Word of the Buddha
We will have to add something in the book because the last time when we read about the corporeality dependent upon the four primary elements, the book said there were 24 of them. Some are missing there. On page five towards the bottom of the page there are: eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, visible form, sound, odor, taste, masculinity, femininity, vitality, physical basis of mind, gesture, speech, space. After that we will have to add five. In the older edition it is all right. In the newer edition five are missing, maybe a printer’s error. They are agility, elasticity, adaptability, growth, continuity, and then decay, change, and nutriment. If you want to study in more detail, please read chapter six of The Manual Abhidhamma. Now there are 24 of them.. Last time I did not know that they wee missing. Only one person noticed. Those are the 24 material properties dependent upon the four primary elements.
This week we go to the group of perception on page eight, saÒÒÈkhandha. This is the exposition of the five aggregates of clinging. We have finished two of them, the first and the second. Now we go to the third, the group of perception. As I said last time even one perception is called a group of perception. As I said last time even one perception is called a group or an aggregate because it can belong to past, present, future, and so on.
“What, now, is Perception? There are six classes of perception: perception of forms, sounds, odors, tastes, bodily impressions, and of mental objects.” There is no definition of perception here. It just gives the perceptions - forms, sounds, odors, taste, bodily impressions (That means touch.), and of mental objects (actually of objects other than the aforementioned).
Perception is defined as something that makes a mark. When you see something or when you experience something, you kind of make a mark in your mind. When you experience it later, then you recognize it. That is what is called saÒÒÈ in PÈÄi. This saÒÒÈ may be right or it may be wrong. Sometimes we have wrong saÒÒÈ of things, and we act upon that wrong saÒÒÈ. We see a snake in the road. We really think it is a snake and we may be afraid and run away from it. Perhaps it is only a rope. So saÒÒÈ can be right saÒÒÈ or wrong saÒÒÈ.
Since there are six kinds of objects and saÒÒÈ takes these objects. SaÒÒÈ is said to be of six classes or six kinds. So there is saÒÒÈ of forms and so on. ‘Form’ means just the visible datum, not the shape or form of things actually. In Abhidhamma it is said that what we really see with the seeing consciousness is not the form or shape of things, but the visible datum, the visible data in these forms or shapes. When we see a cup, there is the shape or form of a cup; but what we really see is the visible data of the cup, the visible material properties in the cup. Seeing it, we conjure up in our minds that it is the shape of a cup. What we actually see with seeing consciousness is the visible data. Although the word ‘form’ is used here, you must understand in that sense.
The next group is the group of mental formations. Again even one mental concomitant is called ‘a group’, ‘an aggregate’, here sa~khÈrakhandha.
“What, now, are Mental Formations? There are six classes of volition (cetanÈ): will directed to forms (r|pa cetanÈ), to sounds, odors, tastes, bodily impressions, and mental objects.” There are six objects. Mental formation also take these six objects. Therefore there are said to be six kinds of mental formations. This is what is taught in Sutta PiÔaka.
“The ‘Group of Mental Formations’ (sa~khÈra khandha) is a collective term for numerous functions or aspects, of mental activity which, in addition to feeling and perception are present in a single moment of consciousness.” Whenever a type of consciousness arises, it is accompanied by feeling, perception and some of the mental formations or some of the mental factors.
“In Abhidhamma, fifty Mental Formations are distinguished, seven of which are constant factors of mind.” There are all together 52 mental factors (cetasikas). Feeling is one of them. Perception is one of them. So 52 minus feeling and perception equal 50. Those 50 cetasikas or mental factors are collectively called ‘aggregate of mental formations’ here.
“Fifty Mental Formations are distinguished, seven of which are constant factors of mind.” Among the 50 mental states or mental factors, there are seven which always arise with consciousness, which always accompany consciousness. They are called ‘the universal mental factors’ or here ‘constant factors of mind’. Whatever type of mind may arise, these seven are always with that consciousness.
“The number and composition of the rest varies according to the character of the respective class of consciousness.” So one consciousness may be accompanied by 19 cetasikas, and another by 21 cetasikas, and so on. The number depends upon what kind of citta it is.
“In the Discourse on Right Understanding (M.9) three main representatives of the Group of Mental Formations are mentioned: volition (cetanÈ), sense impression (phassa) - we usually translate it as contact -, and attention (manasikÈra). Of these again, it is volition which being a principal ‘formative’ factor, is particularly characteristic of the Group of Formations, and therefore serves to exemplify it in the passage given above.” Strictly speaking, what is called ‘sa~khÈra (formation)’ is volition (cetanÈ). Since this group is headed by cetanÈ (volition) which is called ‘sa~khÈra’, the group is also called ‘sa~khÈra khandha’. Strictly speaking, sa~khÈra is the name of cetanÈ or volition. In this group cetanÈ or volition is the leader. This group is called ‘the Group of Sa~khÈra’, that is the group of mental formations.
“For other applications of the term ‘sa~khÈra’ see Buddhist Dictionary.” So we will go to the Buddhist Dictionary and read that article. It is important that you understand the meaning of the word ‘sa~khÈra’. If you do not know which sa~khÈra is meant in a given passage or context, you will have misunderstanding of the whole passage. Please be patient with me. I am going to read the whole article. Many of you may not have a copy of this book.
