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“What The Buddha Taught” by Rev.Dr. Walpola Rahula Q&A


“What The Buddha Taught” Book Study Group.

Welcome Dharma friends,

I hope you find this Q&A useful , beneficial  and worthy to share with others everywhere on the Path. I have enjoyed working on this project as I have wanted to write a Q&A based on this book for some time. I am convinced that this is the perfect book to learn the necessary fundamentals of Buddhism . I have added links to Suttas and Sutras mentioned in the book, as well as supplemental information that I have personally found particularly helpful. READ MORE>>>

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Teaching Buddhism in America by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi


Teaching Buddhism in America

by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhiphoto credit: Brother Chou of Bodhi Monastery

Excerpted from Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi’s remarks to the Community Dharma Leaders program at BCBS, June 29, 2006.Insight Journal • WINTER 2006

I have been thinking about the discussion we had yesterday on the problems you’ve encountered in teaching Buddhism in America. I would like to off er a few of my own thoughts on this subject. As we go along, I will also share with you the general outlines of one scheme I’ve worked out for pulling the Buddha’s teachings together into a single, all-embracing whole. In my view one of the major errors that is being made in the teaching of Buddhism here in the U.S. (and more broadly in the West) is the fl at identifi cation of Buddhadhamma (the teachings of the Buddha) with meditation, especially with insight meditation. I see the Dhamma as having a much more extensive range. It involves at least three essential components, which I would call right faith, right understanding, and right practice. Th e practical side is also extensive, and might be summed up in the famous verse of the Dhammapada (183): “To abstain from all evil, to cultivate the wholesome, and to purify one’s mind: that is the instruction of the Buddhas.” Th ese three principles, stated so simply, are quite compressed. Th ey can be elaborated in diverse ways at great length. At the very root of all proper Dhamma practice, in my view, is proper faith, which is expressed by the act of going for refuge to the Triple Gem. By going for refuge, one reposes faith in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha as one’s supreme ideals. Th is expression of faith should be grounded in understanding what the Th ree Gems represent. Th us faith, understanding, and practice are intricately interwoven. Now, the importance of going for refuge can be grasped by raising the question: “What connects a person to the Buddhadhamma from one life to the next?” Is it keeping one’s mind on the breath? Is it, when you hear sounds, noting “hearing, hearing”? Is it, when you’re walking, noting, “right step, left step,” or “lifting, putting down, lifting, putting down”? Of course, these practices are good. Th ey lead to calm and insight, but on their own they are insuffi cient. What keeps one tied to the Buddha’s teaching life after life, until one reaches the stage of irreversibility, is the act of sincerely and earnestly going for refuge to the Th ree Jewels: “Buddha§ sarana§ gacchāmi, Dhamma§ sarana§ gacchāmi, Sangha§ sarana§ gacchāmi.” Going for refuge to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha is like placing a block of iron in one’s heart, so that the magnet of the Dhamma will attract one as one fares on from life to life. Right faith gives birth to right understanding. When one accepts the Buddha as the supremely Enlightened One, one opens oneself up to his disclosures on the human condition and on the fundamental principles at work behind the visible order of events. Th is means that one is prepared to accept his teachings on the basic ethical lawfulness of the cosmic process as it unfolds in human life and throughout all sentient existence. Th is lawfulness is expressed in the teaching on karma and its corollary, rebirth. Th e background to authentic Buddhist practice, even to the Four Noble Truths in their deeper dimensions, is this teaching of karma and rebirth. Yet many teachers find it embarrassing to talk about these principles that underlie the whole system. But to short-circuit the Dhamma in this way seems to me to be bargaining one’s trust in the Buddha. It’s almost as if one is half-guessing the Buddha as the Enlightened One.

“If one is a Dhamma teacher, one has to teach more than what one experiences in meditation.”

Student: When we finished our original training and various teachers were giving us advice, especially on how to teach with authenticity, one said, “Teach what you know to be true based upon your own experience. Do not teach what you do not know.” For most lay teachers in the West, it is relatively uncommon to have personal knowledge of previous lives. This presents something of a conundrum. For those who don’t have that personal knowledge, it becomes merely theoretical knowledge.

I would agree with this advice in so far as it pertains to one’s role as a meditation instructor. I agree that when one is giving instructions in meditation, one shouldn’t make pretensions to have experienced things that one has not personally experienced. However, if one is a Dhamma teacher, one has to teach more than what one experiences in meditation. One also has to explain the theoretical framework that underlies and supports the practice, and this is where these teachings on karma and rebirth enter in. If one is going to teach the Dhamma correctly, one has to teach on the basis of sammādiññhi, right understanding or right view, which includes understanding cyclical existence: how past lives, the present life, and future lives are interwoven and penetrated by the law of karmic causation, which is above all a law of moral causation.

If one intends to teach Dhamma without teaching this, I have to say very frankly one is not teaching the Dhamma correctly; one is not teaching the Buddhadhamma. One is basically teaching Buddhist meditation practices uprooted from their original foundation, integrated with transpersonal psychology, and grounded on a secular humanism. I should add that I don’t have any gripe with secular humanism as the foundation for our social and political life; in fact, I think that in any multi-religious, multi-cultural society, it is the best basis for political and social institutions. But we should not use secular humanism as a lens through which to interpret the Buddhadhamma. Let’s instead take it on its own terms.

