What is the Triple Gem?
Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
(Phra Suddhidhammaransi Gambhiramedhacariya)
Translated from the Thai by
Copyright © 1994 Metta Forest Monastery
Parts of this analysis of the Triple Gem were originally used to teach new monks here
at the temple and have been printed twice in book form. Now that a group of people who
feel that the book would be beneficial to Buddhists at large have pooled their resources
and asked permission to print it a third time, I have decided to expand it into a handbook
for all Buddhist adherents -- i.e., for all who have declared the Buddha, Dhamma, and
Sangha to be their refuge. Once we have made such a declaration, we are duty-bound to
learn exactly what the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha are. Otherwise, we will follow our
religion blindly, without realizing its aims or the benefits -- called 'puñña,' or merit
-- that come from its practice, inasmuch as Buddhism is a religion of self-help.
Furthermore, we as Thai people are known throughout the world as Buddhists, but my
feeling is that there are very few of us who know the standards of the Buddha, Dhamma, and
Sangha. Although many of us are 'Buddhist,' we are Buddhist mostly through custom, not
through informed awareness.
Altogether, there are two ways of adhering to the religion: rationally and
irrationally. To adhere to the religion irrationally means to adhere to it blindly,
following one's teachers or companions, holding to whatever they say is good without
showing any interest as to whether it really is good or not. This is like a person of no
discernment who uses whatever paper money comes his way: If it turns out to be
counterfeit, he'll be punished and fined in a variety of ways. This is what it means to
adhere to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha irrationally.
To adhere to the religion rationally means not to follow one's own prejudices or those
of one's teachers or companions, but to follow the principles of the texts; holding to the
Dhamma-Vinaya as one's standard, like a legal document affixed with the government seal,
carrying the force of law throughout the land, making exceptions for no one. Whoever then
transgresses the law can't be regarded as a good citizen. So it is with the religion: If
we want to know if a practice is good or bad, right or wrong, worthy of respect or not, we
should check it against the standards established by the Buddha, which are eight in
number: Any behavior that --
1. leads to passion,
2. leads to the compounding of suffering,
3. leads to the accumulation of defilement,
4. leads to over-weaning ambition,
5. leads to discontent with what one has -- i.e., having this, one wants that
(greed that goes beyond moderation),
6. leads to socializing (of the wrong sort),
7. leads to laziness,
8. leads one to be burdensome to others:
None of these eight forms of behavior qualify as the doctrine or discipline of
Buddhism. Once we know that these forms of behavior are not what the Buddha intended, we
should abandon them completely.
Thus, all of us who respect the Buddha's teachings should -- instead of working at
cross-purposes -- join our hearts to cleanse and correct the practice of the religion.
Monks, novices, lay men, and lay women should make a point of helping one another in the
area of reform. Whatever is already good, we should maintain with respect. Whatever isn't,
we should exert pressure to improve. We'll then meet with what's truly good, like rice: If
you cook good, clean, husked white rice, you'll eat with pleasure. If you cook unhusked
rice, or a potful of husks, they'll stick in your own throat. If we let any bad factions
go uncorrected, they will burden the hearts of their supporters, who will become like
people who cook rice husks to eat. Are we going to let one another be so stupid as to eat
By and large, though, most lay people don't see this as their duty. As for the monks
and novices, they throw the responsibility on the lay people, and so we do nothing but
keep throwing it back and forth like this. When things have a bearing on all of us, we
should by all means unite our hearts and accept joint responsibility. Only things that
have no bearing on us should we leave to others. Unless we act in this way, what is good
-- the religion -- will fall from our grasp. And when the religion falls from our grasp,
lay men (upasaka) will become obstacles (upasak), i.e., they'll keep
creating obstacles in the way of finding merit. Lay women (upasika) will become the
color of crows (sika), i.e., dark and evil in their behavior. Novices will become
sham novices, careless, spattered, and filthy; and monks (phra) will become goats (phae),
missing out on the flavor of the Dhamma, like the nanny goat who has to go hungry because
her milk has been taken and drunk by people more intelligent than she. In India, for
instance, there are hardly any monks left to make merit with.
Monks are the important faction, because they are the front-line troops or
standard-bearers in the fight with the enemy -- evil. Ordinarily, soldiers have to adhere
to the code of their army and to be sincere in performing their duties. As for the duties
enjoined by the religion, they are two:
1 Gantha-dhura: studying the scriptures. Once we know the scriptures,
though, we can't stop there. We have to put them into practice, because the level of study
is simply knowledge on the level of plans and blueprints. If we don't follow the
blueprints, we won't receive the benefits to be gained from our knowledge. And when we
don't gain the benefits, we're apt to discard the texts, like a doctor who knows the
formula for a medicine but doesn't use it to cure any patients. The medicine won't show
any benefits, and this will cause him to go looking for a living in other ways, discarding
any interest to pursue that formula further. Thus, putting the scriptures into practice is
one way of preserving them, for once we have put them into practice and seen the results
arising within us -- i.e., our own bad qualities begin to wane -- we will appreciate the
value of the scriptures and try to keep them intact. This is like a doctor who is able to
use a medicine to cure a fever and so will preserve the formula because of its use in
making a living. Thus, the Lord Buddha set out a further duty, in the area of practice,
for those who are ordained:
2 Vipassana-dhura: the practice of tranquillity and insight meditation.
These two practices are our primary duties as monks and novices. If we don't devote
ourselves to these two lines of practice, we'll become a fifth column within the religion,
enemies of the good standards of the Dhamma and Vinaya. Monks will become political monks,
war-making monks, loudspeaker monks -- loudspeaker monks are those who can teach others
but can't teach themselves. They can speak Dhamma, but their hearts have no Dhamma, and so
they become the enemies of those who practice the Dhamma and Vinaya rightly and well.
Thus I ask all Buddhists not to turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to these problems. If we
hold that it's none of our business, the consequences could well flare up and spread to
burn us. For this reason, I ask that we all help one another to look after the religion.
Actually, all human beings born need a set of customs and traditions -- called religion
-- to which they give special respect. Otherwise, we will have no principles of good and
evil or of moral virtue. Whatever religion this may be is up to the individual adherents.
I ask only that they respect their religion sincerely and rightly, for the sake of true
If we were to use only worldly knowledge to keep order, it would work only in public
places. In private or secret places, order wouldn't last. But as for religion, once people
have studied so that they really know good and evil, they wouldn't dare do evil, either in
public or in private. Religion is thus one of the important mainstays of the world. If we
human beings had no moral virtue imbedded in our hearts, even the greatest power on earth
would be able to keep us in line only temporarily, and even then it wouldn't be able to
influence our minds the way the moral virtue that comes from religion can. For this
reason, the practice of moral virtue is one way of helping the religion and the world.
Now, I'm not claiming to be a heavenly being or anyone special. I'm simply a person who
wishes the religion well. So if anything in this book is defective -- in terms of the
expression or the Pali -- I hope that knowledgeable people will forgive me, for it's not
the case that I'm expert in a wide range of matters.
Phra Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
Wat Paa Khlawng Kung
(The Shrimp Canal Forest Monastery)
Buddham saranam gacchami:
I go to the Buddha for refuge.
Ordinarily, for the world to experience happiness and harmony, there has to be a
teaching or tradition generally respected as good. This being the case, Bodhisattvas arise
-- people who develop goodness on the grand scale for the sake of attaining right
self-awakening. Once they have reached this goal, they are termed 'Buddhas,' Awakened
Ones. For Bodhisattvas to succeed in this direction, they have to devote themselves to
perfecting ten virtues --
1 Dana-parami: charity.
2 Sila-parami: morality.
3 Nekkhamma-parami: renunciation of sensuality (and of the household life).
4 Pañña-parami: the search for discernment.
5 Viriya-parami: persistence.
6 Khanti-parami: endurance, patience.
7 Sacca-parami: truthfulness.
8 Adhitthana-parami: determination.
9 Metta-parami: benevolence.
10 Upekkha-parami: equanimity (in proper cases, i.e., in areas that are
beyond one's control).
These ten perfections are the factors that enable a Bodhisattva to succeed in becoming
an Arahant, a Pure One. Once he attains this state, three qualities -- called 'actualized
virtues' -- arise in his heart:
Pañña-guna: sharp discernment.
Karunadhiguna: compassion for living beings throughout the world.
These qualities enable the Buddha to teach the Dhamma in a beneficial way. His conduct
in this area is of three sorts: Having achieved his own purposes (attattha-cariya),
he acts for the benefit of living beings throughout the world (lokattha-cariya) and
teaches the Dhamma to his own circle of relatives (ñatattha-cariya).
There are three aspects to the Buddha:
1) The physical aspect -- the body (elements, aggregates (khandha), and
sense media), which is the external aspect of the Buddha, called 'Buddha-nimitta,'
or the symbol of the Buddha. (This is like the bark of a tree.)
2) The good practices he followed -- such as virtue, concentration, and
discernment, which are aspects of his activity. These are called 'dhamma-nimitta'
of the Buddha, symbols of his inner quality. (These are the sapwood.)
3) Vimutti -- release from ignorance, craving, attachment, and kamma;
attaining nibbana, the supreme quality, a quality that does not die (amata-dhamma).
(This is the heartwood, or essence of the Buddha.)
A person of little intelligence will use bark to build himself a home; a person of
medium intelligence will use sapwood; while a person of sharp intelligence will build his
home of heartwood. So it is with those of us who take refuge in the Buddha. But in any
case we're better off than people without a home. Like rats or lizards who have to live in
the hollows of trees and are in for trouble if people set the trees on fire: If we place
our trust in our life, our bodies, or our worldly possessions, we'll have no refuge when
the fires of death reach us. Or as when a boat sinks in the middle of the ocean: A person
without a life-vest is in serious danger. For this reason, we should educate ourselves so
as to find a refuge that will benefit us both in this life and in lives to come.
Another comparison: The sages of the past used the term 'Buddha-ratana,'
comparing the Buddha to a jewel. Now, there are three sorts of jewels: artificial gems;
gemstones, such as rubies or sapphires; and diamonds, which are held to be the highest.
The aspects of the Buddha might be compared to these three sorts of jewels. To place
confidence in the external aspect -- the body of the Buddha or images made to represent
him -- is like dressing up with artificial gems. To show respect for the practices
followed by the Buddha by giving rise to them within ourselves is like dressing up with
rubies and sapphires. To reach the quality of deathlessness is like dressing in diamonds
from head to toe.