“Sa~khÈra: This term has, according to its context, different shades of meaning, which should be carefully distinguished.
(I) To its most frequent usages (s. foll. 1-4) the general term ‘formation’ may be applied, with the qualifications required by the context. This term may refer either to the act of ‘forming’ or to the passive state of ‘having been formed’ or to both.” The PÈÄi word ‘sa~khÈra’ is both active and passive. When it is active, it means something which forms. ‘Forms’ means here which causes, which makes. In its passive sense it means something which is formed, which is made, which is conditioned. In some contexts it may mean one thing and in another context it may mean another thing. So you have to be able to differentiate between these two meanings at least.
“1. As the second link of the formula of Dependent Origination” - there are twelve links in Dependent Origination. The second is what? The first link is ignorance and the second link is mental formations. AvijjÈ paccayÈ sa~khÈrÈ. There “sa~khÈra has the active aspect, ‘forming’, and signifies Kamma.” ‘Sa~khÈra’ means something which forms, something which causes. It means kamma, “wholesome or unwholesome volitional activity of body, speech, or mind. This definition occurs in some Suttas. For sa~khÈra in this sense, the word ‘kamma-formation’ has been coined by the author.” Whenever the author translates sa~khÈra in this sense, he uses the word ‘kamma-formation’.
“In other passages, in the same context, sa~khÈra is defined by reference to [a] meritorious kamma-formations, [b] demeritorious kamma-formations [c] imperturbable kamma-formations.” Imperturbable formations are ar|pÈvacara cittas belonging to the formless sphere. Fifteen belong to the form-sphere and twelve belong to the formless sphere. Kamma accompanying these twelve types of consciousness is called here ‘imperturbable kamma formations’. That is because they are very high forms of absorption. They have very strong samÈdhi.
“This threefold division covers kammic activity in all spheres of existence: the meritorious kamma formations extend to the Sensuous and the Fine Material Sphere, the demeritorious ones only to the Sensuous Sphere, and the ‘imperturbable’ only to the Immaterial Sphere.” Here I don’t know what he meant by saying ‘extend to’. “Meritorious kamma formations extend to the Sensuous and the Fine Material Sphere.” I would say ‘belonging to’. ‘Kamma formations’ means kamma - kusala kamma and akusala kamma. Kusala kamma is divided into kÈmÈvacara (belonging to sensuous-sphere), r|pÈvacara (belonging to fine material sphere or form-sphere), and the last one is ar|pÈvacara (belonging to formless sphere). All these kinds of kamma can arise in sensuous sphere or in human beings. A person does some meritorious deed and has kÈmÈvacara kamma. If he practices meditation and gets jhÈna, then that jhÈna is his kamma. That kamma is said to belong to form-sphere. If he practices meditation and attains the formless-sphere jhÈna, then that kamma is called ‘imperturbable kamma’. So in human beings all these three kinds of kamma formations can arise. Only their results are limited to sensuous sphere, form sphere and formless sphere. I don’t understand what he meant by ‘extend to’.
Do you understand #1 now, the meaning of the word ‘sa~khÈra’? The first meaning is kamma actually, that which forms in the active sense.
“2. The aforementioned three terms, kÈya, vacÊ and citta (or mano) sa~khÈra, are sometimes used in quite a different sense, namely as  bodily function, i.e. in-and-out breathing,  verbal function, i.e. thought conception and discursive thinking (That is vitakka and vicÈra.),  mental function, i.e. feeling, perception, etc.” Here the word ‘sa~khÈra’ has a different meaning. There is the PÈÄi word ‘kÈya-sa~khÈra’. When it is combined with the PÈÄi word ‘kÈya’ and becomes kÈya-sa~khÈra, sa~khÈra is to be understood in its passive sense. So it means something that is conditioned by the body. Only when there is the physical body can there be in-and-out breathing. So in-and-out breathing is said to be ‘conditioned by the body’. So it is kÈyasa~khÈra. It is something like body-made or body-conditioned.
The next one is vacÊsa~khÈra. VacÊ is speech. Here the second one, vacÊ-sa~khÈra, sa~khÈra is to be understood in its active sense. Before you say something, you think of the words; you think of the meaning. Right? Without thinking, you cannot talk, although you may not be aware of thinking. So vitakka and vicÈra are those that condition speaking, speech. That is why vitakka and vicÈra are called ‘vacÊ-sa~khÈra’. They are speech conditioners; they are not conditioned here.
The third one is citta-sa~khÈra. In the third one, citta-sa~khÈra, sa~khÈra is to be understood in its passive sense, conditioned by citta. That means only when there is citta can they arise. They need citta for them to arise, that is the feelings, perceptions and other mental factors. They are called ‘citta-sa~khÈra’.
In kÈya-sa~khÈra ‘sa~khÈra’ means conditioned. In the second word, vacÊ-sa~khÈra, ‘sa~khÈra’ means conditioning, that which conditions. In the third word again it means that which is conditioned. So you have to understand these in their proper sense. Otherwise there can be misunderstanding.
