This teaching give the essential notions about the dhamma, his signification and his aim in a few sentences...
Before all, we should know that this bhikkhu Gotama's teaching (alias Buddha) is totally contradictory with all our spiritual fantasies and that it is not always pleasant to hear. But let us make up our mind well about what we actually want; do effective medicines always have a pleasant taste?
En tout cas, le dhamma est une chose totalement incolore, inodore, dépourvue de goût, insonore et intactile.
Buddha's teaching has only one goal and the whole of that which constitutes it are only elements which lead to this point: Leading one's fellow beings to the ultimate aim by inciting them to perform what ought to be performed so that they understand by themselves the benefits yielded by this path while explaining them how to follow and handle it.
In pali language, the ultimate goal is named: nibbāna. As Buddha has imparted his teachings in pāḷi language, let us use this dialect whose words sometimes have very different definitions from the Sanskrit ones supposedly corresponding to them as their equivalents. For instance, the use of the word "nirvana" calls for a definition that some other schools ascribe to it, which is in contradiction with the meaning conveyed by the word nibbāna.
All that which is known now a day under the name " Buddhism ", is a mere huge salad into which anyone adds his or her own ingredients. This is done to the uttermost extent that we totally forget at last what has to be done in order to everlastingly put an end to all sorrow, to reach the understanding of reality, mental peace or else at the worst even: We are not aware that something has to be fulfilled. These are the four questions that everybody can ask as follows:
Answering to these questions is the raison d'être of Buddha's teaching.
In the big salad of Buddhism and religions, some so-called great masters will assert that to succeed in dressing the choicest salad, one must pour a very large quantity of tomatoes. Hence, their disciples will strive to put in their salad as many tomatoes as they can, without even knowing the reason why they are doing it. Moreover, the master with whom we presently deal doesn't himself know why he advised so. In order to concoct the perfect salad, others will claim that we should emphasize on large quantities of olives and onions. For some others too, the success of the concoction will lie in pouring into the salad bowl everything that is at reach of our hands. On the other hand, others will stress out the importance of pouring into it a strict minimum of food in order to enhance its quality. Whereas another fellow will explain that the perfect salad is obtained owing to having put into it all the ingredients in their fairest proportional quantities.
However, according to Buddha, the contents of the salad ... do not have the slightest importance. The only worthy thing is to know it, while observing it mindfully in order to find out and understand what it is made of, whatever its nature may be. No matter if it is small, nourishing, fresh, shrivelled, soft, spicy, varied, tasteless, light, fat... There is no perfect salad. Only our skill to take the highest benefit from its concoction is essential, and this former can be of a high or low range. The best thing we could do is to utilize all the groundwork we have at disposal, without ceaselessly trying to modify everything. The one who goes around in circles, if he speeds up the pace, if he changes the direction or if he transforms his outlook, will nevertheless always keep on going around in circles. Let's well understand that by adding some lettuce leaves in order to conceal the ingredients whose sights displease us, we won't solve the problem.
The one who thinks leading an existence without dukkha doesn't need Buddha's teaching. dukkha, that is the whole of suffering which are experienced throughout life: its imperfections, its continuous dissatisfaction, its difficulties, its torments, its insubstantiality. The one who doesn't need Buddha's teaching is the one who believes not needing it because he leads a life deemed by himself convenient, enjoyable and without boredom.
Moreover, he is not aware that the life he leads, as pleasurable as it might be, has, as everything, a limited duration. That joyful period that he experiences, whatever its span of time might be, will inexorably come to an end one day or the other. However he is so attached to that sensuous delight which he can experience that he will prefer to ignore the reality, unwilling to know what this latter is truly made of.
He is not aware that the delight experienced is the mere fruit of positive actions performed in a more less remote past. And so, he doesn't know at all which painful consequences he will face in this present life or in a subsequent one. Save the arahanta, nobody can really know what is awaiting him or her in this present life, whatever his or her beliefs might be. Who can ever disagree with this point?
Buddha's teaching, even if men made out of it a religion as a whole, doesn't consist in performing rituals, ceremonies or in chanting prayers. It is a mere method aimed at eradicating the kilesā which are the impurities of our mind. These impurities are the very root-causes of all sufferings that we can come across throughout life. This method, which is also a way of life, can be put into practice by anybody, regardless of his beliefs, convictions, root culture, educational background, principles or ideas.
