The Supreme Dhamma That Opens the Eye of Wisdom
We are going to learn about a very special sutta (discourse of the Buddha). This teaching can be found in one of the collection of sayings of the Buddha, the Samyutta Nikaya or “Collection of Grouped Sayings”. In this beautiful collection of discourses by the Buddha we find a short discourse with the title Kacchānagotta sutta or “The discourse with Kacchānagotta”. This sutta was taught by the Supreme Buddha as an answer to the question that was posed by the monk named Kacchānagotta.
The venerable Kacchānagotta approached the Supreme Buddha and asked this question:
“Dear Sir, Supreme Buddha, ‘right view, right view’ it is called, how does this noble right view arise, how does it come about?”
This is a very important question. Why? Because when you are reading this, chances are you are already interested in following the Noble Eightfold Path. According to the teachings of the Buddha, if we could only get sammā ditthi, or correct vision, for example “right view”, we will surely follow the Noble Eightfold Path correctly. Sammā ditthi, in other words, acts as the entrance to the path of the fully Enlightened Ones. If there is no sammā ditthi –then there is also no sammā samkappā (right intention), sammā vācā (right speech), sammā kammanta (right bodily action), sammā ājivā (right livelihood), sammā vāyāmā (right effort), sammā sati (right mindfulness), sammā samādhi (right concentration). When there is sammā ditthi, however, it is possible to gain all the other factors of the Noble Path. So it is very clear in the Buddha’s teachings that samma ditthi is extremely important and without it, it is impossible to enter the Noble Dhamma path leading to Nibbana or ultimate happiness.
Sammā ditthi is defined by the Buddha as knowledge of the Four Noble Truths. Now, many people say that samma ditthi means “right vision”. But when we ask them to explain what they mean, we most likely get no answer. Therefore, we have to know the real, or deep, meaning behind this first factor of the Noble Eightfold path. Only then can we understand how sammā ditthi arises. In that case, when we realize the four noble truths, we are able to gain samma ditthi and establish our mind on a higher plane. Likewise we will have an opportunity to follow the noble eight fold path in its entirety. Once we have that true realization and deep understanding of the four noble truths, we finally and truly arrive on the path to Enlightenment. That person who has achieved such a lofty goal and arrived at the noble path is called a Sotapanna (stream-enterer) in the discourses of the Buddha. To be a stream enterer implies that we have understood the four noble truths directly and experienced and gained true sammā ditthi.
The helpful factors that invoke Samma ditthi…
The Buddha teaches that, there are two things are very helpful gaining sammā ditthi. These are –
- Listening to teaching of the Supreme Buddha,
- Thinking in accordance with the teachings of the Supreme Buddha (Wise consideration or yoniso manasikāra in Pali).
In order to have samma ditthi, first we must listen only to the teachings of the Supreme Buddha, not the logical ideas, personal beliefs, personal opinions, and the things that look like Dhamma but are not. Otherwise it will be hard to gain samma ditthi. Keep this in mind. Do not forget it! We must listen only to the teachings of the Supreme Buddha, for these alone lead us to the realization of the four noble truths.
Yoniso manasikāra means “thinking according to the teaching of the Supreme Buddha”. If we do not think in accordance with the teaching of the Supreme Buddha, we do not practice yoniso manasikara. This is an essential prerequisite without which we cannot develop correct understanding or a noble enlightened view – even if we listen to the Dhamma and study it. So we have to continuously consider wisely and reflect on the Dhamma, that we hear and learn. On the other hand, even if a person possesses wise consideration but does not listen to the real teachings of the Supreme Buddha, he would still fail to develop sammā ditthi. Only these two factors working in unison can help us develop sammā ditthi.
We have to follow the noble eightfold path that was shown by the Supreme Buddha with wisdom and understanding. In this Dhamma path there is absolutely no room for blind faith. Only real confidence in the teachings of the Supreme Buddha is called noble confidence or saddhā. This confidence does not exist on its own or by itself. It has arisen through the force of realization. If one has real saddhā, accompanied by understanding, it will feel like it is a part of your body because it becomes such an integral part of your life. Nobody can separate real saddhā from one’s spiritual life. Such noble confidence, saddhā, takes hold when we have a deep realization of the four noble truths. In order to understand the four noble truths, we need the two requisites just mentioned. Remember them. It is easy to forget this essential piece of the puzzle which allows us to enter the noble path and aim for Nibbana.