“3.It also denotes the fourth Group of Existence, (sa~khÈra khandha), and includes all ‘Mental Formations’ whether they belong to ‘kammically forming’ consciousness or not.” That means all fifty cetasikas are collectively called ‘sa~khÈra khandha’.
“4. It occurs further in the sense of anything formed (sa~khata) and conditioned, and includes all things whatever in the world, all phenomena of existence.” Everything whatever in the world is called ‘sa~khÈra’. Sabbe sa~khÈrÈ aniccÈ (All things are impermanent.). When we say that all sa~khÈras are impermanent, we mean everything in the world, both beings and inanimate things.
“This meaning applies, e.g., to the well-known passage ‘All formations are impermanent.. subject to suffering (Sabbe sa~khÈrÈ aniccÈ; sabbe sa~khÈra dukkhÈ.). In that context, however, sa~khÈra is subordinate to the still wider and all-embracing term dhamma (thing); for dhamma includes also the Unformed or Unconditioned Element (asa~khata dhÈtu), i.e. NibbÈna.” When we say ‘dhamma’, we may include NibbÈna. NibbÈna is included in dhamma. When we say ‘sa~khÈra’, NibbÈna is excluded. So dhamma is wider in its application than the word ‘sa~khÈra’, although in some contexts dhamma and sa~khÈra may mean the same things. When we say ‘mundane dhamma’, it is equivalent to sa~khÈra.
Student: Bhante, we talked of dhamma saÒÒÈ as mental objects including cittas, cetasikas, NibbÈna, as perception of dhamma including all those objects, that would be different than sa~khÈra saÒÒÈ?
Teacher: We don’t say ‘sa~khÈra saÒÒÈ’ there because the objects are divided into six kinds. The last kind of object is called ‘dhamma’. Everything can be called ‘dhamma’. Even the visible object can be called ‘dhamma’. Since it has the specific name, visible datum, we don’t call it ‘dhamma’.
“(II) Sa~khÈra also means sometimes ‘volitional effort’, e.g. in the formula of the Roads to Power (iddhi-pÈda); in sasa~khÈra and asa~khÈra parinibbÈyÈ; and in the Abhidhamma terms asa~khÈrika and sasa~kharika citta i.e. without effort = spontaneously, and with effort = prompted.” ‘Sa~khÈra’ can also mean effort or prompting. If you have studied Abhidhamma, you know that. Different types of consciousness, especially unwholesome consciousness and some types of wholesome consciousness are said to be either prompted or unprompted. There the word ‘sa~khÈra’ is used in the sense of prompting or something like making effort. There it has a totally different meaning than in other contexts. If you don’t study Abhidhamma, it is rare that you will find that word.
“In western literature, in English as well as German, sa~khÈra is sometimes mistranslated by ‘subconscious tendencies’ or similarly. This misinterpretation derives perhaps from a similar usage in non-Buddhist Sanskrit literature, and is entirely inappropriate to the connotations of the term in PÈÄi Buddhism, as listed above under I, 1-4. For instance, within the Dependent Origination, sa~khÈra is neither subconscious nor a mere tendency, but is a fully conscious and active kammic volition. In the context of the five Groups of Existence, a very few of the factors from the Group of Mental Formations are also present as concomitants of subconsciousness, but are of course not restricted to it, nor are they mere tendencies.” Subconscious tendencies - some Western people translated this way and it is a misinterpretation. It is better to call them sa~khÈras than to use an English translation. Even formations may not be readily understood. Can ‘formations’ mean something which forms and something which is formed? Can it mean both? I don’t know. If it can mean both, it would be appropriate to use formations. If not, we have to retain the PÈÄi word ‘sa~khÈra’. There are different meanings for this word ‘sa~khÈra’ and we have to understand according to the context. Do you remember the meanings of sa~khÈra? We will have something to say about sa~khÈra later.
So next is the Group of Consciousness. “What, now, is consciousness?” Again only the list of consciousness is given, not the definition. “There are six classes of consciousness: consciousness of forms, sounds, odors, tastes, bodily impressions, and of mental objects (literally eye consciousness, ear consciousness, etc.).” Consciousness is defined as that which knows the object. ‘Which knows the object’ means which is just aware of the object. It is a bare awareness, but not the bare awareness we use in meditation. It is the simple awareness of the object. That is what consciousness means.
There are six classes of consciousness. It is a classification of six kinds. There is classification of consciousness of forms. That means literally eye consciousness. Then there is ear consciousness, nose consciousness, and so on. The last one is consciousness of mental objects (mano viÒÒÈÓa). Here the word ‘dhamma’ is not used; it is called ‘mano viÒÒÈÓa’.
Student: Mano and viÒÒÈÓa are the same?
Teacher: Yes, actually they are the same. They are said to be more intense than the other ones, seeing consciousness and so on. In Abhidhamma there are said to be 89 types of consciousness and they are treated in the first chapter of The manual of Abhidhamma. There can also be 121 types of consciousness.
Student: Mano, citta and viÒÒÈÓa are all identical?