But no matter what sort of jewels we use to dress up in, we're better off than savages
who go around hanging bones from their necks, who look unkempt and -- what's more -- are
bound to be haunted by the bones they wear. The bones, here, stand for the body, i.e., our
attachment to the body as really being ours. Actually, our body comes for the most part
from the bodies of other animals -- the food we've eaten -- so how can we seriously take
it to be our own? Whoever insists on regarding the body as his or her own is like a savage
or a swindler -- and, as a swindler, is bound to receive punishment in proportion to the
crime. Thus, we should regard the body as money borrowed for the span of a lifetime, to be
used as capital. And we should search for profits so as to release ourselves from our
debts, by searching for another, better form of goodness: the qualities of the
Buddha that he left as teachings for all of his followers. These qualities, briefly put,
1 Sati: the continual mindfulness (wakefulness) found in the factors of jhana.
2 Pañña: the intuitive discernment that comes from developing mental
3 Vimutti: release from defilement
These are qualities that all Buddhists should develop within themselves so as to gain
Awakening, following the example of the Buddha, becoming Savaka Buddhas (Disciple
Buddhas), an opportunity open -- without exception and with no restrictions of time or
place -- to all who follow his teachings.
Buddhists who revere the Buddha in the full sense of the word should have two sorts of
symbols with them, to serve as reminders of their tradition --
1 Buddha-nimitta: representatives of the Buddha, such as Buddha images or
stupas in which relics of the Buddha are placed. This sort of reminder is like a nation's
2 Buddha-guna: the qualities that form the inner symbol of the Buddha,
i.e., the proper practice of his teachings. Whoever takes a stand in this manner is bound
to be victorious both within and without, safe from such enemies as temptation and
Our nation's flag and the people of our nation are two different things. Just as our
flag will have value only if the people of our nation are good and preserve the fullness
of the nation's qualities; so too, we Buddhists have to respect both our flag -- images of
the Buddha -- and the qualities of the Buddha if we are to be good Buddhists. Otherwise,
we will suffer from not having fulfilled our responsibilities.
To take an example, we Thai people, in order to be Thai in the full sense, have to
possess a number of qualifications: the ability to speak and to read Thai, acquaintance
with Thai customs and traditions, the ability to benefit ourselves (attattha-cariya)
and to spread those benefits to help care for the needs of our parents, spouses, and
children (ñatatthacariya). And not only that: If we have the ability and the
energy -- physical, mental, financial, or the energy of our virtues -- we should expand
those benefits to help our fellow human beings in general throughout the nation (lokatthacariya).
This is what it means to be Thai in the full sense of the word. In the same way, we who
revere the image of the Buddha and the Buddha's good qualities should have them with us at
all times if we are to receive the full benefits that come from being Buddhist and to
maintain the peace and well-being of Buddhists at large.
* * *
Dhammam saranam gacchami:
I go to the Dhamma for refuge.
There are three levels to the Dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha --
A. Pariyatti: studying the words of the Buddha as
recorded in the Canon -- the Discipline, the Discourses, and the Abhidhamma.
B. Patipatti: following the practice of moral virtue,
concentration, and discernment as derived from one's study of the Canon.
C. Pativedha: Liberation.
A. The study of the Dhamma can be done in any of three
1 Alagaddupama-pariyatti: studying like a water viper.
2 Nissaranattha-pariyatti: studying for the sake of emancipation.
3 Bhandagarika-pariyatti: studying to be a storehouse keeper.
Studying like a water viper means to study the words of the Buddha without then putting
them into practice, having no sense of shame at doing evil, disobeying the monastic code,
making oneself like a poisonous snake-head, full of the fires of greed, anger, and
Studying for the sake of emancipation means to study the Buddha's teachings out of a
desire for merit and wisdom, with a sense of conviction and high regard for their worth --
and then, once we have reached an understanding, bringing our thoughts, words, and deeds
into line with those teachings with a high sense of reverence and respect. To try to bring
the Buddha's teachings into line with ourselves is the wrong approach -- because, for the
most part, we are full of defilements, cravings, views, and conceits. If we act in this
way we are bound to be more at fault than those who try to bring themselves into line with
the teachings: Such people are very hard to find fault with.
Studying to be a storehouse keeper refers to the education of people who no longer have
to be trained, i.e., of Arahants, the highest level of the Noble Ones. Some Arahants, when
they were still ordinary, run-of-the-mill people, heard the Dhamma directly from the
Buddha once or twice and were able immediately to reach the highest attainment. This being
the case, they lacked a wide-ranging knowledge of worldly conventions and traditions; and
so, with an eye to the benefit of other Buddhists, they were willing to undergo a certain
amount of further education. This way of studying the Dhamma is called 'sikkha-garavata':
respect for the training.
B. The practice of the Dhamma means to conduct oneself
in line with the words of the Buddha as gathered under three headings:
-- Virtue: proper behavior, free from vice and harm, in terms of one's words and deeds.
-- Concentration: intentness of mind, centered on one of the themes of meditation, such
as the breath.
-- Discernment: insight and circumspection with regard to all fashioned things, i.e.,
physical properties, aggregates, and sense media.
To conduct oneself in this manner is termed practicing the Dhamma. By and large,
though, Buddhists tend to practice the Dhamma in a variety of ways that aren't in line
with the true path of practice. If we were to classify their ways of practice, there would
1 Lokadhipateyya -- putting the world first.
2 Attadhipateyya -- putting the self first.
3 Dhammadhipateyya -- putting the Dhamma first.
To put the world first means to practice for the sake of such worldly rewards as
prestige, material gains, praise, and sensual pleasures. When we practice this way, we are
actually torturing ourselves, because undesirable things are bound to occur: Having
attained prestige, we can lose it. Having acquired material gains, we can lose them.
Having received praise, we can receive censure. Having experienced pleasure, we can see it
disintegrate. Far from the paths, fruitions, and nibbana, we torture ourselves by clinging
to these things as our own.
To put the self first means to practice in accordance with our own opinions, acting in
line with whatever those opinions may be. Most of us tend to side with ourselves, getting
stuck on our own views and conceits because our study of the Dhamma hasn't reached the
truth of the Dhamma, and so we take as our standard our own notions, composed of four
forms of personal bias --
a Chandagati: doing whatever we feel like doing.
b Bhayagati: fearing certain forms of power or authority, and thus not
daring to practice the Dhamma as we truly should. (We put certain individuals first.)
c Dosagati: acting under the power of anger, defilement, craving,
conceits, and views.
d Mohagati: practicing misguidedly, not studying or searching for what is
truly good; assuming that we're already smart enough, or else that we're too stupid to
learn; staying buried in our habits with no thought of extracting ourselves from our
All of these ways of practice are called 'putting the self first.'
To put the Dhamma first means to follow the Noble Eightfold Path --
a. Right View: seeing that there really is good, there really is evil, there
really is stress, that stress has a cause, that it disbands, and that there is a cause for
b. Right Resolve: thinking of how to rid ourselves of whatever qualities we know
to be wrong and immoral, i.e. seeing the harm in sensual desires in that they bring on
suffering and stress.
c. Right Speech: speaking the truth; not saying anything divisive or inciteful;
not saying anything coarse or vulgar in situations where such words would not be proper;
not saying anything useless. Even though what we say may be worthwhile, if our listener
isn't interested then our words would still count as useless.
d. Right Action: being true to our duties, not acting in ways that would be
corrupt or bring harm to ourselves or others.
e. Right Livelihood: obtaining wealth in ways that are honest, searching for it
in a moral way and using it in a moral way.
f. Right Effort: persisting in ridding ourselves of all that is wrong and
harmful in our thoughts, words, and deeds; persisting in giving rise to what would be good
and useful to ourselves and others in our thoughts, words, and deeds, without a thought
for the difficulty or weariness involved; acting persistently so as to be a mainstay to
others (except in cases that are beyond our control).
g. Right Mindfulness: being mindful and deliberate, making sure not to act or
speak through the power of inattention or forgetfulness, making sure to be constantly
mindful in our thoughts (being mindful of the four frames of reference).
h. Right Concentration: keeping the mind centered and resilient. No matter what
we do or say, no matter what moods may strike the heart, the heart keeps its poise, firm
and unflinching in the four levels of jhana.
These eight factors can be reduced to three -- virtue, concentration, and discernment
-- called the middle way, the heart of the Buddha's teachings. The 'middleness' of virtue
means to be pure in thought, word, and deed, acting out of compassion, seeing that the
life of others is like your own, that their possessions are like your own, feeling
benevolence, loving others as much as yourself. When 'you' and 'they' are equal in this
way, you are bound to be upright in your behavior, like a well-balanced burden that, when
placed on your shoulders, doesn't cause you to tip to one side or the other. But even then
you are still in a position of having to shoulder a burden. So you are taught to focus the
mind on a single preoccupation: This can be called 'holding in your hands' -- i.e.,
holding the mind in the middle -- or concentration.
The middleness of concentration means focusing on the present, not sending your
thoughts into the past or future, holding fast to a single preoccupation (anapanaka-jhana,
absorption in the breath).
As for the middleness of discernment: No matter what preoccupations may come passing
by, you are able to rid yourself of all feelings of liking or disliking, approval or
rejection. You don't cling, even to the one preoccupation that has arisen as a result of
your own actions. You put down what you have been holding in your hands; you don't fasten
onto the past, present or future. This is release.
When our virtue, concentration, and discernment are all in the middle this way, we're
safe. Just as a boat going down the middle of a channel, or a car that doesn't run off the
side of the road, can reach its destination without beaching or running into a tree; so
too, people who practice in this way are bound to reach the qualities they aspire to,
culminating in the paths and fruitions leading to nibbana, which is the main point of the
So in short, putting the Dhamma first means to search solely for purity of heart.
C. The attainment of the Dhamma refers to the attainment
of the highest quality, nibbana. If we refer to the people who reach this attainment,
there are four sorts --
1 Sukha-vipassako: those who develop just enough tranquility and
discernment to act as a basis for advancing to liberating insight and who thus attain
nibbana having mastered only asavakkhaya-ñana, the knowledge that does away with
the fermentation of defilement.
2 Tevijjo: those who attain the three skills.
3 Chalabhiñño: those who attain the six intuitive powers.
4 Catuppatisambhidappatto: those who attain the four forms of acumen.
To explain sukha-vipassako (those who develop insight more than tranquility): Vipassana
(liberating insight) and asavakkhaya-ñana (the awareness that does away with the
fermentation of defilement) differ only in name. In actuality they refer to the same
thing, the only difference being that vipassana refers to the beginning stage of
insight, and asavakkhaya-ñana to the final stage: clear and true comprehension of
the four Noble Truths.
