or class. For example, the ruling
class, the religious elite, property owners, and laborers are held to
be unequal in status, and the members of one group are unwilling to
let other groups mix with theirs. If such mixing occurs, they regard
it as something base and disgraceful and so they continually put up
barriers to prevent it from happening. In this case, we can infer
that we shouldn't make distinctions based on faction, nationality,
color, or race, because the Buddha taught that a person's worth comes
not from his or her birth, but from the goodness of his or her own
actions; or, as we say, 'Those who do good will meet with good, those
who do evil will meet with evil.' For example, we worship and respect
the Buddha even though he wasn't Thai as we are. We respect him
through the power of his goodness. If we were to be close-minded and
nationalistic, we Thai's wouldn't have any religion to worship at all
aside from the religion of spirits and ghosts.
The second sense of 'vanna' refers to the complexion of our skin.
This, too, we cling to, unwilling to sacrifice it for what is worthy
and good. We hesitate to observe the precepts, to meditate, or to
undertake the ascetic practices for fear that we'll spoil our looks
e. //Dhammamacchariya//: not being possessive of the Buddha's
teachings we have learned. Possessiveness in this case can mean not
wanting to teach unless we are reimbursed, not wanting to preach
unless there is an offering, or complaining if the offering is small.
On another level, being possessive of the dhamma can refer to
holding on to the unskillful qualities (//akusala-dhamma//) within us;
being unwilling to rid ourselves of such evils as greed, anger,
delusion, pride, conceit, or any of the other fermentations of
defilement; clinging to these things, without searching for the
techniques, called the Path, for relinquishing them, i.e.:
-- the precepts of the Monastic Code that, if we observe them
carefully, can eliminate the common defilements arising
through our words and deeds;
-- the practice of concentration that, when it is developed in
our hearts, can eliminate intermediate defilements, i.e., such
Hindrances as sensual desire;
-- the discernment that, when it arises within us, can eliminate
such subtle defilements from our hearts as //avijja// --
mental murkiness; //tanha// -- craving; and //upadana// --
attachment to false assumptions.
When we develop these five forms of unselfishness, we can be classed
as open -- and our eyes will be open to perceiving the highest
quality, the transcendent.
3. The analogy of soil rich in nutrients refers to our putting four
qualities into practice --
a. //Metta//: good will, friendliness, hoping for our own
well-being and that of all other living beings.
b. //Karuna//: compassion for ourselves and others, which
induces us to be helpful in various ways.
c. //Mudita//: appreciation for ourselves for having cultivated
goodness; appreciation (not feeling jealousy) for the goodness
cultivated by others.
d. //Upekkha//: equanimity in cases beyond our control. For
instance, when death has come to a person we know, we see that
it is beyond our help and so we keep our hearts neutral, not
allowing feelings of sadness or gladness to arise.
For these four qualities to arise in fully mature form, they have to
appear in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Whatever we may do in
thought, word, or deed should not be done through the power of anger.
We should regard anger as an ogre -- and when anger takes over, our
body becomes an ogre's tool: his bludgeon. To see the drawbacks of
anger in this way can give rise to good will in thought, word, and
deed, extending without partiality to all people and living beings
throughout the world. Even with our enemies we should try to develop
these same thoughts of good will, by looking for their good side, in
one way or another, instead of looking just at their bad side, which
can cause hatred to invade and consume our hearts. Anger is a fire
that can't burn other people; it burns only ourselves. This is why we
should develop good will within our hearts. The power of good will
brings good to everyone -- just as food that contains the nutrients
needed by people brings health and contentment to all who eat it; or
as fertilizer with the proper nutrients can cause plants and trees to
grow, give fruit, and so be of use to people and other living beings.
Good will is thus a form of goodness that can be classed as
nourishment. (Good will is what cools the fevers of the world.)
4. The analogy of seasonable rain refers to our establishing
ourselves in the four bases of success (//iddhipada//) --
a. //Chanda//: feeling a love and an affinity for goodness and
virtue as much as for life, or more.
b. //Viriya//: being persistent, audacious and persevering in
cultivating goodness within ourselves.
c. //Citta//: being intent on whatever we set about to do.
d. //Vimansa//: being deliberate and circumspect at all times
in whatever we set about to do.
These four qualities can lead to two kinds of success:
//iddhiriddhi// -- success through the power of thought; and
//punnariddhi// -- success that comes on its own. Both of these forms
of success, on the level of the world or the Dhamma, have to be based
on the four qualities mentioned above. These four qualities are like
preservatives: Whoever is saturated with them won't go sour or stale.
And when we're free from going stale, our work is bound not to
stagnate and so is sure to succeed.
Another comparison: These four qualities are '//sacca-kamma//' --
actions that give rise to truth, achieving our purposes. Those who
bring these qualities into themselves will become true people. Truth
can be compared to salt: If we try to keep food, like vegetables or
fish, without salting it, it soon turns rotten and wormy, making it
unfit for human consumption. But if we salt it, it can keep for a
long time. A good example of this is our Lord Buddha, whose actions
gave rise to truth and who thus was able to establish the religion so
as to benefit people at large. Even the body he left behind still
serves a purpose for human and divine beings. For instance, his
bones, which have become relics, are still with us even though he
gained total liberation a long time ago. As for his teachings, they
have lasted for over 2,500 years. And he himself is deathless, i.e.,
he has entered total nibbana. All of this was achieved by means of
truth, i.e., the four bases of success.
Those of us who have no truth, though, are like unsalted fish or
meat, and are bound to go wormy. The worms, here, refer to our
various defilements and are of three main species: The first species
is composed of affection, anger, and delusion; these feed on us from
our feet to our waists. The second species -- sensual desire,
ill-will, torpor, restlessness, and uncertainty -- latch on and bore
into us from our waists to our necks. And the third species -- the
fermentation of sensuality, states of being, views, and ignorance
(cloudy, unclear knowledge) -- eats us up whole: ears, eyes, nose,
mouth, body, and mind. Whoever is all wormy like this is classed as a
person gone rotten and stale, who hasn't reached any qualities of
substance. And for this reason, the bones of such a person, after
death, are no match for the bones of chickens and pigs, for no one
wants them. If the bones and meat of such a person were put up for
sale, no one would buy. And furthermore, such a person will have to
come back as an angry ghost, lolling its tongue and rolling its eyes,
to frighten its children and grandchildren.