Teacher: They are synonymous in PÈÄi Abhidhamma. There is also the word ‘ceta’. It also means mano.
Next is Dependent Origination of Consciousness. “Now, though one’s eye be intact, yet if the external forms do not fall within the field of vision, and no corresponding conjunction (of eye and forms) takes place, in that case there occurs no formations of the corresponding aspect of consciousness.” People often ask what causes consciousness. What is the cause of consciousness? Here the causes or conditions of consciousness are given.
“Now, though one’s eye be intact, yet if the external forms do not fall within the field of vision, and no corresponding conjunction (of eye and forms) takes place, in that case there occurs no formation of the corresponding aspect of consciousness.” Simply put, there can be no seeing. You have good eyes. If there is nothing to see, there is no seeing consciousness.
Student: Isn’t it saying that phassa (contact) is the crucial element for consciousness to arise? There must be contact with form in this case for consciousness to arise?
Teacher: Yes. The word ‘conjunction’ here I think is not correct. You know when something falls within the field of vision, then it is conjunction. If we take it to mean conjunction, then it is not different from falling within the field of vision. When something falls within the field of vision, then there is contact. Right? So conjunction and falling in the field of vision are the same. The PÈÄi word is samannÈhÈra. Sometimes people try to understand the literal meanings of the words. Sometimes we need to understand the conventional meanings of the words. The PÈÄi word ‘samannÈhÈra’ means bringing together. That is interpreted here as conjunction of the eye and forms. SamannÈhÈra does mean bringing together. And ‘bringing together’ means paying attention here. You bring your mind together. That means paying attention. If you don’t pay attention, you are not aware of the object. You don’t see it. Sometimes you may be looking at something, but you don’t see because you are not paying attention. There may be a noise, but if you don’t pay attention, you do not hear it. We should say ‘and no corresponding attention takes place’, not ‘conjunction (of eye and forms)’. Conjunction (of eye and forms) is expressed in the words ‘fall within the field of vision’.
Now what is this ‘paying attention’, please Abhidhamma students? In a seeing thought process what comes immediately before seeing consciousness? PaÒcadvÈrÈvajjana (sense-door-adverting). So here speaking in terms of Abhidhamma samannÈhÈra of paying attention means paÒcadvÈrÈvajjana. Or if the object is a dhamma object, then it is manodvÈrÈvajjana. When you understand Abhidhamma, you understand it very clearly . When there is no sense-door-adverting, no eye consciousness follows; and no receiving consciousness or investigating consciousness will follow. So there will be no thought process at all. That is why this adverting or attention is important. It is the moment when the flow of inactive consciousness is interrupted and the beginning of active consciousness arises. ‘Attention’ here means five-sense-door-adverting or mind-door-adverting.
In the Commentary it is expressly stated. In the eye-door the functional manodhÈtu consciousness (That means paÒcadvÈrÈvajjana. It is functional.) which is capable of turning the life-continuum (bhava~ga) arises. If you are thinking of some other thing, that adverting will not arise and so there will be no seeing consciousness. OK. When one’s eye is intact, but if the visible datum does not fall in the field of vision and you do not have attention, then the seeing consciousness will not take place.
“Or, though one’s eye be intact, and the external forms fall within the field of vision, yet if no corresponding attention (not ‘conjunction’) takes place; in that case also there occurs no formation of the corresponding aspect of consciousness. If, however, one’s eye contact is intact, and the external forms fall within the field of vision, and the corresponding attention (not ‘conjunction’) takes place, in that case there arises the corresponding aspect of consciousness.” The PÈÄi word is translated by Venerable ©ÈÓamoli as engagement. That also is not to the point. And I.B. Horner translates it as impact. If you don’t understand Abhidhamma and if you are not familiar with the usage of PÈÄi words, you may go wrong at any place. You have to be familiar with PÈÄi usage and also you need a knowledge of Abhidhamma to understand those teachings in the Suttas.
Abhidhamma should not be isolated from the Suttas. In our countries we do not make this differentiation between Abhidhamma and Sutta. We study both. We do not say “I will accept only Sutta and not Abhidhamma.” We never say that. Abhidhamma is a guideline with which to understand the teachings in the Suttas. We cannot isolate it from the Suttas. The same things taught in the Suttas are taught in Abhidhamma in more detail. So Abhidhamma is not alien to Sutta PiÔaka. A knowledge of Abhidhamma is important.
Only when these three conditions are fulfilled can there arise seeing consciousness - the eye, the object coming into the field of vision and attention.
“Hence I say: the arising of consciousness is dependent upon conditions; and without these conditions, no consciousness arises. And upon whatsoever conditions the arising of consciousness is dependent, after these is called: Consciousness, whose arising depends on the eye and forms is called ‘eye consciousness (cakkhu viÒÒÈÓa)’. Consciousness, whose arising depends on the ear and sounds, is called ‘ear consciousness (sota viÒÒÈÓa)’.” Consciousness is called by the sense organ, but not by the action. For example, we do not call them seeing consciousness or hearing consciousness, but eye consciousness, ear consciousness and so on.
