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The essential teachings of the Buddha

[Siddhartha Gotama was the prince of the Sakiya clan who ruled a prosperous republican community belonging to Kosala kingdom situated at the foot of Himalayan ranges. His father was Suddhodana a Sakyan Chieftain; and his mother was Maya. Siddhartha was born under a sal tree in the Lumbibi garden (along the Indo -Nepal border) while his mother was travelling to her parent’s home. He lost his mother while he was still an infant; and, was brought up by his mother’s sister, Pajapati Gotami. He married Yasodhara, his cousin; and the couple had a son named Rahula. Siddhartha was a good looking person with a strong body. He had his military training in his upbringing and was once invited by King Bimbisara to join his army as a General.

Siddhartha left his home, at the age of twenty nine, soon after the birth of his son, in search of ‘Truth’.  For six long years he studied earnestly, went from teacher to teacher and lived the life of a mendicant practicing severe austerity. He was satisfied neither with the teachings nor with the methods prescribed. He also realized   that with a body so utterly weakened as his, he would not be able to pursue his path with any chance of success. Finally, he broke away from his fellow Samanas and also abandoned extremes of self-torture and prolonged fasting. He practiced meditation under a pipal tree in the Uravela forests along the banks of the Neranjara River (near Gaya). Gotama at the age of thirty-five, attained enlightenment on a full moon of May (vaisakha, vesak).

The Buddha was a wandering monk for twenty years starting from his enlightenment, continuously on move from place to place. He then settled down at Savasthi, living on alms, for about twenty years. He left Savasthi in his 79th year and spent the next rainy season at Rajagraha from where he moved northward. While on move, at the age of 80, he passed away quietly at Kusinara in the Malla country.

The Buddha is the precious jewel of humanity. No matter how you look at him, he must have been a wonderful person of majesty, tenderness, compassion and one who was free from prejudices. He always carried himself with dignity. You cannot fail to wonder at the brilliance, greatness, empathy and the nobility of the person and his teachings. Though twenty-five centuries have gone since the passing away of the Buddha, his message of love, compassion and wisdom continue to influence and guide us.]

Introduction

1.1. It is said that the First Discourse (pathamadesana) of the Buddha introduces his teachings and his philosophy. Many think it holds the essential teachings of the Master: ‘There is no teaching of the Master outside the scope of this sermon.’ It also marks a watershed in his life. It was from here that Samana Gotama the wanderer emerged as the Revered Teacher (Bhagava), as the Blessed One (Araha) and as the perfectly enlightened One (Sammaa- Sambuddha).

1.2. The pathamadesana is of unique importance in the Buddhist history. It was from here the incomparable wheel of Dhamma was set in motion (Dhamma-chakka-parivattana) by the Blessed One. The full moon of Asadha is therefore celebrated as Dhamma Day and it marks the beginning of the annual retreat period in the monasteries for the monsoon (Vassa or chatur-masya).

A. My emancipation is won

2.1. It was on the full moon night in the month of Vesaka – the sixth month; on one of those nights he spent under the Bodhi tree, he understood the sorrows of earthly existence and experienced the supreme peace unaffected by earthly existence. He said to himself “My emancipation is won…Done what is to be done. There is nothing beyond this (katamkarniyam, naaparamitthattaya).”

2.2. For several days, he wandered in peace and tranquillity, among the woods. He enjoyed his quiet serene days and lonely walks in the forest. He wished the idyllic life would last forever. He pondered whether he should share his newfound wisdom with others. Yet, he wondered whether anyone would be interested or would appreciate his findings, which helps in seeing things clearly, as they are, and in attaining knowledge, higher wisdom, peace, and enlightenment or nirvana.

2.3. He debated, there might still be those not entirely blinded by the worldly dirt. He thought of his teachers Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta, both “wise, intelligent and learned; and of nature scarcely tainted “; and said to himself they would quickly comprehend the knowledge he had just gained. Then, he sadly realized that Uddaka son of Rama had just passed away; and Alara Kalama died about seven days ago. Then the thought came to him of his erstwhile fellow Samanas, those who left him to pursue their ways. He decided to talk to his fellow seekers and share with them the new wisdom (Majjhima Nikaya; Sutta 26).

3.1. He journeyed from place to place from Gaya ; and at length reached the holy city of Varanasi after nearly seven weeks, covering a distance of about 144 miles .On his way a monk named Upaka enquired Gautama where he was headed to, “To set in to motion the wheel of Dhamma (Dhamma Chakkampavattetum)” he replied ” I proceed to Varanasi”.

3.2. There at Varanasi he learnt the five ascetics (Kondanna, Vappa, Mahanama, Assaji, and Bhadda) whom he knew before were at Isipatana (Rishipattana – where the sages live; now called Saranath), nearby. He found them in the garden Migadaaya (Deer park) at Isipatana. They were surprised to see him but were impressed by his majestic, pure and serene demeanour. They wondered whether he had achieved uttari-manusa-dhamma, the super human status.

He told them he had done what had to be done. He had attained it. He asked them to listen to his findings. He told them: “I teach about suffering and the way to end it”.

3.3. They listened to him in all earnestness. What he spoke to those five ascetics later gained renown as one of the greatest and most important discourses in religious history. At the end of the talk, Gotama emerged as the Teacher. He came to be revered as Bhagava (the Blessed One).

The talk was “The first teaching” (Pathamadesana). It later came to be celebrated as Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the discourse that set in motion the wheels of Dhamma.

B. Pathamadesana

4. 1.The Buddha spoke to the five ascetics at the garden of Migadaaya where the deer roamed unmolested and in peace, located in Isipatana near the holy city of Varanasi, in the evening of the full moon day in the month of Asalhi – the eighth month (Ashada-July). He spoke in simple Magadhi the language his listeners understood well. The discourse was brief, with short, simple and precise statements. There were no definitions and no explanations. It was a direct sincere talk.

4.2. It was a simple and a straight narration of how Samana Gotama transformed into the Buddha. He spoke from his experience, narrated his findings, and explained the four truths and the three aspects of each; and the middle path.

5.1. He opened the discourse by exhorting the five monks who believed in strict asceticism to avoid the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification, as both do not lead to perfect peace and enlightenment. “These two extremes should not be resorted to by a recluse who has renounced the world”. He advised them to follow the Middle Way (majjhiama-patipada). Then, he went on to explain four noble truths (cattariariya-sacchani) and their true nature: Sorrow (Dukkha) in life is a fact; it has a cause; that cause can be eliminated; and there is a method by which it is eliminated.

5.2. The Indian tradition looks upon the Buddha as the master of the analytical method (vibhajyavadin). His very first discourse is an excellent example of his consummate analytical skill.

5.3. The discourse is logically well structured. It puts forth certain postulates derived from observation and experience; and seeks to construct a logical structure explaining relationships among the postulates.

5.4. The Buddha did not stop at the intellectual edification. He was moved by compassion for his fellow beings and tried to show a method for eradication of sorrow. Dhamma preached here is both a theory and a practical procedure.  His postulates have therefore an operational aspect. The methods he suggested were drawn from his life and his experiences. His methods lead to a definite end (niyyana). It is like “putting down the burden” or to “cure the disease”. That is what Dhamma really means.

C. The Middle Way (majjhiama-patipada)

6.1. The Buddha arrived at a time when almost every shade of opinion was in currency in the Indian scene; but, excessive speculation was the bane of the period. In a way of speaking, he came to the rescue of Indian philosophy at its critical hour when no one seemed to have a clear view of things. He set himself to prepare a perfect –net (Brahma-jaala) of dialectics for entangling all sorts of sophistry.   The Buddhist philosophy is not only an integral part of Indian philosophy, but is a whole in itself. It therefore shares many characteristics   of the other streams of Indian thought; and, at the same time asserts its own beliefs.

6.2. The Buddha opened his celebrated discourse at the Migadaaya in Isipattana, saying:

“There are two extremes, O monks, from which he who leads a spiritual life must abstain. What are those two extremes? One is a life of pleasure, devoted to desire and enjoyment: that is base, ignoble, and un-spiritual, unworthy, unreal. The other is a life of mortification: it is gloomy, unworthy, unreal. The perfect one, O monks, is removed from both these extremes and has discovered the way which lies between them, the middle way (majjhiamapatipada) which enlightens the eyes, enlightens the mind, which leads to rest, to knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nirvana.”

6.3 The Middle-way that the Buddha taught here as the right conduct for a monk is compared to tuning a lute which emits melodious sounds of right pitch only when its strings are stretched neither too loose nor too tight.

7.1. His majjhiama-patipada was not merely his ethical teaching but was also the very foundation of his views on many issues including those on the nature of universe, the nature of soul sand such other subjects. One could even say that the metaphysics of the Buddha was based in the ’middle-way’. By this, he achieved a position that was away from extremes, away from dogmatism. He always maintained that one should avoid clinging to an idea or a concept for the mere sake of it. He is said to have remarked “I’ve used ideas as boats to cross the river, not to carry them around upon my head.”

