March 6-8, 1987 Beginner's Retreat

Three Stages of Spiritual Development

(Tape 2)


There are many people who think Abhidhamma is not necessary. They say Abhidhamma is added later to the teachings, and so you don't have to worry about Abhidhamma. But I would say that without the knowledge of Abhidhamma you cannot understand even the Suttas properly, or correctly, or fully. Without the knowledge of Abhidhamma we cannot hope to understand the Suttas. There are some passages that are very easy to understand, but there are others which are not easy. Without reference to Abhidhamma these passages cannot be understood fully.

In the Dhammapada it says, "Do not do any evil." What is evil? According to Abhidhamma you are doing evil when you are eating. What do you think about that? You are evil-doers when you are eating. Here I don't fully understand the meaning of the English word 'evil'.

But in PAli the word used is 'Akusala'. Akusala is translated as unskillful, unprofitable, unwholesome. I like unwholesome. That which is unwholesome is called evil here. What is it that is unwholesome? There is a very very exact definition in Abhidhamma. First it is blameworthy. Second it brings bad results. Whatever is blameworthy and whatever brings bad results is Akusala.

Then what is blameworthy? Anything that is accompanied by greed or attachment, hatred or anger or others of that kind, and ignorance or delusion is Akusala. Let us say when you eat, you are enjoying food. Then you have something like an attachment to food. That is Akusala. When you are eating, you are having Akusala in your mind. If you don't eat with meditation, you have this attachment which is Akusala. That is why during the retreat you are instructed to eat with meditation. You are asked to eat with mindfulness. That is so you will not have attachment to food. So even while you eat, there can be what is called Akusala there. If you want to practice this one short sentence fully, then you have to become a saint yourself. You have to become an Arahant yourself. As ordinary persons even though we try to keep away the Akusala when we eat sometimes they come back. We monks are trained to make reflections while eating so as to avoid Akusala coming to us. But even with such training we are also attached to food. I like this food or I have preference for one kind of food and so on. Not to do any evil means to become an Arahant.

Do what is good. That is opposite of doing what is evil. Purify your mind. Before purifying your mind, you must understand what are the impurities of your mind. According to Buddha's teachings attachment and so on are all impurities of mind and have to be eliminated. Without the knowledge of Abhidhamma this one piece of advice, this one small piece of teaching cannot be understood fully. So Abhidhamma is important. If you want to be serious about Buddhism if you want to understand Buddha's teachings fully, then a knowledge of Abhidhamma is indispensable.

Now let us look at the third jewel in Buddhism, the SaGgha. We have what are called three jewels in Buddhism - the Buddha, the Dhamma and the SaGgha. What is the SaGgha? The community of monks and nuns who follow the teachings and have become enlightened and also those who are practicing his teachings to achieve enlightenment. The first one is more important. Those who have achieved enlightenment, those who are enlightened are called SaGgha especially the community of monks and nuns. I think lay people who are really enlightened could be included in SaGgha also. Those who are practicing his teachings to achieve enlightenment - that is those who are really practicing, who have given themselves up totally to the practice such persons could be included in SaGgha.

In this country the word 'SaGgha' is used indiscriminately. Any group is called a SaGgha here. In Buddhism SaGgha has become a technical word. SaGgha means only the community of monks and nuns, not lay people. We never refer to a group of lay people as SaGgha. In this country people are using the word 'SaGgha' for a group of people who are meditators or who are living together leading a spiritual life. After some time it may become confusing what the word 'SaGgha' really means - a group of lay people or monks. It is better to leave this word for the community of monks and nuns. One should use some other word for lay groups leading a spiritual life.

SaGgha originally meant the community of monks and nuns. The word 'SaGgha' etymologically means just a group. So any group can be called SaGgha. That is true. But sometimes words have changed their meanings and have come to mean some other thing. Here the word 'SaGgha', although it originally just meant a group, comes to mean a group of monks and nuns. It is better to leave it for monks and nuns and find some other word for lay people. SaGgha are those who have followed Buddha's teachings and who have become enlightened.