Very few of the monastics inBurma,Thailand, andSri Lankahave recollections of previous lives, but when they teach the Dhamma, they explain the teachings of karma and rebirth. How is that? If we are going to understand our existence correctly, we have to take account, not just of the present—in what I call its vertical immediacy—but also of the ground out of which the present moment arises and against which it rests. This means that one has to locate the present in relation to its spatial and temporal horizons. If we want to understand this little black dot here on the whiteboard, we can’t just take this dot and separate it from the rest of the board. To understand this black dot, we have to see it in relation to the whole whiteboard: in relation to this point here, and that point there, and that point over there. If I’m going to explain to somebody what this black dot is all about, I’m going to have to situate it in relation to the whole board.

Student: Bhante, the principle of karma is a difficult one for a Westerner who doesn’t have the background of Asian culture. Even from my own experience the idea of karma was so foreign that it was hard to get my mind around it. Over the years of doing my practice, I began to understand that karma is a central principle, but to introduce it to someone who hasn’t had it in the culture….

One has to change the culture! The question is, do you capitulate on the Buddhadhamma to fit the culture, or do you provide an opportunity for the culture to be changed by the Buddhadhamma?

Student: It’s not that most Western teachers don’t want to teach the true Buddhadhamma. We struggle to find graduated teachings to bring people along. With a new group of students, I’m a little reticent to begin laying out the cosmology in terms of rebirth. For me it’s a question of timing.

I agree that if somebody comes in and asks, “What is Buddhism about?” one shouldn’t begin with a detailed lecture on Buddhist cosmology, or even on karma and rebirth. I myself would be reticent about introducing the teaching of karma and rebirth at the very beginning. I think it is best to let people see the clear existential truth in the Dhamma first, those aspects that are immediately visible. But when the time is ripe, explain the real Dhamma. One can lead them on to see that the same causal relations that explain suffering in the here and now can be extrapolated to explain the unsatisfactory nature of the cycle of existence. Don’t be afraid to teach the real thing. Don’t think that you’re going to frighten people off by doing so. If you teach the Dhamma straight and direct, people will come to it and drink it up. They’ll delight in the taste of the real Dhamma.

Many people turn to fundamentalist Christianity because they’re teaching something straight, direct, and clear. Even though their doctrines are dogmatic and intellectually shaky, people are drawn to them because they are straightforward, clear, and ethically consistent. From what I have seen, much of Buddhism as presented inAmericahas been ambiguous and apologetic. It’s almost as though we are half-hiding the truth about the Dhamma, saying it’s not really this, it’s not really that. It’s almost as if we are trying to put it across in a pleasant disguise, fitting it out in a nice skirt and blouse, with falsies and lots of makeup. With one side of our mouth we pay homage to Gotama the Buddha as our original teacher; with the other side, we make the teaching sound not much different from that of a transpersonal psychologist with a shaved head and saffron robes.

There is a popular saying nowadays: “The Buddha didn’t teach Buddhism, he taught the Dhamma.” This saying is a half-truth, and a misleading half-truth. Of course, the Buddha didn’t teach “Buddhism,” because that is a word of Western coinage, and it has come to include all the cultural and social phenomena that have arisen in the course of Buddhist history.

“If you teach the Dhamma straight and direct, people will come to it and drink it up. They’ll delight in the taste of the real Dhamma”

But please don’t say that there is no such thing as a distinctive Dhamma unique to the Buddha with its own unique goal. Don’t say that one can have faith in another religious teacher or another religious doctrine and be practicing Dhamma in the same way, with the same intention, with the same view and conviction, as someone who has taken refuge in the Triple Gem.

Student: Bhante, when I first came to the Insight Meditation Society, I was so disillusioned with organized religion that if there had been anything that really seemed religious, I probably would have left. But through years of practice, the levels of the teaching gradually reveal themselves as one sees experience match what the teaching says. The concept of karma over many lifetimes remains a difficult one for me, though.

I’m aware that there have to be different approaches to the presentation of the Dhamma in theU.S., and I wouldn’t want all to present the same “religious” front. I 12 appreciate the use of diff erent “dharma doors” for people with diff erent inclinations and aptitudes. For many who have turned against traditional religion, a non-religious presentation of the Dhamma will be more appealing. But this doesn’t mean that one should abandon the core insights at the heart of the teaching just to be more accommodating. Perhaps one can emphasize the “immediately visible” aspects of the Dhamma, while also keeping the “world-transcending” aspects in view.

“One should not abandon the core insights at the heart of the teaching just to be more accommodating.”

Of course, karma is a diffi cult subject to teach, especially in light of anattā (non-self ). In the commentaries it is said that it isn’t easy to explain the technical details of how a rebirth takes place without a being that’s reborn. Student: Are you saying it would be unskillful of us to present the Dhamma and to not include teachings on karma? Of course, the teaching on karma and rebirth can be misused. I am hesitant to explain peoples’ personal troubles in terms of past life retribution. Generally, I prefer to seek concrete causes in this present life and to work out present-life solutions. It’s hard to give one simple recipe for how one should bring in the teaching on karma. When I teach an introductory class, I usually begin with the enlightenment of the Buddha, and then I have to teach truthfully what the Buddha realized on the night of his enlightenment. Am I going to hide, out of embarrassment, the fact that he recollected his previous lives and saw the death and rebirth of beings according to their karma? Th at would be a cover up, a bowdlerized version of the teaching. And these knowledges weren’t unique to the Buddha himself. During the Buddha’s time, many of his disciples also realized these knowledges, and there are indeed meditators even today who attain them. Th ese knowledges don’t serve the purpose of entertainment, either, but contribute towards the destruction of the āsavas (taints, infl uxes, outfl ows). When one sees one’s many past lives, one sees how one repeatedly goes through the cycle of birth, aging and death; how one takes up so many false, transient identities, gives each one up, goes through growth, romance, relationships, separation, then decay and death. Everything appears as an ever-changing, shifting stream of appearances and forms. When one sees with the divine eye the death and rebirth of beings as a process governed by their karma, how they fall from higher realms to lower realms, and then rise up, and fall again, one obtains an extraordinarily vivid picture of samsāra. Th is strengthens the understanding of dukkha, the fi rst noble truth, the truth of suff ering, and thereby the understanding of all four noble truths. Th at truth of suff ering isn’t just about: ‘’When I miss the bus, I get upset.” “When my children don’t follow my instructions, I get annoyed.” “When I stub my toe, I get angry.” “When I have to sing in front of a group, I feel embarrassed.” Of course, all that is dukkha, but the deeper meaning of dukkha is this ever-changing, empty flow of five aggregates, a changing kaleidoscopic of empty phenomena, the rolling on of bare “formations” (sankhārā) from life to life.