Thus, whoever develops the four qualities mentioned above will reach
deathlessness -- //amata dhamma// -- which is like a crystalline
shower that comes from distilling away all impurities, just as rain
water, which is distilled from the sea, rises into the air and returns
to the earth, nourishing the grasses, crops, and trees, giving
refreshment to people and other living beings.
These, then, are some of the characteristics of those who form the
field of merit for the world both on the mundane and on the
transcendent levels, who conduct themselves in keeping with the phrase
in the chant of the virtues of the Sangha:
'The field of merit for the world.'
Now we will discuss the chant of the virtues of the Sangha further
as a path to practice, because the virtues of the Sangha are open to
all Buddhists in general, without excluding any individual, race, or
social class at all. Whoever puts these principles into practice is
capable of becoming a member of the Noble Sangha without having to go
through the formalities of the Vinaya. In other words, this is a
community and a state of worthiness open to all who put the following
principles into practice --
1. //Supatipanno//: being a person whose conduct is good. 'Good
conduct' refers to seven principles --
a. We should gather frequently -- for the daily chanting
services, to hear the Dhamma explained, to seek out wise
people, and to join whole-heartedly in the work of the group.
This is external gathering. What is really important, though,
is internal gathering, i.e.,collecting the mind in
concentration, which is the gathering point of all that is
good, and forms the basic skill for bringing the factors of
the Path together (//magga-samangi//).
b. When a meeting of the group disperses, we should all disperse
at the same time, and not act at variance with the group. On
the internal level, we should all as a group disperse
shoddiness from our thoughts, words, and deeds.
c. We should not establish new rules that were not established
by the Buddha, or abandon those that were. For example, don't
make a practice of doing things the Buddha declared to be
worthless, evil, or wrong; develop within yourself the things
he taught to be good, right, and worthwhile.
d. Be respectful of your elders, teachers, parents, etc.
e. Whatever you do in thought, word, or deed, don't act under
the influence of craving, anger, or delusion.
f. Make a point of searching out virtuous people.
g. Take pleasure in solitude.
This is what is meant by good conduct.
2. //Uju-patipanno//: being a person whose conduct is
straightforward, firmly established in the threefold training --
virtue, concentration, and discernment -- which leads straight to
nibbana; being fair and just, unswayed by any of the four forms of
partiality. This is what is meant by straightforward conduct.
3. //Naya-patipanno//: being a person whose conduct leads to
higher knowledge. This refers to following fifteen procedures
a. //Patimokkha-samvara//: keeping within the precepts of the
Monastic Code, respecting the training rules of the Vinaya.
(For laypeople, this means observing the five or eight
b. //Indriya-samvara//: keeping watch over your senses of
sight, hearing, smell, taste, feeling, and ideation so as to
keep the mind collected and at peace.
c. //Bhojane mattannuta//: knowing moderation in the requisites
of life, i.e., eating only just enough food.
d. //Jagariyanuyoga//: being persistent in cleansing the mind
so that it is pure and bright, not allowing lapses in
mindfulness or presence of mind to occur.
e. //Saddha//: conviction, i.e., being convinced of the truth
of good and evil, of the paths and their fruitions; having
conviction in people who merit it.
f. //Hiri//: feeling shame at the thought of doing evil, not
doing evil either in public or in private.
g. //Ottappa//: having a sense of dread at the thought of doing
h. //Bahusacca//: being well-educated and always willing to
i. //Viriya//: being persistent, unflagging, and courageous in
performing your duties.
j. //Sati//: being mindful before doing anything in thought,
word or deed.
k. //Panna//: developing discernment as to what should and
should not be done, as to what is and isn't beneficial.
l. //Pathama-jhana//: the first level of jhana, composed of
five factors -- directed thought, evaluation, rapture,
pleasure, and singleness of preoccupation. (Jhana means to be
absorbed in or focused on a single object or preoccupation, as
when we deal with the breath.)
m. //Dutiya-jhana//: the second level of jhana, composed of
three factors -- rapture, pleasure, and singleness of
n. //Tatiya-jhana//: the third level of jhana, composed of two
factors -- pleasure and singleness of preoccupation.
o. //Catuttha-jhana//: the fourth level of jhana, composed of
two factors -- equanimity and pure mindfulness, which is the
single preoccupation of your concentration.
This is what is meant by conduct leading to higher knowledge.
Here we will discuss how to give rise to the first level of jhana.
Directed thought: Think of the breath until you can recognize it
both as it comes in and as it goes out.
Singleness of preoccupation: Let the mind become one, at rest with
the breath, not straying away to other objects. Watch over your
thoughts so that they deal only with the breath until the breath
Evaluation: Focus exclusively on issues connected with the breath
and acquaint yourself with how to let this comfortable
breath-sensation spread and co-ordinate with the other
breath-sensations in the body. Let these breath-sensations spread
until they all merge. Once the body has been soothed by the breath,
feelings of pain will grow calm. The body will be filled with good
For jhana to arise, these three factors have to be brought to bear
on the same breath sensation. This breath sensation can lead all the
way to the fourth level of jhana, the level of refinement depending on
the act of focusing through the power of mindfulness: Sometimes the
focus is broad, sometimes narrow, in accordance with the different
factors on the different levels. But to be really beneficial, you
should let the breath spread as broadly as possible, being constantly
aware throughout the body of the various aspects of the breath. You
will then get excellent results from your practice of jhana. You
might even gain liberating insight on this level, because the first
level of jhana is what constitutes threshold concentration (//upacara
If you want to go on to fixed penetration (//appana samadhi//), you
should keep practicing this level until you are skilled, i.e., skilled
at fixing the mind on a single object, at adjusting and expanding the
object, and at staying in place. When you want your concentration to
have energy, make the breath light and refined -- but keep your
mindfulness broad. Otherwise, the mind might go into //arupa jhana//,
where it has no sense of the form of the body; or you might sit
absolutely still, without any awareness of the body at all, while the
mind pays attention to another area, such as simple awareness,
completely disregarding the body or sitting unconscious, like a log.