Being and Non-Being

8.1. Even at the very early stages of Indian thought, two groups had clearly emerged: the one that asserted the hypotheses of the Being (sat-karya-vada), and the other of Non-Being (asat-karya-vada) .Both the camps left strong impressions on the later Indian speculations. The history of the subsequent Indian philosophy could be said to be mostly about the unfolding and expansion, a wider application, continued modifications of these two ancient postulates, or   departure from either.

8.2. The Buddha rejected both the extreme positions of Being and Non-Being. He preached the doctrine that embodied the middle mode (eteubho ante anupa-gammam-ajjhimena …Dhammamdeseti) of Becoming; believing neither in chance nor in necessity exclusively, but in conditioned happening.

The Universe

9.1. In regard to the Universe, the Buddha was questioned several times whether ‘it exists’ or whether ‘it does not exist’’; whether the universe (loka) is eternal or not; whether it is infinite or not. The Thathagatha, not going by the extremes, taught the intermediate way (Madhyama Prathipada). He explained that the concept of ‘it – exists (asti)’ represents an absolute and an un-changing substance; while ‘it- does not – exist (nasti)’ concept means that everything is annihilated without a trace. His middle-path was   that the world is neither Being nor is it Non-Being; but it is the Becoming. It is a continual change- to- be and passing away; ‘there is nothing permanent or eternal in the universe’. He preferred a dynamic explanation to the static changeless position.

9.2. The real nature of the universe, according to the Buddha, consists series of temporary principles, which change; each principle in the sequence of conditions becomes the condition for the next; there is continuity though there no continuous substance.

The Buddha explained  :

“ Just as from milk comes curds , from curds butter , from butter ghee , from ghee junket;  but, when it is milk it is not called curds, or butter , or ghee or junket; and, when it is curds it is not called by any of the other names; and so on”.

 Here, he was not only putting forward his concept of the law of causation but was also pointing to the principle of identity at each stage. Each state in the chain of changes is real in its own context and when it is ‘present’; and it is not real when it was past as ‘something that it was’; and also not real when in future ‘it will be something’.

10.1. The Buddha held the view that the transmigration (samsara) was a process and it was beginning-less. No ultimate point of origin could be discerned. There is no final, ultimate beginning, according to the Buddha. One can go on forever tracing the cycle back from life to life. The same conditions will be found generating new life all the time. “Leave aside these questions of the beginning and the end “he said “I shall instruct you on the Law. If that is, this comes to be; on springing of that, this springs up. If that is not, this does not come to be; on the cessation of that, this ceases to be” (Majjima Nikaya: 2.32).

11.1. The Buddha was asked several times ‘who runs’; ‘who contacts’; or ‘who desires’ the universe, and so on. His reply was that the questions were ‘unsound’ or wrongly worded. The proper form of the questions, as he said, was ‘through what conditions is there contact or desire’ etc. For each condition there is the ‘cause’ (hetu), the source (nidana), the origination (samudaya); and there is a condition (pratyaya) for each principle we are examining. If the condition did not exist the principle would not happen. It is not, therefore, correct to speak of persons who do things; but we should try to understand the universe in terms of the series of events and the conditions that caused those events. In other words, there is action, but there is no agent such as a god, soul, self etc ‘who does things’ (Samyutta Nikaya: 2.13).There is just the process (vritti) a continuing coming-to-be and passing away or a series of related events; and, these are impersonal.

11.2. The Buddha was no mere logician; he was a philosopher endowed with a keen insight into the nature of reality. In place of theories of this or that agency constituting the source, the Buddha put attention on the order of things itself. The order he conceived was the continual coming-to-be and passing away of everything. He explained the reality , as he understood, in terms of change, movement, continual becoming; a change which does not consist of disconnected events or isolated freaks of nature, but one that presents a continuous structure, a closed series of forms, a series of causes and effects. It is not that the effect is identical with the cause, but it has its roots in the cause. When a seed grows into a plant, it becomes a wholly different object without the seed having survived (niranvaya-vada). But a tree would not have been in existence without the presence of the seed

11.3. That constant transition, change or becoming is not erratic, not pre-ordained; but, it goes on by the momentum of its own natural laws of causes and effects. Thus, the universe, according to the Buddha, is some kind of objective reality that is governed by natural and impersonal forces and processes; by conditions and principles that are transient, with no beginning. And, his universe has no enduring substances.

Soul

12.1. The texts tend to bracket the issue of universe with the question of the ‘soul’. He was often asked whether he who acts is the same as the one who (subsequently) enjoys the results of it; or, whether one (person) acts and another one experiences the results of it. Here too, the Buddha favoured a middle path avoiding the extremes of an entity called soul that survives birth after birth; and that of a soul which perishes as the body withers away. The Buddha explained a human as the dynamic inter-relation of five skandas. 

“Truly, if one holds the view that self is identical with the body, in that case there can be no holy life. Again, if one holds the view that self is one thing and the body another, in that case, too, there can be no holy life. Avoiding both extremes the Perfect One teaches the doctrine that lies in the middle.” (Sauyutta Nikaya: 2, 61).

13.1. Here, the Buddha opted for a sequence of conditioned events, where there is neither a permanent soul nor an agent, but where there are series of causes and effects, with each effect conditioning that which follows it.

The Buddha in his second discourse delivered a few days after his first discourse at Saranath on the outskirts of Varanasi, speaks about his concept of AnattaAnatta – lakkhana – sutta’. The teaching instructs one not to identify self with ‘”Any kind of feeling whatever…Any kind of perception whatever…Any kind of determination whatever… Any kind of consciousness whatever…”

13. 2. But, translating the Buddhist concept of an-atma or anatta as –   ‘no soul’ or that ‘self does not exist at all ‘- seems rather misleading.  An-atta, in the Buddhist context suggests that ‘self is not an enduring entity or eternal essence’. It is not the ultimate reality (dharmataa) either .The Buddhist tradition believes that the root of all suffering is in regarding the ‘self’ as a permanent or a static entity or as an unchanging essence; and clinging to it.

14.1. It must be mentioned that Buddhism does not deny a soul altogether. The Buddhist view is that the belief in a changeless “I-entity” (soul) is the result of incorrect interpretation of one’s experiences. As per the Buddhist view, self/soul is not a permanent entity, or a static substance, or as an essence, but it is understood as a dynamic process which one experiences as perceptions, ideas or desires. It says; self is wrongly taken as a fixed, enduring entity. According to Buddhism, there is not anything which is enduring, fixed, and eternal. Everything is interdependent and changing. Everything is an aggregate lacking self (samghata); and has no astitva or existence outside of shifting contexts . Everything is in constant flux (spandana). If things are not momentary, everyone and everything would be eternal. There is incessant change; but with continuity. All phenomena come into being as a result of causes and conditions, they change every moment, and eventually they pass away. A belief in a permanent or a changeless-self is a false concept leading to mistaken notions about reality.

14.2. The Buddhism believes that the self is a changing phenomenon. It is like a raindrop. When it is in the ocean, it is a part of the ocean ; when it evaporates, it becomes a part of the cloud; and, when it rains, it becomes a part of stream or a lake or a well. It is its functions and relationship which give form to its character.

Consciousness

15.1. Similarly, in regard to consciousness too, the Buddha did not deny existence of feelings, thoughts, sensations or whatever; but, he did not also talk about a permanent conscious substance that experiences all these. According to him, the streams of consciousness ever changing, arise and perish leaving behind no permanent “thinker”. As Abhidhamma-kosa explains that there is no agency apart from feeling, ideas, volitions, etc “There is no self separate from a non-self”. In other words, there is no “self” apart from the process.

15.2. Each phase of experience, as it appears and disappears, is shaped into the next. That process of change with continuity ensures that every successive phase carries within it ‘all the potentials of its predecessors’. Hence, a man is not the same in any two moments’;  and yet he is not quite different. The body which is the aggregate (skandas) of sensations, the thoughts, and the physical frame is thus    not only a collective, but also a   recollective unit.

Suspended judgment

16.1. The Buddha is often blamed for maintaining silence on the key question of a permanent self. I reckon that was rather unjust. The Buddha was reluctant to define the indefinable, that which cannot be apprehended by mind.

When he suspended his judgment on certain questions, he really meant us to understand that no one answer (eka-amsika) could be taken to be the only right one. The Buddha chose not to give out a partial answer of either a ‘yes’ or ‘a no’ when other explanations seem quite possible. For instance, on the question of ‘soul’, had he said ‘yes’, it would not have been consistent with his position that all things are impermanent. And, had he said “no” then, he would be denying his own concepts of kamma, rebirth, and dependent origination etc. Merely judging the issue from individual (separate) stand points of view would lead to wrong conclusions. According to the Buddha , as most of those matters pertained to a ‘state – of –fact’ (loka-dhamma) it would be prudent to approach each from more than one point of view (aneka-amsika).

16.2. His teaching represents a reaction and an attempt to approach life rationally. He was averse to theoretic curiosity. He did not speculate on things beyond the sphere of perception and reason. He was pragmatic. The Buddha taught what was necessary to overcome Dukkha. He did not dwell upon all that he knew, since he saw no practical use for the rest. He denied speculative intervention; disassociated from dogmas. He perhaps thought that such speculations would fuel idle curiosity and distract the seeker from the task of getting past Dukkha. ‘Philosophy purifies none,’ he said, ‘peace alone does.’