The scheme for arranging the Buddha’s teaching I would like to share with you today is based on a short text in the Anguttara Nikāya:

Monks, abandon the unwholesome. I tell you it is possible to abandon the unwholesome. If it were not possible to abandon the unwholesome, I would not tell you to do so. But it is possible to abandon the unwholesome. Th erefore, I tell you, abandon the unwholesome. (A 2:2.9)

Unwholesome conduct is summed up in the ten unwholesome deeds of body, speech and mind, which are explained in many places (e.g., M 41). Th en there are unwholesome states that constantly arise in the mind, in day-today life, that have to be dealt with through meditation. One list is the sixteen upakkilesas, sometimes called the “minor defilements” of the mind (listed, e.g., in M 7), followed by the five hindrances, which we find in many texts. At the deeper level there are the three (in early lists) or four (in later lists) āsavas and the seven dormant tendencies (anusaya).

But I don’t want to dwell on the unwholesome types just now. This might reinforce the perception of Buddhism, especially Theravada Buddhism, as negative, over-obsessed with the dark side of human nature. You probably have students who have left the Protestant fold after being told, “All sinners are condemned to hell,” or who have left the Catholic church after hearing, “You are stamped with original sin.” If they turn to Buddhism and are immediately told, “You have seven underlying tendencies, four āsavas, five hindrances, three unwholesome roots, and ten fetters,” they’ll conclude: “Wow! Perhaps I should just settle for the one original sin.”

I suggest instead that we place more emphasis on developing what I call “the power of the wholesome,” taking joy in the wholesome. This Anguttara text encourages us to do just that:

Develop the wholesome. It is possible to develop the wholesome. If it were not possible to develop the wholesome, I would not tell you to do so. But because it is possible to develop the wholesome, therefore, I tell you develop the wholesome. (A 2:2.9)

I have taken the wholesome qualities and put them into three main categories, each governed by a different principle.

The Bases of Merit

The first group of wholesome deeds in Buddhism is called the ten bases of merit. The suttas speak of three bases of merit; the commentaries then extend the list to ten:

1) Giving or generosity (dāna).

2) Moral conduct (sīla).

3) Meditative development (bhāvanā). Here, meditative development is considered as a cause or basis for merit that leads to a favorable rebirth rather than as a means to enlightenment. Meditative development of this sort is considered principally as the devotional meditations, such as recollection of the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, or as the four divine abodes (brahmavihāra).

4) Reverence: toward those worthy of reverence, like honoring the Buddha, stupas, elders, venerable monks and nuns, and one’s parents.

5) Service: doing service to others, anything helpful and beneficial to others, any kind of self-sacrificial labor for the good and benefit of others. In a way, service is an extension of giving, but the commentaries make it an item in its own right.

“I suggest we place more emphasis on taking joy in the wholesome.”

6) Sharing one’s merits with others. When one does meritorious deeds, one invites other beings to rejoice in one’s meritorious deeds. One can’t actually transfer the merits to others, but one mentally requests others to acknowledge one’s deeds and rejoice in the merits.

7) Rejoicing in the merit of others: When one sees or hears about others doing good deeds, one rejoices in those meritorious deeds, or tries to help them and support them in those meritorious deeds.

8 Listening to the Dhamma. In ancient times, this was the way one learned because there were no printed books. But today we can even include studying the Dhamma in this base of merit, if one is studying with the aim of understanding the Dhamma as a guide to life and not just as a subject of research.

9) Teaching the Dhamma.

10) Straightening out one’s view, which can be done by listening to the Dhamma, studying the Dhamma, reflection, and by insight meditation.

The Bases of Merit are governed by what I call “the principle of fortunate retribution,” the law that wholesome activities create wholesome karma, and this in turn leads to fortunate results in the future. Wholesome activities will lead to a fortunate rebirth, and to fortunate circumstances within that rebirth.

The Perfections

The perfections (pāramis) are ten qualities that one has to develop both in daily life and through meditation practice. These qualities are seen primarily as contributing to the development of a noble character, to the upliftment and transformation of character.

They enable one to bring one’s character into accord with the noble ideals of the Dhamma. They are:

1) generosity,

2) moral conduct,

3) renunciation,

4) wisdom,

5) energy,

6) patience,

7) truthfulness,

8 determination,

9) loving-kindness and

10) equanimity.

The one who fulfills the pāramis to the ultimate degree is the perfectly enlightened Buddha (sammā sambuddha), who has become like a perfectly crafted diamond, with each pārami in balance with the others, just as

“I encourage you all to bring at least as much attention to the cultivation of what is wholesome as to the abandoning of the unwholesome.”

each facet of the diamond is balanced with every other facet. Disciples fulfill the pāramis to different levels, but everyone who wants to reach the liberating path has to develop them to a sufficient degree. So these pāramis provide a useful scheme for understanding the wholesome qualities we need to implement in our daily lives in order to develop as worthy human beings in the noble Dhamma. The pāramis, in my scheme, represent “the principle of conservation of energy” in the spiritual domain. As one continually develops these qualities and pursues the goal of enlightenment by the practice of the pāramis, the energy inherent in wholesome qualities is conserved and accumulates from life to life until it is sufficient to permit a breakthrough to realization.

