It is surprising to ascertain to which extent we can persuade ourselves of certain things on the sole ground of having heard or read mere assertions. Assertions that are, very often, groundless.
There are people who claim doing others' "awakening" quest. Let us think thirty seconds and wonder what these people concretely do while supposedly searching for others' "awakening" (except the fact to often talk about it). The questions that are asked are: "What does searching for others' awakening mean?" And "What do these people mean by "awakening"?".
According to Buddha, only oneself in entitled to achieve the right Knowledge of reality, "awakening", the cessation of all suffering, of all ignorance. We CANNOT do otherwise except doing an "awakening" quest ONLY for ourselves. (Let us think well that otherwise, Buddha, who had reached omniscience, that is to say perfect knowledge of all in all, a mastery of all psychic powers, wouldn't have hesitated even a moment, if it turned out to be possible, to enlighten all beings of the universe!) He said: "I can take you back to the source, but I cannot drink it for you."
Apart from oneself, it is not possible to help someone else. The only thing that we could do for someone else, would be to give him (her) proper explanations, with wisdom, to guide him (her) on an healthy path and make him (her) aware of that which is as beneficial to him (her) as to others. All that, so that he (she) can help HIMSELF (HERSELF) , so that he (she) understands by himself (herself) the priceless benefits of a noble step that will to lead him (her) to that "awakening", which is the definitive end of all kinds of dissatisfactions.
How to effectively throw new light on others if we haven't been ourselves emancipated from ignorance prior to it? How to make understand the limitless value of such a life training if we didn't undertake it ourselves? How to incite others to take this wise step, by giving good and right advices if we haven't ourselves eradicated mental defilements (kilesās)?
Admittedly, giving advices and explanations around us, based on a little understanding that we reached, is always better than nothing. However, advices and explanations given by someone whom mind and conduct are pure, will yield tremendously greater effects.
It does outline the importance of self-purification before all, in order to enable oneself to be really effective in helping others. We don't even talk about the fact that only a blameless conduct, which is the outcome of an absence of mental defilements such as greediness or self-pride, gives a remarkable example to the surrounding. This is an incitement to work on one's defilements, a suggestion to develop positive actions, an incitement to avoid negative actions and behave with intelligence to the sake of all beings' benefit.
The simple fact to be realised, to be awakened, is a real blessing for others. Only once we are purified can we truly be beneficial to others.
If several people fell into a well, at least one of them should get out of it first of all. Then only will he (she) be able to go searching for a rope in order to help others to get out of it. How could he (she) do it as long as he (she) still remains at the bottom? Let us notice that others should grasp the rope, no one can substitute for them, whatever the type of rope which is being utilised.
However, there will always be people having nothing better to do save holding on to the one who tries to climb to the top of the well (in order to go searching for a rope so as to save others), thus preventing him (her) from climbing while blaming him (her): "You better help us instead of abandoning us, you selfish!" We will ascertain that, in the meantime, these people don't even do the effort to try to climb to the top of the well.
Few "Buddhists" only are. Buddha ate meat. He did impose to the monks not to express their preferences, to accept everything that the laity were putting into their bowl, without picking out and without frowning. However, he has specified that if a monk saw, heard or came to know that had been killed wit the intention to be offered to a monk (or several of them), this latter should refuse that meat. There are also ten kinds of meats that a monk cannot accept. The reason for it is that these animals did personify , at Buddha's time, nobility or the sacred. So as not to chock these persons, monks do not consume these meats. It is about the flesh of humans, dogs, horses, elephants, leopards, tigers, lions, bears, hyenas and snakes.
Except in case of a health problem, a monk is therefore not supposed to choose his mode of diet. However, there do exist monks who, being anxious to be pure, choose not to eat that which is the result of of a living being's suffering. Usually, they are renouncing ascetics who stick to an almost faultless vinaya (conduct) and people who do food offerings to them who their wish. Thus, they do solely offer vegetarian food to them. But these monks are worthy to be called so, despite of their wish, if someone do offer them a morsel of meat, they should eat it.
No. It is barely conceivable to reach the final goal without practising concentration. To reach "liberation", one must, by definition, have developed a right and direct knowledge of reality. How to obtain such a knowledge of reality without having trained himself (herself) in observing it in detail?