Therefore we must strive to develop and cultivate saddhā. To achieve this we need to learn about the qualities of the Supreme Buddha his incredibly beautiful teaching, the Dhamma, and the qualities of noble disciples of a Supremely Enlightened One. Saddhā does not arise automatically in our mind. Just because you go to a Buddhist temple or a Buddhist meditation class, saddhā does not arise in your mind – even though these are important activities and help us on the path to Awakening. In order to develop saddhā we must be smart and learn the Dhamma well.
“Smart” here does not mean the type of worldly intelligence that allows us to pass exams. If someone can understand what is explained to him then he is an intelligent person. We have to dedicate ourselves and give up a lot to let the pure Dhamma come into our life. We also have to work very hard if we want to benefit from the teaching of the Supreme Buddha. But at some point we will reach the Dhamma and enter the teaching of the Buddha. After that, the Dhamma will never vanish from our lives. This will be the greatest life-insurance you will ever find.
This day will come when we will have to leave behind all the things that we collected in this life: money, houses, land, vehicles, children, wife and husband, parents, friends. We die without taking any of these things with us. But the Dhamma that we have realized will never leave us. That Dhamma comes with us, because we have become that Dhamma.
The whole world caught in two extremes…
The Supreme Buddha answered Kacchānagotta’s question beautifully. The Supreme Buddha says
“Dvayanissito khvāyam, kaccāna, loko yebhuyyena – atthitañceva natthitañca.”
“This whole world is caught up between two extremes. One is “being” (eternalism) the other one is “non-being” (nihilism).”
Until this truth is realized, the whole world clings to one of these two views. If one realizes the truth, then one steps beyond these two extreme viewpoints.
Attachment to the extreme of “being” gives rise to the view of sassatā or eternalism. Here, the view of sassatā means that one believes he or she will exist eternally after death. If he believes that he will be reborn in hell, he then thinks that he will stay in hell for ever. If he thinks that he will enter some kind of heaven, in that case he also thinks that he will live there forever. These kinds of thoughts arise in a person who has a view of sassatā.
Interestingly enough, the view of sassatā can be found in every religion except Buddhism. Christianity, Islam and Hinduism all teach doctrines of eternal afterlife. Take Hinduism for example, teaches that one possesses a soul that lives eternally. This soul is considered to be one’s real self, a form of personality view. Hinduism teaches that the soul exists even after death. One of the central books in Hinduism is the Bhagavad Gita. In the Bhagavad Gita we read about a war which took place between the hero of the story, Arjuna, and his relatives, friends and teachers in a country called Kuru. As Arjuna was alone getting ready for the war against his relatives, the god Krishna came to him. The god told Arjuna, that he (Krishna) created the world and that everybody possesses a soul. When one dies, the four physical elements (pathavi, apo, tejo and vayo – earth, water, fire and wind) vanish. But the soul is not harmed. Therefore, the god told him not to worry. It was okay to kill those people who were against him, because, after all, their true selves, their souls, would be unharmed!
In Jainism, this view of eternalism is taught in yet another way. Jains explain that our previous karma has accumulated around our pristine soul like layers of bark around the core of a tree. In their world view, these old karmas need to be removed. In order to accomplish this, Jains do not wear clothes, do not take baths, refrain from eating, or do not shave, do not wash their faces and so on. They believe that these kinds of severe practices remove the bark of the old karma thereby allowing them to reach a state of eternal purity. All these idea and actions result from an extreme view of attachment to existence.
The other extreme is “non being”. This results in the view of Uccheda or nihilism. Some people think there is nothing after death. The soul, which exists up until death, is destroyed and after this life ends there is nothing. According to this view of the world, we are like a machine. When a machine starts there is power. As soon as it stops there is no power.
People who follow this line of thought believe that consciousness arises due to body. As soon as body vanishes, consciousness vanishes too. That is the view of Uccheda.
The view of nihilism or supports violence as well. It does not matter if we kill beings, fight with weapons, harm others, etc. because once they are dead, they are gone. There are lots of evil opinions in the wake of the view of Uccheda.
Merits and demerits have no room in this kind of philosophy.
This world is divided between these two extremes: Existence and Non-Existence. The Supreme Buddha understood the world through his own wisdom; in fact, the Supreme Buddha explained that if we only understand these two extremes clearly – existence and non-existence – we will escape from all suffering.
“Lokasamudayam kho, kaccāna, yathābhūtam sammappaññāya passato yā loke natthitā sā na hoti.”