To explain tevijjo: The three skills are --
a Pubbenivasanussati-ñana: the ability to remember past lives -- one,
two, three, four, five, ten, one hundred, one thousand, depending on one's powers of
intuition. (This is a basis for proving whether death is followed by rebirth or
b Cutupapata-ñana: knowledge of where living beings are reborn -- on
refined levels or base -- after they die.
c Asavakkhaya-ñana: the awareness that enables one to do away with the
fermentations in one's character (sensuality, states of being, ignorance).
To explain chalabhiñño: The six intuitive powers are --
a Iddhividhi: the ability to display miracles -- becoming invisible,
walking on a dry path through a body of water, levitating, going through rain without
getting wet, going through fire without getting hot, making a crowd of people appear to be
only a few, making a few to appear many, making oneself appear young or old as one likes,
being able to use the power of the mind to influence events in various ways.
b Dibbasota: clairaudience; the ability to hear far distant sounds,
beyond ordinary human powers.
c Cetopariya-ñana: the ability to know the thoughts of others.
d Pubbenivasanussati-ñana: the ability to remember previous lives.
e Dibba-cakkhu: clairvoyance; the ability to see far distant objects,
beyond ordinary human powers. Some people can even see other levels of being with their
clairvoyant powers (one way of proving whether death is followed by rebirth or
annihilation, and whether or not there really are other levels of being).
f Asavakkhaya-ñana: the awareness that does away with the fermentation
To explain catuppatisambhidappatto: The four forms of acumen are --
a Attha-patisambhida: acumen with regard to the sense of the Doctrine and
of matters in general, knowing how to explain various points in line with their proper
b Dhamma-patisambhida: acumen with regard to all mental qualities.
c Nirutti-patisambhida: acumen with regard to linguistic conventions.
(This can include the ability to know the languages of living beings in general.)
d Patibhana-patisambhida: acumen in speaking on the spur of the moment,
knowing how to answer any question so as to clear up the doubts of the person asking (like
the Venerable Nagasena).
This ends the discussion of the virtues of the four classes of people -- called
Arahants -- who have reached the ultimate quality, nibbana. As for the essence of what it
means to be an Arahant, though, there is only one point -- freedom from defilement: This
is what it means to attain the Dhamma, the other virtues being simply adornment.
The three levels of Dhamma we have discussed are, like the Buddha, compared to jewels:
There are many kinds of jewels to choose from, depending on how much wealth -- discernment
-- we have.
All of the qualities we have mentioned so far, to put them briefly so as to be of use,
come down to this: Practice so as to give rise to virtue, concentration, and discernment
within yourself. Otherwise, you won't have a refuge or shelter. A person without the
qualities that provide refuge and shelter is like a person without a home -- a delinquent
or a vagrant -- who is bound to wander shiftlessly about. Such people are hollow inside,
like a clock without any workings: Even though it has a face and hands, it can't tell
anyone where it is, what time it is, or whether it's morning, noon, or night (i.e., such
people forget that they are going to die).
People who aren't acquainted with the Dhamma within themselves are like people blind
from birth: Even though they are born in the world of human beings, they don't know the
light of the sun and moon that enables human beings to see. They get no benefit from the
light of the sun and moon or the light of fire; and being blind, they then go about
proclaiming to those who can see, that there is no sun, no moon, and no brightness to the
world. As a result, they mislead those whose eyes are already a little bleary. In other
words, some groups say that the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha don't exist, that they were
invented to fool the gullible.
Now, the Dhamma is something subtle and fine, like the fire-potential (tejas)
that exists in the air or in various elements and that, if we have enough common sense,
can be drawn out and put to use. But if we're fools, we can sit staring at a bamboo tube
[a device for starting fire that works on the same principle as the diesel engine] from
dawn to dusk without ever seeing fire at all. Anyone who believes that there is no Buddha,
Dhamma, or Sangha, no series of paths or fruitions leading to nibbana, no consciousness
that experiences death and rebirth, is like the fool sitting and staring at the bamboo
Here I would like to tell a story as an allegory of those who aren't acquainted with
the Dhamma. There once was a man living in the woods who, with his five sons, started
growing crops in a clearing about a mile from their home village. He built a small shack
at the clearing and would often take his sons to stay there. One morning he started a fire
in the shack and told his sons to look after the fire, for he was going out to hunt for
food in the forest. 'If the fire goes out,' he told them, 'get some fire from my bamboo
tube and start it up again.' Then he set out to search for food for his sons.
After he had left, his sons got so wrapped up in their play that when they finally took
a look at the fire, they found that it was completely out. So they had the first son go
get some fire to start it up again. The first son walked over and tried knocking on the
bamboo tube but didn't see any fire. So they had the second son get some fire from the
tube: He opened it up but didn't see any fire inside. All he saw were two bamboo chips but
he didn't know what to do with them. So the third son came over for a look and, since he
didn't see any fire, he took a knife to cut the tube in half but still didn't see any
fire. The fourth son went over and, seeing the two halves lying there, shaved them down
into thin strips to find the fire in them but didn't see any fire at all.
Finally the fifth son went over to look for fire, but before he went he said to his
brothers, 'What's the matter with you guys that you can't get any fire from the bamboo
tube? What a bunch of fools you are! I'll go get it myself.' With that, he went to look at
the bamboo tube and found it split into strips lying in pile. Realizing what his brothers
had done, and thinking, 'What a bunch of hare-brains,' he reached for a mortar and pestle
and ground up the bamboo strips to find the fire in them. By the time he ran out of
strength, he had ground them into a powder, but he still hadn't found any fire. So he
snuck off to play by himself.
Eventually, toward noon, the father returned from the forest and found that the fire
had gone out. So he asked his sons about it, and they told him how they had looked for
fire in the bamboo tube without finding any. 'Idiots,' he thought, 'they've taken my
fire-starter and pounded it to bits. For that, I won't fix them any food. Let 'em starve!'
As a result, the boys didn't get anything to eat the entire day.
Those of us who aren't acquainted with the brightness of the Dhamma -- 'Dhammo
padipo' -- lying within us, who don't believe that the Dhamma has value for ourselves
and others, are lacking in discernment, like the boys looking for fire in the bamboo tube.
Thus we bring about our own ruin in various ways, wasting our lives: born in darkness,
living in darkness, dying in darkness, and then reborn in more darkness all over again.
Even though the Dhamma lies within us, we can't get any use from it and thus will suffer
for a long time to come, like the boys who ruined their father's fire-starter and so had
to go without food.
The Dhamma lies within us, but we don't look for it. If we hope for goodness, whether
on a low or a high level, we'll have to look here, inside, if we are to find what is truly
good. But before we can know ourselves in this way, we first have to know -- through study
and practice -- the principles taught by the Buddha.
Recorded Dhamma (pariyatti dhamma) is simply one of the symbols of the Buddha's
teachings. The important point is to actualize the Dhamma through the complete practice of
virtue, concentration, and discernment. This is an essential part of the religion, the
part that forms the inner symbol of all those who practice rightly and well. Whether the
religion will be good or bad, whether it will prosper or decline, depends on our practice,
not on the recorded doctrine, because the recorded doctrine is merely a symbol. So if we
aim at goodness, we should focus on developing our inner quality through the Dhamma of
practice (patipatti dhamma). As for the main point of Buddhism, that's the Dhamma
of attainment (pativedha dhamma), the transcendent quality: nibbana.
* * *
Sangham saranam gacchami:
I go to the Sangha for refuge.
The word Sangha, if translated as a substantive, refers to those who have
ordained and are wearing the yellow robe. Translated as a quality, it refers to all people
in general who have practiced correctly in line with the Buddha's teachings. Members of
the monastic order, however, are of all sorts, and so we have two groups --
A. Sammuti-sangha: the conventional Sangha.
B. Ariya-sangha: the Noble Sangha.
Membership in the conventional Sangha is attained through consent of the Order, in a
formal ceremony with witnesses, following the procedures set out in the Vinaya. Membership
in the Noble Sangha is attained when the quality of transcendence (lokuttara dhamma)
appears in one's heart as a result of one's own behavior and practice, with no formalities
of any sort whatsoever. All Buddhists -- whether formally ordained or not, no matter what
their sex, color, or social position -- can become members of this Sangha. This is termed
being ordained by the Dhamma, or being self-ordained in a way that cannot be faulted.
To speak in abstract terms, the qualities of transcendence, stable and sure, that
appear in the hearts of those who practice -- leading them solely to the higher realms and
closing off the four states of destitution (apaya) -- are, taken together, called
the Noble Sangha.
A. Members of the conventional Sangha, with regard to the
way they conduct themselves, fall into four groups --
1 Upajivika: those who are looking simply for ways to make a living,
without looking for any higher virtues to develop within themselves. They use the yellow
robe as a means of livelihood, without any thought of following the threefold training of
virtue, concentration, and discernment.
2 Upakilika: those who become ordained without any respect for the
training, looking simply for pastimes for their own enjoyment -- collecting plants,
playing chess, gambling, buying lottery tickets, betting on horses -- looking for gain in
ways forbidden by the Vinaya, disobeying the words of the Buddha, disregarding the virtues
set out in the scriptures, undermining the religion.
3 Upamuyuhika: those who are close-minded and misguided, unwilling to
train themselves in heightened virtue, concentration, or discernment. Even though they may
have some education and knowledge, they still keep themselves closed-minded, making
excuses based on their teachers, the time, the place, and their accustomed beliefs and
practices. Stuck where they are, such people are unwilling to change their ways so as to
accord with the principles of the doctrine.
4 Upanissarana: those who desire merit and wisdom; who search for the
true principles of the Dhamma and Vinaya; who set their hearts on studying with reverence
and respect, and conduct themselves in line with what they have learned; who aim for the
merit and wisdom offered by Buddhism, for the path leading to release from suffering; who
rightly follow the Lord Buddha's teachings, i.e., --
a Anupavado: They don't berate others in inappropriate ways.
b Anupaghato: They aren't vindictive.
c Patimokkhe ca samvaro: They stay well within the precepts of the
Patimokkha and don't disobey the injunctions of the Vinaya -- like good citizens, desired
by the nation, who stay within the bounds of the government's laws. (If people don't keep
within the laws of the land, it will lead only to turmoil, because people who have no
bounds are like farmers who have no boundary markers and who will thus infringe on one
another's property, giving rise to needless disputes and ill-feeling, serving no purpose
d Mattaññuta ca bhattasmim: They have a sense of moderation in
searching for and using the four necessities of life. They understand how to make the best
use of things -- knowing what's beneficial and what's harmful, what is and what isn't of
use to the body, considering things carefully before making use of them (in line with the
principles of morality and the Buddha's teachings).
e Pantañca sayanasanam: They favor quiet, secluded places to stay. To
quote from the Canon, these include:
-- Araññagato va: going to a forest wilderness, far from human society, free
from social interaction
-- Suññagaragato va: or to uninhabited dwellings, in places far off the beaten
-- Rukkhamulagato va: or living under the shade of a tree, in a cave, or under
an overhanging cliff face, so as to aid the heart in attaining concentration.
f Adhicitte ca ayogo: They make a persistent effort, through the practice
of concentration, to cleanse the heart, freeing it from such Hindrances as sensual desire.