Not only it is necessary to "meditate" to reach "liberation" but vipassanā alone should be practised for that sake as only through this type of training is reality observed the way it is being perceived.
It is therefore a serious mistake to believe, for example, that it is possible to reach "enlightenment" through the mere recitation of a formula a certain number of times.
Let us consider that, training and concentration alone are insufficient for us to reach the "final goal". The practices of gift and good conduct are also essential. If someone feels at ease while practising vipassanā in this life, it means that he (she) has necessarily practised gift and conduct during former lives.
To experience nibbāna, it is essential to develop several factors over a large number of lives. Many do feel attracted by "meditation" or else are able to do the effort to train into increasing their concentration. It means that they have already trained into developing these factors over their past lives. These factors do prevail into the the three main practices of dhamma:
To know more of this training, please see the heading "vipassanā".
The opposite thing does occur precisely, it is a training that enables one to benefit with the greatest of rewards! Spending our time in running after pleasures, it is merely spending our time in running after suffering. The efforts that are made to satisfy or searching for a pleasure – whatever it is – do but allow to develop greediness, anger and ignorance. Those are precisely these three things that are the very roots of all sufferings. We therefore renounce suffering when renouncing pleasures.
The one who does enter the path of renunciation, renounces enjoying comfort, indulging in sexual practices, gathering material goods, eating at any time of the day, listening to music, wasting his (her) time in all other distractions, and satisfying all kinds of desires. This later, let us not forget it, does also, a fortiori, renounce unhappiness, dangers, saṃsarā indeed, the jail that life is, and in a general manner, all the innumerable problems and difficulties created by the search for, the gratification and the maintenance of all kinds of pleasures.
theravāda is very often and erroneously designated by the term "hīnayāna". When we try to trace back the source of these information, we find out that the truth is very remote from everything that we can read and hear from all sides...
During the primeval times of thesāsana, the naming "hīnayāna" was given by the bhikkhus of the saṃgha (still unique at that time ) to the ones who, being in disagreement with certain points of the Teaching, had founded their own school. By distinguished themselves from others by their unfeeling code of conduct, exclusively rooted into practice, neglecting or even avoiding contacts with the laity, they have thus provoked the first split in the history of the saṃgha. Standing opposed to it, some monks have thus adopted a flexible attitude, even extreme in these respects. This movement is the primal inspirational impulse of other schools, such as the "mahayāna". As to "hīnayāna", it has totally disappeared since long.
In Pali language, "hīna" means bad (and not small) and "yāna" vehicle, path.
Buddha never talked about small or great vehicles, this concept being a mere invention of the new schools.
"mahayāna" officially self-declared itself as such following a division that occurred within thesaṃgha during the 2nd council held in Vaishali, around the year 410 before C.E., about 110 years after Buddha'sparinibbāna. "mahayāna" is notably practised in China, Japan, Korea and Mongolia. We do also call it "modern Buddhism".
"mahayāna" is the whole of Buddhist schools (such as "Zen Buddhism" promulgated by Bodhidharma) whose philosophical views seem to draw their primal inspiration within the doctrines of Nagarjuna and Maitreyanātha.