In order to properly practice Buddha's teaching and to get effective results on the path that leads to the cessation of dukkha, it is essential and needed to practice it with an intelligent understanding. It is irrelevant to do it while keeping in mind the idea of a mystic exercise that will bring happiness as if by magic or solely because our relatives practice it or even because it is widely practised in our country. The motivation should not be the outcome of beautiful stories' readings which refer to it by means of attractive depiction. In order to perform a beneficial practice, one must understand why and know how to do it.
If we had to summarize in a single sentence the practice leading to the cessation of dukkha, as taught by Buddha, that would be for example: " To turn our attention in a mindful manner to all the sensations as we perceive them, and this in order to know them as they really are". This is indeed the fact to know at a deep level that which constitutes the whole of our perceptions of the world that puts an end to ignorance which is the root cause of all sufferings. More details are coming up as follows...
In the very first sermon that he preached to his first five disciples, Buddha expounded to us the four Noble Truths, which constitute the foundation of all his teaching. This is to be known as: the Noble Truth of dukkha; the Noble Truth of the emergence of dukkha; the Noble Truth of the cessation of dukkha; and the Noble Truth of the path that leads to the cessation of dukkha.
In the first Noble Truth, is expounded dukkha; the unsatisfactory, fleeting and painful character of life. Sensuous pleasure is a sorrow. Not only because it does correspond in a fair manner to the pain that had to be experienced to the sake of experiencing this former, but also because it is in itself far more pernicious than expected owing to its fair seeming nature.
Sensuous pleasures are a bit like a shelter into which we like to go for refuge in order to momentarily escape from all the discomforts that ceaselessly haunt our life. We can finally claim that sensuous pleasure brings us some type of relief. A bit like the feeling of cooling down our own moods that we can experience while sighing after having gone through a difficult period of our life.
We do believe that pleasure gives happiness because we never really experienced any other form of happiness than this one. The prisoner who is locked in a jail since many years at last bows to his misfortune, he gets used and habituated to it. Life is only a road that continuously spreads in the desert and at the edge of which some very colourful signposts indicate some dream paradises allegedly served by this road. These paradises exist only in the travellers' thoughts and also in the mind of the ones who fixed up the signposts.
We are so immersed into sorrow that we are not anymore aware of it! Only, when we start on our own to become aware of that, are we able to move forward on the path towards liberation. By practising deep-sea diving, we can see some fishes, some seaweeds and some rocks... but we cannot see water. Paradoxically, only when air bubbles appear can we clearly see that there is some water.
In order to explain that sensuous pleasure is a mere form of relief, let's take the image of a child who has remained alone at home during a whole day. When the evening time will come, when his parents will come home, he will jump into their arms while screaming in order to express his joy. Whereas this very child would have spent the whole day in the company of his parents, he would have never, at evening time, suddenly felt the need to pounce into their arms while screaming out of joy. This given fact shows us that the feeling of euphoria experienced by this child upon meeting again his parents, corresponds in a fair way with the suffering inflicted to him by their absence.
This pattern can be applied in a more less subtle fashion to all forms of pleasures and of satisfactions that we can ever experience. The wise one who experiences a life of non-attachment and peace will never feel any need for sensuous pleasure whatsoever. Indeed he will perceive it to be only something heavy and as an encumbrance.
This is the manifestation of dukkha. The very root cause of suffering (which does beget its reappearance ) is taṇha. taṇha, that is thirst, desire, greed that ceaselessly seeks here and there a new form of sensual delight. It is specifically this thirst, this desire and this greed for sensuous pleasure that, by manifesting in various ways, begets all the forms of sufferings.
In the third noble truth, the cessation of dukkha is nibbāna, That is to say the end of suffering. Talking about nibbāna is always a sensitive issue, because the simple fact to try to explain it or to understand it through a mere theoretical approach most of the time, instead of clarifying this topic, makes it more abstruse. The most essential thing is to observe reality, as we do perceive it at any moment, through the practice of mindfulness, vigilance and concentration , without mental constructions. Specifically owing to our numberless questionings which we ceaselessly indulge in, we don't move any further on the path of understanding. Language is meant for expressing what we perceive through our six senses. The experience of absolute reality lies beyond all concepts and words even more so. It would therefore be vain to try to convey a fair idea of what nibbāna is.