It is the successive generations of SaGgha who have preserved the Buddha's teachings and brought it down to the present time. Monks and nuns don't have to worry about their living. They must go out in the morning for alms. They eat one meal a day. Then the rest of the day is for themselves. So they have more time to devote to study, practice and also dissemination or propagation of the teachings. It is the successive generations of the SaGgha who have preserved the teachings and brought them down to the present time. That means monks. Now we have access to the Buddha's teachings'. That is because monks preserved the teachings and brought them down from generation to generation.

During the time of the Buddha there were no books. So they kept the teachings in their minds. They propagated through the oral tradition. It was only about 500 years after the death of the Buddha that the teachings came to be written down on palm leaves. Formerly they wrote on palm leaves with a style.

These scriptures were preserved and mostly studied by monks because it is something like their profession to study the scriptures and keep them. So it is the successive generations of monks and maybe nuns who have preserved his teachings and brought them down to the present time.

The members of the SaGgha are not meditators between the Buddha and the people. You could go direct to the Buddha and talk to him if he were alive now. Members of the SaGgha or monks and nuns are just spiritual guides of the people. They cannot give you anything. They cannot absolve you from wrongdoings or whatever. You don't have to go through them to the Buddha. You may go directly to the Buddha. Members of the SaGgha are just spiritual guide or spiritual teachers for lay people.

Now let us look at the divisions of Buddhism. Nowadays there are two major divisions of Buddhism in the world. One is TheravAda Buddhism. The second is MahAyAna Buddhism. TheravAda means the teachings of the Elders. TheravAda is the original Buddhism. The word 'MahAyAna' came to be used at about the beginning of the Christian era. Before that there was no MahAyAna.

TheravAda Buddhism spread towards SrI Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Viet Nam and Nepal. PAli language is the sacred language of TheravAda Buddhists. It is like Latin is the sacred language for Catholics.

MahAyAna is a later development of Buddhism. In TheravAda Buddhism only the teachings that were accepted at the first council are found. There are no additions to his teachings. In MahAyAna Buddhism there are new teachings added to the old teachings: MahAyAna in some cases became very much different from the original teachings. You can see both of these forms of Buddhism in the world today.

MahAyAna Buddhism spread to northern countries - Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet, Mongolia, China, Viet Nam, Korea and Japan. Viet Nam and Nepal have TheravAda as well as MahAyAna Buddhism.

I want to talk about the use of the word 'HInayAna' or TheravAda. The name 'HInayAna' was given by the MahAyAna Buddhists to TheravAda Buddhism. This name is derogatory. HIna really means base, despicable, inferior. You may look it up in the PAli-English dictionary and check these meanings. When the Buddha described the one extreme of indulging in sensual pleasures, he used the word 'HIna'. HIna is below average, low, base, despicable. So it is not right to call another person, whether they are TheravAda or not, HInayana. Nobody would name his society a despicable society. You will not call other persons despicable simply because they do not belong to your society. The word 'HInayAna is a derogatory term and it is best to avoid this word, whether you refer to TheravAda Buddhism or other branches of Buddhism.

There was a world Buddhist Conference in 1950 in SrI Lanka. At that conference it was unanimously adopted that the word 'HInayAna' be dropped when referring to Buddhism in SrI Lanka, Burma and so on. It was readopted at the next conference held in Japan. But nobody seemed to take notice of it. Even today this term 'HInayAna' is used again and again. It is best to avoid the word 'HInayAna' whether you are referring to TheravAda Buddhism or other branches of Buddhism in the past that have disappeared.

Last year I went to Colorado and visited the Rocky Mountain Meditation Center. When I went round the place, I went to a store. They had t-shirts. One T-shirt had the words "Don't forget HInayAna." Rinpoche wanted to remind his students not to forget TheravAda. You study TheravAda; you practice MahAyAna and then you practice VajrayAna. They didn't mean something bad. The very word 'HInayAna' is not so good to say on a T-shirt. It is best not to use this word at all.

There is TheravAda Buddhism and there is MahAyAna Buddhism, two branches of Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhists say theirs is a third kind of Buddhism. They call it VajrayAna Buddhism. But I think it is a branch of MahAyAna Buddhism. So let us say here there are two kinds of Buddhism or if we take VajrayAna Buddhism as a distinct form, there are three kinds of Buddhism. Thank you very much. We will have a break and meet again at 9:45.