From the view point of theravāda, there are five categories constituting the saṃgha, ascetics and hermits, and the laity. All can be classified according to an order of priorities (so as to be served, so as to be worthy of the marks of respect shown by individual belonging to lesser ranks , etc.) Here is a brief definition of the categories of individuals, by order of priority:
|Pali name||English name||Precepts||Remarks|
|Pali name||English name||Precepts||Remarks|
|bhikkhu||monk||vinaya (for the monks)||the vinaya is not a group of precepts. It contains many rules, but all the precepts are included in it.|
|bhikkhunī||nun (fully ordained)||vinaya (female)||They can no longer exist.|
|sāmaṇera||novice (male)||10 precepts|
|sikkhamāna||female novice being on probation period before becoming a nun||10 precepts||They can no longer exist. A sikkhamāna must observe the first six among the ten precepts without committing the slightest fault during two years, before being eligible for the bhikkhunī ordination.|
|sāmaṇerī||novice (female)||10 préceptes||They can no longer exist.|
|sīladhara||nun (non ordained)||8 ou 9 préceptes||Contrarily to the laity, the nun wears a "monastic" dress, shaves off his hair and lives in community.|
|paribbājaka||ascetic or hermit clinging to erroneous views||Very variegated||An individual belonging to this category can be respected because he/she leads a religious life, but Buddhist laity should not worship them.|
|upāsaka||laity respecting the Buddha, the dhamma and the saṃgha||8 precepts or more||Nowadays, a laity who dwells in a meditation centre usually has to observe the eight precepts. Added to this, a woman has to wear a sober uniform, without colours and without reason.|
|Others||Less than 5 precepts|
bhikkhus do not depend on begging, because they do not beg. bhikkhus do not ask for anything, they depend on donations, but they do not beg to obtain them. Furthermore, a bhikkhu does not work simply because he has chosen not to work. There are those who wish to continue working to earn their food, but generally, they do this to earn also much more than that; to buy themselves all sorts of pleasures, entertainment, or leisure activities. The monk is someone who has chosen to restrict – or at least to try to restrict – his consumption of pleasures. In any case, he has made the choice of no longer leading a common life of distraction or leisure. Therefore he no longer has any need for money, he no longer needs to earn a living, because he no longer has to buy himself anything. As far as the minimum needs of food and robes are concerned, there are lay people who offer these things to him. Moreover, they are glad to take advantage of the opportunity to practise giving and charity by offering the minimum living needs – and sometimes more – to these monks who, paradoxically, do not ask for anything.
It is a way of life, it is a life choice that the monk has made, and one cannot, on any account, reproach him in the least. If people tell themselves: "It is quite easy to be a monk, one is fed, one is housed.", I have only one thing to say to them: they should only try and see for themselves: no leisure activities, no amusements, no ski, no television, no music, no sex, no clothes – except for the minimum (the robes)-, no hairstyle, no make-up, no jewels, no watch, no entertainment. Let us take the example of a pendulum. On one side, there is the apparent ease of life of one who benefits without having to make any efforts for what is offered to him, but this is compensated by the abandonment of all pleasures and all leisure activities. If anybody wishes to try this experience, let him do it. If anybody finds that this life is easy – moreover calls it "the easy life "-, he is welcome, there is a place!
They are essentially mental images, representations that one makes. Because we live in a very materialistic society, with transport, with machines, one tends to establish a more and more intense distinction, expressed sometimes violently, between what one calls natural and artificial. I can tell you that when you are in a room in Burma, trying to be mindful of the breath, of feelings, of thoughts... and you have a flock of crows cawing all around, it is no more pleasant than a pneumatic hammer or cars traffic. One makes many value judgements: natural noises should be charming and relaxing, whereas other sounds are supposed to be much more stressful. While in fact, with the approach one has in meditation, one would, as a general rule, prefer no noise at all. Whether it is the noise of a river, birds or a car, one prefers silence. In the approach of insight into reality – vipassanā – even at the beginning, whatever the level, noises tend to be a distraction, in fact one learns to treat them like any other mind object. One tries to be self-contented with observing sound and not to enter into the logic of aversion if it is a car, or of seduction if it is a bird or the sound of a river. One tries to treat all sounds equally. The treatment of sounds in vipassanā consists on simply knowing them for what they are. One observes the phenomenon of hearing, without going further than that.
In the first place, it is in no way considered as a negative act. Secondly, it is certainly not something that produces only enjoyment. It produces infinitely more suffering than enjoyment in the world, because for a few minutes of nervous excitement from a rubbed nerve, it is necessary to pay the price of a real alienation. To live with a partner is slavery. Even though for certain people life as a couple goes rather well and harmoniously, this is already a rather rare scenario. Sexual pleasure generates absurd behaviours: people who roam pitifully in search of their prey, people who go as far as committing adultery, who sometimes commit a crime to satisfy their drive, their desire.
Indeed this is something that is completely natural, dogs do the same, rats too. It is considered as an offence for a monk, because he is the one who made the choice to abstain from it. If the monk is engaged in fornication, he is no longer a monk. It is an offence only in the sense of negligence, error. When one makes a spelling mistake, it is not as if one had done something wicked, evil, and one is not going to be reborn in hell because of it. One will only have done something that is not correct, which it is necessary to try to correct. In the same way, when a monk conceives a sexual relation, he gets ready to commit an offence; a behaviour that is not correct within the community of monks. He does not commit an act that will make him take rebirth in hell, he did not "sin". By this action, he has defeated himself from his monk's status.