Etam buddhana sasanam: All of these factors are the teachings of the Buddhas.
Na hi pabbajito parupaghati
Samano hoti param vihethayanto.
How can a person who harms himself and others be a good monk?
These, then are the attributes of the Sangha. In broad terms, they come down to two
1. Sangha-nimitta: the symbol of having been ordained (the mode of dress,
2. Guna-sampatti: the inner qualifications -- virtue and truth -- of
those worthy meditators who are held to be the field of merit for the world.
Those with the necessary resources -- i.e., discernment -- will obtain a good field.
Whatever seed they plant will give a yield well worth the effort involved, just as an
intelligent person who puts his savings in a safe national bank will protect his capital
from loss and even earn a profit.
Just as a good rice field has four characteristics -- the ground is level and even, the
dike has a water gate that is easy to open and close, the soil is rich in nutrients, the
rainfall comes at the proper season -- in the same way, members of the Sangha who are to
be a field of merit for the world have to be endowed with the four following qualities:
1. The analogy of level, even ground refers to those monks who are free from the
four forms of personal bias. Whatever they do in thought, word and deed, they are free
a Chandagati -- i.e., they don't act solely under the power of their own
likes and inclinations;
b Dosagati -- or under the power of ill will or anger towards others;
c Mohagati -- or under the power of delusion;
d Bhayagati -- or under the power of fear or apprehension of any sort
whatsoever. They aim at what is right and true as their major concern, both in the
presence of others and in private, keeping themselves always on a par with their
2. As for the analogy of a water gate that is easy to open and close, 'closing'
refers to exercising restraint so that evil doesn't arise within us. Restraint has four
a Patimokkha-samvara-sila: staying within the bounds of the Monastic
b Indriya-samvara-sila: exercising restraint over our senses of sight,
hearing, smell, taste, feeling, and ideation so as to keep the mind quiet, unagitated, and
in good order.
c Ajiva-parisuddhi-sila: searching for the necessities of life -- food,
clothing, shelter, and medicine -- only in ways that are proper.
d Paccaya-paccavekkhana-parisuddhi-sila: considering the necessities of
life before using them so as not to use them out of desire or craving.
To exercise restraint in these ways is called 'closing.' 'Closing,' however, can be
understood in another way, i.e., exercising restraint so that corruption doesn't arise in
the three areas of our thoughts, words, and deeds.
a. To close or control our deeds means, in broad terms, not to kill living
beings or to oppress or torment them in any way; not to steal the belongings of others;
and not to engage in sexual misconduct (or in the sexual act) or to give rein to any
sensual desires. Even though such desires may arise in the heart, we keep them under
control. This is what it means to close our deeds.
b. To close our words means not to tell lies, either to others people's faces or
behind their backs; not to speak divisively, i.e., in a way that would lead to a needless
falling-out between people; not to speak coarsely or abusively, not cursing, swearing or
being vulgar; and not to engage in useless chatter, saying things that are of no real use
to ourselves or our listeners. To be intent on restraining ourselves in this way is called
closing off evil words so that they don't have a chance to arise.
c. To close off evil thoughts means:
-- Anabhijjha-visama-lobha: refraining from the greed that goes above and beyond
our sphere and powers to the point where dissatisfaction defiles the mind.
-- Abyapada: not storing up feelings of ill will to the point where anger takes
over and we let jealousy and displeasure show,
-- Sammaditthi: keeping our views correct in line with right principles,
eliminating views that arise from the mind's being clouded and untrained -- i.e.,
overpowered by ignorance and delusion -- to the point of believing that there is no good
or evil, and from there to deeply ingrained unwise mental states. If we take care to ward
off these unwise mental qualities so that they can't arise in our hearts, they will give
way to Right View: seeing that there really is good, there really is evil; that virtue,
generosity, and meditation really give results; that the paths and fruitions leading to
nibbana really exist. When we see things in this way, we have in effect closed off evil,
preventing it from penetrating our hearts, just as rice farmers close their dykes to
prevent salt water from flowing into their fields.
As for 'opening,' it refers to practicing the five forms of unselfishness --
a Avasamacchariya: not being possessive of the place over which we have
control, such as our temple or monastery; not preventing good people from coming to stay.
If people are pure in their behavior and able to impart what is good to us, we should make
room for them so that they can stay in comfort. Evil people, however, shouldn't be allowed
to infiltrate our group; and bad people who are already in the group should be expelled.
This is how to behave with discernment in this area.
b Kulamacchariya: not being possessive of our families. On the external
level, this refers to the families who support us. We don't prevent them from making
offerings to other individuals and we don't prevent capable individuals from teaching and
advising them. Some monks stand in the way of such interchanges, creating barriers with
their thoughts, words, and deeds. Sometimes if their supporters make merit with other
individuals, they even make reprisals, such as refusing to allow that family to make merit
with their own groups or factions. These worthless attitudes shouldn't be allowed to arise
in our hearts.
On the internal level, being possessive of our 'family' refers to the heart's
attachment to sensations and mental acts, which form the family line of unawakened people.
We should abandon this attachment so that we can enter the lineage of the Noble Ones.
c Labhamacchariya: not being possessive of the material gains we have
attained through proper means, not regarding them as being our own. Material gains, as
classified by the Vinaya, are of four sorts: food, clothing, shelter (lodgings and the
items used in them, such as furniture, matting, etc.), and medicine. We should see that
when people present us with offerings of this sort, they have abandoned an enemy -- their
own stinginess and selfishness -- and have gained in worth and wisdom through the power of
their sacrifice. Anyone who receives such an offering and clings to it as really being his
own is like a person who collects coconut pulp or sugar cane pulp from which others have
already squeezed and drunk the juice. For this reason, people of wisdom and discernment
aren't possessive of their belongings. They are always willing to relinquish and share
their gains -- in proportion to the amount they have received -- so that others can make
use of them.
This is external relinquishment. As for internal relinquishment: Whereas we once ate as
we liked, many times a day, we now eat less, only one meal a day. We use only one set of
robes. We relinquish our comfortable lodgings and undertake the ascetic practice of living
in the forest or under the shade of a tree. If we become ill, we search for medicine and
treat our disease with moderation, in a way that doesn't create burdens for others. In
other words, we relinquish ourselves as an offering to the religion by putting it into
practice. This is classed as the internal relinquishment of material gain through the
power of our practice and conduct.
d Vannamacchariya: not being possessive of our 'color' (vanna).
'Vanna,' here, can be interpreted in two ways. In one sense, it refers to social caste or
class. For example, the ruling class, the religious elite, property owners, and laborers
are held to be unequal in status, and the members of one group are unwilling to let other
groups mix with theirs. If such mixing occurs, they regard it as something base and
disgraceful and so they continually put up barriers to prevent it from happening. In this
case, we can infer that we shouldn't make distinctions based on faction, nationality,
color, or race, because the Buddha taught that a person's worth comes not from his or her
birth, but from the goodness of his or her own actions; or, as we say, 'Those who do good
will meet with good, those who do evil will meet with evil.' For example, we worship and
respect the Buddha even though he wasn't Thai as we are. We respect him through the power
of his goodness. If we were to be close-minded and nationalistic, we Thai's wouldn't have
any religion to worship at all aside from the religion of spirits and ghosts.
The second sense of 'vanna' refers to the complexion of our skin. This, too, we cling
to, unwilling to sacrifice it for what is worthy and good. We hesitate to observe the
precepts, to meditate, or to undertake the ascetic practices for fear that we'll spoil our
looks and complexion.
e Dhammamacchariya: not being possessive of the Buddha's teachings we
have learned. Possessiveness in this case can mean not wanting to teach unless we are
reimbursed, not wanting to preach unless there is an offering, or complaining if the
offering is small.
On another level, being possessive of the dhamma can refer to holding on to the
unskillful qualities (akusala-dhamma) within us; being unwilling to rid ourselves
of such evils as greed, anger, delusion, pride, conceit, or any of the other fermentations
of defilement; clinging to these things without searching for the techniques, called the
Path, for relinquishing them, i.e.:
-- the precepts of the Monastic Code that, if we observe them carefully, can eliminate
the common defilements arising through our words and deeds;
-- the practice of concentration that, when it is developed in our hearts, can
eliminate intermediate defilements, i.e., such Hindrances as sensual desire;
-- the discernment that, when it arises within us, can eliminate such subtle
defilements from our hearts as avijja -- mental murkiness; tanha -- craving;
and upadana -- attachment to false assumptions.
When we develop these five forms of unselfishness, we can be classed as open -- and our
eyes will be open to perceiving the highest quality, the transcendent.
3. The analogy of soil rich in nutrients refers to our putting four qualities
into practice --
a Metta: good will, friendliness, hoping for our own well-being and that
of all other living beings.
b Karuna: compassion for ourselves and others, which induces us to be
helpful in various ways.
c Mudita: appreciation for ourselves for having cultivated goodness;
appreciation (not feeling jealousy) for the goodness cultivated by others.
d Upekkha: equanimity in cases beyond our control. For instance, when
death has come to a person we know, we see that it is beyond our help and so we keep our
hearts neutral, not allowing feelings of sadness or gladness to arise.
For these four qualities to arise in fully mature form, they have to appear in our
thoughts, words, and deeds. Whatever we may do in thought, word, or deed should not be
done through the power of anger. We should regard anger as an ogre -- and when anger takes
over, our body becomes an ogre's tool: his bludgeon. To see the drawbacks of anger in this
way can give rise to good will in thought, word, and deed, extending without partiality to
all people and living beings throughout the world. Even with our enemies we should try to
develop these same thoughts of good will, by looking for their good side, in one way or
another, instead of looking just at their bad side, which can cause hatred to invade and
consume our hearts. Anger is a fire that can't burn other people; it burns only ourselves.
This is why we should develop good will within our hearts. The power of good will brings
good to everyone -- just as food that contains the nutrients needed by people brings
health and contentment to all who eat it; or as fertilizer with the proper nutrients can
cause plants and trees to grow, give fruit, and so be of use to people and other living
beings. Good will is thus a form of goodness that can be classed as nourishment. (Good
will is what cools the fevers of the world.)