SAdhu! SAdhu! SAdhu!

The three steps are SIla, SamAdhi and PaJJA. SIla is concerned with bodily actions and verbal actions. SamAdhi and PaJJA are concerned with mental actions. SIla is translated as virtue or moral conduct. Keeping one's moral conduct pure is the first step in spiritual development.

In the teachings of the Buddha different sets of precepts are given five precepts, eight precepts, another variety of eight precepts, ten precepts. These precepts can be practiced by lay people. For monks, nuns and novices there are many precepts running into hundreds. These precepts all shown on the sheet, five, eight or ten precepts are always possible to practice. In other words they are not necessarily Buddhist practices according to the scriptures. These precepts are found or can be practiced even when there are no Buddhas in the world or when all his teachings have disappeared. These precepts can be called universal precepts, not just peculiar to Buddhism.

The first group of five precepts is taken to be the minimum moral requirement of lay people, lay Buddhists. If a person accepts the Buddha as his teacher, as his spiritual guide or if he takes refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the SaGgha, then he is expected to keep these five precepts. So they are called lay devotee precepts.

The first one is not killing, not killing any living being. It is not only not killing human beings, but not killing animals, insects and so on.

The second one is not taking by theft what is not given. So not stealing, not robbing, not cheating are meant.

The third one is not to commit sexual misconduct. There is to be no adultery or unlawful sexual acts.

The fourth is not telling lies, not lying.

The fifth is not taking intoxicants, one is not to drink liquor or to take drugs and so on.

These five precepts are to be taken and kept unbroken as much as possible. In Buddhist countries it is a custom to take five precepts whenever there is a religious ceremony. A religious ceremony begins with taking refuge and taking precepts.

But please do not think that there are no murderers or thieves in Buddhist countries. As in any community there are bad elements as well as good elements. Once the former prime minister of Burma,

U Nu, was talking about five precepts in this country. After his talk one man asked him, "Are there no thieves in Burma?" U Nu said, "No, there are such people in Burma also." But they are the ideal moral qualities of a Buddhist or actually of any person. These are the five precepts - not killing, not taking by theft what is not given, no sexual misconduct, not telling lies, not taking intoxicants.

After taking these precepts, sometimes you may break one or two of them. If you have broken any one of them, then you take them again. You take the precepts again and try to keep them. If you are not an enlightened person you may not be able to keep all five intact. Sometimes you may break some of the rules, some of the precepts.

These five precepts are kept unbroken by enlightened persons. If a person becomes enlightened, if a person reaches even the lowest stage of enlightenment, it is said in the books that such a person in this life or in future lives will never break any of these precepts. If you want to test someone who claims to be an enlightened person, just look at him and see if he breaks any of these rules. If he breaks any of these precepts according to our teaching, he is not an enlightened person yet. These are the five precepts.

From time to time lay people take eight precepts especially during the time of the rainy season in Buddhist countries. Rainy season in India, Burma, SrI Lanka begins about the middle of May until about the end of October. Those months are the rainy season in our countries. From full moon day of July until the full moon day of October, these three months are called rainy season retreat period. This does not mean that monks go on meditation retreat during these months. These months are like a special period for them. They will put more effort in study, in practice, in teaching, in preaching and so on. During these months lay people also do something special, something more. On full moon days, on new moon days, and eight days between they take eight precepts. When they take eight precepts, they usually go to a monastery. They bring food or something to offer to the monks and take eight precepts from the monks and keep them. They spend the whole day listening to preaching or meditating, or doing something spiritual.