To a fish, it is inconceivable of a man doing anything else than swimming and living under the waters. It means that all ideas that we ponder over within ourselves about what we do ignore are only made out of elements drawn out of what we do already know. Let's take another example: a born blind person to whom you explain that sight enables to know the shape of an object without touching it, will keep on imagining that something will touch this object in a way or the other. If he recovered sight, only from that very moment will he be aware of what being blind means. It is interesting to notice that if someone paid a visit to a remote tribe of blind people in order to debate about sight among them, these latter would believe to be a mad man!
However, we can say that nibbāna, that is the complete cessation of taṇha or greed; that it is the extinction of desire, the extinction of hatred , the extinction of illusion. Upon experiencing nibbāna, neither a physical nor a mental form of consciousness does ever appear and, from this very moment, impurities (kilesās) are irremediably eradicated. The one who has achieved total non-attachment gets rid of all the hassles, difficulties and problems that torment others. His mental health has reached a perfect stage. He doesn't worry about the past, nor about the future , these latter having no raison d'être given that their respective concept only arises with the thought process. He lives for the present moment. He serves others in the purest way as he doesn't think for himself, he has no more thirst for material gains any longer: he is free from all impurities. Once, Venerable Sariputtha, one of Buddha's foremost disciples, told Udāyī: "O friend! nibbāna this is happiness!" Udāyī so asked him: "But how it can be as there are no sensations?" Venerable Sariputtha replies: "The very fact that there are no sensations, this is happiness indeed!"
This is the way that leads to the cessation of dukkha, which we also call the way of fair moderation. This way may be summarized as a whole into what we usually call the noble eight fold path, which encompasses the eight qualities requisite to the attainment of nibbāna. It avoids two extremes: the search for sensual pleasures, for wealth and power and on one hand and forced penance, mortification or extreme asceticism on the other: both steps are painful and devoid of benefit.
The noble eight fold path is divided as follows:
In order to understand well the four noble truths, the three characteristics of the universe, which we name: anicca: the impermanent character of things, dukkha: The unsatisfactory character of things, and anatta: The character of absence of self-inherent reality in things.
It lies in cultivating thoughts free from jealousy, ill will and cruelty.
To abstain from false speech, from malicious gossip, from coarse and vain talks.
Not to kill, not to steal, refraining from sexual misconduct.
To earn one's living in a worthy way by being totally honest and by shunning the practices of weapons, living beings or animal flesh trafficking, inclusive of poisons', liquors' (and drugs') sales.
The effort to overcome what is unfavourable, the effort to avoid what is unfavourable, the effort to develop what is favourable and the effort to promote what is favourable.
The contemplation of the body, the feelings, the mind and phenomena (vipassanā).
This is the one-pointedness of the mind concentrated on a single object. The eight steps of the eight fold path are naturally developed as soon as we turn our attention to reality. That is the case during the practice of vipassanā, method which has been taught by Buddha as being the only means leading to the experience of nibbāna.
Why do we suffer? We suffer because we are ignorant. When we know reality, ignorance has no raison d'être any longer. Owing to our ignorance about reality, we suffer, because we get attached to various flimsy concepts. By this way we get identified to some sensations, pleasant or unpleasant emotions that only rise and pass away, and the value we give to these latter on purpose promotes their useless development. We give so great an importance to it that at last, we fabricate a fully artificial reality which doesn't really exist.
If we do experience dissatisfaction, this is also owing to the fact of pondering over thoughts about events which we like to unfold in one way or the other. Even if things never really unfold as expected (or rarely), we remain fixed on the fact that these latter could have unfolded in this way, instead of learning to fully accept the situation while benefiting from the instructive information that this latter can release as regards to the nature of reality. When an uncomfortable sensation manifests, there is nothing that can be done in order to suppress it, as it already appeared. The only thing that can be done is to observe it in order to know it as it really is, so that later on, this latter will have no reason to keep on reappearing. Refusing an uncomfortable sensation is the best way to feed it.
The understanding of reality is not something that suddenly manifests. The understanding of reality gradually develops, along with awareness cultivated as a whole by simply turning our attention to reality. The one who gets used to remain vigilant or mindful while being active, will develop a deeper and deeper, more and more natural capacity of attention. It is essential to practise attention in an extensive manner, without any sense of compulsion (without ever forcing anything whatsoever).
Let's remind to ourselves that the path leading to nibbāna is mostly the way of moderate habits. Meditating a lot won't put an end to our sorrow. If we spent many years on a meditation cushion without developing attention to what we perceive, we would waste our time. No matter if we dedicate only a very short time to awareness of reality, what really matters is to do it well.