4. The analogy of seasonable rain refers to our establishing ourselves in the
four bases of success (iddhipada) --
a Chanda: feeling a love and an affinity for goodness and virtue as much
as for life, or more.
b Viriya: being persistent, audacious, and persevering in cultivating
goodness within ourselves.
c Citta: being intent on whatever we set about to do.
d Vimansa: being discriminating and circumspect at all times in whatever
we set about to do.
These four qualities can lead to two kinds of success: iddhiriddhi -- success
through the power of thought; and puññariddhi -- success that comes on its own.
Both of these forms of success, on the level of the world or the Dhamma, have to be based
on the four qualities mentioned above. These four qualities are like preservatives:
Whoever is saturated with them won't go sour or stale. And when we're free from going
stale, our work is bound not to stagnate and so is sure to succeed.
Another comparison: These four qualities are 'sacca-kamma' -- actions that give
rise to truth, achieving our purposes. Those who bring these qualities into themselves
will become true people. Truth can be compared to salt: If we try to keep food, like
vegetables or fish, without salting it, it soon turns rotten and wormy, making it unfit
for human consumption. But if we salt it, it can keep for a long time. A good example of
this is our Lord Buddha, whose actions gave rise to truth and who thus was able to
establish the religion so as to benefit people at large. Even the body he left behind
still serves a purpose for human and divine beings. For instance, his bones, which have
become relics, are still with us even though he gained total liberation a long time ago.
As for his teachings, they have lasted for more than 2,500 years. And he himself is
deathless, i.e., he has entered total nibbana. All of this was achieved by means of truth,
i.e., the four bases of success.
Those of us who have no truth, though, are like unsalted fish or meat, and are bound to
go wormy. The worms, here, refer to our various defilements and are of three main species:
The first species is composed of affection, anger, and delusion; these feed on us from our
feet to our waists. The second species -- sensual desire, ill-will, torpor, restlessness,
and uncertainty -- latch on and bore into us from our waists to our necks. And the third
species -- the fermentation of sensuality, states of being, views, and ignorance (cloudy,
unclear knowledge) -- eats us up whole: ears, eyes, nose, mouth, body, and mind. Whoever
is all wormy like this is classed as a person gone rotten and stale, who hasn't reached
any qualities of substance. And for this reason, the bones of such a person after death
are no match for the bones of chickens and pigs, for no one wants them. If the bones and
meat of such a person were put up for sale, no one would buy. And furthermore, such a
person will have to come back as an angry ghost, lolling its tongue and rolling its eyes,
to frighten its children and grandchildren.
Thus, whoever develops the four qualities mentioned above will reach deathlessness -- amata
dhamma -- which is like a crystalline shower that comes from distilling away all
impurities, just as rain water, which is distilled from the sea, rises into the air and
returns to the earth, nourishing the grasses, crops, and trees, giving refreshment to
people and other living beings.
These, then, are some of the characteristics of those who form the field of merit for
the world both on the mundane and on the transcendent levels, who conduct themselves in
keeping with the phrase in the chant of the virtues of the Sangha:
'The field of merit for the world.'
Now we will discuss the chant of the virtues of the Sangha further as a path to
practice, because the virtues of the Sangha are open to all Buddhists in general, without
excluding any individual, race, or social class at all. Whoever puts these principles into
practice is capable of becoming a member of the Noble Sangha without having to go through
the formalities of the Vinaya. In other words, this is a community and a state of
worthiness open to all who put the following principles into practice --
1 Supatipanno: being a person whose conduct is good. 'Good conduct'
refers to seven principles --
a. We should gather frequently -- for the daily chanting services, to hear the
Dhamma explained, to seek out wise people, and to join whole-heartedly in the work of the
group. This is external gathering. What is really important, though, is internal
gathering, i.e., collecting the mind in concentration, which is the gathering point of all
that is good and forms the basic skill for bringing the factors of the Path together (magga-samangi).
b. When a meeting of the group disperses, we should all disperse at the same
time and not act at variance with the group. On the internal level, we should all as a
group disperse shoddiness from our thoughts, words, and deeds.
c. We should neither establish new rules that were not established by the Buddha
nor abandon those that were. For example, don't make a practice of doing things the Buddha
declared to be worthless, evil, or wrong; develop within yourself the things he taught to
be good, right, and worthwhile.
d. Be respectful of your elders, teachers, parents, etc.
e. Whatever you do in thought, word, or deed, don't act under the influence of
craving, anger, or delusion.
f. Make a point of searching out virtuous people.
g. Take pleasure in solitude.
This is what is meant by good conduct.
2 Uju-patipanno: being a person whose conduct is straightforward, firmly
established in the threefold training -- virtue, concentration, and discernment -- which
leads straight to nibbana; being fair and just, unswayed by any of the four forms of
personal bias. This is what is meant by straightforward conduct.
3 Ñaya-patipanno: being a person whose conduct leads to higher
knowledge. This refers to following fifteen procedures (carana-dhamma) --
a Patimokkha-samvara: keeping within the precepts of the Monastic Code,
respecting the training rules of the Vinaya. (For laypeople, this means observing the five
or eight precepts.)
b Indriya-samvara: keeping watch over your senses of sight, hearing,
smell, taste, feeling, and ideation so as to keep the mind collected and at peace.
c Bhojane mattaññuta: knowing moderation in the requisites of life,
i.e., eating only just enough food.
d Jagariyanuyoga: being persistent in cleansing the mind so that it is
pure and bright, not allowing lapses in mindfulness or alertness to occur.
e Saddha: conviction, i.e., being convinced of the truth of good and
evil, of the paths and their fruitions; having conviction in people who merit it.
f Hiri: feeling shame at the thought of doing evil, not doing evil either
in public or in private.
g Ottappa: having a sense of dread at the thought of doing evil.
h Bahusacca: being well-educated and always willing to learn.
i Viriya: being persistent, unflagging, and courageous in performing your
j Sati: being mindful before doing anything in thought, word, or deed.
k Pañña: developing discernment as to what should and should not be
done, as to what is and isn't beneficial.
l Pathama-jhana: the first level of jhana, composed of five factors --
directed thought, evaluation, rapture, pleasure, and singleness of preoccupation. (Jhana
means to be absorbed in or focused on a single object or preoccupation, as when we deal
with the breath.)
m Dutiya-jhana: the second level of jhana, composed of three factors --
rapture, pleasure, and singleness of preoccupation.
n Tatiya-jhana: the third level of jhana, composed of two factors --
pleasure and singleness of preoccupation.
o Catuttha-jhana: the fourth level of jhana, composed of two factors --
equanimity and pure mindfulness, which is the single preoccupation of your concentration.
This is what is meant by conduct leading to higher knowledge.
Here we will discuss how to give rise to the first level of jhana.
Directed thought: Think of the breath until you can recognize it both as it comes in
and as it goes out.
Singleness of preoccupation: Let the mind become one, at rest with the breath, not
straying away to other objects. Watch over your thoughts so that they deal only with the
breath until the breath becomes comfortable.
Evaluation: Focus exclusively on issues connected with the breath and acquaint yourself
with how to let this comfortable breath-sensation spread and co-ordinate with the other
breath-sensations in the body. Let these breath-sensations spread until they all merge.
Once the body has been soothed by the breath, feelings of pain will grow calm. The body
will be filled with good breath energy.
For jhana to arise, these three factors have to be brought to bear on the same breath
sensation. This breath sensation can lead all the way to the fourth level of jhana, the
level of refinement depending on the act of focusing through the power of mindfulness:
Sometimes the focus is broad, sometimes narrow, in accordance with the different factors
on the different levels. But to be really beneficial, you should let the breath spread as
broadly as possible, being constantly aware throughout the body of the various aspects of
the breath. You will then get excellent results from your practice of jhana. You might
even gain liberating insight on this level, because the first level of jhana is what
constitutes threshold concentration (upacara samadhi).
If you want to go on to fixed penetration (appana samadhi), you should keep
practicing this level until you are skilled, i.e., skilled at fixing the mind on a single
object, at adjusting and expanding the object, and at staying in place. When you want your
concentration to have energy, make the breath light and refined -- but keep your
mindfulness broad. Otherwise, the mind might go into arupa jhana, where it has no
sense of the form of the body; or you might sit absolutely still, without any awareness of
the body at all, while the mind pays attention to another area, such as simple awareness,
completely disregarding the body or sitting unconscious, like a log. This is bahira-jhana,
concentration outside of the Buddha's teachings, incapable of giving rise to liberating
So when you begin, you should develop the three above-mentioned factors as much as
possible, and the mind will then be able to go on to the second level of jhana. When you
fix the mind on the breath repeatedly using these three beginning factors, they give rise
to two more factors:
Rapture: a sense of fullness and refreshment of body and mind, going straight to the
heart, independent of all else.
Pleasure: a sense of ease arising from the body's being still and undisturbed (kaya-passaddhi),
and from the mind's being at rest on its own, placid and serene (citta-passaddhi).
The factors of the first level of jhana, then, are of two sorts: cause and result. The
causes are directed thought, evaluation, and singleness of preoccupation; the results,
rapture and pleasure, .
As for the second level of jhana, with its three factors of rapture, pleasure, and
singleness of preoccupation: This refers to the state of mind that has tasted the results
coming from the first level of jhana. The sense of fullness becomes more powerful, as does
the sense of pleasure, allowing the mind to abandon its thinking and evaluating, so that
the singleness of the preoccupation takes the lead from here on in. Make the mind still in
the refined sense of the breath. Body and mind are full and at ease; the mind is more
firmly implanted in its object than before. After a while, as you keep focusing in, the
sense of fullness and pleasure begins to move. Focus the mind down to a more refined level
and you will enter the third level of jhana.
The third level of jhana has two factors -- pleasure and singleness of preoccupation:
The mind is solitary; the body, solitary and still. The breath is refined and broad, with
a white glow like cotton-wool throughout the body, stilling all painful feelings in body
and mind. Not a single Hindrance (nivarana) arises to interfere. The four
properties -- earth, water, fire, and wind -- are at peace with one another in every part:
You could almost say that they're pure throughout the entire body. The mind is completely
still -- steady, solid, and sure -- reaching oneness in a solitary sense of ease. Body and
mind are in solitude. Even if you're with a group of people, you feel as if you were
alone. The mind is strong, ardent, and expansive. Mindfulness is broad -- spreading
throughout the body, focused exclusively on the present, not affected by any allusions to
past or future. The breath gives rise to an energy that is pure white. The mind has power.