In this quote from the Kaccāna Sutta, the Supreme Buddha explains that if a disciple understands the manner of the origination of the world, he would be free from the idea that there is nothing after death, free from the view of Uccheda.
In order now to see the manner of origination of the world, we must understand what the Buddha meant. Of course the “origination of the world” was explained in great detail by the Buddha and he called it paticca samuppada or dependent origination. So let’s have a look at dependent origination, which starts with a description of our human condition, the world we are living in.
All of us are subject to aging and death. Every being is subject to aging and death. Nobody can stop this fundamental fact of nature. In the teaching of Paticca-samuppada, the Supreme Buddha explains that aging and death come from being born (jati pacchayā jarā-maranam); that aging and death have birth as their condition.
The Buddha classified birth in four ways:
- Andajā –being born in an egg.
- Jalabujā –being born in either human or animal womb.
- Samsedajā – being born in a moist environment
- Opapatikā –being born spontaneously (with an immaterial body)
No matter how we are born, as soon as we are born there will be aging and death.
In the paticcasamuppada the Buddha explains that the reason for birth is to be found in Bhavā. Bhavā means “origination of karma” that brings about results of actions – actions that were done (and are being done!) by our body, speech and mind. There are three kinds of Bhavā.
- Kāmā Bhavā – the origination of kamma that produces results in a sensual world.
- Rupa Bhavā – the origination of kamma that produces results in a refined realm of existence.
- Arupa Bhavā – The origination of kamma that gives results in a formless realm of existence.
Likewise, due to Bhavā (kāmā, rupa, arupa) beings are born in one of those three worlds (bhavā pacchayā jāti). The point is, because of kamma, birth take place.
Upādānā pacchayā bhavo – the reason for Bhavā or karmic becoming is upādānā clinging according to the Buddha. Because of upādānā, kamma will “grow up” and mature to give us the results of previous actions. Upādānā means strong attachment of the mind. There are four such strong attachments of the mind:
- Kāmā upādānā –The attachment of the mind to five kinds of sensual pleasures.
- Ditthi upādānā –The attachment of the mind to various kinds of opinions.
- Silabbata upādānā – The attachment of the mind to various kinds of religious rituals and observances.
- Attāvādā upādānā – The attachment of mind to six sense faculties thinking of them as “This I am, this is mine, this is my self”.
If there are these kinds of attachments of the mind, we then express ourselves in terms of mental action, bodily action and verbal action. Accordingly, kamma creates the conditions for bhavā or becoming. So bhavā takes place due to upādānā.
Tanhā pacchaya upādānam. The reason for the strong attachment in our mind is tanhā. Tanhā means desire, thirst, and craving. If you desire sensual pleasures, your mind attaches to them very strongly. If you are enamored by various kinds of opinions, your mind attaches to them very strongly. If you are enticed by various kinds of religious practices, your mind attaches to them very strongly. If you believe that something is “me, mine, myself”, your mind attaches to it very strongly. Generally speaking, there are six kinds of desire. Those are
- The desire of visual objects ( form )
- The desire of sounds
- The desire of smells
- The desire of flavors
- The desire of tangibles
- The desire of thoughts of mind.
Vedanā paccayā tanhā – Because of sense contact, feelings arise and as a result of feelings desires arise. Vedanā means feeling or sensation. There are three kinds of feelings: Pleasant feelings, Unpleasant feelings, and indifferent or neutral feelings, which are neither pleasant nor unpleasant. These three kinds of feelings arise from the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue, the body, and the mind when we experience sense contact.
So tanhā or desire arises due to feelings.
The faculties that give rise to suffering….
Phassā paccayā vedanā – The cause of feelings is phassā (sense contact). Phassā is explained by the Buddha as the coming together of three things. When the internal six sense faculties, the external six sense objects and consciousness (vinnāna) come together we speak of a “sense contact”. Note that the Buddha considers the mind and mind-objects to be just another sense faculty.
When seeing forms through the eye, visual consciousness arises. The unity of the eye, form and consciousness is what we call contact. Based on contact feelings arise.
When hearing sounds with our ears, hearing consciousness arises. The unity of the eye, sounds and consciousness is what we call contact. Based on contact feelings arise.
When smelling odors through our nose, smelling consciousness arises. The unity of the nose, odors and consciousness is what we call contact. Based on contact feelings arise.