Nobody forces anyone " to become a monk ", and if somebody wants to develop sexual relations, nobody will discourage him from doing so. The Buddha never said that this was bad, that it leads to rebirth in hell. He simply said that this is something that distracts beings, that it does not differentiate them much from animals, and that, in fact, sex causes a considerable amount of pain, misery and sufferings in the world.
Before being a monk, lay people who take the eight precepts, and, beyond, novices and monks, are those who wish to remove completely this aspect of their lives. There is nothing against nature in this, because nothing forces them to be a monk or a nun, and if one wants to continue lay life with a partner, this is perfectly possible. Most of those who realised awakening at the time of the Buddha were in this situation. They were people who had a wife, or a husband. It is not incompatible in any way. It is a question of choice.
Somebody who commits any type of crime, commits actions the remuneration of which will be to endure the same dose of pain and suffering. As the Buddha says, somebody who does so, will be due for a rebirth in hell, and when he has purged this reserve of akusala, he will have in a sense paid his (her) debt. At that time, he will be able to resume birth in the human world. An action that somebody commits, for example a crime, is an action that causes suffering (physical suffering, maybe death) to others, without particularly leading them in any direction. If these persons experience such sufferings, it is because they themselves have, in the past, caused suffering to others. We are there in a relatively simple logic of action and reaction – which is the law of kamma. Whereas when somebody teaches the truth, he gives a direction to people's life. He completely alters the orientation of people's life. Even though he does not cause them physical suffering or visible mental suffering, the fact is that he leads them to a destination which is that of a dream, the belief in an " absolute truth ", in eternal happiness, perfect happiness after death, which is naturally, an utopia. By doing so, he maintains and develops a factor that is much worse than violence or hatred, which is the factor of views.
When we carry out a negative act, this may or may not be accompanied with views, with beliefs. For example, when somebody tramples on one's foot, one gets irritated, one gives him a slap. One thus commits an act of violence, causing suffering to somebody. Now, we meet somebody who belongs to a religious community who does not please us and we slap him, the same slap. Physically, the person will experience the same suffering. Nevertheless, the person who performed the action, in the first case, had a violent act, a fit of anger that was not associated to a view or a belief, and, in the second case, had a fit of anger and violence that was associated to views and beliefs. Thus, if he committed acts of violence, acts of hatred, or if he let himself go to uncontrolled desires, when this was associated with views, he must, as a deserved result, be reborn in lower realms.
But in one who commits acts of violence or indulges in uncontrolled desires, without this being associated with views, such acts have no power, or at least much less so, to bring him to rebirth in the lower realms. Owing to this fact, when someone has reached the first stage of awakening, when he has "entered the stream", when he has become what is called a sotāpana, he has abandoned views. He can no longer act in a way where the actions are associated to views. Even though he can still commit violent actions, such as hitting someone, or can still abandon himself to uncontrolled desires, as he no longer does this within the framework of a belief, a ritual, an idea or a concept which he has of life, it has no power to lead him to rebirth in the lower realms.
What has the power to pull us downward is views. Even though he does not commit physical violence, somebody who teaches, who preaches nothing but views and concepts, lives in a real quagmire of views. That one is going to be reborn "very low" and is going to experience very painful sufferings during numerous lives, because he drags other people into the world of views, and he leads others to act blinded by concepts and views. That is, people who, normally, would have continued to live their lives by doing their work, occasionally committing acts of violence, or sometimes indulging in uncontrolled desires, will then do so systematically because they will have been led into a religious current of ideologies or beliefs. They will do so within the framework of a program, of a religious or ideological project.