D. Four noble truths (cattariariya-sacchani)

17.1. The Buddha then went on to explain four noble truths (cattariariya-sacchani): Sorrow (Dukkha) in life is a fact; it has a cause; that cause can be eliminated; and there is a method by which it is eliminated.

Briefly, he said:

  • Clinging to existence is sorrow (dukkha-mariya-saccham);
  • Thirst or craving (tanha) for pleasure (kamatanha), thirst for existence (bhavatanha), thirst for heavenly existence (vibhavatanha) is the cause;
  • Suffering ceases with the complete cessation of this thirst, and
  • The Path (dukkha – nirodha-gaminipatipadaariya-saccham) that leads to the cessation of sorrow is the Eightfold Path, that is: Right Belief, Right Aspiration, Right Speech, Right Conduct, Right Means of Livelihood, Right Endeavour, Right Memory and Right Meditation.

17.2. When a person properly develops the Noble Eight Fold Path (ariyo-atthangiko-maggo) he can eradicate craving which is cause of suffering. When he eradicates craving, he can stop completely the continuous cycle of suffering. When this craving and this suffering are removed completely (vimutti), one can realize Nibbana.

17.3. Based on these postulates the Buddha set out to teach his methods for the benefit of humanity. The rest of Buddha’s teachings are within the ambit of these principles.

 18.1. The first three Noble Truths (understanding, diagnosis, and prescription) are of theoretical import while the fourth is essentially a practical measure. The discourse explains this as the method (naya), the road (magga) and the steps to be taken (patipada) to eliminate sorrow and to obtain emancipation.

18.2. The second and the fourth postulates (origination of sorrow and the methods of eliminating sorrow) represent Buddha’s original contribution to Indian ethos; the former being his philosophical stand point and the latter his religious system.

18.3. Of the eight factors of the Noble Eightfold Path, the first two relate to Wisdom, the second three to Morality, and the last three are about Concentration. Sila – Morality (right speech, right action, right livelihood), Samadhi – Concentration (right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration), and Panna – Wisdom (right attitude, right understanding) are the three stages of the Noble Path. These factors denote the stages and attitudes of the aspirant.

18.4. The concept of path as it relates to the pilgrim and his progress occurs in Upanishads too. Yajnavalkya mentions it as pantha. The Buddha extends it to a series of steps patipada (step by step) leading to the goal (vaddanaka-patipada).The Buddha is thus the path finder of noble path (ariyapada or ariya-atthangika-magga). He preferred to describe it, simply, as majjima-patipada, the middle path.

18.5. The removal of Dukkha was also the stated objective of other doctrines (e.g. Samkhya), but the Buddha made it the central point of his teaching. Its special value lies in the explanation it gives of the origin of suffering, in the manner in which it deduces the possibility of its removal and in the means it recommends for doing so.

E. Dukkha: cause and cessation

19.1. The First Noble Truth deals with Dukkha, which, for want of a better term in English, is inadequately rendered as suffering or sorrow. In many English-language – Buddhist texts Dukkha is therefore often left un-translated. As a feeling, Dukkha means that which is difficult to endure. What is Dukkha? It is a phenomenon, which is universal (sabba-satta-sadharana); and is readily identifiable (suvinneya) by the troubles (badhana) it causes. It is like the ’burning heat’ (santhapana).

In the Canon, the Pali term ‘Dukkha’ is meant to denote disquiet, unrest, sorrow, affliction,   stress, a sort of heat (tapana) etc caused by attachment. It is explained; attachment to whatever that is impermanent (anichcha) leads to Dukkha (Yad-aniccam tam Dukkham). It was meant to include both pleasure and pain; happiness and suffering; all arising out of impermanence of things. In short, whatever is subject to the law of causality is characterized by Dukkha.   The older texts equate Dukkha with ‘tanha’ (Snkt. thristna) meaning thirst, craving , dissatisfaction  or at times with burden.

19.2. Elimination (nirodha) of Dukkha, in contrast, has the character of quiet (santi). Nirodha is the absence of rodha (flood) of suffering. It is characterized by cessation (attagama), detachment (virago) and freedom from craving (mutti).

19.3. In this context, happiness (sukha) is not mentioned as an opposite of sorrow (Dukkha) or as an ideal state for aspiration. In the Buddha’s scheme of things, nothing phenomenal could appear to be sukha; happiness is not a reality. Suffering is a reality and when it is removed, we find quiet, wisdom and freedom as positive gains- and not happiness.

20.1. The Buddha, the Great Healer, looked upon Dukkha as a sort of disease and his method was naturally that of a physician seeking a remedy to cure it. Illustrating the Buddha’s design the second century scholar Upatissa in his Vimutti-Magga wrote: “Just as a skilled physician first sees the symptoms of a disease, then examines the cause of it, and then prescribes a suitable remedy; so the four truths may be known as coming in the same order”. The Buddha is therefore revered as the Beshaja- guru and Mahabeshaja (the great physician).

20.2. The Buddha believed that if one wishes to avoid certain types of results, one needs to change the conditions that give rise to them. The effect lies latent in the cause; and that effect in turn seeds the next effect. He said, removal of a basic condition will remove all its effect.

20.3. The Buddha reasoned that Dukkha the core problem of human existence has a cause; and, the removal of that cause must result in removal of its effects. The Buddha recognized that Dukkha is caused by the ignorance of the reality of things as they are and by clinging to things that have ceased to exist. Holding on to something that no longer exists, he observed, leads to delusions, attachments and stress.

20.4. He argued, if you find the principles, you should also be able to find the method, because the two are intimately associated; and, if we once know the process, we are on the most expedient way (magga) to get rid of its effects. Since the problem originates from lack of right understanding, the solution to the malady should be sought in gaining the right understanding. Therefore, the Buddha said, one desirous of seeking liberation (vimutti) must move away from attachments and discard mistaken ideas in order to acquire right understanding (samyak-gnana or prajna). That is to say, when ignorance is dispelled (attagama) by right knowledge, the succeeding links of the chain snap one after another automatically.

20.5. In other words, a person’s bondage is caused by ignorance or incorrect understanding. Liberation too is, in effect, caused by understanding- but it is the proper understanding; and nothing more. Bondage is the wrong understanding that binds; while liberation is the right understanding that frees. In either case, it is a matter of understanding. He said, ‘clinging to ideas is an obstruction to right –understanding; the best of states for right- understanding is non-attachment; and let-go all attachments, even the attachment to ideas and concepts’.

20.6. According to this scheme, prajna or right knowledge is the basis of the whole discipline of the four-fold truth. But if it were to result in a sense of freedom, it should be more than mere intellectual conviction, however strong it might be. It is essential that the knowledge be transformed into one’s own authentic experience. And prajna leads to that intuitive experience.

Nirvana

21.1. What is the logical aim of the eight-fold path? The object attained by following this discipline is designated Nirvana. The term Nirvana derived from the root va (to blow like the wind) qualified by a negative prefix nir denotes a state of motionless rest where no wind blows, where the fire has been quenched, where the light is extinguished and where the stars have gone out . The term therefore literally means ‘blowing out’ or ‘becoming cool’. It signifies attaining the Truth by cessation of craving (tanha) and clinging (upadana). Nibbana is a state of utter extinction – not of existence, but of attachment to things that are impermanent. It is a state beyond the chain of causation, a state of freedom and spontaneity.

The Buddha explained it with a simile of an oil-lamp sinking upon itself and expiring when its fuel runs out. Nirvana suggests a state of emptiness and nothingness; of the emptiness of ego and of the impermanence of all things. It is the realization of truth that destroys ignorance; and ends cravings, hatred and suffering.  And, Nirvana is described as a state of blessedness, unbound peace and deliverance. The Pali Canon speaks of Nirvana as a state beyond all conceptual thoughts; and yet, the one that could be experienced in meditation.

22.1. The Buddha refused to speculate on the nature of his Nirvana. His attitude was, in effect: If you want to know what Nirvana is like, then experience your own Nirvana. We therefore do not really know how the Buddha experienced his Nirvana.

22.2. The Buddha insisted that his followers should not try borrowing ideas or experiences from him; but they should arrive at their own. In other words, every person should win his/her own liberation. It is an attainment through self-reliance, not by the grace of a god; or by the blessings of a teacher or someone else.

22.3. The Buddha guides the aspirant on the path that leads to right-understanding. But he disclaims any personal authority; and asks the follower to work it out himself. The follower when he succeeds in attaining the enlightenment will not become a second Buddha or a replica of the Buddha. In the final analysis, both the Buddha and his follower free themselves from the bonds of samsara; yet, each retains his individuality.

22.4. The Buddha, therefore, emphasized that Nirvana is neither annihilation nor eternal life. It simply is a cessation of a process, of a sequence of events. In the Brahma-nimantanika Sutra (Majjhima-Nikaya), the Buddha said: Do not think that this (nirvana) is an empty or void state. There is this consciousness, without distinguishing mark, infinite and shining everywhere (Vinnana-mani-dassana-manantam-sabbato-pabham); it is untouched by the material elements and not subject to any power.