The focus is strong, and the light brilliant. Energy is unwavering, so that you are no
longer concerned with your sense of pleasure, which dilates somewhat. This causes the mind
to focus on into the fourth level of jhana.
The fourth level of jhana has two factors -- equanimity and singleness of preoccupation
(or mindfulness). The breath energy is still, with no ripples or gaps. The properties of
the body are undisturbed. As for the mind, it is undisturbed with regard to all three time
periods: uninvolved with the past, uninvolved with the future, undisturbed by the present.
When the mind stays with this undisturbed sense of equanimity, this is the true meaning of
'singleness of preoccupation.' The breath is at peace, the body at peace in every part.
There is no need to use the in-and-out breath. The breath energy has reached saturation
The four properties (dhatu) are equal, all with the same characteristics. The
mind is completely at peace, with a brilliance streaming in all directions. The brilliance
of the breath at peace reaches full strength. The brilliance of the mind arises from the
power of mindfulness focused on all four of the great frames of reference: body, feelings,
mind, and mental qualities. The question of their being four doesn't arise, for in this
mental moment they coalesce in perfect unity. The brilliance of the mind and of the body,
which arises from the power of their solitary stillness, shines as jagariyanuyoga,
the purifying inner fire (tapas) that can dispel darkness thoroughly. The bright
light of the mind reaches full strength. The purity of the different parts of the breath
energy keeps the other properties in good order. The body is completely at peace, like a
factory at rest. In other words, you don't have to use the in-and-out breath. The body
develops potency; the mind, resilient power. When these reach saturation point, if you
then want to give rise to knowledge, shift your awareness so that it dilates slightly, and
the important skills that arise from the power of the mind -- such as the Eight Skills --
will appear, i.e.,:
1 Vipassana-ñana: clear insight into the elements, aggregates, and sense
2 Manomayiddhi: the ability to achieve one's aims through the power of
3 Iddhividhi: the ability to display a variety of supra-normal powers.
4 Dibba-sota: clairaudience, the ability to hear far distant sounds.
5 Cetopariya-ñana: the ability to know the mental states of other
6 Pubbe-nivasanussati-ñana: the ability to remember past lives. (This is
a basis for proving whether death is followed by annihilation or rebirth, and whether or
not there really are other levels of existence.)
7 Dibba-cakkhu: clairvoyance, the inner eye that arises from the power of
the mind, relying to some extent on the optic nerves.
8 Asavakkhaya-ñana: knowing how to eliminate the fermentations of
defilement as they relate to your various forms of knowledge.
If you want to give rise to supernormal powers, formulate an intention at that point,
and it will appear openly, so that ordinary people will be able to see it.
Both of these aspects -- knowledge and power -- can lead to mastery on the level of the
world and of the Dhamma. The properties in the body acquire potency; the mind becomes a
potent center of consciousness. This is the science of the mind on an advanced level,
giving rise to an advanced form of Buddhist learning: lokavidu, wide-ranging
knowledge of the cosmos.
To develop the factors discussed here is to warrant the name, ñaya-patipanno,
one whose conduct leads to higher knowledge.
(The moment in which the enemies of the body -- impure properties -- disband and
disappear is termed 'sankhata-lakkhana-nirodha,' conditioned disbanding. When the
enemies of the mind -- i.e., the five Hindrances -- disappear completely, leaving the mind
radiant and clear, that is termed 'bhujissaka-nirodha,' disbanding in a state of
4 Samici-patipanno: being a person whose conduct is masterful. This
refers to our conduct in developing two qualities: tranquility and insight.
a. The practice of tranquility means stilling the mind in a single
preoccupation, free from the five Hindrances, so as to attain the four levels of rupa-jhana.
b. The practice of insight means seeing clearly and truly into the nature of all
conditioned things (sankhara), e.g., seeing that they are inconstant, stressful,
and not-self; gaining discernment that sees distinctly in terms of the four Noble Truths;
seeing conditioned things from both sides, i.e., the side that is inconstant, stressful,
and not-self, and the side that is constant, pleasant, and self; giving rise to the state
of pure knowledge and vision termed 'gotarabhu-ñana,' escaping from the assumption
that things are either constant or inconstant; knowing both the side that arises and
disbands, as well as the side that doesn't arise and doesn't disband, without making
assumptions about or being attached to either side. Theories, views, and conceits
disappear. The mind doesn't fasten onto anything, past, present, or future. This is termed
'asesa-viraga-nirodha,' utter disbanding and dispassion. This is the way of
Insight, analyzed in detail in terms of the Doctrine in line with the conventions of
the sages of the past, means knowledge of the four Noble Truths:
-- Dukkha: mental and physical stress, the result of being overcome by the power
of birth, ageing, illness, death, and defilement.
-- Samudaya: the cause of stress -- i.e., tanha, craving or thirst --
which includes kama-tanha, insatiable craving for sensual pleasures; bhava-tanha,
the desire to be or have certain states of being; and vibhava-tanha, the desire not
to be or have certain states of being.
-- Nirodha: the disbanding of stress; the extinguishing of the fires of
-- Magga: the path of practice that puts an end to craving, the cause of stress.
All four of these Noble Truths already exist in the world, but ordinarily are hard to
perceive because they show us only their images or reflections. On this level, we can't
yet see them for what they really are. But for the Buddha to know them, he had to start
out with the reflections that appear, before he was able to trace them back to the real
thing. This is why they are termed Noble Truths: They are the possessions of noble people;
only those who search and explore can know them. Thus, the Noble Truths have two aspects:
their first aspect, which is the way they are found in the experience of ordinary people
in general; and their second aspect, which is more subtle and can be known only by people
of wisdom who explore in the area of the heart and mind.
An example of the four Truths on the ordinary level, as experienced by ordinary people:
Physical discomfort, such as illness or disease, can be called the truth of stress.
Knowing enough to buy the right medicine, or being a doctor who knows the medicine for
curing that particular kind of disease, is the truth of the path. As the symptoms of the
disease disappear, that is termed conditional disbanding. When the disease is cured, that
is the truth of disbanding. If, however, we suffer from a disease, such as a wound, but
don't know how to treat it -- simply wanting it to heal and using whatever medicine we can
lay our hands on, without knowing whether it's right or wrong (this is termed craving and
ignorance) -- the wound will only worsen, for the medicine we take isn't right for the
disease. This is the truth of the cause of stress.
If we want to go deeper than the ordinary level, we have to practice correctly in line
with the way of the Path, developing our virtue, concentration, and discernment, before we
will be able to perceive the four Truths on the noble level.
The essence of the Dhamma, by its nature, lies mixed with its outer accretions. If we
don't have the right knowledge and skill, we won't get very much use from the Dhamma.
Whatever benefits we do get will be only on the mundane level. We can make a comparison
with diamond or gold ore buried in the ground: If a person doesn't have enough knowledge
to extract the ore, he will get only the traces that come flowing out in spring water or
that adhere to rocks along the surface of the ground. These will earn him only a meager
profit, which won't be enough for a living. A person with knowledge and skill, though, can
use the gold to make a living without having to search for any other occupations, but
he'll have to follow the traces down into the earth until he meets with the real thing,
i.e. the genuine ore. Even just a single hunk -- if it's large and of high quality,
weighing a ton -- will enable him to rest secure for the rest of his life. In the same
way, those who are wise in Buddhism see stress as a noble treasure and so go digging down
into stress; they see the cause of stress as a noble treasure and so dig down into it;
they see the Path as a noble treasure; they see disbanding and liberation as noble
treasures and so dig on down until they meet with the genuine ore. Only then can they be
called noble sages.
Those of us who are dauntless enough to unearth our inner resources in this way will be
able to use those resources to protect ourselves throughout time, gaining release from the
cycle of rebirth, the jail for imprisoning foolish and ignorant people. We who like to
explore in general should be glad that we've come across a good mine with genuine ore
whose traces lie scattered about for us to see. If we don't disregard the things we see,
we'll meet the four Truths mentioned above.
If we were to summarize the four Noble Truths briefly, we could do so as follows: The
objects or preoccupations of the mind that arise and disappear are the truth of stress.
The mental act that enters into and takes possession of those objects is the truth of the
cause of stress. The mental act that focuses in on those objects and examines them as they
arise and disappear is the truth of the Path; and the mental act that lets go of those
objects as they arise and disappear is the truth of disbanding, or release -- i.e., that
which knows the reality that doesn't arise and doesn't disappear.
These, then, are the four Noble Truths. Those who see these four Truths directly for
themselves will give rise to the noble path and fruition termed 'stream-entry.' Such
people are a field of merit for the world: worthy of respect, worthy of welcome, worthy of
offerings and veneration.
Whoever possesses the qualities mentioned here qualifies rightly as a member of the
Sangha in line with the Doctrine and Discipline taught by the Buddha, and may be called, samici-patipanno,
one whose conduct is masterful, reaching the apex of the mundane level and becoming
B. Now we will discuss the second main heading, the Noble
Sangha, the family of the Noble Ones, which may be joined by virtue of having developed
one's inner qualities, with no need to go through the formalities of the Vinaya. The Noble
Sangha, like the conventional Sangha, is composed of four groups:
1 Stream-enterers: those who have reached the beginning stage of the flow
to nibbana. At most they will have to be reborn only seven more times. They have developed
enough tranquility and insight for the Path to converge in a single mental instant,
enabling them to gain true insight into all phenomena -- mundane and transcendent -- as
they really are. When they see in this way, they have cut three of the Fetters (sanyojana)
that keep living beings under the spell of the world. The Fetters they have cut absolutely
a Sakkaya-ditthi: the view that the body -- together with its properties,
aggregates, and sense media -- belongs to the self. Stream-enterers, unlike ordinary
run-of-the-mill people, don't hold that these things are the self or belong to the self.
They see them simply as common property -- that we didn't bring them when we came and
won't take them when we go -- and that they arise simply through kamma.
b Vicikiccha: doubt and uncertainty about the practices one is following.
Stream-enterers have no such doubts, because they have reached the quality attained by the
c Silabbata-paramasa: attachment to customs or traditions that are held
to be good in this way or that. Stream-enterers are not attached to any external practices
dealing with actions or manners.
These three Fetters, stream-enterers have cut absolutely, once and for all. They have
attained the noble quality of having closed off completely the four states of deprivation.
In other words, they are destined never again to be born in hell, on the level of the
angry demons, the level of the hungry ghosts, or the level of common animals. This is what
it means to close off all four states of deprivation.