“Consciousness, whose arising depends on the olfactory organ and odors, is called ‘nose consciousness (ghÈna viÒÒÈÓa)’. Consciousness, whose arising depends on the tongue and taste, is called ‘tongue consciousness (jivhÈ viÒÒÈÓa)’. Consciousness, whose arising depends on the body and bodily contacts, is called ‘body consciousness (kÈya viÒÒÈÓa)’. Consciousness, whose arising depends on the mind and mind objects, is called ‘mind consciousness (mano viÒÒÈÓa)’.” ‘Mind’ and ‘mind consciousness’ - what does that mean? ‘Mind’ here means life-continuum, together with adverting. That is for Abhidhamma students. ‘Dhamma’ here means just dhamma objects. If there is no adverting, there can be no seeing consciousness and so on. There can be no knowing consciousness and so on. Adverting is said to be a condition for mind consciousness.
“Whatsoever there is of ‘corporeality (r|pa)’ on that occasion, this belongs to the Group of Corporeality” and so on. This is not difficult. Whatever there is of matter is called ‘Group of Matter’ or ‘Group of Corporeality’. “Whatsoever there is of ‘feeling (vedanÈ)’, this belongs to the Group of Feelings” and so on. These are the five aggregates. They are called ‘the five aggregates of clinging (upÈdÈna khandha)’ because they are the objects of clinging, the objects of attachment and wrong view.
Next is dependency of consciousness on the four other khandhas. “And it is impossible that anyone can explain the passing out of existence, and the entering into a new existence, or the growth, increase and development of consciousness, independently of corporeality, feeling, perception and mental formations.” Although we may study consciousness separately and mental factors separately, in experience they cannot be separated. You cannot explain one without the other.
Let’s take consciousness. What conditions does it need, for example seeing consciousness? It needs the physical base. It needs something to see which is matter. It needs attention. Only if these conditions are fulfilled is there seeing consciousness. When we pick up seeing consciousness, we also pick up other conditions. They cannot be isolated. It is impossible to explain consciousness independently of matter and so on because in the world of human beings, and in the world of devas (lower celestial beings), and in the world of higher celestial beings (the form brÈhmas), consciousness needs a physical basis to arise. Without a physical basis consciousness cannot arise in these worlds. In the formless brÈhmas, since they are formless, since there is no material properties in their existence, consciousness does not need a physical basis. It just arises by itself, but in other worlds, like in the human world, consciousness always needs a physical basis.
There is a simile given in the Commentaries. It is called ‘a gem’ in our books. For us to understand I will call it a magnifying glass. When there is a magnifying glass, when there is dry grass, when there are the rays of the sun, fire arises. You put the magnifying glass in the sun and when the rays are concentrated on the fuel, then there is fire. Fire depends on the magnifying glass, the rays of the sun, and the fuel. When these three meet together, there is what we call ‘fire’. However, the fire is not stored in any one of these. When these three come together, fire arises.
In the same way consciousness is not stored anywhere. We cannot say that consciousness is stored in the eye. If it were stored in the eye, we would always have seeing consciousness, which is absurd. Consciousness is not stored anywhere. When there is the eye, and there is the visible object, and they come into contact, then there is seeing consciousness. So seeing consciousness just arises.
Another simile is that of a box of matches. There is no fire in the box or in the sticks, but when you strike the stick against the match box, you produce fire. So in the same way there is no consciousness waiting to arise, but when the conditions meet together, then there is consciousness. Consciousness is dependent upon conditions, just as everything in the world is conditioned. These are the five aggregates of clinging.
Next are the three characteristics of existence. “All formations are ‘transient (anicca)’; all formations are ‘subject to suffering (dukkha)’; all things are ‘without a self (anattÈ)’.” This is a famous statement. You will find it in the Dhammapada and also in the A~guttara NikÈya.
“All formations are impermanent; all formations are anicca.” ‘All formations’ here means what? Everything in the world, the five aggregates.
“All formations are subject to dukkha.” Again it is the five aggregates. Now the author seems to be afraid of saying this is dukkha. So the author says ‘subject to’ dukkha. I think we should not be shy about saying this is dukkha or that is dukkha because it is not us that are saying this, but it is the Buddha who is saying this. We are just reporting or repeating his words. We should not be ashamed of doing this. All sa~khÈras are dukkha; it is not just that all sa~khÈras are subject to suffering; they are themselves suffering. We must understand this, whether we like it or not, or whether we believe it or not, or whether we accept it or not. We must accept that the Buddha said this. These are two different things. We may or may not like the words of the Buddha, but we must accept that these are the words of the Buddha. The Buddha said: “Sabbe sa~khÈrÈ dukkhÈ (All sa~khÈras are dukkha).” They themselves are dukkha. Why are they dukkha? In the Commentary it is stated that they are dukkha because they are difficult to endure. They are dukkha because they are conditioned by another dukkha. If you have sa~khÈras, you have other dukkhas too. Right? You have the five aggregates. Depending upon the five aggregates you have old age, disease, sorrow, lamentation and all these things. Also all sa~khÈras are dukkha because there is always the torment of rising and falling. At every moment there is rising and falling, rising and falling. Being oppressed by rising and falling is the criterion for what is dukkha. And everything has rising and falling. And that is the opposite of sukha (happiness). That is why it is called ‘dukkha’. So we should just say “Sa~khÈras are dukkha.” That means sa~khÈras are dukkha and they are the condition for other dukkha. They are the cause for other dukkha also. They are not just ‘subject to’ suffering. ‘Subject to suffering’ means what? They can become suffering. The Buddha said: “In brief, the five aggregates are suffering.” Whenever we find the word dukkha, we should just say it straight, not ‘subject to’ suffering. So “All formations are impermanent; all formations are suffering.”