Arhant

23.1. A right understanding when it arises frees instantaneously; and is not delayed until the exhaustion of the karmas that have brought the current life into existence. In other words, liberation need not wait until one’s death. An enlightened- one living in a body is termed an Arhant in the Buddhist lore. On one occasion, the Buddha describes the state of an Arhant as:

He who has gone to rest, no measure can fathom him.

There is no word to speak of him.

What thought could grasp has blown away.

And every path to speech is barred. (Suttanipata)

23.2. The Buddha was rather reluctant to be drawn into a discussion on the state of consciousness of an Arhant after he discarded his mortal coils.  Asked what happens to an Arhant upon his death, the Buddha is said to have exclaimed: “What happens to footprints of birds in mid air?” Perhaps, the Buddha likened the death of an Arhant to the extinction of a flame when the fuel (karma or clinging) runs out.

 F. Compassion and ethics

24.1. The Buddha did not stop at the intellectual edification. He was moved by compassion for his fellow beings and tried to show a method for eradication of sorrow. The Dhamma he preached was at once the theory and the practical way of conduct in life. In his first discourse, the Buddha talked about the importance Sila-Morality: right speech, right action, right livelihood; and asked his listeners “To cease from evil, to cleanse one’s mind, to do what is good”.

24.2. The distinctive character of the Buddha’s teaching is his emphasis on compassion and ethics. The Buddha asserted that it is not adequate if one merely focuses on elimination of suffering; but one must acquire the skill of probing the nature of the object. Those efforts must essentially be rooted in ethics and a wholesome mental state. The cultivation of the four sublime virtues of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic Joy, and equanimity is of great importance; and should be practiced with mindfulness.

The practice of these virtues would help development of a well-focused healthy human being. It would also ensure common good and help moving toward a harmonious strife-less society.

24.3. The Buddha is the very embodiment of compassion the loving kindness towards all beings. Dharmakirti (c. 600 -660 AD), a Buddhist philosopher, a pupil of Isvarasena and a teacher at Nalanda, remarked that the greatness of the Buddha as a spiritual teacher lies not so much in his mastery or knowledge in various fields of learning but in his having attained boundless compassion for all beings.

buddha-wallpapers

Resources and References

1.DhammacakkappavattanaSutta http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.011.than.html

2. Outlines of Indian Philosophy by Prof M Hiriyanna

3. A course in Indian Philosophy by  Prof. AK Warder

4. A Philosophical Analysis of Buddhist Notions by ADP Kalansuriya

Pictures are from Internet

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism

 

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Materialism of the Charvaka and rationalism of the Buddha

A.  Intro

1.1. Rationalism is generally understood as that “where reason has precedence over other means of acquiring knowledge”. Materialism, in its simplest form, is the belief   that all that exists is physical; there is no higher reality independent of the physical world. The two concepts are in proximity; and, one could easily be mistaken for the other. The distinction between the two is delicate; and it also depends on what we mean by the term ‘material’. Let’s say; in case material is taken to signify anything that interacts with the observable world in a predictable way, allowing us to rationalize and predict its behavior, then, in such a case, photons (not considered ‘material’) are certainly a part of the material world. In the same vein; Science is the study of matter; yet science, in its normal mode, is only remotely material.

1.2. But, in case the scope of rationalism is restricted merely to what is directly experienced by human senses, then, it would no longer remain ‘rationalism’, because the essential element of reason is not present.    There appears to be a mistaken notion that denying everything that is not seen is’ rationalism’; and it is ‘scientific’. But, the scientific approach, as I understand, is, basically, free-thinking .It is not about taking a static position; but, is about giving a chance to reason and to shades of opinions. I, therefore, reckon, to equate science with the descriptions of a particular mode is fundamentally incorrect. It would do well not to lose sight of the uncomfortable fact that ‘…a scientific theory is one which can in principle be falsified’. Our Teacher summed it up well when he said, ‘clinging to ideas is an obstruction to right –understanding; the best of states for right- understanding is non-attachment; and let-go all attachments, even the attachment to ideas and concepts’ (Dhammapada).

1.3. Quite often we find that even rational knowledge cannot answer all the questions in every field of life and   in every sphere of human experience. In fact, critical questions on life cannot be solved through the rational knowledge that we possess. That might be because the knowledge we possess, in its present state, is rather inadequate to explain the integrated nature or the totality of a human individual in his world. Therefore, whenever a new challenge confronts us , springing forth from an unknown source, the ‘ scientific ‘ way of dealing with it would be to understand the structure or the style in which the new concepts are built,   by applying ‘scientific’ methods, as we know it . But, just disowning, altogether, the yet-unknown would surely lead us nowhere.

2.1. It is in that context that I tend to regard the life-sciences and innovative fields of research, such as Genopsych that Shri DMR Sekhar is attempting to explore, as the more enterprising frontiers of science and mankind. They strive to understand the manipulation of certain entities in order to understand the manipulation of certain others. Many of the properties they deal with are interrelated, each holding the key to the other; and, yet, it is   dreadfully difficult to bind them into any theory that makes sense . And at times the traditional view of science based on representative studies might just not work here.

B. Unorthodox   views in orthodox texts

3.1. The schools of rationalism as also of materialism are very ancient in the history of Indian thought.  In every age there have been sceptics, agnostics and atheists, though technically not labelled as such. A streak of atheism had always been there in Vedic texts as also in pre-Vedic traditions such as the Vratyas.

The sceptical or agnostic attitudes can be noticed even in the traditional texts. For instance, Rishi Dirghatamas exclaims in an agnostic vein: “What thing I truly am I know not clearly: mysterious, fettered” (Rig Veda: 8.89.3). Again , hymn 10.129 of Rig Veda speculates  whether the sun shining in the heavens was not a later development in the process of evolution; and wonders whether the sun himself knows the genesis of the cosmos ( veda yadi vaa na veda)..!! Kathopanishad too doubts about the possibilities of future existence of man .Similarly, the passages in Kenopanishad have a ring of scepticism.

The other ancient traditions: Samkhya, Lokayata, Charvaka and Sramanas et al, all based in the Eastern part of India,   rejected the idea of a god; stated that universe was run by its natural laws and not by a god; viewed universe as a system (not an entity) propelled by conditioned causes and effects; rejected authority of texts; appealed only to ones experience; and, all of them aimed to remove human suffering. Among the Sramanas the wandering monks there were, according to Dr. Benimadhab Barua, famed debaters who were “clever, subtle, and experienced in projecting controversies, hair-splitters who ruthlessly splintered into pieces the arguments of their adversaries”.

The discussions on related subjects find place in traditional texts such as Upanishads, Mahabharata and other ancient texts. For instance, Svetasvatara Upanishad mentions about six types of heretical views. The better known among these are the two streams of explanations: One, the Yadrccha-vada (everything is by accident or chance) or Animitta-vada (there is no agent causing creation); and the other, Svabhava-vada (the world is run by its inherent nature or by its own natural laws).

kālaḥ svabhāvo niyatir yadṛcchā bhūtāni yoniḥ puruṣeti cintyam / saṃyoga eṣāṃ na tv ātmabhāvād ātmā hy anīśaḥ sukhaduḥkhahetoḥ // SvetUp_1.2 //

Yadrccha

3.2. The former (Yadrccha-vada), sports a rather dismissive view. It states; what we call creation came about by sheer accident or by chance (Yadrccha); there is neither reason nor rhyme in this world; it is all chaos. It is the chance that governs the world.   Whatever order you happen to see in the world is purely by chance.  Surely there is no design here; and, do not go looking for one. It is futile to craft other explanations;   or to search for a cause to the world – be it either natural or supernatural- because there is no cause as such (a-nimitta).

 Svabhava

3.3. The latter, (the Svabhava-vada) too rules out the role of super-natural in the process of creation or in maintenance of the world order. There is no doctrine of Creation .  The principles of karma (action) and Nyati (fate) are also rejected.  To speculate as to why the universe exists would be an exercise in futility. It argues (in contrast to Yadrccha-vada) that the world in which we all live is not a lawless world; the order in the world is run by its own inherent laws. The world determines its own mode of origin, patterns of growth and maintenance according to its inherent laws. Svabhava-vada recognizes the need for governance of the world. But, at the same time, Svabhava-vada, just as the Yadrccha-vada, dismisses the need for an external agency or a supernatural being – a god or a creator –either to create, control or maintain the world. Both doctrines deny a soul that takes re-birth: ‘death is the end of all beings’.

3.4.  Of the two, Svabhava-vada is regarded more positive; and is believed to have derived its inspiration from the Samkhya ideology. It is interesting to see in the older texts, the orthodox (aastika*) and the heterodox (nastika*) existing side by side. Prof. Hiriyanna in his ‘Outline of Indian philosophy’ remarks “this alliance of a heretical doctrine with orthodoxy gave rise to a new stream of tradition in ancient India which can be described as neither quite orthodox nor as quite heterodox. The old heterodoxy, like the old orthodoxy, continued to develop on its own lines. That may be represented as the ‘extreme left/ while the new became a middling doctrine with leanings more towards orthodoxy than towards heterodoxy”.