This is //bahira-jhana//, concentration outside of the Buddha's
teachings, incapable of giving rise to liberating insight.
So when you begin, you should develop the three above-mentioned
factors as much as possible, and the mind will then be able to go on
to the second level of jhana. When you fix the mind on the breath
repeatedly using these three beginning factors, they give rise to two
Rapture: a sense of fullness and refreshment of body and mind,
going straight to the heart, independent of all else.
Pleasure: a sense of ease arising from the body's being still and
undisturbed (//kaya-passaddhi//), and from the mind' s being at rest
on its own, placid and serene (//citta-passaddhi//).
The factors of the first level of jhana, then, are of two sorts:
cause and result. The causes are directed thought, evaluation, and
singleness of preoccupation; the results, rapture and pleasure, .
As for the second level of jhana, with its three factors of rapture,
pleasure, and singleness of preoccupation: This refers to the state
of mind that has tasted the results coming from the first level of
jhana. The sense of fullness becomes more powerful, as does the sense
of pleasure, allowing the mind to abandon its thinking and evaluating,
so that the singleness of the preoccupation takes the lead from here
on in. Make the mind still in the refined sense of the breath. Body
and mind are full and at ease; the mind is more firmly implanted in
its object than before. After a while, as you keep focusing in, the
sense of fullness and pleasure begins to pulsate. Focus the mind down
to a more refined level and you will enter the third level of jhana.
The third level of jhana has two factors -- pleasure and singleness
of preoccupation: The mind is solitary; the body, solitary and still.
The breath is refined and broad, with a white glow like cotton-wool
throughout the body, stilling all painful feelings in body and mind.
Not a single Hindrance (//nivarana//) arises to interfere. The four
properties -- earth, water, fire, and wind -- are at peace with one
another in every part: You could almost say that they're pure
throughout the entire body. The mind is completely still -- steady,
solid, and sure -- reaching oneness in a solitary sense of ease. Body
and mind are in solitude. Even if you're with a group of people, you
feel as if you were alone. The mind is strong, ardent, and expansive.
Mindfulness is broad -- spreading throughout the body, focused
exclusively on the present, not affected by any allusions to past or
future. The breath gives rise to an energy that is pure white. The
mind has power. The focus is strong, and the light brilliant. Energy
is unwavering, so that you are no longer concerned with your sense of
pleasure, which dilates somewhat. This causes the mind to focus on
into the fourth level of jhana.
The fourth level of jhana has two factors -- equanimity and
singleness of preoccupation (or mindfulness). The breath energy is
still, with no ripples or gaps. The properties of the body are
undisturbed. As for the mind, it is undisturbed with regard to all
three time periods: uninvolved with the past, uninvolved with the
future, undisturbed by the present. When the mind stays with this
undisturbed sense of equanimity, this is the true meaning of
'singleness of object.' The breath is at peace, the body at peace in
every part. There is no need to use the in-and-out breath. The
breath energy has reached saturation point.
The four properties (//dhatu//) are equal, all with the same
characteristics. The mind is completely at peace, with a brilliance
streaming in all directions. The brilliance of the breath at peace
reaches full strength. The brilliance of the mind arises from the
power of mindfulness focused on all four of the great frames of
reference: body, feelings, mind, and mental qualities. The question
of their being four doesn't arise, for in this mental moment they
coalesce in perfect unity. The brilliance of the mind and of the
body, which arises from the power of their solitary stillness, shines
as //jagariyanuyoga//, the purifying inner fire (//tapas//) that can
dispel darkness thoroughly. The bright light of the mind reaches full
strength. The purity of the different parts of the breath energy
keeps the other properties in good order. The body is completely at
peace, like a factory at rest.In other words, you don't have to use
the in-and-out breath. The body develops potency; the mind, resilient
power. When these reach saturation point, if you then want to give
rise to knowledge, shift your awareness so that it dilates slightly,
and the important skills that arise from the power of the mind -- such
as the Eight Skills -- will appear, i.e.,:
1. //Vipassana-nana//: clear insight into the elements,
aggregates, and sense media.
2. //Manomayiddhi//: the ability to achieve one's aims through
the power of thought.
3. //Iddhividhi//: the ability to display a variety of
4. //Dibba-sota//: clairaudience, the ability to hear far
5. //Cetopariya-nana//: the ability to know the mental states
of other people.
6. //Pubbe-nivasanussati-nana//: the ability to remember past
lives. (This is a basis for proving whether death is followed
by annihilation or rebirth, and whether or not there really
are other levels of existence.)
7. //Dibba-cakkhu//: clairvoyance, the inner eye that arises
from the power of the mind, relying to some extent on the
8. //Asavakkhaya-nana//: knowing how to eliminate the
fermentations of defilement as they relate to your various
forms of knowledge.
If you want to give rise to supernormal powers, formulate an
intention at that point, and it will appear openly, so that ordinary
people will be able to see it.
Both of these aspects, knowledge and power, can lead to mastery on
the level of the world and of the Dhamma. The properties in the body
acquire potency; the mind becomes a potent center of consciousness.
This is the science of the mind on an advanced level, giving rise to
an advanced form of Buddhist learning: //lokavidu//, wide-ranging
knowledge of the cosmos.
To develop the factors discussed here is to warrant the name,
//naya-patipanno//, one whose conduct leads to higher knowledge.