Let's imagine that two brothers both inherit a small restaurant. The first one will want to enlarge his new undertake in order to host more customers to the sake of getting more benefits. Whereas the second brother will prefer to focus his efforts on improving his cooking performances to satisfy his customers without really worrying about their peak consuming periods. The first brother, only anxious about filling up his establishment with more and more customers, will waste a lot of time in securing a return on costs incurred by enlargement renovation works, publicity investments and hassles born out of the need to cook at a constantly increasing speed, more and more dishes, and to the detriment of the cookery's quality. The result will be that the customers, disappointed by the restaurant, will finally become rarer and rarer.
Whereas the second brother, being diligent only about the cookery, will satisfy his customers who, will naturally gather in his restaurant in larger and larger number. At that very moment, he will easily enlarge his restaurant due to its good renown that will spread without wastage of time and energy. He will enlarge it because he will have a lot of customers, and he won't enlarge it just to have many customers: That makes a big difference!
The path leading to nibbāna lies in the fact to turn our attention to reality and to bear every situation patiently. It doesn't lie in acquiring something supplementary or new, as everything is already there before us. It is instead about suppressing what does exceed. In order to suppress what does exceed, that is to say the kilesā (mental impurities) expressed in the shapes of jealousy, desire, fear, anger, self-pride, etc.: It is sufficient to know reality as it is, to actually contemplate that which does constitute every moment of our life.
For instance, when a feeling of fear is known in its inmost nature, for what it truly is, so unveiled in this way, it can no longer affect us. When a fear or an anguish gives us pain, it occurs only because we don't know what it is made of, because we don't understand it. This, indeed, is ignorance!
How could we know a sensation save by observing it when it rises, without making a judgement about or reflecting upon it and without wondering about it at all either: Merely "contemplating" it mindfully face to face just to see what it truly is. If we wish to know the taste of a fruit, what to do? Do we watch it? Do we cut it into slices? Do we observe it with a microscope? Do we undertake chemical analysis? Do we read books which deal with the subject? Do we touch it? Do we inject its juice in our veins? Or else, do we plunge into a swimming pool which is filled with it? To know the taste of a fruit... we taste it and we turn our attention to this taste, that's all! The same thing exactly should be applied for knowing everything which constitutes reality.
A question could be asked: What does constitute reality? Answer: This is a compound of mental and material phenomena called nāma and rūpa which are the basis of the six consciousness each of corresponding with a kind of perception. Reality, this is therefore the compound of all that is perceived by these six consciousness which are:
The one who regularly trains himself to turn his attention to reality, gradually and at last reaches a natural stage of non-attachment to suffering and gives up wrong beliefs which spoil his life, such as the one in the existence of a self or personality. For example, when the attention is turned to a pain as soon as it appears, we can notice that it isn't our pain, but simply a pain that is observed.
This is genuine non-attachment, not to claim ownership on sensations. Detachment doesn't lie in forcing ourselves to be divested of all our material possessions, as it would lie in getting attached to a practice while going on extremes. We can well be non-attached, while having a lot of goods at disposal. The poor and homeless disowned fellow, on his behalf, is not necessarily free from all attachments. He can quite well clutch at straws and cultivate a strong feeling of attachment towards ideals or principles, such as dignity or pride. Trying to quickly attain a stage of strong detachment is a mistake, this is the very principle of greed: "The more we want, the less we get!"
The more we give up (let things follow their natural course), the more things hit their right target. To the one who is simply self-contented while turning his attention to reality, without doing anything else, all results will manifest by themselves and detachment will be the natural consequence of it.
Living while being aware of reality means living peacefully, fully experiencing all sensations, developing a full presence of mind every time they occur so as to live in harmony with mental and physical phenomena. These phenomena merely rise and pass away, following one another, a bit like on a movie screen: Images never appear at the same time, regardless of the screening speed of the film roll. Practising the training into vipassanā with determination is the ultimate stage leading to nibbāna.
The ones who undertake this intense training for weeks or months are people who have already acquired a certain degree of detachment. Let us know one thing well: The practice which leads to nibbāna is neither forced meditation nor abandoning all practices. It doesn't belong to a specific religion, culture or any mode of thought. This practice is designed for all individuals, whoever they are, whatever their age or opinions may be. That is a practice of universal appeal.