When tasting flavors with our tongue, tasting consciousness arises. The unity of the tongue, tastes and consciousness is what we call contact. Based on contact feelings arise.
When touching tangibles with our body, touching consciousness arises. The unity of the body, objects for touch & consciousness is what we call contact. Based on contact feelings arise.
When thoughts arise in the mind, mind consciousness arises. The unity of the mind, thoughts & consciousness is what we call contact. Based on contact feelings arise.
Forward in noble order…..
Salāyatanā paccayā phasso – Sense contact is based on six sense bases. Only if there is an eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind, can sense contact come to be.
Nāmarupā paccayā salāyatanam – because of nāma rupā the six sense bases arise. Nāma rupā are the things that keep us on our samsaric journey. Nāma was explained by the Buddha as feelings, recognition, intention, contact, and attention while rupā means the things that are made out of the four elements. Those four elements are the earth element (patavi, i.e. everything solid), water element (apo, everything fluid), fire element, (tejo, heat), air element (vayo, matter in gas form). So this combination is called nāma rupā and is simply understood as mentality and materiality. From nāma rupā the six sense bases arise.
Viññāṇā paccayā nāmarupā – The cause for nāma rupā (mentality and materiality) is consciousness viññāṇa. Because of consciousness. mentality and materiality nāma rupā arises.
Consciousness arises in six ways. Consciousness arises based on the eye (cakkhu viññāṇa). Consciousness arises based on the ear (sota viññāṇa). Consciousness arises based on the nose (ghana viññāṇa). Consciousness arises based on the tongue (jivhā viññāṇa). Consciousness arises based on the body (kaya viññāṇa). Consciousness arises based on the mind (mano viññāṇa).
There are three kinds of Sankhāra …
Sankhārā paccayā vinnānam– Because of sankhārā consciousness arises. There are three kinds of sankhārā. These are: kayasankhārā, an activity connected with the body, vācisankhārā, an activity that is connected with speech and cittasankhārā, an activity connected to the mind.
- kayasankhārā – breathing in and breathing out.
- vācisankhārā – preparing thoughts in the mind before speaking
- cittasankhārā – perception (saññā) and feelings (vedanā)
The root of it all…..
āvijjā paccayā sankhārā – The cause for the sankhārā is āvijja or ignorance. If that is the case then breathing in and breathing out exist because of the āvijja. The words we speak exist because of āvijja. And perception and feelings exist because of āvijja. Avijja means not knowing the Four Noble Truths.
- The ignorance of the truth of suffering that should be understood.
- The ignorance of the truth of origination of suffering that should be eradicated.
- The ignorance of the truth of cessation of suffering that should be achieved.
- The ignorance of the truth of the way that leads to cessation of suffering that should be followed.
Likewise, we breathe in and out in āvijja, because of the ignorance of the four noble truths and also our vitakka and vicārā (preparing thoughts in the mind before speaking) are generated on the basis of avijjā (the background ignorance of the fundamental natural law of the four noble truths). Our perceptions and feelings likewise arise from avijjā. If those sankhārā arise from avijjā, then there is avijjā in consciousness too. That means we have no true realization and understanding of consciousness. All of these activities are shrouded in the darkness of ignorance, of not knowing the reality of life.
Some people try to compare sankhārā with the results of kamma (karma). But here sankhārā means “has been combined with something else, has been conditioned or caused by”. This is explained very clearly in the Cula-vedalla Sutta, found in the Middle Length Sayings of the Buddha.
The other factors of sankhārā are punnabhisankhārā, apunnabhisankhārā, anenjabhisankhārā. These are defined as “arranging of karma” and related directly with the arranging of karma into creating or “becoming” (bhava). If there is becoming then birth comes to be.
Punnabhisankhārā means forming of Kamma according to good actions. Apunnabhisankhārā means forming of Kamma according to bad actions. Anenjabhisankhārā means forming of Kamma on account of higher meditative states like the jhāna. There are two categorize of jhāna:
- rupa jhāna – meditative absorption with a form as its object
- arupa jhāna – meditative absorptions void of any form, abstract meditative absorptions
These jhāna are formed completely in our intentions. If we died during their attainment, we would be reborn in accordance with the arranging of kamma (bhava) produced by these noble mental states.
Supreme Buddha taught us that the sankhārā are to be understood as kāya-sankhārā, vāci-sankhārā, citta- sankhārā. (āvijjā paccayā sankhārā) Because of āvijjā sankhārā arise.