(The moment in which the enemies of the body -- impure properties --
disband and disappear is termed '//sankhata-lakkhana-nirodha//,'
conditioned disbanding.' When the enemies of the mind -- i.e., the
five Hindrances -- disappear completely, leaving the mind radiant and
clear, that is termed '//bhujissaka-nirodha//,' disbanding in a state
4. //Samici-patipanno//: being a person whose conduct is masterful
This refers to our conduct in developing two qualities: tranquility
a. The practice of tranquility means stilling the mind single
preoccupation, free from the five Hindrances, so as to attain the four
levels of //rupa-jhana//.
b. The practice of insight means being a person who sees clearly
and truly into the nature of all conditioned things (//sankhara//),
e.g., seeing that they are inconstant, stressful, and not-self;
gaining discernment that sees distinctly in terms of the four Noble
Truths; seeing conditioned things from both sides, i.e., the side that
is inconstant. stressful, and not-self, and the side that is
constant, pleasant, and self; giving rise to the state of pure
knowledge and vision termed 'gotarabhu-nana,' escaping from the
assumption that things are either constant or inconstant; knowing both
the side that arises and disbands, as well as the side that doesn't
arise and doesn't disband, without making assumptions about or being
attached to either side. Theories, views, and conceits disappear.
The mind doesn't fasten onto anything, past, present, or future. This
is termed '//asesa-viraga-nirodha//,' utter disbanding and dispassion.
This is the way of insight.
Insight, analyzed in detail in terms of the Doctrine, in line with
the conventions of the sages of the past, means knowledge of the four
-- //Dukkha//: mental and physical stress, the result of being
overcome by the power of birth, ageing, illness, death and
-- //Samudaya//: the cause of stress -- i.e., //tanha//,
craving or thirst -- which includes //kama-tanha//, insatiable
craving for sensual pleasures; //bhava-tanha//, the desire to
be ore have certain states of being; and //vibhava-tanha//,
the desire not to be or have certain states of being.
-- //Nirodha//: the disbanding of stress; the extinguishing of
the fires of defilement.
-- //Magga//: the path of practice that puts an end to craving,
the cause of stress.
All four of these Noble Truths already exist in the world, but
ordinarily are hard to perceive because they show us only their images
or reflections. On this level, we can't yet see them for what they
really are. But for the Buddha to know them, he had to start out with
the reflections that appear, before he was able to trace them back to
the real thing. This is why they are termed Noble Truths: They are
the possessions of noble people; only those who search and explore can
know them. Thus, the Noble Truths have two aspects: their first
aspect, which is the way they are found in the experience of ordinary
people in general; and their second aspect, which is more subtle and
can be known only by people of wisdom who explore in the area of the
heart and mind.
An example of the four Truths on the ordinary level, as experienced
by ordinary people: Physical discomfort, such as illness or disease,
can be called the truth of stress. Knowing enough to buy the right
medicine, or being a doctor who knows the medicine for curing that
particular kind of disease, is the truth of the path. As the symptoms
of the disease disappear, that is termed conditional disbanding. When
the disease is cured, that is the truth of disbanding. If, however,
we suffer from a disease, such as a wound, but don't know how to treat
it -- simply wanting it to heal and using whatever medicine we can lay
our hands on, without knowing whether it's right or wrong (this is
termed craving and ignorance) -- the wound will only worsen, for the
medicine we take isn't right for the disease. This is the truth of
the cause of stress.
If we want to go deeper than the ordinary level, we have to practice
correctly in line with the way of the Path, developing our virtue,
concentration, and discernment, before we will be able to perceive the
four Truths on the noble level.
The essence of the Dhamma, by its nature, lies mixed with its outer
accretions. If we don't have the right knowledge and skill, we won't
get very much use from the Dhamma. Whatever benefits we do get will
be only on the mundane level. We can make a comparison with diamond
or gold ore buried in the ground: If a person doesn't have enough
knowledge to extract the ore, he will get only the traces that come
flowing out in spring water or that adhere to rocks along the surface
of the ground. These will earn him only a meager profit, which won't
be enough for a living. A person with knowledge and skill, though,
can use the gold to make a living without having to search for any
other occupations, but he'll have to follow the traces down into the
earth until he meets with the real thing, i.e. the genuine ore. Even
just a single hunk -- if it's large and of high quality, weighing a
ton -- will enable him to rest secure for the rest of his life. In
the same way, those who are wise in Buddhism see stress as a noble
treasure and so go digging down into stress; they see the cause of
stress as a noble treasure and so dig down into it; they see the Path
as a noble treasure; they see disbanding and liberation as noble
treasures and so dig on down until they meet with the genuine ore.
Only then can they be called noble sages.
Those of us who are dauntless enough to unearth our inner resources
in this way will be able to use those resources to protect ourselves
throughout time, gaining release from the cycle of rebirth, the jail
for imprisoning foolish and ignorant people. We who like to explore
in general should be glad that we've come across a good mine with
genuine ore whose traces lie scattered about for us to see. If we
don't disregard the things we see, we'll meet the four Truths
If we were to summarize the four Noble Truths briefly, we could do
so as follows: The objects or preoccupations of the mind that arise
and disappear are the truth of stress. The mental act that enters
into and takes possession of those objects is the truth of the cause
of stress. The mental act that focuses in on those objects and
examines them as they arise and disappear is the truth of the Path;
and the mental act that lets go of those objects as they arise and
disappear is the truth of disbanding, or release -- i.e., that which
knows the reality that doesn't arise and doesn't disappear.