Student: Is it true the pāramis are not mentioned together in any sutta?

That is so. One doesn’t find the pāramis mentioned in the old Nikāyas. They first appear in a later stratum of the Sutta Pitaka, in such texts as the Cariyāpitaka and the Buddhavamsa. The idea of the pāramis probably arose in the early Buddhist schools even before the rise of the Mahayana. This idea was originally introduced to schematize the virtues a bodhisattva perfects to reach Buddhahood, but it was later extended to signify the qualities that have to be developed by any practitioner in order to reach any kind of enlightenment. The pāramis explain how our moral qualities build up an inner force from life to life, gain momentum, and then become integral components of our character.

The Aids to Enlightenment

Now we come to the third group, the thirty-seven bodhipakkhiyā dhammā. These are thirty-seven states, factors, or aids to enlightenment, arranged in seven groups. The popular name for them now has become “wings to enlightenment,” though this is not literal. Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu has published a helpful book about them called The Wings to Awakening, which collects numerous sutta passages on each of the seven groups. These are the things that initially contribute to enlightenment, and then, at the most advanced stage, become the factors that precipitate the experience of enlightenment itself. I’m sure you’re familiar with the basic groups: 1) the four foundations of mindfulness; 2) the four right efforts; 3) the four bases for spiritual potency; 4) the five faculties; 5) the five powers; 6) the seven factors of enlightenment; and 7) the eight factors of the noble eightfold path.

Of these thirty-seven factors, four occur repeatedly in the different lists: energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. It is these factors, rooted in faith or trust, that bring realization of the Dhamma. First they bring gradual insights into dependent origination, impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha), and non-self (anattā). Then, at the peak of their development, they bring the breakthrough beyond the conditioned to the unconditioned—nibbāna.

Student: I wonder if you could say more about the way faith is understood in Buddhist context. So often in a western context it’s associated with belief and dogma, but I know in Buddhism there is also the sense of confidence.

The Pali word saddhā, which I translate as “faith” rather than “confidence,” doesn’t suggest belief in dogmas. I know some people who come from Christian backgrounds struggle with “faith” as a translation, but for me this word has a richer emotional nuance than confidence. In my translation scheme I use the word “confidence” to render the Pali word pasāda, which seems to fit well. Pasāda suggests the clarity and tranquility of

mind that come when one meets a teacher whom one trusts. I take saddhā, faith, to be faith in the Triple Gem, particularly in the Buddha as the Fully Enlightened One, the one who has fully understood the ultimate truths that bring the resolution of our existential predicament. It also means trusting confidence in the Dhamma as the teaching that discloses the truth about the existential predicament and its solution, as well as the path that leads to that resolution; in other words, the path that leads to enlightenment and liberation. And faith in the Sangha, that is trusting confidence in the community of noble ones, the confidence that those who have followed the teaching have personally gained wisdom and purified themselves of defilements.

Faith, as I see it, has three interwoven components: one is intellectual, one volitional, and one emotional. Of course, such separation is somewhat artificial, but with this qualification one can still speak about them separately. The intellectual component is a willingness to accept on trust the truths that the Buddha discloses, even though they might go contrary to our own habitual ways of understanding. It doesn’t mean blind belief. The way we arrive at this faith is to first test and verify for ourselves certain things the Buddha teaches that come within range of our experience. So we try out the Buddha’s teaching and find that it does bring well-being and happiness. It changes our lives for the better, so instead of being miserable, wretched, and degraded, we now feel wholesome, healthy, and strong, on the way to peace, bliss and liberation. So even though we cannot, right now, verify everything for ourselves, we have confidence that as we advance, when we develop the required faculty of wisdom, we’ll be able to validate the crux of the Dhamma and gain liberation from all suffering. That is the intellectual component of faith.

The volitional component means that faith acts upon the will, motivating one to undertake the training, to make a resolution, a commitment, a determination to follow this path without turning away, and to follow this path, not only in this life, but as long as it takes to reach the goal.

The emotional component of faith is love and devotion directed towards the Buddha, by reason of his exalted, incomparable qualities; towards the Dhamma, by reason of its beauty, purity and profundity; and towards the Sangha, by reason of the excellent qualities of its members.

To summarize briefly, I encourage you all to bring at least as much attention to the cultivation of what is wholesome as to the abandoning of the unwholesome. And you may find it a more complete and skillful means when teaching the Dhamma to others. I have sketched a very broad outline of how this might be done, and invite you to continue your own investigation of the teachings with clarity and diligence.

Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi is a Buddhist monk originally fromNew York City. He lived in Sri Lanka for 23 years . His publications include several translations from the Pali Nikayas and most recently an anthology, In the Buddha’s Words (Wisdom 2005). He currently resides at Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York (2011).  Bhikkhu Bodhi is founder of the organization ( founded in 2008) “Buddhist Global Relief“, which  provides relief to the poor and needy throughout the world regardless of nationality, ethnicity, gender, or religion. Bearing in mind the Buddha’s statements that “hunger is the worst kind of illness” and “the gift of food is the gift of life.” BGR especially focuses on providing food aid to those afflicted by hunger and lack of food security. Its long-range goal, however, is to combat all the manifestations of poverty that detract from the inherent dignity of human life.

Stages of Mindfulness


Hwa Tsang Buddhist Monastery – Contents of Page.