These are called in PAli Uposatha precepts. Uposatha precepts are eight. The first is the same as with five precepts, not killing. The second is again the same as with five precepts, not taking by theft that which is not given. The third precept is celibacy. That is different than the third precept in five precepts. Here one observes total restraint from sexual acts. The fourth is the same as with five precepts, not telling lies. The fifth is the same as with five precepts, not taking intoxicants. The sixth precept is not eating after noon until the next dawn. Yogis usually take this precept at my retreats. They do not eat after noon until the next morning. Many people ask me what wisdom there is behind this not eating after noon until next dawn. As I said, we can have attachment to eating, to food. If we don't eat, we have less attachment to food. That is one thing. Especially during meditation retreat we get more time to devote to the practice of meditation if one doesn't eat. If one eats, one has to cook or prepare the food. It takes a lot of time out of the time to be devoted to the practice of meditation. You can say we eat with meditation. We eat with mindfulness. But eating with mindfulness, although it is good, is not as good as sitting with mindfulness. So there is no eating after noon until next dawn. Also when you are on a retreat you don't use much physical energy. So you don't need much food. Actually eating much food will make you drowsy. Sleeping is a big hindrance. Eating too much causes sleepiness. It is better not to eat after noon than to eat and be drowsy. So one is not to eat after noon until next dawn. By not eating after noon, you are practicing elimination of attachment to food at least to some limited degree. The seventh precept is to abstain from dancing, singing etc. - that means no dancing yourself, no singing yourself, no watching others dance, sing, no going to shows, movies and all this. Also one is not to use flowers, perfumes etc. to beautify one's self. Especially women use flowers and perfumes to beautify themselves. This is also to avoid attachment - attachment to one's own body and to avoid Akusala (unwholesome) thoughts coming to the mind. In the eighth precept, one is to abstain from using high and luxurious seats and beds. The use of high and luxurious seats and beds make us more sensual. When we take eight precepts and especially during the retreat, we want to keep our lives very simple and not to have any of the mental impurities in our minds. So we have to be humble and not attached to anything. So no high and luxurious seats and beds are to be used. How high? It is best if you can to sleep on the floor, on the carpet. If we take literally what is said in our books, high means about 2 or 3 feet. Luxurious means something very good and stuffed with cotton or something like that. No high and luxurious seats and beds are to be used. These are the eight precepts kept by Buddhist people not every day by all people, but kept about four times a month during the rainy season retreat period.

There is another set of eight precepts. They are not killing, not taking by theft, no sexual misconduct, not telling lies. Then the fifth one is no malicious speech, no backbiting. The sixth precept is no harsh speech or abusive language. The seventh is no frivolous talk. That means talk which comes to nothing, unprofitable talk. The eighth one is no wrong livelihood. These are anther variety of the eight precepts. In PAli we call the Ajivatamaka. That means refraining from wrong livelihood as the eighth precept. In some of the retreats Yogis take these eight precepts instead of the eight precepts given above. That means they can eat in the afternoon. Any set of eight precepts should be kept at the retreats.

Wrong livelihood means trade in weapons - no selling weapons, producing weapons. Trade in human beings is wrong livelihood. Trade in flesh is wrong livelihood. That means raising livestock and selling them. Trade in liquor, intoxicants or poison - these trades are to be avoided by those who want to have good or correct livelihood.

There are also ten precepts. Sometimes people are not satisfied with only eight precepts. They want to practice more. For them there is actually only one more precept, but we make them into ten. The first through the sixth are the same as above, those in the first set of eight precepts. The seventh precept is no singing, dancing etc. The eighth is no using of flowers, perfumes and so on. The ninth is no use of high and luxurious seats and beds. The tenth precept is no handling of gold, silver and money. In the first set of eight precepts the seventh is no dancing, singing etc and no use of flowers, perfumes and so on. But here these are divided into two. Only one is added - no handling of gold, silver and money. They become ten precepts. Actually between eight and ten precepts there is only the difference of one precept. The seventh is divided into two in the ten precepts. That means when you take eight precepts and you dance, then you break number seven. If you use flowers and perfume, you break only one precept. With ten precepts if you go dancing, you break one precept. If you also wear flowers and perfume, you break another precept. This is the difference. The tenth precept is not to handle gold, silver and money. If you can avoid touching gold, silver and money for the day, no dealing with money at all, you may take ten precepts. During retreats ten precepts can be kept instead of eight, if you don't have to touch money at all, if' you don't have to pay for anything.

These are the sets of precepts which can be taken and kept by lay people. The first set of five precepts are to be taken and kept by lay Buddhists especially. The second, third and fourth sets of precepts can be taken sometimes. There is a fifth set which is called something like permanent SIla. That means they are kept always. The others are kept from time to time. This is SIla.