These, then, are the four Noble Truths. Those who see these four
Truths directly for themselves will give rise to the noble path and
fruition termed 'stream-entry.' Such people are a field of merit for
the world: worthy of respect, worthy of welcome, worthy of offerings
Whoever possesses the qualities mentioned here qualifies rightly as
a member of the Sangha in line with the Doctrine and Discipline taught
by the Buddha, and may be called, //samici-patipanno//, one whose
conduct is masterful, reaching the apex of the mundane level and
B. Now we will discuss the second main heading, the Noble Sangha,
the family of the Noble Ones, which may be joined by virtue of having
developed one's inner qualities, with no need to go through the
formalities of the Vinaya. The Noble Sangha, like the conventional
Sangha, is composed of four groups:
1. //Stream-enterers//: those who have reached the beginning stage
of the flow to nibbana. At most they will have to be reborn only
seven more times. They have developed enough tranquility and insight
for the Path to converge in a single mental instant, enabling them to
gain true insight into all phenomena -- mundane and transcendent -- as
they really are. When they see in this way, they have cut three of
the Fetters (//sanyojana//) that keep living beings under the spell of
the world. The Fetters they have cut absolutely are --
a. //Sakkaya-ditthi//: the view that the body -- together with
its properties, aggregates, and sense media -- belongs to the
self. Stream-enterers, unlike ordinary run-of-the-mill
people, don't hold that these things are the self or belong to
the self. They see them simply as common property -- that we
didn't bring them when we came and won't take them when we go
-- and that they arise simply through kamma.
b. //Vicikiccha//: doubt and uncertainty about the practices
one is following. Stream-enterers have no such doubts,
because they have reached the quality attained by the Buddha.
c. //Silabbata-paramasa//: attachment to customs or traditions
that are held to be good in this way or that. Stream-enterers
are not attached to any external practices dealing with
actions or manners.
These three Fetters, stream-enterers have cut absolutely, once and
for all. They have attained the noble quality of having closed off
completely the four states of deprivation. In other words, they are
destined never again to be born in hell, on the level of the angry
demons, the level of the hungry ghosts, or the level of common
animals. This is what it means to close off all four states of
2. //Once-returners//: those who have gained the second level of
Awakenment, who will attain nibbana after being born once more in the
world. Once-returners have cut three Fetters, like stream-enterers,
but have also reduced the amount of desire, anger, and delusion in
their hearts. (They know how to keep the mind within bounds.)
3. //Non-returners//: those who have awakened to the third level
and who will never again return to the human world. After they die,
they will be born in the Brahma worlds on the levels of the Pure
Abodes, there to attain nibbana. They have absolutely abandoned five
of the Fetters --
d. //Kamaraga//: passion and delight caused by the power of
sensual desires and sensual objects.
e. //Patigha//: irritation and displeasure caused by the power
4. //Arahants//: those who have awakened to the ultimate level of
the four Noble Truths and have reached the quality of deathlessness,
free from all the fermentations of defilement; whose ignorance,
craving, attachments, and kamma have ended. Arahants have abandoned
their Fetters by means of the factors of the highest of the noble
paths. The Fetters they have abandoned are ten:
f. //Ruparaga//: passion for the sense of form that can act as
the object of //rupa jhana//.
g. //Aruparaga//: passion for formless phenomena, such as the
feeling of pleasure that comes from seclusion.
h. //Mana//: conceiving or construing oneself to be like this
i. //Uddhacca//: restlessness and distraction, being carried
away with one's thoughts. The thoughts on this level deal
with the activity of discernment, which is something good, but
they go out of bounds.
j. //Avijja//: ignorance, i.e., not recognizing stress, its
cause, its disbanding, and the path to its disbanding -- in
short, not being acquainted with the conditioned phenomena
(//sankhata dhamma//) that exist within each of us; not being
acquainted with the unconditioned (//asankhata dhamma//),
which is a genuine property, existing naturally. This,
briefly, is what avijja means.
Another meaning for avijja is not being acquainted with the way we
are -- e.g., not recognizing our concepts of the past, and thus
becoming immersed in them; not recognizing our concepts of the future;
not recognizing the present, which is the important aspect of all
physical and mental phenomena. Thus, delusion with regard to all
three time periods is called avijja: counterfeit knowledge, falling
short of the four genuine Truths.
These ten Fetters, Arahants -- both men and women -- have cut
absolutely, freeing themselves from every sort of bond or domination,
so that their hearts are brilliant and dazzling, like the full moon in
a cloudless sky. This is //samici-patipanno// -- one whose conduct is
masterful -- on the transcendent level.
The four groups mentioned here are termed the Ariya Sangha, the
Noble Community, which can be found only in Buddhism. Therefore, all
Buddhists who daily pay homage to the Sangha should make themselves
aware of what the Sangha is, of how genuine or counterfeit the members
of the Sangha are. Otherwise, our respect will be blind and
misguided, ignorant of the true nature of the Buddha, Dhamma, and
Sangha. We should use our judgment and reason to be selective so that
we can help one another look after the state of the religion, bringing
it into proper line with the principles of the Buddha's teachings.
The Sangha can be compared to a tree: Some members are like the
heartwood, others are like the sapwood, others are like the outer
bark, and still others are like parasitic creepers. Another popular
analogy is to compare the Sangha to a jewel. Now, there are many
kinds of jewels, just as there are many parts to a tree: artificial
gems, zircons, rubies, amethysts, sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds.
Just as all of these are called jewels, and are all of differing
value, so it is with the members of the Sangha. Whoever is rich in
discernment will obtain a valuable jewel as an adornment. Whoever is
poor in discernment will end up with nothing but artificial gems or
bits of gravel: Some people believe that all who wear the yellow robe
are alike. They 'make donations to the yellow robe,' or 'pay respect
to the yellow robe,' or 'make donations to the virtuous'.... Thus I
ask that all Buddhists make a point of learning where the gems of the
religion that we as a nation revere may be found.
A person who doesn't know what the Sangha is, is like a child who
doesn't know his family and relatives -- who doesn't know who his
father is, who his mother is, who his elder brothers and sisters are.
When this is the case, he has no one to rely on. If he tries to rely
on others, he can do so only as long as he has money in his pockets.
As soon as he runs out of money, he's in for trouble: His friends and
companions are sure to act as if they don't recognize him; and he
can't turn to his family and relatives because he doesn't know who
they are. So in the end he'll meet with nothing but suffering.
This is why we're taught that, as long as we still have life, we
shouldn't rest complacent. We should urgently make the virtues of the
Sangha our guardians -- because our friend, the body, can be relied on
only as long as it doesn't die. And when the time comes, who will
care for us aside from our guardians, the virtues of the Sangha?