The Buddha said there were Four Foundations of Mindfulness, that can overcome our sorrow, our lamentation, destroy our suffering and grief, and guide us towards the attainment of Nirvana. He explained this in the ‘Satipatthana Sutta’, from the ‘Majjhima Nikaya 10’. This is an edited summary.

Dependent Origination // Charts and Commentary


Following chart complied by a friend ❤

Dependent Origination (12-links of Dependent Arising)

(PaticcaSamuppada in Pali and Pratityasamutpada in Sanskrit)

A Twelve Links of Dependent Origination 十二因緣

There is no existing phenomenon that is not the effect of dependent origination. All phenomena arise dependent upon a number of casual factors, called conditions. This is a very simple way to express the Law of Dependent Origination.

Dependent origination is essentially and primarily a teaching to understand suffering and cessation of suffering. It is not a description of the evolution of universe. The twelve links of dependent origination provide a detailed description on the problem of suffering and rebirth.

1   Avijjā (Avidya)           Ignorance

無明 Ignorance is the condition for mental formation.

Lack of wisdom, which is the root of all evils. Obscuration as to self of persons and self of phenomena.

Ignorance means the lack of right understanding. One is ignorant to take oneself as a real, independent, permanent entity of “I.” We do not really understand what our lives are and what the universe is. That is why we are in trouble, in anger, in illusion, in anxiety, in fear, etc. If we understand more about the universe and our lives, then we will live in accordance with the way it goes (not against it). Then we will be happy, free and comfortable.

2   Sankhārā (Samskara)  Karma formations , Compositional action

Mental formation is the condition for consciousness

Wholesome or unwholesome thoughts, speech and bodily deeds.

Mental formation arises from ignorance. The mental impurities (the result of actions done in the previous lives) have resulted in the formulation of habitual energy and actions done in the present life, which are generally liable to conform to the patterns established in previous lives. The Law of Karma governs all. That is why some people live better than the others in this world. Mental formation is a condition for consciousness.

3   Viññāna (Vijnana)       Consciousness

Consciousness is the condition for name and form

Normally 6 consciousnesses but is taken as 8 in the Yogacara School.

Consciousness arises from mental formation. Literally, it means perceiving, comprehending, recognizing, differentiating, etc. Usually it is interpreted to be our mind. In the twelve links, mental formation is then condition for consciousness, as our personalities belong to our internal mind. Our personalities can only be realized upon:

(1) the subjective differentiating mind (consciousness) and

(2) the objective matter (name and form). Consciousness is a condition for name and form

4   Nāma-rūpa Name & form, Corporeality & mentality,

Mental & physical existence.

名色 name – form is the condition for the six senses

Mental aggregates and one physical body.

Name and Form is the combination of spirit and matter, mind and body. It refers to Five Aggregates, i.e. form, feeling, perception, mental formation and consciousness. Form has its colour and shape, and the other four do not. Therefore, they are called “name.” Name and form is a condition for the six senses.

5    Salāyātana (Shadayatana)   Six sense bases, Six sense organs/spheres

六入 six sense organs are the conditions for contact

Eye, ear, nose, tongue, touch and mental faculty.

The six senses arise from name and form. They are eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. These six organs are the tools used to get in contact with the external objects and to be aware of the existence of an objective matter. They are also organs to express our characters and personalities. The six senses are the conditions for contact.

6    Phassa (Sparsha)       Contact, Sense impression

contact is the condition for feeling

A mental factor and period in which the objects, sense power/organ and consciousness come together, causing one to distinguish an object as pleasurable, painful or neutral.

Contact arises from the six senses. It is the psychological process created by the six senses, the objects and the consciousness. Therefore contact is the condition for feeling. Without contact, we will have no feeling. It is the very first link where suffering begins.

7    Vedanā Feeling, Sensation

feeling is the condition for craving

Posited as a mental factor that experiences pleasure, pain and neutral feeling. Pleasure leads to a strong desire for more while pain generates an avoidance desire.

Feeling arises from contact. It is the feeling towards a matter. There are three kinds of feeling, namely, suffering, pleasure, no-suffering-no-pleasure. Feeling is a condition for craving.

8    Tanhā (Trishna)        Craving, Attachment, Desire

desire is the condition for clinging

A mental factor that increases desire but without any satisfaction.

Craving arises from contact. It is the sensuous desire, pursuit for pleasures, attachment to gain and fear of loss. Craving is a condition for clinging.

9    Upādana Clinging,  Grasping

grasping is the condition for becoming

A stronger degree of desire. 4 basic varieties: desired objects, views of self, bad system of ethics and conduct; and other bad views.

Clinging arises from craving. It is an attachment to a matter. We have the desire to keep it and possess it permanently. However, all phenomena are impermanent. We are bound to suffer because of our ignorance. Clinging is a condition for becoming.

10  Bhava (Bjava) Process of becoming, Existence

Existence is the condition for birth

A period lasting from the time of fully potential’s karma up to the beginning of next lifetime.

Becoming arises from clinging. It means to give birth, create and exist. Since we are so attached to all phenomena, including matter and self, we assume that there is an existence. However, the existence is void because it is not real. It is conditioned, impermanent and transient. Becoming is a condition for birth.

11   Jāti Rebirth, Birth

Rebirth  is the condition for aging and death

Birth arises from becoming. Birth implies life. It is an effect of all mental activities, which make the life to happen. Birth is a condition for old age and death.

12   Jarā-marana (Jaramaranam) Ageing & Death, Decay & Death

老死 Old- age ,death is the condition for ignorance

Old age and death arises from birth. It is a life “cycle”. Death is one of the greatest affliction and fear of the layman beings, but none of them is exempted from old age and dying. Death is a condition for ignorance.