3.5. The Svabhava-vada in turn inspired emergence of materialistic school of thought: Lokayata-darsana or Charvaka-darsana or Brahaspatya (of the followers of Brihaspathi, the teacher).   This school too is ancient; and its views are mentioned   in the older texts and in Mahabharata.

[** Note: some explanation about the terms astika and nastika appears necessary here.

In the ordinary sense, astika and nastika are translated into English as: theism and atheism.

In the older texts, astika does not mean theistic; nor does nastika mean atheistic. Panini (a grammarian of 5th century BCE) explains astika as term that denotes one who believes in the ‘other-world’ (asti paralokah). And, nastika, accordingly,is one who does not believe in the existence of the ‘other – world ‘.

The other explanations of the terms that were commonly meant in the ancient contexts were: astika is one who accepts the authority of Vedas; and, nastika is one who rejects the authority of Vedas.

And, interestingly, among the astika (who accepted Vedas) not all of them were theists. And, even in case they outwardly accepted a god, they did not assign, in their scheme of things, much importance to the concept of God .For instance; the Samkhya system does not involve a faith in existence of God. Yoga, which largely follows Samkhya theories, made room for a God, perhaps, to round-off its argument. As regards, the Nyaya and Vasheshika schools, the God in their system, do not create the Universe, its building-blocks (atoms) or the individual souls.  Yet, all these schools are classified under the orthodox astika systems (darshanas).

But, what is surprising is that Purva–Mimamsa championed by Jaimini (which is also grouped under the orthodox philosophical systems of Indian philosophy) gives much importance to conduct of Vedic rituals; but, somehow, side-steps the question of the existence of God.

The Advaita Vedanta of Sri Sankara does, of course, reject atheism; and, asserts that the whole of existence originated from the conscious, spiritual being called Ishvara. Yet, in the ultimate analysis, Ishvara is but a relative (qualified) concept as compared to Absolute Reality that is Brahman.

 ( David B. Zilberman (May 25, 1938 – July 25, 1977) an unusual sort of philosopher gifted with amazingly sharp analytical skills, who (sadly died very young) wrote not merely about Indian philosophies but also about ‘the methodology of how they are to be studied’, in his ‘The Birth of Meaning in Hindu Thought’ (page 4), said: It is a mistake to believe that typical Hindu philosophies are bound to what is called as ‘religion’ and ‘theology’ in the West. ..This must sound quite daring and contrary to the prevailing   opinion which considers Indian philosophy religious through and through. But, Indian speculative thought is not  strictly speaking a kind of religious philosophy , perhaps, not even a religious philosophy at all… I do not mean that Indian philosophers are for most not  religious at all – they certainly are. The point is, their philosophical work and their personal religious devotion  are not interlocked by necessity.)

It was the later schools of non – Advaita – Vedanta (Vaishnava, Shaiva, Shaktha and others) that strongly projected the theistic conception of a Supreme God who pervades, creates and protects, and who is the ultimate refuge of all souls. At the centre of these systems is a personal god who answers the devotees’ prayers. The heart of their faith is in devotion (bhakthi)and the sense of absolute surrender (prapatthi) to a personified god dearest to one’s heart (ishta-devata). It is this theistic system that dominates what is now called Hinduism as it is  practised today.]

[ Dakshinaranjan Shastri, in his A Short History of Indian Materialism, Sensationalism and Hedonism, (Calcutta: Book-land Private LTD, 1930) writes that Indian materialism has passed through four logical stages of development.

In its first stage it was a mere tendency to oppose the established beliefs/faiths. It questioned the then accepted methods of cognition – immediate as well as inference. It denied the authority of the Vedas. In that period, its name was Barhaspatya.

In Its second stage, it was known as Svabhava-vada, which essentially was the recognition of perception as a source of knowledge; and, the acceptance of the theory that identified the body with the soul. In that stage, it took the form of a system of philosophy; however low was its position. The prominent materialist- philosophers of that stage were Ajita Kes’a-kambalin, Kambalas’vatara and Purana Kashyapa. In that stage, it came to be known as Lokayata.

Its third stage was marked by an extreme form of hedonism, which was due, perhaps, to the corrupted free- thought – social, religious and political. Gross sensual pleasure took precedence over philosophical contemplation.  At this stage it was called Charuvaka, which preached – ‘Eat, Drink and be Merry, for, to-morrow we may die’. This extreme form of licentiousness was appalling; and, the Charuvaka lost its acceptance among the general people. And that   led to sapping away the very vitality of this school. . The literature of this school is now entirely lost, except what has reached us through fragments quoted by the rival Schools.

From then on the Charuvaka form of materialism leaned towards moderation in its stand. It even began to accept inference and probability as the sources of true knowledge. Philosophers, like Purandara, were the advocates of this form of materialism.

In its fourth stage, the materialists aligned with the Buddhists and the Jains in opposing the  Vedas and Vedic practices.  They all shared the common designation Nastika- the  one who condemns the Vedas – Nastiko Veda-nindakah.]

lotus-design

C. The Charvaka

4.1. The School of Charvaka (those of sweet-talk) or Lokayata (those of the world) pre-dates the Buddha and Mahavira; and has a history of nearly about three thousand years. Thus, the various schools of materialism or rationalism which denied a surviving soul and refused to believe in its transmigration existed in ancient India even prior to the times of the Buddha. The Charvaka was prominent among the materialist schools of the sixth century BCE. The influence of this heterodox doctrine is seen in other spheres of Indian thought.

4.2. It has been argued  that Charvaka far from being anti-Vedic, were originally a  Brahmanical  school of thought, but one that denied life after death.  They denied ‘another world’ (para loka). In doing so, they came into conflict with the Buddhist, the Jainas and also, of course, with most other Brahmanical schools, all of which had accepted the belief in rebirth and karmic retribution; and, therefore in ‘another world’.  It was perhaps only the ritualistic Mimamsa School that dragged its feet. Sabara Bhashya, one of the earliest commentaries on the Mimamsa Sutra, ignores the issues concerning rebirth and karmic retribution altogether. It even avoids issues concerning heaven, presumably a place where sacrificers end up after death, by denying existence of such a place. In fact, Kumarila Bhatta, a commentator of the Sabara bhashya, who lived a few centuries later ( say 7-8th century) , complains that Mimamsa  was on its way to become indistinguishable from Lokayata.

4.3. Sabara’s Bhashya on Mimamsa Sutra   contains a lengthy   passage that is commonly known as Vrttikara-grantha, attributed to an unknown author referred to as Vrttikara. The view of the Vrttikara (identified as that of a Charvaka) , presented here as the opposing view (purva paksha) argues against the existence of a soul. It avers that use of the words such as: ‘self’ (atman), and ‘I’ (aham) does not in any manner prove existence of an enduring soul. Similarly, is the position with regard to statements such as:  ‘he knows ‘(janati)    or ‘I saw’. The Charvakas  did not only  denied  the existence of the soul,  they also denied life after death.

The texts

4.4. The texts of the Charvaka Darshana are lost to us. The doctrines and beliefs of that School have come down to us mainly in the form of references made in the texts of the rival schools for the purpose of rebuttal (as purva-paksha, meaning the stand of the opponent).The Sarva-darshanasamgraha, a   fourteen century text (written by Sri Madhava Acharya who became Sri Vidyaranya, the Acharya of Sri Sringeri Mutt, around 1331 AD ),  contains a chapter on Charvaka. But, it is brief and adds little to what could be gathered from other sources. The purpose of The Sarva-darfanasamgraha, was to review the sixteen philosophical systems that were current in the fourteenth century in the South of India, and to present them from the Vedanta point of view. And, therefore Prof Hiriyanna opines that “in all probability it exaggerates the weak points of the Charvaka doctrine; and might even misrepresent its tenets”.

4.5. The only surviving treatise of the Charvaka School is the Tattvopaplava-simha (‘The Upsetting of All Principles) by Jayarasi Bhatta (6th Century CE).But, its treatment of the subject is said to be rather disappointing.

Pramana

5.1. The term pramana signifies the essential means of arriving at valid knowledge or prama; while the object known is described as prameya; and the knower as pramata. Broadly, the pramanas are three: pratyaksa (direct perception), anumana (inference) and sabda (verbal testimony). The value of the first two of these as pramanas is well recognized by most schools. But the third (tradition or verbal statements), is often treated with suspicion or disdain. The Vedanta of Sri Sankara   introduced insight or intuition as the additional means of cognition. He decaled that intuition, the ability to see the underlying reasons behind everything, is not opposed to intellect. Since then, the   Indian schools of thought are usually classified under three heads: (i) those that recognize only perception and inference, (ii) those that recognize intuition in addition, and (iii) those that substitute revelation for intuition.