2 Once-returners: those who have gained the second level of Awakening,
who will attain nibbana after being born once more in the world. Once-returners have cut
three Fetters, like stream-enterers, but have also reduced the amount of desire, anger,
and delusion in their hearts. (They know how to keep the mind within bounds.)
3. Non-returners: those who have awakened to the third level and who will
never again return to the human world. After they die they will be born in the Brahma
worlds on the levels of the Pure Abodes, there to attain nibbana. They have absolutely
abandoned five of the Fetters --
d Kamaraga: passion and delight caused by the power of sensual desires
and sensual objects.
e Patigha: irritation and displeasure caused by the power of anger.
4 Arahants: those who have awakened to the ultimate level of the four
Noble Truths and have reached the quality of deathlessness, free from all the
fermentations of defilement; whose ignorance, craving, attachments, and kamma have ended.
Arahants have abandoned their Fetters by means of the factors of the highest of the noble
paths. The Fetters they have abandoned are ten:
f Ruparaga: passion for the sense of form that can act as the object of rupa
g Aruparaga: passion for formless phenomena, such as the feeling of
pleasure that comes from seclusion.
h Mana: conceiving or construing oneself to be like this or that.
i Uddhacca: restlessness and distraction, being carried away with one's
thoughts. The thoughts on this level deal with the activity of discernment, which is
something good, but they go out of bounds.
j Avijja: ignorance, i.e., not recognizing stress, its cause, its
disbanding, and the path to its disbanding -- in short, not being acquainted with the
conditioned phenomena (sankhata dhamma) that exist within each of us; not being
acquainted with the unconditioned (asankhata dhamma), which is a genuine property,
existing naturally. This, briefly, is what avijja means.
Another meaning for avijja is not being acquainted with the way we are -- e.g., not
recognizing our concepts of the past and thus becoming immersed in them; not recognizing
our concepts of the future; not recognizing the present, which is the important aspect of
all physical and mental phenomena. Thus, delusion with regard to all three time periods is
called avijja: counterfeit knowledge, falling short of the four genuine Truths.
These ten Fetters, Arahants -- both men and women -- have cut absolutely, freeing
themselves from every sort of bond or domination, so that their hearts are brilliant and
dazzling, like the full moon in a cloudless sky. This is samici-patipanno -- one
whose conduct is masterful -- on the transcendent level.
The four groups mentioned here are termed the Ariya Sangha, the Noble Community, which
can be found only in Buddhism. Therefore, all Buddhists who daily pay homage to the Sangha
should make themselves aware of what the Sangha is, of how genuine or counterfeit the
members of the Sangha are. Otherwise, our respect will be blind and misguided, ignorant of
the true nature of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. We should use our judgment and reason
to be selective so that we can help one another look after the state of the religion,
bringing it into proper line with the principles of the Buddha's teachings.
The Sangha can be compared to a tree: Some members are like the heartwood, others are
like the sapwood, others are like the outer bark, and still others are like parasitic
creepers. Another popular analogy is to compare the Sangha to a jewel. Now, there are many
kinds of jewels, just as there are many parts to a tree: artificial gems, zircons, rubies,
amethysts, sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds. Just as all of these are called jewels, and
are all of differing value, so it is with the members of the Sangha. Whoever is rich in
discernment will obtain a valuable jewel as an adornment. Whoever is poor in discernment
will end up with nothing but artificial gems or bits of gravel: Some people believe that
all who wear the yellow robe are alike. They 'make donations to the yellow robe,' or 'pay
respect to the yellow robe,' or 'make donations to the virtuous'.... Thus I ask that all
Buddhists make a point of learning where the gems of the religion that we as a nation
revere may be found.
A person who doesn't know what the Sangha is, is like a child who doesn't know his
family and relatives -- who doesn't know who his father is, who his mother is, who his
elder brothers and sisters are. When this is the case, he has no one to rely on. If he
tries to rely on others, he can do so only as long as he has money in his pockets. As soon
as he runs out of money, he's in for trouble: His friends and companions are sure to act
as if they don't recognize him; and he can't turn to his family and relatives because he
doesn't know who they are. So in the end he'll meet with nothing but suffering.
This is why we're taught that, as long as we still have life, we shouldn't rest
complacent. We should urgently make the virtues of the Sangha our guardians -- because our
friend, the body, can be relied on only as long as it doesn't die. And when the time
comes, who will care for us aside from our guardians, the virtues of the Sangha?
We shouldn't waste our time engrossed simply with the life of the body for, as far as I
can see, there's nothing to the life of the body but eating and then sleeping, sleeping
and then eating again. If we let ourselves get stuck simply on the level of sleeping and
eating, we're headed for trouble. This can be illustrated with a story:
Once in a village by the seaside, there came a time of unbalance in the natural
elements, and large numbers of the livestock -- the water buffaloes -- died of the plague.
The men of the village, fearing that the disease would spread, took the buffalo carcasses
and threw them into the sea. As the carcasses floated away from shore, a flock of crows
came to feed on them for many days. Each day, when the crows had eaten their fill, they
would fly back to spend the night in the trees by the shore; and then would fly out the
following dawn to continue eating. As days passed, and the carcasses floated further and
further out to sea, some of the crows -- seeing the hardships in flying back to shore --
decided to spend the night floating on the carcasses; others of the flock, though, didn't
mind the hardships and continued flying back to shore every evening.
Finally, when the carcasses had floated so far out to sea that flying back and forth
was no longer possible, the flock decided to abandon that source of food and to search for
a new source of food on land. One of the crows, though, had stayed with the carcasses;
when he saw that his fellows were no longer coming to claim a share of the food, he became
overjoyed, thinking that the food he had would last him a long time. He became so
engrossed in his eating that he never thought of looking back to shore. As the carcasses
went floating further and further out, swarms of fish came from below to devour them until
there was nothing left to eat. Finally, the remains of the carcasses sank deep into the
sea; and at that point, the crow decided that the time had come to fly back to shore. With
this in mind, he flew to the north, but didn't see land. He flew to the south, to the east
and west, but didn't see land. Finally, he ran out of strength and could fly no further,
and so lowered his wings and dropped into the sea, where he became food for the fishes.
This is human life. If we let ourselves become engrossed only with eating and sleeping
and physical pleasures, without searching for virtue -- i.e., if we don't practice the
virtues of the Sangha as we've been taught -- we're sure to reap the rewards -- suffering
-- just like the crow who fell to his death in the sea. This story is about us: The sea
stands for the world, the flood of rebirth; the buffalo carcasses stand for the body; the
trees on the shore stand for the Dhamma, and the crows stand for the heart -- i.e.,
sometimes we feel like practicing the Dhamma and sometimes we don't.
The virtues of the Sangha are subtle, deep, and hard to perceive. If we don't have
knowledge of ourselves, we won't be able to see them, just as a mute person doesn't know
how to speak his native tongue.
Here I would like to tell another story to illustrate what it means not to know the
virtues of the Sangha. Once there was a mute person who made his living by playing a conch
shell trumpet. Now, the way he played the conch shell was to make it sound like human
voices or animal calls. When he had perfected his skill, he wandered about the cities and
country towns, playing his conch. One day he went to play in a village deep in the
countryside. As he was about to reach the village, he stopped to rest under the shade of a
tree and picked up his conch to practice for a moment. Within minutes a swarm of people,
hearing the sound of the conch, came bursting from the village to see what it was. They
came across the mute man sitting under the tree and so asked him, 'What was that beautiful
sound we heard a moment ago?' The mute man pointed to the conch shell lying nearby. The
people, thinking that they had heard the cry of the conch, ran over to tap on it to make
it cry again, but it didn't make a sound. Some of them picked it up and tried shaking it,
but still no sound, so they put it back down. Others turned it over to see exactly where
its cry came from, but no matter what they did, the sound of the conch wouldn't come out.
So they ran back to the mute person.
The mute person didn't know what to say, but he could tell from their actions that they
wanted to know what made the sound of the conch come out in such a variety of calls, so he
pointed to his mouth. The villagers ran to take a look. They had him open his mouth and
looked up and down inside, but didn't see how it could be made to sound. So the mute man
flickered his tongue for them to see. With this, they realized that the sound came from
the mute man's tongue; and so they tried flickering their own tongues, but no beautiful
sounds came out. So they ran back to the mute man, who blew air out of his mouth, meaning
that the sound came from the breath. They tried blowing air from their own mouths, but
still no beautiful sounds. Finally, the mute man reached for the conch, put it to his lips
-- and out came the beautiful sounds: the sounds of people crying, people laughing, people
wailing and mourning, the sounds of birds, mice, and forest beasts.
So it is with us: If we don't know how to train ourselves so as to attain the virtues
of the Sangha, we won't know how beneficial to us the Sangha can be. We'll become
uncivilized savages, not knowing whether the Sangha is good or bad, and we'll end up like
the villagers who didn't know where the sound of the conch came from.
This story doesn't refer to anything distant: The mute man, producing various sounds
from his conch shell, stands for preaching monks. For example, sometimes they try to be
correct, proper, and principled in their preaching; sometimes they preach like animals,
i.e., using a song-like voice or cracking jokes that go beyond the bounds of the Dhamma
and Vinaya. In this way, they are like the man blowing the conch. As for the villagers who
came running wide-eyed to hear the sound of the conch, they stand for Buddhist lay people
who don't understand the virtues of the Sangha and thus are destined not to find the
Sangha, just as the villagers couldn't find the sound of the conch. When this is the case,
they will simply shell out money to hear the sound of conch trumpets, without any thought
of the practices taught by the Buddha. Monks will be deluded into blowing conch shells for
their living, without any thought of the qualities of the Sangha; and so our religion will
degenerate day by day, becoming ultimately a theater or playhouse for the world.
This has been an extended discussion of the Triple Gem. If we were to put it briefly,
there wouldn't be a great deal to say. We've kept the discussion drawn-out in this way so
as to show the general usefulness of the Triple Gem for those who revere it. If you want
to go for refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha in a way that will reach their genuine
benefits, then you should gather their main points into yourself, training yourself so
as to give rise to the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha in your heart. This
is where the value of the Triple Gem lies.
* * *
The gist of our discussion of the Triple Gem comes down simply to this:
A. 'Buddha' can be divided into a number of levels. The 'Buddha' of his
physical representatives refers to Buddha images, stupas, and places worthy of veneration
such as his birthplace, the place of his Awakening, the place where he delivered his first
sermon, and the place where he entered total nibbana, which at present lie within the
boundaries of India and Nepal. All of these things qualify on the physical level as
symbols of the Buddha for those who revere them, but they may be disqualified if the
people who revere them lack the necessary inner qualifications. Take Buddha images as an
example: You should understand Buddha images as having three characteristic types --
1. those inhabited by angry demons;
2. those inhabited by divinities;
3. those that people of virtue have invested with the potency of the mind -- these
can be termed, 'inhabited by the Dhamma.'