________________________________________________________________

COMMENTARY ON DEPENDENT ORIGINATION

DEPENDENT ORIGINATION

Today, in this tenth session, we are going to take up a very important topic in Buddhist studies and this is the teaching of dependent origination. I am aware of the fact that many people believe that dependent origination is a very difficult subject and I would not say that there is no truth in that belief. In fact, on one occasion Ananda remarked that despite its apparent difficulty, the teaching of dependent origination was actually quite simple; and the Buddha rebuked Ananda saying that in fact the teaching of dependent origination was very deep. Certainly in the teaching of dependent origination we have one of the most important and profound teachings in Buddhism. Yet I sometimes feel that our fear of dependent origination is to some extent unwarranted. There is nothing particularly difficult, for instance, in the term dependent origination. After all, we all know what dependent means, and what birth, origination or arising means. It is only when we begin to examine the function and application of dependent origination that we have to recognize the fact that we have a very profound and significant teaching. Some indication of this can be gained from the Buddha’s own statements. Very frequently, we find that the Buddha expressed His experience of enlightenment in one of two ways, either in terms of having understood the Four Noble Truths, or in terms of having understood the nature of dependent origination. Again, the Buddha has often mentioned that in order to attain enlightenment one has to understand the Four Noble Truths; or similarly, one has to understand dependent origination.

On the basis of the Buddha’s own statements, we can see a very close relationship between the Four Noble Truths and dependent origination. What is it that the Four Noble Truths and dependent origination have in common? The principle that both have in common is the principle of causality – the law of cause and effect, of action and consequence. In one of our earlier lectures we have mentioned that the Four Noble Truths are divided into two groups. The first two – suffering and the causes of suffering, and the last two – the end of suffering and the path to the end of suffering. In both of these groups, it is the law of cause and effect that governs the relationship between the two. In other words, suffering is the effect of the cause of suffering; and similarly, the end of suffering is the effect of the path to the end of suffering. Here too in regard to dependent origination, the fundamental principle at work is that of cause and effect. In dependent origination, we have a more detailed description of what actually takes place in the causal process.

Let us take a few examples that establish the nature of dependent origination. Let us take first an example used by the Buddha Himself. The Buddha has said the flame in an oil lamp burns dependent upon the oil and the wick. When the oil and the wick are present, the flame in an oil lamp burns. If either of these is absent, the flame will cease to burn. This example illustrates the principle of dependent origination with respect to a flame in an oil lamp. Let us take the example of the sprout. Dependent upon the seed, earth, water, air and sunlight the sprout arises. There are in fact innumerable examples of dependent origination because there is no existing phenomenon that is not the effect of dependent origination. All these phenomena arise dependent upon a number of causal factors. Very simply, this is the principle of dependent origination.

Particularly, we are interested in the principle of dependent origination as it applies to the problem of suffering and rebirth. We are interested in how dependent origination explains the situation in which we find ourselves here. In this sense, it is important to remember that dependent origination is essentially and primarily a teaching that has to do with the problem of suffering and how to free ourselves from suffering, and not a description of the evolution of the universe. Let me briefly list the twelve components or links that make up dependent origination. They are ignorance, mental formation, consciousness, name and form, the six senses, contact, feeling, craving, clinging, becoming, birth, and old age and death.

There are two principal ways in which we can understand these twelve components. One way to understand them is sequentially, over a period of three lifetimes: the past life, the present life and the future life. In this case, ignorance and mental formation belong to the past life. They represent the conditions that are responsible for the occurrence of this life. The following components of dependent origination – consciousness, name and form, the six senses, contact, feeling, craving, clinging and becoming – belong to this life. In brief, these eight components constitute the process of evolution within this life. The last two components – birth and old age and death – belong to the future life. According to this scheme, we can see how the twelve components of dependent origination are distributed over the period of three lifetimes, and how the first two – ignorance and mental formation result in the emergence of this life with its psycho-physical personality and how in turn, the actions performed in this life result in rebirth in the future life. This is one popular and authoritative way of interpreting the twelve components of dependent origination.

But for today, I am going to focus on another interpretation of the relation between the twelve components of dependent origination. This interpretation too is authoritative and has the support of recognized Buddhist masters and saints. This interpretation might be called a cyclical interpretation because it does not depend upon a distribution of the twelve components amongst three lifetimes. Rather, it divides the twelve components into three groups, and these are defilements (Klesha), actions (Karma), and sufferings (Duhkha). This scheme has the advantage of not relying upon a temporal distribution amongst three lifetimes. According to this scheme, ignorance, craving and clinging belong to the group of defilements. Mental formation and becoming belong to the group of actions. The remaining seven, that is, consciousness, name and form, the six senses, contact, feeling, birth, and old age and death belong to the group of sufferings. Through this interpretation we can see how the teaching of the Four Noble Truths and particularly the teaching of the Second Noble Truth – the truth of the cause of suffering, is conjoined with the teaching of karma and rebirth; and how together these two important teachings explain in a more complete way the process of rebirth and the origination of suffering.

You may recall that in the context of the Four Noble Truths, we have said that ignorance, desire and ill-will are the causes of suffering. If we look here at the three components of dependent origination that are included in the group of defilements, we will find ignorance, craving and clinging. Here too, ignorance is the most basic. It is because of ignorance that we crave for pleasures of the senses, for existence and for non-existence. Similarly, it is because of ignorance that we cling to pleasures of the senses, to pleasant experiences, to ideas and, perhaps most significantly, to the idea of an independent, permanent self. This ignorance – craving and clinging – is the cause of actions.