We shouldn't waste our time engrossed simply with the life of the
body for, as far as I can see, there's nothing to the life of the body
but eating and then sleeping, sleeping and then eating again. If we
let ourselves get stuck simply on the level of sleeping and eating,
we're headed for trouble. This can be illustrated with a story:
Once in a village by the seaside, there came a time of unbalance in
the natural elements, and large numbers of the livestock -- the water
buffaloes -- died of the plague. The men of the village, fearing that
the disease would spread, took the buffalo carcasses and threw them
into the sea. As the carcasses floated away from shore, a flock of
crows came to feed on them for many days. Each day, when the crows
had eaten their fill, they would fly back to spend the night in the
trees by the shore; and then would fly out the following dawn to
continue eating. As days passed, and the carcasses floated further
and further out to sea, some of the crows -- seeing the hardships in
flying back to shore -- decided to spend the night floating on the
carcasses; others of the flock, though, didn't mind the hardships,and
continued flying back to shore every evening.
Finally, when the carcasses had floated so far out to sea that
flying back and forth was no longer possible, the flock decided to
abandon that source of food and to search for a new source of food on
land. One of the crows, though, had stayed with the carcasses; when
he saw that his fellows were no longer coming to claim a share of the
food, he became overjoyed, thinking that the food he had would last
him a long time. He became so engrossed in his eating that he never
thought of looking back to shore. As the carcasses went floating
further and further out, swarms of fish came from below to devour them
until there was nothing left to eat. Finally, the remains of the
carcasses sank deep into the sea; and at that point, the crow decided
that the time had come to fly back to shore. With this in mind, he
flew to the north, but didn't see land. He flew to the south, to the
east and west, but didn't see land. Finally, he ran out of strength
and could fly no further, and so lowered his wings and dropped into
the sea, where he became food for the fishes.
This is human life. If we let ourselves become engrossed only with
eating and sleeping and physical pleasures, without searching for
virtue -- i.e., if we don't practice the virtues of the Sangha as we
have been taught to -- we're sure to reap the rewards -- suffering --
just like the crow who fell to his death in the sea. This story is
about us: The sea stands for the world, the flood of rebirth; the
buffalo carcasses stand for the body; the trees on the shore stand for
the Dhamma, and the crows stand for the heart -- i.e., sometimes we
feel like practicing the Dhamma and sometimes we don't.
The virtues of the Sangha are subtle, deep and hard to perceive. If
we don't have knowledge of ourselves, we won't be able to see them,
just as a mute person doesn't know how to speak his native tongue.
Here I would like to tell another story to illustrate what it means
not to know the virtues of the Sangha. Once there was a mute person
who made his living by playing a conch shell trumpet. Now, the way he
played the conch shell was to make it sound like human voices or
animal calls. When he had perfected his skill, he wandered about the
cities and country towns, playing his conch. One day he went to play
in a village deep in the countryside. As he was about to reach the
village, he stopped to rest under the shade of a tree and picked up
his conch to practice for a moment. Within minutes a swarm of people,
hearing the sound of the conch, came bursting from the village to see
what it was. They came across the mute man sitting under the tree and
so asked him, 'What was that beautiful sound we heard a moment ago?'
The mute man pointed to the conch shell lying nearby. The people,
thinking that they had heard the cry of the conch, ran over to tap on
it to make it cry again, but it didn't make a sound. Some of them
picked it up and tried shaking it, but still no sound, so they put it
back down. Others turned it over to see exactly where its cry came
from, but no matter what they did, the sound of the conch wouldn't
come out. So they ran back to the mute person.
The mute person didn't know what to say, but he could tell from
their actions that they wanted to know what made the sound of the
conch come out in such a variety of calls, so he pointed to his mouth.
The villagers ran to take a look. They had him open his mouth and
looked up and down inside, but didn't see how it could be made to
sound. So the mute man flickered his tongue for them to see. With
this, they realized that the sound came from the mute man's tongue;
and so they tried flickering their own tongues, but no beautiful
sounds came out. So they ran back to the mute man, who blew air out
of his mouth, meaning that the sound came from the breath. They tried
blowing air from their own mouths, but still no beautiful sounds.
Finally, the mute man reached for the conch, put it to his lips -- and
out came the beautiful sounds: the sounds of people crying, people
laughing, people wailing and mourning, the sounds of birds, mice, and
So it is with us: If we don't know how to train ourselves so as to
attain the virtues of the Sangha, we won't know how beneficial to us
the Sangha can be. We'll become uncivilized savages, not knowing
whether the Sangha is good or bad, and we"ll end up like the villagers
who didn't know where the sound of the conch came from.
This story doesn't refer to anything distant: The mute man,
producing various sounds from his conch shell, stands for preaching
monks. For example, sometimes they try to be correct, proper, and
principled in their preaching; sometimes they preach like animals,
i.e., using a song-like voice or cracking jokes that go beyond the
bounds of the Dhamma and Vinaya. In this way, they are like the man
blowing the conch. As for the villagers who came running wide-eyed to
hear the sound of the conch, they stand for Buddhist lay people who
don't understand the virtues of the Sangha and thus are destined not
to find the Sangha, just as the villagers couldn't find the sound of
the conch. When this is the case, they will simply shell out money to
hear the sound of conch trumpets, without any thought of the practices
taught by the Buddha. Monks will be deluded into blowing conch shells
for their living, without any thought of the qualities of the Sangha;
and so our religion will degenerate day by day, becoming ultimately a
theater or playhouse for the world.
This has been an extended discussion of the Triple Gem. If we were
to put it briefly, there wouldn't be a great deal to say. We've kept
the discussion drawn-out in this way so as to show the general
usefulness of the Triple Gem for those who revere it. If you want to
go for refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha in a way that will
reach their genuine benefits, then you should gather their main points
into yourself, //training yourself so as to give rise to the virtues
of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha in your heart//. This is where the
value of the Triple Gem lies.