5.2. Charvaka accepted the direct perception (pratyaksa-pramana) through the sense organs as the only means of valid knowledge; and as the only type of knowledge that could be verified by all others (prathyaksha – mevaikam pramanam; indriya-jnanamjnanam pratyaksham): “Regard only that which is an object of direct perception, and cast behind your back whatever is beyond the reach of your senses “

5.3. It, however, totally rejected verbal testimony, tradition or texts; calling it mere hearsay. Charvaka was severe on Vedas, and particularly on the Mimamsa, which it threw out with contempt and ridicule: “Veda is tainted by the three faults of untruth, self-contradiction, and tautology. Then again, the impostors who call themselves Vedic scholars are mutually destructive; as the authority of the jnana kanda is overthrown by those who maintain that of the karma-kanda, while those who maintain the authority of the jnana-kanda reject that of the karma-kanda; and lastly, the three Vedas themselves are only the incoherent rhapsodies of knaves, and to this effect runs the popular saying: these are but means of livelihood for those who have neither manliness nor sense.”

5.4. As regards inference (anumana), the Charvaka adopted a rather selective approach. It was prepared to exercise inference in matters that were in the realm of the physical world and that were already in the common knowledge. This type of inference was termed Utpanna pratiti (that which is experienced). For instance, in the case of smoke being the evidence of fire, the Charvaka pointed out that the properties of both factors are in common knowledge; everyone knows the relation (vyapti) that smoke (hetu) has with fire (sadhya); and therefore we have no difficulty in exercising anumana, inference, in such cases.

In other cases where the equation involved unknown quantities about which reliable prior knowledge did not exist, the Charvaka refused to accept inference as the means of valid knowledge. This type of inference was termed Utpadya pratiti (that which is yet to be experienced). For instance, when it came to discussion on the reality of issues such as the soul or the other worlds or the god , the Charvaka questioned whether anyone has had direct perception or experience of these; does anyone has reliable knowledge of the nature of these so that their reality could be verified objectively . In the absence of such reliable means of knowledge (pramana), the Charvaka said, we cannot accept either the soul or the god or even the other world as real. In other words, how could we establish a relation when the factors on either side of the equation happen to be unknown quantities? :” since in the case of such inference we would require another inference to establish it, and so on, and hence would arise the fallacy of an ad infinitum retrogression“.

The idea of a soul

6.1. Since the Charvaka admitted only the immediate evidence of the senses, it accepted only four elements (bhutas) – earth, water, fire, air; and denied the fifth the akasha, space .It also refused to accept the idea of a soul or an atman as a surviving entity, for the reason their existence cannot be perceived.

6.2. The Charvaka said there is no soul apart from the body (tam Jivam tam sariram), which is composed of the four elements (bhuta). The body is material; consciousness is a by-product of material (bhutebyah – chaitanyaha); and, consciousness is a property of the body. There is no evidence for any soul distinct from the body. The soul is not different from the body distinguished by the attribute of consciousness.

Consciousness

7.1. In an argument titled ‘ bhuta – caitanya – vada ’ the Charvaka argued that soul or consciousness is just a concoction of the physical elements of the body; and it perishes when the body withers away or when body is no longer supportive. They put forward the analogy of intoxication produced by the liquor .They said; liquor is produced by combination of various ingredients; but, each of which, by itself, does not possess the property of inducing intoxication. Even  the liquor , by it self , does not intoxicate ; they argued : one does not get intoxicated by pouring a jug of liquor over one’s head .  It is only when all those ingredients  that go to produce liquor  are mixed in a judicious proportion; and they  together  come  in contact with the relevant body cells,  it produces feelings of happiness, delusion or intoxication. Thus, consciousness, pleasure pain etc.. are mere body functions; a set of feelings; and is not part of body as such.

7.2. In addition, the Charvaka put forward the following arguments for not accepting consciousness as a part o f body:

(i). If consciousness is a property of the body, it should then be essential to it; and, in which case it should never be separate from the body. But, it is not always so; for, in a swoon or in a dreamless sleep the body is ‘un-conscious’.

(ii). In case consciousness is incidental or accidental, it indicates that another agency is at work producing consciousness; and it uses the body. And, therefore consciousness cannot be ascribed to the body.

(iii). Let’s say a person experiences a dream in which he was a tiger. On waking up he says ‘yes, I had a dream”; but, he does not continue to behave as if he were a tiger. The Charvaka argue that the person owns the dream, but not the dream-body (tiger). If the dream is a property of the body, then, one should be tiger in dream  as also in real life ,  after the dream. Consciousness, they argued, just as the dream, is a fantasy created by the body cells and is  related with the body-function. Body merely provides a stage for the play called dream. But, that play (consciousness) is not part of the body.

(iv). In case one argues that consciousness is truly a part of the body, they said, the outsiders who come into contact with that body should be able to experience its consciousness. The outsider sees the body complexion, size etc but remains ignorant of the other person’s person’s thoughts, feelings, dreams and memories .Charvaka gave the analogy of a philosopher’s experience of his toothache; and said that ache is perceived differently by the patient and by  the dentist who treats toothache. The two persons have different perceptions of the same ache or sensation. The argument elaborately suggests that consciousness is not a property of the physical body, but of something else which only finds its expression in the body. It is not ultimate or independent (Refer back to the analogy of liquor).

No need for a god

8.1. As said earlier, the Charvaka did not find the need for a God; and, said- savabhavam jagathah kaaranam aahu – the evolution is caused by natural laws (svabhava – inherent nature); and there is no need to look for a cause beyond nature (nimtta-tara-nirapeksha). The question they posed was why is it necessary to assume a super–natural cause, over and above the natural laws, merely to explain changes and modifications that take place in nature following their own accord? For instance, they pointed out that milk flows from the udders of the mother cow naturally (svabhavena eva) to nourish its infant; the grass, herbs, water etc in turn transform themselves into milk (nimitta antara nirapeksa )according to their own natural laws  and that of the cow (svabhavat eva) . Why do you bring in a god here? Neither God nor any other explanation is needed. Na parameshwara asti kaschith – Surely, there is no god.

8.2. They also denied the concept of god as the creator. They said; God as a creator is only an assumption; and a bad assumption.   They argued that if the creation came about because of the desire of the creator, he must then be wanting and inadequate in several aspects. “How could anyone be a god if his deficiencies are indeed  countless?”

8.3. It is said; that Brhaspathya or Charvaka adopted the svabhava-vada, perhaps at its later stage, to lend itself a metaphysical framework. Else, it would have been difficult for Charvaka to explain their stand on creation and governance of the world, in absence of a ‘god’.

Suffering in life

9.1. The Charvaka took an interesting position on pain or suffering in life. They admitted that pain is a fact of life. But, remarked “so be it; yes, there surely is pain; but, what is more important is, there is pleasure too in life; and that is what matters. Go after pleasure. And, in case that pursuit involves pain, takes that as a part of the process”.

9.2. They explained; there may be pain in life; but that is no good reason to deny ourselves the pleasure. Nobody casts away the grain because of the husk: “ The berries of paddy, rich with the finest white grains, What man, seeking his true interest, would fling away because covered with husk and dust…!!

9.3. The Charvaka did not try to secure freedom from pain; but strived to manage with it. It said; every man must make the best of a bad bargain and ‘enjoy himself as long as he lives- “While life is yours, live joyously; none can escape Death’s searching eye: When once this frame of ours they burn, how shall it ever again return?”

Pleasure in life

10.1. The elimination of human misery and the attainment of happiness was the declared goal of almost all the systems of Indian philosophy. All the ancient philosophers agreed that there was no happiness in the existing society torn by greed, egoism and cruelty. But, they heatedly argued and emphatically differed on the nature of happiness; and, on the means to attain it.

In the Charvaka scheme of things, the pleasure in itself and for itself is the only good thing in life (sukha-vada). Pleasure took precedence over every other priorities of life. “The wise man should squeeze the maximum pleasure out of life. He should not let go a present pleasure in the hope of a future gain”.

 The well-known verse attributed to Chárvákas is: ‘-

Yaváj jivam sukham jived runam krtva ghrtam pibet / bhasmibhutasya dehasya punar agamanam kutah? II

(While he is alive, let a man live happily; let him feed on ghee even if he has to borrow. How could  a body burnt to ashes ever come back?)

10.2. Furthermore, it rejected a utilitarian approach to pleasure. It adopted the perspective that an individual’s ends take priority over the ends of others .The Charvaka seemed to suggest that an individual had no obligation to promote the welfare of society; and, would only tend to do so if it were to benefit them as well. Nothing is recognized by this school as a duty. And, anything done for sake of pleasure is justified.

10.3. The Charvaka, predictably, chose Artha and Kama (pursuit of pleasure and wealth) as the major goals. It said, Dharma would become significant only in case it is interpreted in context of the physical world. As regards Moksha, it remarked that death is the only liberation- Maranam eva moksha ha.

Other concepts

11.1. As the Charvaka dismissed belief in a supernatural or transcendental being; it also did away with everything that constitutes subject-matter of religion. Charvaka denied: existence of after-life, rebirth (na- punarjanmaha), liberation (na- moksha ha), heaven, hell, soul or gods or goddess. Because,  those are not amenable to sense perception.

11.2. Charvaka believed that the material Universe did exist.  World is matter (butatmakam jagath). The matter consisted of four elements: earth, water, energy and air. The creation of life is a specific process of nature and it evolved out of the composite composition of four elements. With death everything ends.