This SIla, moral conduct, should be kept pure. Only with pure moral conduct can you build SamAdhi. How pure must it be? We have the best of SIla here. The SIla must be untorn. Untorn means SIla must not be broken at the beginning or at the end. For example in five precepts, the first and the fifth must not be broken. So if the first precept is broken, it is called torn. If the fifth precept is broken, it is called torn. The precepts should be unrent, not broken in the middle. If the second precept is broken, it is rent. If the third or fourth precept is broken, it is rent. Unblotched means not broken two or three in succession. If one and two are broken, or two and three are broken, or four and five, one, two and three are broken and so on, it is called blotched. Unmottled means not broken all over at intervals. If for example one, three and five, or two and four are broken, SIla is mottled.

SIla must be liberating. It must be freeing from the slavery of craving. That means when you practice SIla, you must practice for its own sake. You must not expect to get something in return. If you expect something in return, then you are not free from slavery of craving. You are craving something by the practice of SIla. It must be liberating. It must be free from the slavery of craving.

SIla must not be adhered to. Adhered to means not adhered to with craving and wrong view. You crave something and practice SIla or you have some wrong view and practice SIla. That is called 'adhered to'. It should be like that. When you practice SIla you must be free from craving and wrong view.

SIla must not be subject to accusation with flaw or flaws. That means your SIla should be kept really pure. So there must not be an occasion for people to say you have broken this or you have broken that. That is not adhered to.

There are two meanings for these words 'not adhered to'. One meaning is not grasped by craving and wrong view. The other meaning is not subject to accusation.

SIla must be conducive to concentration. Actually SIla is conducive to concentration. Purity of SIla, purity of moral conduct, keeping precepts intact leads to non-remorse. When your moral conduct is pure, you don't feel any guilt feeling. You don't have any remorse. If you have done something wrong, if you have taken precepts and broken some, you have this feeling of guilt. That remorse comes to you again and again especially when you practice meditation. That is the time when you want to keep your mind clean. It is the time when these thoughts come and torment you. When SIla is pure, there is non-remorse. When there is non-remorse, there is gladness. So if you have no guilt feeling, you are glad. You feel comfortable with yourself. When there is gladness, there is joy (PIti). Gladness is weaker than joy and joy is stronger than gladness here. First you get some kind of gladness, and then you get intense joy. When you look back to your moral conduct and you see no breech, you see only pure SIla, you get this joy, this happiness. That happiness or PIti leads to tranquility. When you are happy with your moral conduct, you become serene. You become tranquil. Tranquility here means both bodily comfort and mental tranquility. This tranquility leads to peacefulness(Sukha). When there is tranquility, there is Sukha. There is peacefulness. There is comfort. Sukha here means both bodily Sukha, bodily happiness and comfort and also mental happiness and peacefulness. Peacefulness or Sukha leads to concentration.

If you want to get concentration, you need to have peacefulness, comfort. That is why I say a little amount of comfort is necessary to get concentration. But do not be too attached to comfort. Just a certain amount of comfort is necessary to keep you going. Peacefulness or Sukha leads to concentration. Only when there is concentration will there be knowledge of things as they really are. That means wisdom. Penetration into the nature of things can only come when you have concentration. Concentration means the ability of the mind to be on one object or the ability of the mind not to be distracted. When you are not distracted, when you concentrate on something, you come to know more about that thing. Constant observation can make you see things which you cannot see normally. Therefore concentration is conducive to knowledge, knowledge of the nature of things. Concentration is important. If you do not have concentration, you cannot hope to get penetrative knowledge into the nature of things or into seeing things as they really are.

The purity of SIla leads stage by stage to the knowledge of things as they really are, and actually to the stage of realization or attainment. Therefore purity of SIla is important.

This step consists of right speech, right action and right livelihood in the Eightfold Path. There are eight factors in the Noble Eightfold Path or the Middle Way. Right speech, right action and right livelihood constitute SIla.

After purity of SIla comes SamAdhi. SamAdhi means concentration. There are three kinds of concentration - proximate concentration(UpacAra SamAdhi), absorption concentration (AppanA SamAdhi) and momentary concentration (Khanika SamAdhi).

SAdhu! SAdhu! SAdhu!