The two components of dependent origination that are included in the group of actions are mental formation and becoming. Mental formation refers to the impressions or habits that we have formed in our stream of conscious moments – our conscious continuum. These impressions or habits are formed by repeated actions. We can illustrate this by means of an example taken from geography. We know that rivers form their course by means of a process of repeated erosion. As rain falls on a hillside, that rain gathers into a rivulet. That rivulet gradually creates a channel for itself, and gradually grows into a stream. Eventually, as the channel of the stream is deepened and widened by repeated flows of water, the stream becomes a river which develops well-defined banks and a definite course. In the same way, our actions become habitual. These habits become part of our personality and we take these habits with us from life to life in the form of mental formation or habit energy. Our actions in this life are conditioned by the habits which we have formulated over countless previous lives. So to return to the analogy of the channel of the river and the water in it, we might say that mental formations are the channel of the river, and the actions that we perform in this life are the fresh water that flow again through the eroded channel created by previous actions. The actions that we perform in this life are represented by the component known as becoming. So here, as regards mental formation and becoming, we have the habits that we have developed over the course of countless lives combined with new actions performed in this life, and these two together result in rebirth and suffering.

To summarize, we have the defilements which may be described as impurities of the mind – ignorance, craving and clinging. These mental impurities result in actions, actions done in previous lives which have resulted in the formulation of habit energy, and actions done in the present life which on the whole are liable to conform to the patterns established in previous lives. Together, these impurities of the mind and these actions result in rebirth. In other words, they result in consciousness, in name and form, in the six senses, in contact between the six senses and the objects of the six senses, in feeling which is born of that contact, in birth, and in old age and death. In this interpretation, the five components of dependent origination included in the groups of defilements and actions – ignorance, craving, clinging, mental formation and becoming – are the causes of rebirth and suffering. Consciousness, name and form, the six senses, contact, feeling, birth, and old age and death are the effects of the defilements and actions. Together, the defilements and actions explain the origin of suffering and the particular circumstances in which each of us find ourselves, in which we are born.

You may recall that in one of our earlier lectures, we refer to the fact that whereas the defilements are common to all living beings, actions differ from individual to individual. So whereas the defilements account for the fact that all of us are prisoners within samsara, yet actions account for the fact that some are born as human beings, others are born as gods, and others as animals. In this sense, the twelve components of dependent origination present a picture of samsara with its causes and its effects.

There would be no point in painting this picture of samsara if we do not intend to use this picture to change our situation, to get out of samsara. It is in this sense that recognizing the circularity of samsara, the circularity of dependent origination is the beginning of liberation. How is this so? So long as defilements and actions are present, rebirth and suffering will occur. When we see that repeatedly, ignorance, craving, clinging and actions will lead to rebirth and suffering, we will recognize the need to break this vicious circle.

Let us take a practical example. Suppose you are looking for the home of an acquaintance whom you have never visited before. Suppose you have been driving about for half an hour or more and have failed to find the home of your friend, and suppose suddenly you recognize a landmark that you saw half an hour previously. Suppose you again come upon the landmark, and it dawns upon you that you have passed the landmark half an hour ago. At that moment it will also probably dawn upon you that you have been going around in circles, and you will stop and look at your road guide, or enquire the way from a passer-by so as to stop going around in circles and reach your destination. This is why the Buddha has said that he who sees dependent origination sees the Dharma and he who sees the Dharma sees the Buddha. This is why the Buddha has, as I have mentioned earlier, said that understanding dependent origination is the key to liberation. So once we see the functioning of dependent origination, we can then set about breaking this vicious circle of dependent origination. We can do this by removing the impurities of the mind – ignorance, craving and clinging. Once these impurities are eliminated, actions will not be performed, and habit energy will not be produced. Once actions cease, rebirth and suffering will also cease.

I would like to spend a little bit of time on another important meaning of dependent origination and that is dependent origination as an expression of the Middle Way. During one of our earlier lectures, we had occasion to refer to the Middle Way, and on that occasion we confined ourselves to only perhaps the most basic meaning. We have said that the Middle Way means avoiding the extreme of indulgence in pleasures of the senses and the extreme of self-mortification. In that context the Middle Way is synonymous with moderation. Now in the context of dependent origination, the Middle Way has another meaning which is related to the earlier meaning but deeper. In this context the Middle Way means avoiding the extremes of eternalism and nihilism. How is this so? The flame in the oil lamp exists dependent upon the oil and the wick. When either of these are absent, the flame will be extinguished. Therefore, the flame is neither permanent nor independent. Similarly, this personality of ours depends upon a combination of conditions – defilements and actions. It is neither permanent nor independent. Recognizing the conditioned nature of our personality, we avoid the extreme of eternalism, of affirming the existence of an independent, permanent self. Alternatively, recognizing that this personality, this life does not arise through accident, or mere chance, but is instead conditioned by corresponding causes, we avoid the extreme of nihilism, the extreme of denying the relation between action and consequence. While nihilism is the primary cause of rebirth in states of woe and is to be rejected, eternalism too is not conducive to liberation. One who clings to the extreme of eternalism will perform wholesome actions and will be reborn in states of happiness, as a human being or even as a god, but he will never attain liberation. Through avoiding these two extremes, through understanding the Middle Way, we can achieve happiness in this life and in the future life by performing wholesome actions and avoiding unwholesome actions, and eventually we can achieve liberation.