* * *
The gist of our discussion of the Triple Gem comes down simply to
A. '//Buddha//' can be divided into a number of levels. The
'Buddha' of his physical representatives refers to Buddha images,
stupas, and places worthy of veneration such as his birthplace, the
place of his Awakening, the place where he delivered his first sermon,
and the place where he entered total nibbana, which at present lie
within the boundaries of India and Nepal. All of these things qualify
on the physical level as symbols of the Buddha for those who revere
them, but they may be disqualified if the people who revere them lack
the necessary inner qualifications. Take Buddha images as an example:
You should understand Buddha images as having three characteristic
1. those inhabited by angry demons;
2. those inhabited by divinities;
3. those that people of virtue have invested with the potency of
the mind -- these can be termed, 'inhabited by the Dhamma
In other words, Buddha images can be beneficial or harmful depending
on how they are used by those who revere them. Even people who use
them as charms in committing robbery, casting spells, or performing
black magic may get results because of the power of their conviction.
But if we can be selective and use these images in ways that are
right, the potency they contain will benefit us, bringing us blessings
and protecting us from danger. Thus, the symbols of the Buddha can
function in various ways. There is much more to this topic, but if we
were to discuss it here, it would draw things out even further. These
images can either qualify or be disqualified as symbols of the Buddha,
depending on the people who revere them, but the images in themselves
The important point for people who hope for true welfare, though, is
to invest themselves with the qualities that serve on the inner level
as symbols of reverence for the Buddha. These qualities are three --
1. //Sati//: wakefulness.
2. //Panna//: the intuitive discernment and cognitive skill
that come from concentrating the mind.
3. //Vimutti//: purity and release from mental defilement:
This is the essence of '//Buddha-ratanam//,' the gem of the
B. //Dhamma//: Good Dhamma is of three sorts --
1. //Pariyatti//: This refers to studying and memorizing passages
from the Canon, which qualifies on the physical level as a symbol of
the Dhamma taught by the Buddha. But this, too, can either qualify or
be disqualified as a symbol. Some people, for example, use passages
from the Dhamma in committing robbery or casting spells. For
instance, they repeat the chant of the virtues of the Dhamma or the
phrase, '//Namo buddhaya//,' three times or seven times, and then
commit thievery or highway robbery, believing that they have made
themselves invincible. Or when casting spells, they repeat the
phrase, '//Na-metta, mo-karuna, da-love me, I won't go, you come,
omasavaha//' -- they say that this makes a woman really fall for a
man. //This sort of thing disqualifies the phrase//, even though its
original meaning may have been something good.
But if we revere the Dhamma, and make use of it through the power of
our conviction, memorizing passages of Pali for the sake of what is
good and pure, and then putting them into use, they will give rise to
merit. For example, if we repeat the phrase, '//Dhammam saranam
gacchami// (I go to the Dhamma for refuge),' or '//Namo buddhaya//
(Homage to the Buddha),' with heartfelt conviction, giving rise to a
sense of joy, this mental state can then serve to protect us from
certain kinds of accidents and harm. We may reap real benefits from
the phrase we repeat. This is something that people who have respect
for the Dhamma should investigate carefully.
These passages, then, can qualify as symbols of the Dhamma -- or be
disqualified, if we don't know their true aims.
2. //Patipatti//: This refers to behaving sincerely in line with
the Buddha's teachings:
a. //Sila//: putting our thoughts, words, and deeds in order.
b. //Samadhi//: keeping the mind firmly intent in the four
levels of jhana, free from the mental Hindrances.
3. //Pativedha//: This refers to extinguishing defilement
completely, releasing the mind from all suffering and stress. This
qualifies as the essence of the Dhamma.
All three of the levels mentioned here form the inner qualifications
of those who truly revere and follow the Dhamma.
C. //Sangha//: If we translate this as a substantive, it refers to
those who shave their heads and wear the yellow robe as a sign of
having been ordained. These people can qualify on the external level
as symbols of the Sangha or they may be disqualified. To qualify,
they have to meet three criteria:
1. //Vatthu-sampatti//: The individual to be ordained as a monk
has to possess the proper characteristics as stipulated in the
2. //Sangha-sampatti//: The monks who gather to witness the
ordination constitute a legitimate quorum.
3. //Sima-sampatti//: The place in which the ordination is held
has had its boundaries properly defined.
When an individual ordains in line with these criteria, he qualifies
as a symbol of the Sangha. But viewed from another angle, if the
individual has met these criteria and becomes a monk, but doesn't
behave in line with the Dhamma and Vinaya -- disobeying the training
rules established by the Buddha, committing major and minor offenses
with no sense of shame -- he becomes disqualified on the personal
level, just as a Buddha image that has been properly consecrated but
is then put to improper uses by evil or lowminded people is bound to
lead to harm. A monk with no sense of conscience or shame is like a
Buddha image inhabited by an angry demon. Normally, when an angry
demon takes possession of a person, it reveals itself by its behavior.
For example, when some angry demons take possession, they like to run
around naked, harassing other people. If a person has no sense of
conscience or shame, it's as if he were possessed by an angry demon.
In other words, if he doesn't have any moral restraint, it's as if he
lacked the clothing needed to hide his nakedness. And when this is
the case, he is disqualified as a symbol of the Sangha.
A person who meets the three external qualifications mentioned above
has to behave in line with the inner virtues of the Sangha --
1.a. //Caga//: relinquishing external and internal enemies
(worries and concerns).
b. //Sila//: keeping one's words and deeds in proper order.
To have these two qualities is to qualify as a human being
2.a. //Hiri//: having a sense of shame at the thought of doing
evil; not daring to do evil in public or private.
b. //Ottappa//: having a sense of dread at the thought of the
results of doing evil.
If a monk has these qualities (termed '//deva-dhamma//,' the
principles of heavenly beings), it's as if he were inhabited by a
celestial being (//uju-patipanno//).
3. //Samadhi//: steadying the mind so as to reach the first level
of jhana and then developing it up to the fourth level, making it
radiant and free from the mental Hindrances. If a monk does this, it
is as if he were inhabited by a Brahma, for he has the inner
qualifications of a Brahma (//naya-patipanno//).