When a bhikkhu imparts a teaching, this is not his teaching, but what the Buddha taught. Besides, when we claim "Buddha's teaching", that is a mere way to talk as he himself didn't make up anything. He just expounded the reality which he had perfectly understood.
dhamma is the path leading to Knowledge, to right understanding of reality. dhamma's path can be trodden by each of us, whatever his occupation might be, as here is involved a progressive training. When a bulky block of stone stands before us and we are about to do a sculpture, we won't start the job by using fine tools. We will utilize a chisel and a big hammer for removing large pieces of stone in order to give a basic and general shape to the sculpture. Only in the ultimate stage will we give to the work its finishing touch.
Regarding the path which leads to nibbāna, the same process should be applied: We will start our training through various means which will befit our daily lives and only upon reaching a certain degree of maturity, a peculiar degree of wisdom will we succeed at this very moment to enter the final stage of intense training into vipassanā.
If we wish to climb up a stair by climbing through the wall, it will be a very difficult and foolhardy task, we could fall off and be seriously injured. Whereas to the one who will have taken the trouble to carefully climb the fifteen steps of the stairs which lead to the upper floor, upon reaching the fourteenth step, it will be very easy to him to cross this last step and to reach his goal.
In order to climb the stairs of dhamma, the ones that lead to nibbāna, Buddha describes to us the three elements which constitute THE practice leading to the final emancipation from suffering. We call them dāna, sīla and bhāvanā.
That is the practice of gifts, of generosity towards all beings, without exception. The value of gifts doesn't lie in what we give, or to whom we give but in how we do it. This is the attention which it brings about, and this is also the fact to severe ourselves from something, to get detached from it, this is not about the object itself but rather the idea of possession. The most essential thing is not to give much but to give in a positive manner, with a good and considerate state of mind. It is also very beneficial, for ourselves and others alike, to devote our time to be present for the ones who need our help.
This is the practice of virtue, this is to train ourselves to have a right conduct and to face all situations with a clear concentrated mind and with honesty. To refrain from performing evil deeds, that is already doing good. The simple fact of observing the five precepts is a very positive step taken as it calls for a certain attention and also. The five precepts are:
It is the training into the development of concentration. Regarding vipassanā, this is the putting into practice of the contemplation of mental and physical phenomena.
Only by the practice of gifts, by performing a wholesome conduct and by developing mindfulness is it possible to reach a deep stage of understanding about reality.
What we could call a deep understanding has nothing to do with ordinary understanding, because in no wise it can ever be the result of explanations no matter how exhaustive they might be, neither by means of intellectual reasoning, nor through readings. Deep understanding automatically manifests and even beyond our acknowledgement as soon as a direct perception of reality takes place. It appears every time when the mind sees through insight the inmost nature of a thing, that is to say it perceives it without any form of conceptualisation.
However, it won't prevent the mind from getting attached to the object of experience in order to elaborate any kinds of concepts that will only remain, by definition, within the field of ordinary understanding, indeed a mere fabrication of concepts shaped out of elements memorised since birth.
Let's keep in mind well that it's impossible to give rise to reality's understanding in others's minds. Only out of his own volition, each of us can get access to it. The only thing we could impart to others, those are information which will enable them to follow the good way on their own, the one of right understanding. If we want to reach the top of a mountain that is unknown to us, we will succeed in doing so under the supervision of a guide, who, on his behalf, knows the mountain well. However, he doesn't carry us on his shoulders, we are the ones who are covering up all the distance by means of our own legs, up to the last step.
One of the main causes of our suffering is our attachment to concepts. And specifically owing to the fact that things do not unfold the way we expect and that we do not turn out to be what we would like to. We are also very attached to others' opinion about us. The main point is to focus our efforts on what we deem to be fine, beneficial, and healthy, while avoiding to be detrimental to others whosoever. To be preoccupied about other things is useless, as so well outlined in the proverb: «To do well and let others talk.»
When a salad is served to us, whatever its composition might be, the fact to discuss about it won't transform the corn wheat's grains into cubes of cheese, won't remove the black olives, and won't multiply the pieces of bacon. The only thing that we could modify in this salad and that could give a concrete and beneficial result, that is the way we eat it. This is the fact to develop a full presence of mind at any stage of its gulping down while turning our attention to all the sensations of taste, fragrance and touch (regarding the foods' complexion and temperature). It will therefore be sufficient to observe all this as it appears to consciousness, and above all... by accepting things as they are!
See also: The liberation path
Origin: Teaching in Paris (France)
Author: Monk Dhamma Sāmi
Translator: Thierry Lambrou
Date of translation: 2001
Update: 2005, June the 7th