Furthermore, we can verify this: when there are murders, or rapes being committed in a society, it is one thing. But when in a society there emerges a religious high priest, or there is a big doctor in ideology, in philosophic or political doctrine, he is at the time going to catalyse people's attention completely, and we can see that people are then going to start practising such atrocities even more. This is evident in the great religious conquests, in conquests by great political ideologies, people begin practising atrocities even more, because having a strong belief gives us even more aggressiveness and makes us even more blind. One can sense that one is doing evil when committing a rape. But when we do this because it is part of a program of ethnic cleansing which goes with our political ideology, we are deeply convinced that, in reality, we are doing good.
That's why the big religious heads, the big doctors in ideologies and various politics, paradoxically, do infinitely more evil (history is there to prove this), even if they never kill, even though they do not commit rape – what often remains to be proven. Besides, when one commits violence, one can kill some people, but if one is under the influence of views, concepts and beliefs, and one has a power, one can kill millions of people, or indoctrinate millions of people who, in turn, commit acts of violence, collective rapes... under the influence of the ideology transmitted to them. That's why the biggest poisons of human society are precisely all these priests and all these politicians.
Indifference is an attitude that is rooted in ignorance, and detachment is an attitude that is rooted in the absence of desire.
When we are indifferent, we do not pay any attention to what happens. When we have a detached attitude, the opposite thing does occur, we pay attention to what happens. And we do not develop attachment to what happens, precisely because we are mindful.
They are two attitudes that are completely opposite.
There are essentially ten elements which constitute the defilements. They belong to two categories: the one called the superior and the one called the inferior. There are five in each category. The first is having erroneous views, concepts, beliefs – whatever they are – in particular the belief in "I", the belief in a self, or in "a soul". It is the belief that there is somebody who lives in this body or who governs this mind. The second is doubt. Doubt with respect to the teachings of the theravāda, and in the capacity of this teaching to lead beings to awakening. Doubt on the law of action, of activity, doubts about the method to free oneself from suffering, etc. The third is faith in the efficacy of ritual, and therefore the need to practise certain religious rites, certain rituals, as seen in all religions. This is a defilement that is very active and very widespread in this world. These three defilements are eliminated when one experiences the awakening for the first time, when one attains the stage called sotāpana (the stream-enterer). That is why the sotāpana, naturally, is not engaged in any religious rite, he has no doubts about the truthfulness of the teachings and has totally eliminated the belief in a self (or a "soul"). The next two defilements are pleasure, bound to the desires of the senses, and, finally, anger, aversion. These two defilements are eliminated only when one reaches the third stage of awakening. The second stage – that of the sakadāgāmi – does not change much, it is only supposed to weaken these defilements. Whoever has attained the third stage – the anāgāmi – is free from desire and anger. Buddha said that he has attained perfect happiness in this world. Next there are the five superior defilements, which are eliminated only by those who have attained the fourth stage – the arahanta –, who have reached complete liberation, the end of all the defilements. The sixth defilement is the desire to experience the divine consciousness – the jhānas – of the fine material sphere –. The seventh is the wish to experience immaterial divine consciousness – the immaterial jhānas-, which are extremely subtle consciousness, they are divine consciousness.
The eighth is mental excitement. It is not, as a lot of people believe, the influx of thoughts, but simply the fact that the mind tends to flutter and to fix, in an incoherent manner, on the various objects which appear to the consciousness.
The ninth is pride, which can manifest in three ways 1) The gross way, which is the conviction that one is superior to others, the conviction that one has qualities superior to others. 2) Humility, which is the feeling of being inferior to others, or that one has qualities inferior to others. 3) Pride by equality. It is the equality in the perception one has of oneself: seeing oneself equal to others. The tenth is ignorance. It is the absence of knowledge of the intrinsic reality of phenomena. It is the absence of knowledge of what things truly are in reality. Only the one who has attained the last stage, that is the arahanta, who is completely liberated, has eliminated this last and final defilement of the mind. These ten defilements make beings go around in circles (especially within the lower realms) in the cycle of deaths and rebirths. They have done this since times immemorial, and so long as they have not encountered the teachings of the Buddha, that is the theravāda, they will continue to do so for immeasurable time.
Origin: Questions of various people
Author of answers: Monks Dhamma Sāmi and Sāsana
Date: Between 2001 and 2005 (2002, April, the 27th for the 6 questions to Monk Sāsana)
Translators: Lucy Costa (2002, July), Thierry Lambrou (2003, April)
Update: 2005, June the 8th