Due to āvijjā, sankhārā arise, due to the sankhārā, viññāṇa arises, due to viññāṇa, nāma-rupa arises, due to nāma rupa, the six sense bases (salāyatanā) arise, due to the salāyatanā, the union of three things (called phassa or contact) arises, due to phassa feelings, (vedana) comes into being. Due to vedana, desire or tanha arises. Due to tanha, strong attachments or upadana arise. Due to upadana, kamma is arranged and bhava arises. Due to bhava, birth arises. Due to birth, aging, death, sorrow, pain, lamentation, distress, and all other kinds of suffering arise.
Actually, now it is very clear how world originates Isn’t it? Likewise, if this is how the world arises, the extreme view of nonexistence (i.e. that there is nothing after death) is a delusion. The person, who understands that everything originates due to an endless cycle of causes and conditions, a chain of psychological realities, is free from such an extreme. He can penetrate the real system of how the world comes into being. Therefore he understands correctly that Ucchedaditthi (Nihilism) is very wrong and might lead to unwholesome actions.
In this way, if the world originates in avijja, when it is eradicated, sankhara must also cease. By the ceasing of the sankhārā , consciousness (viññāṇa) ceases. Because of the cessation of consciousness nāma rupa ceases. Because of the cessation of nāma rupa, the six sens bases cease. Because of the cessation of six sense bases, contact (phassa) ceases. Because of the cessation of contact, feelings ceases. Because of the cessation of feelings (vedana), desire (tanhā) ceases. Because of the cessation of tanha, strong attachment ceases (upadana). Because of the cessation of upadana, arrangement of kamma ceases as well (bhava). Because of the cessation of bhava, birth ceases. If there is no birth then there is no aging, death, sorrow, pain, lamentation, distress, and all other kinds of suffering.
In this way, the person who has understood the cessation of the world is free from the extreme view of eternal existence (i.e. the idea that there is a soul forever, eternally after death). He does not keep this wrong view in his mind even for a moment.
The day of being free from the two extreme…..
So, the two extremes have established themselves in our minds because of our ignorance of the true nature of life’s origination and cessation. The person who has understood origination and cessation of this chain of paticcasamuppada (dependent origination, cause and effect) is free from these two extreme. He does not believe that there is a soul that lives forever after death. He also rejects the idea that there is nothing after death. He enters into right view by eliminating these two extreme positions.
The disciple of the Supreme Buddha understands that both of these two extremes are lacking and that there is only cause and effect in this world. By understanding cause and effect he comes to understand the delusion of all extremes and he achieves samma ditthi (the deep understanding of four noble truths). Likewise, the person who has come to a real understanding of life as such is free from “clinging to views”. In addition he is no longer deluded as to the things that his mind is looking for, craving for, attached to and which his mind considers as “this is I,” “this is me,” and “this is mine”. He is very quick to make progress on the Dhamma path and continues forward.
Comes in to the real path without falling to two extreme….
The Supreme Buddha talked about the person who has come to the real Dhamma path. He said that such a person will see: “dukkhameva uppajjamanam uppajjati” “if there is something to arise, it is only suffering that arises.” And also: “Dukkhameva nirujjamanam nirujjati” “If there is something to cease, it is only suffering that ceases”. “Na kankathi” Because he has direct experience, there is no doubt in him in regards to this truth. “Na vichikchathi” no doubt remains. “Aparapacchaya n’anamevassa ettha hoti”, he does not need a teacher to explain it to him. It becomes his own knowledge. “Etthavata ko kacchana samma ditthi hoti – in this way, Kacchana, right view (samma ditthi) arises.
Sabbamatthiti ko Kachchana ayameko anto – Everything exists after death is one extreme. Sabbam natthiti ayam dutiyo anto. There is nothing after death is a second extreme.
The Supreme Buddha taught the Dhamma overcoming both these two extremes. If the absence of these two extreme, there is only cause and effect. Because of a cause, there is an effect. When causes cease, then effects cease too. So then there is no reason to fall into either of these two extreme standpoints.
Before we can eradicate the cause of suffering, we have to realize the truth. In order to realize the truth of cause and effect, we have to practice the four foundations of mindfulness with awareness, diligence, and wise attention. So, may all of you have energy to achieve sammā ditthi by developing mindfulness and wisdom.
Sadhu…! Sadhu…! Sadhu…!
May this excellent teaching of the Blessed One be for the benefit and happiness of many beings!