“All things are ‘without a self’.” In the third sentence the word used is dhamma. In the previous two sentences the word used is sa~khÈra. “All sa~khÈras are impermanent; all sa~khÈras are suffering; all dhammas are without a self.” ‘All dhammas’ means all dhammas including NibbÈna. NibbÈna is also without a self. There is no self in NibbÈna. We have to understand this. We cannot say that all dhammas are impermanent. NibbÈna is permanent. And we cannot say all dhammas are dukkha because NibbÈna is sukha. But we do say that all dhammas are without a self. NibbÈna is also without a self.
In the Dhammapada you have to understand in another way. Here it is just the statement: “All formations are impermanent; all formations are dukkha; all dhammas are not-self.” But in the Dhammapada it is said: “When one sees that all formations are impermanent, one becomes dispassioned towards them and that is the road to purification.” There since the words ‘becomes dispassioned’ are used, we have to understand against the background of vipassanÈ in the Dhammapada. Sentences in different contexts may have different meanings. “All sa~khÈras are impermanent; all sa~khÈras are dukkha; all dhammas are without a self.” By ‘sa~khÈra’ we mean the five aggregates. By ‘dhamma’ we mean five aggregates plus NibbÈna, everything that there is. When we say that, when you see that all sa~khÈras are impermanent (anicca), then you become dispassioned toward suffering in the world and that dispassionate state of mind is the road to purification, in that case you are talking about vipassanÈ. When you are talking with reference to vipassanÈ, you cannot take NibbÈna because NibbÈna is never an object of vipassanÈ. That why in the Commentary of the Dhammapada. Dhamma is explained as meaning aggregates. It is very important. If you don’t understand this, you may think that the Commentator was wrong. In the first two verses he said that ‘sa~khÈra’ means the five aggregates and in the third verse he said also that ‘dhamma’ means the five aggregates. That is because it has to do with vipassanÈ. When you practice vipassanÈ and when you are said to be seeing all dhammas as not-self, that means all dhammas without NibbÈna because NibbÈna can never be the object of vipassanÈ. VipassanÈ takes mundane things only, belonging to the three spheres (sensuous sphere, form sphere, and formless sphere). That is important.
“Corporeality is transient, feeling is transient, perception is transient, mental formations are transient, consciousness is transient.” They are impermanent.
“And that which is transient is (not ‘subject to’) suffering.” This is the criterion the Buddha used. Whatever is impermanent is suffering. If we want to know whether something is suffering or not, we have to see whether it has a beginning and an end, whether it is impermanent or not. In order to see if something is impermanent or not, we have to see if it has a beginning and an end, arising and disappearing. If it has arising and disappearing, it is impermanent. If it is impermanent, it is dukkha because it is oppressed by rising and falling. Having to arise and disappear again and again and again is boring, suffering. It is not good. That is suffering. When you practice vipassanÈ, you come to see things just arising and disappearing, arising and disappearing. Even when you open your eyes, you may see things crumbling down before your eyes. This arising and disappearing repeats itself for hundreds of moments, for thousands of moments. You get bored. That is becoming dispassionate with dukkha. This is the criterion for something being suffering.
“And that which is transient, is suffering; and that which is transient is suffering and changes we cannot rightly say: ‘This belongs to me; this am I; this is my Self’.”
“Therefore, whatever there be of corporeality, of feeling, perception, mental formations, or consciousness, whether past, present, or future, one’s own or external, gross or subtle, lofty or low, far or near, one should understand according to reality and true wisdom: ‘This does not belong to me; this am I not; this is not my Self’.” This is right view and the other is wrong view. I think that explained this last time. There is craving, pride and wrong view. The first one has to do with craving, the second one with pride, and the third one with wrong view. “This does not belong to me.” That means I am not attached to it. “This am I not.” I am not proud of this. “This is not my Self.” There is right view.
Now we have the author’s explanation of the anatta doctrine. “Individual existence, as well as the whole world, as in reality nothing but a process of ever-changing phenomena which are all comprised in the five Groups of Existence. This process has gone on from time immemorial, before one’s birth, and also after one’s death it will continue for endless periods of time, as long, and as far, as there are conditions for it. As stated in the preceding texts, the five Groups of Existence - either taken separately or combined - in no way constitute a real Ego-entity or subsisting personality, and equally no self, soul or substance can be found outside of the Groups as their ‘owner’. In other words, the five Groups of Existence are ‘not-self (anatta)’, nor do they belong to a Self (anattaniya).” It is explained in this way in the Suttas - attÈ and attaniya. ‘AttÈ’ means being Self and ‘attaniya’ means belonging to Self. We do not belong to Self and we are not Self, ourselves.