11.3. The Charvaka did not deny the difference between the dead and the living; and they recognized both the states as realities. A person lives, the same person dies: that is a perceived fact, and hence it is the only provable, fact.

“Hence it follows: There is no heaven, no final liberation, nor any soul in another world; there is no other hell than mundane pain produced by purely mundane causes, as thorn, etc; the fate does not exist; the only Supreme is the earthly monarch whose existence is proved by all the world’s eyesight; and the only Liberation is the dissolution of the body”.

Attack on Mimamsakas

12.1. The Materialism of the Charvaka stood out because of the theism of the Vedic religion and the moral teachings of the Buddha and Mahavira. But, it was basically anti-Vedic and opposing its scriptural authority. Charvaka were particularly ruthless against the Mimamsa School. They went after Mimamsa with vehemence. They ridiculed and lampooned almost every doctrine of the Mimamsakas: their epistemology, metaphysics, beliefs and way of life.

:- If a beast slain in the Jyotishtoma rite wills itself go to heaven, why then does not the sacrificer forthwith offer his own father?

:-If the Shraddha produces gratification to beings who are dead and are in other world, Then, in that case why do the travellers have to carry lunch – bags when the set out on long travel? Those at home can very well feed the distant travellers just in the way they feed their dead.

:-Whoever has heard that feeding one body would quench the hunger of another? All these ceremonies for the dead are   but   a means of livelihood that priests have set up here.

:-When once the body becomes ashes, how can it ever return again? If he who departs from the body goes to another world, how is it that he comes not back again, restless for love of his kindred?

And

:- All the obscene rites  for the queen commanded in the Aswarnedha, were invented by clowns s, and for all the various kinds of gifts to the priests.

12.2.   “Hence in kindness to the mass of living beings must fly for refuge to the doctrine of Charvaka”.

There were various schools of materialism in ancient India. They all shared certain beliefs; such as: the intense faith in this-worldliness; denial of  all religious and moral values; denial of any god or any supernatural power; denial of the independent existence of consciousness or soul and of a life after death.  They all vehemently opposed the theories of karma which assigned happiness or misery according to the merits or demerits acquired in previous births; the notion of moksa; and the transmigration of the soul. They strongly condemned Vedic scarifies and offerings. There was an intense desire to enjoy the pleasures of life.  They all seemed to be fired by a desire to free humans from the bonds of religious dogmas and superstitions.

All those Schools of materialism were opposed to everything traditionally regarded as virtuous .They insisted on developing their own notions of truth, virtue and integrity. The only test of truth, according to them, was direct perception; and, not by inference. One should be guided by one’s own direct experience, sense –perception, which is verifiable. They all rejected the authority of texts (sabda-pramana)

[Materialism in ancient South India

13.1. Smt. N. Vanamamalai in her scholarly essay ‘Materialist Thought in Early Tamil Literature’ published during Nov 1973  mentions that around the first century AD many schools of materialist philosophy thrived in South India; and they flourished alongside   the other un-orthodox religions: Buddhism and Jainism. It was only by about the sixth century after the Vedic religion came back strongly that all the three non-Vedic religions receded into background.

13.1. According to Smt. N. Vanamamalai, three distinct schools of materialism (a) Bhutavada, (b) Lokayata and (c) Sarvaka were practiced in South India around the first century. There were slight differences among the three schools.

The followers of the Bhutavada recognized all the five elements; whereas Lokayata and Sarvaka accepted   only the four. (They did not reckon akasha- space as an element.)

Bhutavada classified the five elements into two categories:  Bhutas (elements) with life – earth, water and air; and Bhutas (elements) without life- the other two elements.

This classification was not acceptable to  Lokayata who held the view that consciousness arises out of the combination of all elements ; and not by combination of earth and water alone .Perhaps the Lokayata believed that separation of the elements would not adequately explain the origin of life and of consciousness

13.2. The Bhutavadin in Manimekalai states that life has the attribute of consciousness and body is devoid of that attribute: life originates from living matter and body from lifeless matter.

13.3.   Smt. N. Vanamamalai quotes from the Buddhist epic Manimekalai (first century AD) passages discussing the Lokayata doctrine, presented as purva-paksha– the view of the opponent.

Manimekalai, the leading-lady of the epic, renounces the life of a courtesan and enters a Buddhist monastery. Her travels abroad are described in the epic. She meets teachers of various systems of philosophy then extant in South India, listening to expositions on Alavai Vadam (Mimamsa); Saivam; Brahma Vadam; Vaishanavam; Ajeevaka Nirkanta (Jainism) and Bhuta Vadam (Materialism- Lokayata).

While expounding the doctrine his school the narrator of the Bhuta-Vadam (Charvaka)  keeps insisting that she must rely only on direct perception (katchi or sakshi or pratyaksha). Manimekalai who is a Buddhist is rather amused. She teasingly asks the narrator a mischievous question, “Were you present when your parents conceived you? … How can you be sure they are your parents, other than by inference (anumana)? …Truth cannot be known without employing forms of reasoning though not based on direct observation. Therefore, do not view such conclusions with doubt.

You have to remember that Manimekalai was a Buddhist; and the poet of the epic was an ardent Buddhist. Buddhists rejected the ideas of materialism of whatever variety they might be. The conversation in question was perhaps just a demonstration of that attitude.]

Ajita Kesa-kambalin

14.1. The Samannaphala Sutta  (The fruit of the Homeless life) deals with the advantages of homeless life of a recluse as described by six heretic teachers Purana Kassapa,     Makkhali Gosala, Ajita Kesakambali, Pakudha  Kaccayana, Sanjaya Belatthiputta, and     Nigantha Natputta.). Each is recognized as being well-known (nata) and successful (yasassino)   founder of a sect (titthakara).Each was highly dissatisfied with the orthodox Vedic religion. But, the descriptions given by them could not satisfy the King Ajatasattu. He later approached the Buddha and all his doubts were cleared.

14.2. Among those six teachers was one ascetic named Ajita Kesa-kambalin. He was a materialist i.e.   a Charvaka  who preached Uccheda- vada (the doctrine of annihilation after death) or tam Jivam tam sariram (the doctrine of identity of the soul and body). He is said to have roamed about the countryside in a coat made of human hair–“’the worst of all garments, most uncomfortable, being cold in winter and warm in summer”. He held extreme radical views and expressed it sharply enough. He did not mince words; and, gave everyone a mouthful.

14.3. Ajita perhaps represented the extreme sect of the Charvaka School. The following is a summarized version of his teaching as described in the Samannaphala Sutta .

“There is no such thing, Oh King, as alms (dana) or sacrifice (huta) or offering. There is neither fruit nor result of good or evil deeds either in this world (idhaloka) or in the other world (paraloka). The ideas like generosity are the misguided notions of a Stupid person (dattu pannatti). He who speaks for them is confused; his words are empty cry of desperation (tesam tuccham musa vilapo ye keti attikavadam vadanti).

There are no obligations or duties towards anyone. There is neither father nor mother, nor beings springing into life without them.

Only the fools believe in a god and in life after death. If there is paradise somewhere, it surely is a fools-paradise. A bunch of clowns created what they called Vedas and mislead everyone into believing in it. It is a huge fraud on mankind. There is no such thing as sacrifice or offering; do not believe in that nonsense. The yajnas, the three Vedas etc are but means of livelihood for those who have neither manliness nor sense.

A human being is built of the four elements, and when he dies the earthly in him, returns and relapses to the earth, the fluid to the water, the heat to the fire, the windy to the air, and his faculties pass into space. The four, bearers of the bier take his dead body away to the burning ground. The talk of offerings, this talk of gifts is a doctrine of fools. It is an empty lie, mere idle talk. Fools and wise alike on the dissolution of the body are annihilated on death. There is no soul apart from the body attributes.”

14.4. He however seemed to have recognized the difference between the dead matter and the living cells. He said the faculties return to space (akasamm indriyani samkamanti). Ajita perhaps represented the branch of Charvaka which believed that the soul or life is pure air or breath, which is a form of matter.

To Sum up

15.1. The Charvaka School exhibited number of admirable features. It tried to be rational, clearheaded, bold and angry in putting down superstitions, meaningless rites-rituals, exploitation and intellectual dishonesty. It employed strong, forceful logic and language for bringing into fore a fairly thoroughgoing positivism. It stormed and shook the old world of dogmas, rites and sorcery; and caused serious re-thinking within the orthodox circles. It urged everyone to cleanup centuries of cobwebs that cluttered human mind; and to think free and to think bold. It shunned indulgence in excessive and needless speculative metaphysics that led nowhere. It brought the world of man’s experience into centre of life; and asserted that the world and the life in it are indeed very real; and it is not disgraceful to enjoy Worldly life. It assured there is pleasure in this life and an individual must deliberately exercise his freewill in securing pleasure.

At another level, the importance of Charvaka School is that it spurred many-sided philosophical activities in ancient India and lent scope for a great deal of liberty of thought as well as for freedom of expression.