4. //Panna, vijja, vimutti//: gaining release from the mundane
level, abandoning the three Fetters beginning with
self-identification, reaching the Dhamma of the Buddha, attaining the
state where we are guaranteed by the Buddha as being upright,
dependable, honest, and sincere toward the Dhamma and Vinaya; gaining
Awakening following his example, becoming a reliable member of the
Sangha. Such people are termed '//ariya sotapanna//' -- Noble Ones
who have reached the stream -- and deserve to be called
'//visuddhi-deva//,' divinities through purity, whose virtues are
higher than those of human beings, deities, Indra, or Brahma. Even
though such people are still subject to death and rebirth, they are
not like other human beings. The pure aspect of their heart will
never again become defiled. Thus they deserve to be called, in a
partial sense, divinities through purity (samici-patipanno).
All four of these qualities form the inner qualifications of the
Speaking in terms of these inner qualifications, every person can
become a member of the Sangha. But if we don't develop these
qualities within ourselves and then take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma
and Sangha only on the external level, how will we get the full
benefits? We're taught that if we can't depend on ourselves, there is
no way we can hope to depend on others. For example, if an evil
person breaks the law, commits robbery, and then asks the government
to give him help, you can rest assured that the only help the
government will give him will be to build a place for him to live in
discomfort -- a jail. In the same way, if we don't behave in line
with the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, how can we go
around taking refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha? The Buddha
//Attahi attano natho, ko hi natho paro siya//.
'The self is its own refuge, for who else could be refuge?'
Thus we should develop the inner qualifications of the Buddha,
Dhamma and Sangha within ourselves. Then we will belong to the
company of the Buddha's followers. If we belong to the religion as
lay women, we are called '//upasika//.' If we belong as lay men, we
are called '//upasaka//.' If we observe the ten precepts and are
endowed with the virtues of the Sangha, we are termed '//samanera//.'
If we take a vow to join the community of those who fully observe the
227 precepts, we are termed '//bhikkhu//.' When we join the company
of the Buddha's followers in this way, all people in general who
practice and revere the teachings will benefit -- just as when we meet
the qualifications of a good citizen as set out by the government:
If we are trained and educated to be good, we are bound to help the
nation progress and prosper. But if we don't view ourselves as part
of the nation and don't think of making a living to support ourselves,
and instead simply go around looking for pleasure or for help from
others, the results are bound to be bad.
Therefore, we as Buddhists have to study and practice before we can
be Buddhists of virtue and value. We will then reap rewards in the
visible present. And even if we are no longer able to live in this
world, then when our bodies die and we head for another world, we have
a good bourn awaiting us, as in the verse from the Mahasamaya Sutta:
//Ye keci buddham saranam katase
Na te gamissanti apaya bhumim.
Pahaya manusam deham
'Those who reach the refuge of the Buddha (in their own hearts, with
purity) will close off all four of the lower realms (such as hell).
When they leave this life they are bound for a good bourn (heaven),
there to fill the ranks of the gods.'
//Buddham dhammam sangham jivitam yava-nibbanam saranam gacchami//.
'I go to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha as my life and refuge till
* * * * * * * *
//Abhidhamma//: The third of the three collections forming the Pali
Canon, composed of systematic treatises based on lists of
categories drawn from the Buddha's teachings.
//Apaya//: States of deprivation, i.e., the four lower realms of
existence: rebirth in hell, as a hungry ghost, as an angry
demon, or as a common animal. In Buddhism, none of these states
are regarded as eternal conditions.
//Ayatana//: Sense media -- the six senses (including the intellect
as the sixth) and their respective objects.
//Brahma//: An inhabitant of the highter heavens of form and
formlessness, a position earned -- but not forever -- through the
cultivation of virtue and meditative absorption, along with the
attitudes of limitless love, compassion, appreciation, and
//Gotarabhu-nana//: Change of lineage knowledge -- the glimpse of
nibbana that changes one from an ordinary, run-of-the-mill person
to a Noble One.
//Jhana//: Absorption in a single object or preoccupation.
Rupa-jhana refers to absorption in a physical sensation;
arupa-jhana, to absorption in a mental notion or state.
//Kamma//: Acts of intention that result in states of being and
//Khandha//: Aggregate. The five aggregates ar the component parts
of sensory perception; physical and mental phenomena as they are
directly experienced: form (sense data), feeling, perception,
thought-formations, and consciousness.
//Nibbana//: Liberation; the unbinding of the mind from greed, anger,
and delusion; from sensations and mental acts. As this term is
also used to refer to the extinguishing of a fire, it carries the
connotations of stilling, cooling, and peace. (According to the
physics taught at the time of the Buddha, the property of fire
exists in a latent state to a greater or lesser degree in all
objects. When activated, it seizes and sticks to its fuel. When
extinguished, it becomes unbound.)
//Nivarana//: Hindrance; one of five mental qualities that hinder the
mind from attaining concentration and discernment: sensual
desire, ill will, sloth & torpor, restlessness & anxiety, and
//Pali//: The name of the most ancient recension of the Buddhist
scriptures now extant; and -- by extension -- of the language in
which it was composed.
//Vinaya//: The first of the three collections forming the Pali
Canon. dealing with the disciplinary rules of the monastic order.
The Buddha's own name for the religion he founded was, 'this
Dhamma-Vinaya' -- this Doctrine and Discipline.
* * * * * * * *
TITLE OF WORK: What is the Triple Gem?
AUTHOR: Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
AUTHOR'S ADDRESS: N/A (deceased 1961)
PUBLISHER'S ADDRESS: The Abbot
Metta Forest Monastery
PO Box 1409
Valley Center, CA 92082
COPYRIGHT HOLDER: The Abbot, Metta Forest Monastery
DATE OF PUBLICATION: 1994
DATE OF DHARMANET DISTRIBUTION: October 1994
ORIGIN SITE: Access to Insight BBS, Pepperell MA * (508) 433-5847
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