“In view of the impermanence and conditionality of all existence (if we accept that), the belief in any form of Self must be regarded as an illusion.” That is because Self is taken to be something which subsists, which lasts forever, which is permanent. If we believe in the law of impermanence and conditionality of all existence, then we cannot conceive of something which is permanent, which lasts forever.
“Just as what we designate by the name of ‘chariot’ has no existence apart from axle, wheels, shaft, body and so forth; or as the word ‘house’ is merely a convenient designation for various materials put together after certain fashion so as to enclose a portion of space, and there is no separate house-entity in existence; in exactly the same way, that which we call a ‘being’, or an ‘individual’, or a ‘person’, or by the name ‘I’, is nothing but a changing combination of physical and psychical phenomena, and has no real existence in itself.”
“This is, in brief, the Anatta Doctrine of the Buddha, the teaching that all existence is void (suÒÒa) of a permanent self or substance. It is the fundamental Buddhist doctrine which is not found in any other religious teaching or philosophical system. To grasp it fully, not only in an abstract and intellectual way, but by constant reference to actual experience is an indispensable condition for the true understanding of the Buddha-Dhamma and for the realization of its goal. The Anatta Doctrine is the necessary outcome of the thorough analysis of actuality, undertaken, e.g. in the Khandha Doctrine of which only a bare indication can be given by means of the texts included here.”
Now when we talk about the anattÈ doctrine, we use the word ‘suÒÒa (void)’. We must understand this word ‘suÒÒa (void)’ because it is also used in MahÈyÈna Buddhism but with a different meaning. Although the words are the same in both TheravÈda and MahÈyÈna, the meanings are different. In TheravÈda ‘void’ or ‘empty’ means void of permanency, void of happiness, void of self. But in MahÈyÈna they made it to mean that they have no existence of their own at all. Everything is illusion. Everything is void. In the Heart Sutra it says: “The eye is void and voidness is eye.” Voidness is not different from eye and so on. In that case although we are saying ‘the eye’, there is no eye. It is something like that. In TheravÈda suÒÒa does not mean just nothing. ‘SuÒÒa’ means empty of permanency and so on; actually it means having the three characteristics. In the Suttas the Buddha said: “The eye is void of attÈ or attaniya.” So the eye is void of Self. It does not belong to Self.
With regard to the doctrine of anatta I would like you to read a chapter in What the Buddha Taught. You may have read it already. There is a chapter on anatta in What the Buddha Taught. I think you should read that chapter.
This doctrine of anatta is so much misrepresented in the West or outside Buddhist circles. There were people who wanted to make the Buddha a promoter of attÈ. They said that the Buddha did not deny God or Œtman. Since they are familiar with the PÈÄi texts, they will give you examples of PÈÄi here and there. They will take them out of context. The unfortunate thing is that both the word for the permanent entity and the reflexive pronoun is the same in PÈÄi language as well as in other languages. So the word ‘attÈ’ has to be used by people. We cannot avoid it. We say that we don’t believe in the existence of Œtman. Still we have to use the word because sometimes we refer to ourselves. Now I am using the word ‘self’. We cannot avoid it. So there is confusion. These people wanted to make the Buddha accept the doctrine or the concept of Œtman and God. They said that the Buddha did not deny God or Œtman; actually he advocated it. They will show you passages from the PÈÄi. Be careful! Do not take their word at surface value. It may be impossible for you because you have to check every example that they show you in PÈÄi as to whether what they show you is the true meaning or a twisted meaning. Most of them are a twisted meaning. Whenever they see the word ‘attÈ’, they say it means ‘by Self’. Buddha said: “AttÈ hi attano nÈtho.” What it means is that you are the master of yourself. But they made it to mean the (big) Self is the master of you (the small) self. So there is a (big) Self, which is permanent, which is Œtman. The chapter on the doctrine of anattÈ in Venerable Walpola Rahula’s book is very good.
This is a book called ‘The Living Thoughts of Gotama Buddha’ presented by Ananda Coomaraswamy and I.B. Horner. Neither of them was Buddhist. I.B. Horner was a translator of many PÈÄi books. I want to read some passages from the introduction because they are very bold in asserting that the Buddha did not deny Œtman. “What does Buddhism have to say about Self? That’s not my self (name so attÈ). This and the term ‘non-selfishness (anatta)’ predicated of the world and all things (sabbe dhammÈ anattÈ) have formed the basis of the mistaken view that Buddhism denies not merely self but also the Self.” Here they say it is a mistaken belief, mistaken view, that Buddhism denies not only the self, but also the Self. In their opinion Buddhism does not deny either deny the (small) self or the (big) Self.
Then they said: “But a moment’s consideration of the logic of the words will show that they assume the reality of a self itself, that is not any one or all of the things that are denied of it.” Do you understand that? If you say ‘This is not a cup’, you assume that there is a cup; you assume that there is a thing which is called a ‘cup’ by just denying that this is a cup. So when you say ‘this is not a cup’, then there is a cup. You are automatically accepting that there is such a thing as a cup. So if you say ‘This is anatta (This is not-self.)’, then you accept that there is a self. This is their argument. It is a very good argument.