The Buddha has constructed His teachings with infinite care. The Buddha’s teachings are sometimes likened to the behaviour of a tigress towards her young. When a tigress carries her young in her teeth, she is most careful to see that her grip is neither too tight nor too loose. If her grip on the neck of her young is too tight, it will injure or kill the cub. If her grip is too loose, the cub will fall and will be injured. Similarly, the Buddha was careful to see that we should avoid the extremes of eternalism and nihilism. Because He saw that clinging to the extreme of eternalism would be like a chain that would bind us in samsara, the Buddha was careful to teach us to avoid belief in an independent and permanent self. Because He saw the possibility of freedom destroyed by the sharp teeth of belief in the self, the Buddha asked us to avoid the extreme of eternalism. Yet understanding that clinging to the extreme of nihilism would lead to catastrophe – rebirth in the states of woe – He was careful to teach the reality of the law of cause and effect, of moral responsibility. Because He saw that one would fall into the misery of the lower realms by denying the law of moral responsibility, He taught us to avoid the extreme of nihilism. This objective is admirably achieved through the teaching of dependent origination which safeguards our understanding of the conditioned, dependent and impermanent nature of this personality and our understanding of the reality of the law of cause and effect.

In the context of dependent origination, we have established the dependent, impermanent nature of the personality, the self, by means of underlining its dependent nature. In the two weeks to follow, we are going to arrive at the impermanence and impersonality of the self through examining its composite nature and through analyzing it into its constituent parts. By these means, we will elucidate the truth of not-self that opens the door to enlightenment.

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Dependent Origination (12-links of Dependent Arising) - (PaticcaSamuppada in Pali and Pratityasamutpada in Sanskrit)  

#
Pali (Sanskrit)
Usual Translation
Other Reference
Remarks
1
Avijja (Avidya) Ignorance Lack of wisdom, which is the root of all evils. Obscuration as to self of persons and self of phenomena.
2
Sankhara (Samskara) Karma formations Compositional action Wholesome or unwholesome thoughts, speech and bodily deeds.
3
Vinnana (Vijnana) Conciousness Normally 6 consciousnesses but is taken as 8 in the Yogacara School.
4
Nama-rupa Name & form Corporeality & mentality Mental & physical existence. 4 mental aggregates and one physical body.
5
Ayatana (Shadayatana) Six bases Six sense organs/spheres Eye, ear, nose, tongue, touch and mental faculty.
6
Phassa (Sparsha) Sense impression Contact A mental factor and period in which the objects, sense power/organ and conciousness come together, causing one to distinguish an object as pleasurable, painful or neutral.
7
Vedana Feeling Sensation Posited as a mental factor that experiencespleasure, pain and neutral feeling. Pleasure leads to a strong desire for more while pain generates an avoidance desire.
8
Tanha (Trishna) Craving Attachment A mental factor that increases desire but without any satisfaction.
9
Upadana Clinging Grasping A stronger degree of desire. 4 basic varieties: desired objects, views of self, bad system of ethics and conduct; and other bad views.
10 Bhava (Bjava) Process of becoming Existence A period lasting from the time of fully potentialised karma up to the beginning of next lifetime.
11 Jati Rebirth
12 Jara-marana (Jaramaranam) Ageing & Death Decay & Death

Notes:
 

Links 1, 2, 8, 9 and 10 are the five karmic causes of rebirths.
Links 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 are the five karmic results in the rounds of rebirths.

This doctrine is interpreted in various ways and levels:

  • The Theravada tradition uses it to explain the arising of sufferings; that all composite existence is without substantiality. This doctrine is then used the basis for the negation of self.
  • In the Mahayana, condition arising is further interpreted to validate the unreality of existence by reason of its relativity.
  • Madhyamika School equates this doctrine with shunyata (emptiness). Condition arising is taken to show that because of their relativity, appearances have only empirical validity and are ultimately unreal.
  • In the Yogacara view, only true understanding of this doctrine can overcome the error of taking what does not exist for existent and what does exist for nonexistent.
  • The Prajnaparamita Sutras stresses that this doctrine does not refer to a temporal succession but rather to the essential interdependence of all things.

Sources of compilation:

  • The Meaning of Life; The Dalai Lama, Wisdom Publications 92
  • The Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen; Shambhala Pubn 91
  • Living Dharma; Jack Kornfield, Shambhala Pubn 96
  • Buddhist Dictionary; Nyanatiloka, Singapore Buddhist Meditation Centre 91


The Heart Sutra ( English)


The Heart Sutra is very popular among Mahayana Buddhists both for its brevity and depth of meaning.

The Maha
Prajna Paramita
Hrdaya Sutra

Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva
when practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita
perceives that all five skandhas are empty
and is saved from all suffering and distress.

Shariputra,
form does not differ from emptiness,
emptiness does not differ from form.
That which is form is emptiness,
that which is emptiness form.

The same is true of feelings,
perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

Shariputra,
all dharmas are marked with emptiness;
they do not appear or disappear,
are not tainted or pure,
do not increase or decrease.

Therefore, in emptiness no form, no feelings,
perceptions, impulses, consciousness.

No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind;
no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch,
no object of mind;
no realm of eyes
and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness.

No ignorance and also no extinction of it,
and so forth until no old age and death
and also no extinction of them.

No suffering, no origination,
no stopping, no path, no cognition,
also no attainment with nothing to attain.

The Bodhisattva depends on Prajna Paramita
and the mind is no hindrance;
without any hindrance no fears exist.
Far apart from every perverted view one dwells in Nirvana.

In the three worlds
all Buddhas depend on Prajna Paramita
and attain Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi.

Therefore know that Prajna Paramita
is the great transcendent mantra,
is the great bright mantra,
is the utmost mantra,
is the supreme mantra
which is able to relieve all suffering
and is true, not false.
So proclaim the Prajna Paramita mantra,
proclaim the mantra which says:

gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha
gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha
gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.