In other words, Buddha images can be beneficial or harmful depending on how they are
used by those who revere them. Even people who use them as charms in committing robbery,
casting spells, or performing black magic may get results because of the power of their
conviction. But if we can be selective and use these images in ways that are right, the
potency they contain will benefit us, bringing us blessings and protecting us from danger.
Thus, the symbols of the Buddha can function in various ways. There is much more to this
topic, but if we were to discuss it here, it would draw things out even further. These
images can either qualify or be disqualified as symbols of the Buddha, depending on the
people who revere them, but the images in themselves are neutral.
The important point for people who hope for true welfare, though, is to invest
themselves with the qualities that serve on the inner level as symbols of reverence for
the Buddha. These qualities are three --
1 Sati: wakefulness.
2 Pañña: the intuitive discernment and cognitive skill that come from
concentrating the mind.
3 Vimutti: purity and release from mental defilement: This is the essence
of 'Buddha-ratanam,' the gem of the Buddha.
B. Dhamma: Good Dhamma is of three sorts --
1 Pariyatti: This refers to studying and memorizing passages from the
Canon, which qualifies on the physical level as a symbol of the Dhamma taught by the
Buddha. But this, too, can either qualify or be disqualified as a symbol. Some people, for
example, use passages from the Dhamma in committing robbery or casting spells. For
instance, they repeat the chant of the virtues of the Dhamma or the phrase, 'Namo
buddhaya,' three times or seven times, and then commit thievery or highway robbery,
believing that they have made themselves invincible. Or when casting spells, they repeat
the phrase, 'Na-metta, mo-karuna, da-love me, I won't go, you come, omasavaha' --
they say that this makes a woman really fall for a man. This sort of thing disqualifies
the phrase, even though its original meaning may have been something good.
But if we revere the Dhamma and make use of it through the power of our conviction,
memorizing passages of Pali for the sake of what is good and pure, and then putting them
into use, they will give rise to merit. For example, if we repeat the phrase, 'Dhammam
saranam gacchami (I go to the Dhamma for refuge),' or 'Namo buddhaya (Homage to
the Buddha),' with heartfelt conviction, giving rise to a sense of joy, this mental state
can then serve to protect us from certain kinds of accidents and harm. We may reap real
benefits from the phrase we repeat. This is something that people who have respect for the
Dhamma should investigate carefully.
These passages, then, can qualify as symbols of the Dhamma -- or be disqualified, if we
don't know their true aims.
2 Patipatti: This refers to behaving sincerely in line with the Buddha's
a Sila: putting our thoughts, words, and deeds in order.
b Samadhi: keeping the mind firmly intent in the four levels of jhana,
free from the mental Hindrances.
3 Pativedha: This refers to extinguishing defilement completely,
releasing the mind from all suffering and stress. This qualifies as the essence of the
All three of the levels mentioned here form the inner qualifications of those who truly
revere and follow the Dhamma.
C. Sangha: If we translate this as a substantive, it refers to those who
shave their heads and wear the yellow robe as a sign of having been ordained. These people
can qualify on the external level as symbols of the Sangha or they may be disqualified. To
qualify, they have to meet three criteria:
1 Vatthu-sampatti: The individual to be ordained as a monk has to possess
the proper characteristics as stipulated in the Vinaya.
2 Sangha-sampatti: The monks who gather to witness the ordination
constitute a legitimate quorum.
3 Sima-sampatti: The place in which the ordination is held has had its
boundaries properly defined.
When an individual ordains in line with these criteria, he qualifies as a symbol of the
Sangha. But viewed from another angle, if the individual has met these criteria and
becomes a monk but doesn't behave in line with the Dhamma and Vinaya -- disobeying the
training rules established by the Buddha, committing major and minor offenses with no
sense of shame -- he becomes disqualified on the personal level, just as a Buddha image
that has been properly consecrated but is then put to improper uses by evil or lowminded
people is bound to lead to harm. A monk with no sense of conscience or shame is like a
Buddha image inhabited by an angry demon. Normally, when an angry demon takes possession
of a person, it reveals itself by its behavior. For example, when some angry demons take
possession, they like to run around naked, harassing other people. If a person has no
sense of conscience or shame, it's as if he were possessed by an angry demon. In other
words, if he doesn't have any moral restraint, it's as if he lacked the clothing needed to
hide his nakedness. And when this is the case, he is disqualified as a symbol of the
A person who meets the three external qualifications mentioned above has to behave in
line with the inner virtues of the Sangha --
1.a. Caga: relinquishing external and internal enemies (worries and
b. Sila: keeping one's words and deeds in proper order.
To have these two qualities is to qualify as a human being (supatipanno).
2.a. Hiri: having a sense of shame at the thought of doing evil; not
daring to do evil in public or private.
b. Ottappa: having a sense of dread at the thought of the results of
If a monk has these qualities (termed 'deva-dhamma,' the principles of heavenly
beings), it's as if he were inhabited by a celestial being (uju-patipanno).
3 Samadhi: steadying the mind so as to reach the first level of jhana and
then developing it up to the fourth level, making it radiant and free from the mental
Hindrances. If a monk does this, it's as if he were inhabited by a Brahma, for he has the
inner qualifications of a Brahma (ñaya-patipanno).
4 Pañña, vijja, vimutti: gaining release from the mundane level,
abandoning the three Fetters beginning with self-identification, reaching the Dhamma of
the Buddha, attaining the state where we are guaranteed by the Buddha as being upright,
dependable, honest, and sincere toward the Dhamma and Vinaya; gaining Awakening following
his example, becoming a reliable member of the Sangha. Such people are termed 'ariya
sotapanna' -- Noble Ones who have reached the stream -- and deserve to be called 'visuddhi-deva,'
divinities through purity, whose virtues are higher than those of human beings, deities,
Indra, or Brahma. Even though such people are still subject to death and rebirth, they are
not like other human beings. The pure aspect of their heart will never again become
defiled. Thus they deserve to be called, in a partial sense, divinities through purity
All four of these qualities form the inner qualifications of the Sangha.
Speaking in terms of these inner qualifications, every person can become a member of
the Sangha. But if we don't develop these qualities within ourselves and then take refuge
in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha only on the external level, how will we get the full
benefits? We're taught that if we can't depend on ourselves, there is no way we can hope
to depend on others. For example, if an evil person breaks the law, commits robbery, and
then asks the government to give him help, you can rest assured that the only help the
government will give him will be to build a place for him to live in discomfort -- a jail.
In the same way, if we don't behave in line with the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and
Sangha, how can we go around taking refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha? The Buddha
Attahi attano natho, ko hi natho paro siya.
'The self is its own refuge, for who else could be refuge?'
Thus we should develop the inner qualifications of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha
within ourselves. Then we will belong to the company of the Buddha's followers. If we
belong to the religion as lay women, we are called 'upasika.' If we belong as lay
men, we are called 'upasaka.' If we observe the ten precepts and are endowed with
the virtues of the Sangha, we are termed 'samanera.' If we take a vow to join the
community of those who fully observe the 227 precepts, we are termed 'bhikkhu.'
When we join the company of the Buddha's followers in this way, all people in general who
practice and revere the teachings will benefit -- just as when we meet the qualifications
of a good citizen as set out by the government: If we are trained and educated to be good,
we are bound to help the nation progress and prosper. But if we don't view ourselves as
part of the nation and don't think of making a living to support ourselves, and instead
simply go around looking for pleasure or for help from others, the results are bound to be
Therefore, we as Buddhists have to study and practice before we can be Buddhists of
virtue and value. We will then reap rewards in the visible present. And even if we are no
longer able to live in this world, then when our bodies die and we head for another world,
we have a good bourn awaiting us, as in the verse from the Mahasamaya Sutta:
Ye keci buddham saranam katase
Na te gamissanti apaya-bhumim.
Pahaya manusam deham
'Those who reach the refuge of the Buddha (in their own hearts, with purity) will close
off all four of the lower realms (such as hell). When they leave this life they are bound
for a good bourn (heaven), there to fill the ranks of the gods.'
Buddham dhammam sangham jivitam yava-nibbanam saranam gacchami.
'I go to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha as my life and refuge till reaching
* * *
Abhidhamma: The third of the three collections forming the Pali Canon, composed
of systematic treatises based on lists of categories drawn from the Buddha's teachings.
Apaya: States of deprivation, i.e., the four lower realms of existence: rebirth
in hell, as a hungry ghost, as an angry demon, or as a common animal. In Buddhism, none of
these states are regarded as eternal conditions.
Ayatana: Sense media -- the six senses (including the intellect as the sixth)
and their respective objects.
Brahma: An inhabitant of the higher heavens of form and formlessness, a position
earned -- but not forever -- through the cultivation of virtue and meditative absorption,
along with the attitudes of limitless love, compassion, appreciation, and equanimity.
Gotarabhu-ñana: Change of lineage knowledge -- the glimpse of nibbana that
changes one from an ordinary, run-of-the-mill person to a Noble One.
Jhana: Absorption in a single object or preoccupation. Rupa-jhana refers to
absorption in a physical sensation; arupa-jhana, to absorption in a mental notion or
Kamma: Acts of intention that result in states of being and birth.
Khandha: Aggregate. The five aggregates are the component parts of sensory
perception; physical and mental phenomena as they are directly experienced: form (sense
data), feeling, perception, thought-formations, and consciousness.
Nibbana: Liberation; the unbinding of the mind from greed, anger, and delusion;
from sensations and mental acts. As this term is also used to refer to the extinguishing
of a fire, it carries the connotations of stilling, cooling, and peace. (According to the
physics taught at the time of the Buddha, the property of fire exists in a latent state to
a greater or lesser degree in all objects. When activated, it seizes and sticks to its
fuel. When extinguished, it becomes unbound.)
Nivarana: Hindrance; one of five mental qualities that hinder the mind from
attaining concentration and discernment: sensual desire, ill will, sloth & torpor,
restlessness & anxiety, and uncertainty.
Pali: The name of the most ancient recension of the Buddhist scriptures now
extant; and -- by extension -- of the language in which it was composed.
Vinaya: The first of the three collections forming the Pali Canon, dealing with
the disciplinary rules of the monastic order. The Buddha's own name for the religion he
founded was, 'this Dhamma-Vinaya' -- this Doctrine and Discipline.