My answer to that argument is that words do not always reflect reality. Sometimes we have words but not the real meaning, like ‘the son of a barren woman’. We can use these words, but there is no such person as the son of a barren woman. By saying the words ‘the son of a barren woman’, we do not accept that there is such a person as the son of a barren woman. We just use these words as an expression. They do not reflect reality. In the same way according to Buddhists the word ‘attÈ’ has no reality, reflects no real thing. It is just a word used by people. When we say ‘This is not an attÈ’, we do not imply that there is something which is called ‘attÈ’.
In other words, let us suppose this house is the whole world. There is no other thing outside. And there are five persons here in the house. If we say none of these five persons is a rich man, if I say that none of these five persons is a rich man, then I imply there are no rich men at all because there are only these five people and they are all poor people.
What Buddha said about anattÈ is like that. The Buddha analyzed the whole world into how many groups? Five groups. Apart from these five groups there is nothing except NibbÈna. Then the Buddha said that these five things are not-self. That amounts to saying that there is no self although the Buddha did not use the words ‘there is no self’. They take advantage of that. “In the whole of the Buddhist Canonical literature it is nowhere stated that there is no self; no reality distinguishable from the empirical self that is repeatedly subjected to subjective analysis” and so on. Further down “In short, it is quite certain that Buddha neither denied a God, nor denied a soul, nor denied eternity.” So there are persons who wanted to make Buddhists accept Œtman. Mostly they have Hindu background or Christian background.
There are many passages in the scriptures which point to the Buddha virtually saying that there is no attÈ, there is no self, although these very words are not found in the Suttas. The Buddha said that the view that there is an attÈ is a wrong view. There are many places in the Suttas where the Buddha said that there is no attÈ. The whole of Abhidhamma PiÔaka is nothing but the doctrine of anatta. Buddha analyzed the world, both animate and inanimate, into five aggregates, into twelve bases, eighteen elements, into Dependent Origination, and so on. These all just show that there is nothing that we can call a permanent entity, nothing eternal, no unchanging entity outside these five aggregates or twelve bases and so on. So we have to be very careful when we read this book.
We may not like it, but we have to accept the fact that the Buddha denied Œtman that the Buddha denied a creator God. We cannot change it to our liking. We have to accept it. Whether we like it or not is one thing and whether we accept that it is the teaching of the Buddha is another.
This anatta doctrine is a very important doctrine in Buddhism. It is very much distorted or misrepresented especially in the West. I cannot say ‘just in the West’ because Ananda Coomaraswamy is an Oriental. I think he is Indian. He wrote books on art and some other things. He is the one who wrote that we do not need Abhidhamma. He said that Abhidhamma is lacking in originality and is very involved, something like that.
This is the doctrine of anatta. The anatta doctrine is accepted in both TheravÈda and MahÈyÈna Buddhism. So it cannot be a later addition to the teachings of the Buddha. If we do not find it in TheravÈda but in MahÈyÈna or we do not find it in MahÈyÈna but in TheravÈda, then we may say that it is added later by some monks. But since the doctrine in both TheravÈda and MahÈyÈna, it cannot be a later addition by monks. It is the real teachings of the Buddha.
Still there are people that cling to that teaching of Œtman. Once when I was leading a retreat, I talked about anatta one night. At an interview a woman told me that she was very angry with me the previous night because I had said that there was no attÈ. She was a disciple of Hindu teachers. So she was upset. So I told her that it was not I that said there was no attÈ. It was the Buddha that said this. And then I said: “You are now practicing meditation. So don’t take my word or the word of any other person. You are meditating. Try to find attÈ in your meditation. If you find it, hold on to it.” OK. This is the doctrine of anatta.
“Suppose a man who was not blind beheld the many bubbles on the Ganges as they drove along, and he watches them and carefully examined them; then after he had carefully examined them, they would appear to him empty, unreal and unsubstantial. In exactly the same way does the monk behold all the corporeal phenomena, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and states of consciousness - whether they be past, or the present, or the future, far or near. And he watches them, and examines them carefully; and, after carefully examining them, they appear to him empty, void and without a Self.” That means he sees them to be impermanent, suffering, and not-self.
“Whoso delights in corporeality, or feeling, or perception, or mental formations, or consciousness, he delights in suffering.” That is because they are suffering. If you take delight in corporeality, you delight in suffering. “And whoso delights in suffering, will not be freed from suffering. Thus I say.”
“How can you delight and mirth
Where there is burning without end?
In deepest darkness you are wrapped!
Why do you not seek for the light?
Look at this puppet here, well rigged,
A heap of many sores, piled up,
Diseased, and full of greediness,
Unstable, and impermanent!
Devoured by old age is this frame,
A prey to sickness, weak and frail;
To pieces breaks this putrid body,
All life must truly end in death.”
We will do the three warnings next time.
SÈdhu! SÈdhu! SÈdhu!