15.2. The Charvaka School had its flipside too. It seemed to lack a sense of vision and an ideal to inspire the generations to come.

According to Charvaka, the pleasure in this life and that of the individual is the most important thing that one should care about. The Charvaka, I fear, took an extreme position; and lacked a sense of balance in the totality of life. Their anger and fury was directed almost entirely at the Mimamsa School and its questionable beliefs. It was rather too simplistic and ham-handed. That perhaps worked for a while; but thereafter the Charvaka lost the initial advantage of shock, as it failed to develop and refine its scheme. They did not seem capable of evolving a sustainable long-term vision that could guide not merely the pleasure seeking individuals and recluse but also the society at large.

15.3. The problem appeared to be that the Charvaka did not seem to care for collective happiness or for the common good. In their scheme of things, Individual‘s happiness was paramount; and all the rest was secondary. In other words; the Charvaka vision lacked social consciousness. Therefore, in the world according to Charvaka, one’s pleasure and comfort took precedence over welfare of family and the community. It recognized neither duties nor obligations; and placed no responsibility on an individual who hurt others as he went after his pleasure. The school did not also suggest a sensible scheme for resolving the plausible conflict of interests as each went after his pleasure.

At another level, the Charvaka could not explain the process of human evolution, development and the unfolding chain of ever improving faculties and the genius of life to survive and adopt amidst the pressures and challenges of the ever changing environments.

It lent scope to the rival schools to argue, “Ok. Let’s concede that death is final and nothing remains afterwards. But, that does not mean that human life should be stripped of all values and sensibilities”. They cautioned against the danger of de-generating the society to a primitive level.

15.4. I wish, the Charvaka were a bit more rational, allowing some breathing-space to reason and give it a chance to flourish, rather than being ruthlessly self-centred materialists. Had their rationalism been more inclusive, taking a broader perspective of life, tempered    with justice, compassion and a genuine concern for the fellow beings, I reckon Charvaka School would have lasted longer.

Charvaka was locked into itself and did not look beyond. Had it been able to develop social consciousness or a social philosophy, Charvaka would have anticipated Marx in the old world.

[ Speaking of Materialism and Marx reminds me of M N Roy (1887 – 1954) the Indian revolutionary; internationally known political theorist and activist; and, the founder of the Communist parties in Mexico and India. During the later years of life, after parting ways with Communism, M N Roy developed his own theory of Materialism which differed from the Lokayata (Charvaka) and the Materialism of Marx.

At the outset, Roy is opposed not only to speculative philosophy but also to the identification of philosophy with theology and religion. According to Roy, “Faith in the supernatural does not permit the search for the causes of natural phenomena in nature itself. Therefore, rejection of orthodox religious ideas and theological dogmas is the pre-condition for philosophy.”

The Materialism that Roy adopts maintains that “the origin of everything that really exits is matter, that there does not exist anything but matter, all other appearances being transformation of matter, and these transformations are governed necessarily by laws inherent in nature.”

Thus, broadly speaking, Roy’s philosophy is in the tradition of Charvaka materialism.

However, there are some important differences between the two.

According to Roy, the greatest defect of classical materialism was that its cosmology did not seem to have any place for ethics. Roy strongly asserted that without the element of ethics, human spirit, thirsting for freedom, will spurn materialism. In Roy’ view materialist ethics is not only possible but materialist morality is the noblest form of morality. Roy links morality with human being’s innate rationality. Man is moral, according to Roy, because he is rational. In Roy’s ethics,  freedom, which he links with the struggle of existence is the highest value. Search for truth is a corollary to the quest for freedom.

In a similar manner, Roy’s materialism is sharply different from that of Marx. Roy recognizes the importance of ethics and gives a prominent place to it. According to Roy, Marxian materialism wrongly disowns the humanist tradition and thereby divorces materialism from ethics. Roy asserts the contention of Marx that “from the scientific point of view this appeal to morality and justice does not help us an inch farther” , was based upon a false notion of science.

According to Roy, “materialism must be dissociated from certain notions which have been rendered untenable by the latest discoveries of science.” Roy’s revision and restatement of materialism embraces both the basic tenets of materialism. He, however, revised the concept of matter as well as that of physical determinism. ]

D. The Buddha

16.1. There are some obvious similarities between the doctrine of the Charvaka and the teachings of the Buddha; and, there are many differences too. But the differences are significant than the similarities.

Both dismissed notions of a personal god, religion, rites, rituals, sacrifices, heaven and hell. Both rejected Vedas as being infallible; and refused to admit Vedas as an authority on all matters. Both did not agree with concept of a permanent soul (though for different reasons). Both did not recognize class distinctions within the society; and treated men and women as equals. Both did not indulge in or encourage needless metaphysical debates or theoretic curiosity. And, both strived to rid their concepts and ideas of the super-natural appendage.

16.2. As said earlier, the differences two are indeed more significant than similarities.

Consciousness

The Charvaka regard the body as matter without consciousness.

The Buddhist view the body as an ever changing configuration of five factors or five aggregates – (Pali : khandha; Skt. skandha).These relate to the physical form (rupa); the sensations or the feelings (vedana) the perception or recognition (sanna or sanjnya) of physical and mental objects;  and , the fourth factor – sankhara or samskara – impulses or mental formulations or fabrications  etc. And, lastly there is the faculty of vinnana or vijnana the awareness or consciousness, which encompasses mental events and what is generally called sub-conscious in the West. Consciousness is conditioned and arises out of interaction with the other factors (physical or mental) .The consciousness, according to Buddhism, is one of the body-aggregates and is interdependent with the mind-body (nama-rupa).

Sukha – Dukkha

The Charvaka placed the pursuit of pleasure (sukha) for its own sake as the prime objective or the raison d’être of human life. They viewed suffering as an uncomfortable fact of life and obstruction to pleasure. But, they did not mind dealing with suffering.

The Buddha did not, in fact, speak much about happiness. In his scheme of things happiness (sukha) is not the opposite of suffering (dukkha).Happiness was left un-defined; but was largely viewed as the absence of conflict, stress and craving. Happiness, it is said, is so delicate that mere contemplation of it would disturb it. Pursuit of happiness would bring along strife and sorrow.

But, he did recognize Dukkha, suffering and sorrow as the reality in life; and stressed that life as it is commonly led is marred by sorrow and suffering. Elimination of Dukkha was the prime objective of his teachings. All his words and deeds were centred on that objective. The Buddha in all his discourses dwelt on the reality of Dukkha and also pointed the way out of it. ‘Just this have I taught; I teach ill and the ending of ill”.

Elimination (nirodha) of suffering has the character of quiet (santi). Nirodha is explained as absence of rodha (flood) of suffering. It is cessation (attagama), detachment (virago) and freedom from craving (mutti).

Compassion and Ethics

The Charvaka brushed aside values such as morals in life, compassion for the fellow beings, common good and community welfare.

The Buddha is the very embodiment of compassion the loving kindness towards all beings. Dharmakirti (c. 600 -660 AD), a Buddhist philosopher, a pupil of Isvarasena and a teacher at Nalanda remarked that the greatness of the Buddha as a spiritual teacher lies not so much in his mastery or knowledge in various fields but in his having attained boundless compassion for all beings.

The Buddha did not stop at the intellectual edification. He was moved by compassion for his fellow beings and tried to show a method for eradication of sorrow. The Dhamma he preached was at once the theory and the practical way of conduct in life. In his first discourse, the Buddha talked about the importance Sila-Morality: right speech, right action, right livelihood; and asked his listeners “To cease from evil, to cleanse one’s mind, to do what is good”. He stressed; Mindfulness is essentially rooted in ethics and a wholesome mental state. The cultivation of the four sublime virtues of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic Joy, and equanimity should essentially be practiced with mindfulness.

The practice of these virtues would help development of a well-focused healthy human being. It would also ensure common good and help moving toward a harmonious strife-less society.

The Buddha was averse to all theoretic curiosity. ‘Philosophy purifies none,’ he said, ‘peace alone does. He did not speculate on things beyond the sphere of perception and reason. The Buddha taught what was necessary to overcome Dukkha; that was his prime concern.

Punabbhav-becoming again

Some appear rather disturbed with the fact that the Buddha accepted the notion of re-birth; and remark that it was not pragmatic. Well, that objection seems rooted in dogma (materialism) than in reason; without appreciating the line of reasoning that Sakyamuni adopted all through his teachings. Since his concept of what now is called ‘re-birth’ is supported by the reason he evolved, I would call it rational. Let’s briefly see the reason he arrived at this notion.

The Buddha believed that nothing that we do disappears without leaving its result behind; and that the good or evil so resulting recoils upon the doer. The Buddha rationalized this belief and viewed it as an impersonal law working in according to its own inherent nature (svabhava) and by itself.

The other main feature of his belief was that everything is in a state of continuous flux (spandana). If things are not momentary, everyone and everything would be eternal. There is incessant change; but with continuity. ‘There is action, but there is no agent’. The world is a process (vritti)…“A continuing coming-to-be and passing away”.

The Buddha is regarded as the Master of Madhyama – Prathipada, the middle path. The Buddha’s concept of ceaseless movement of all things, of change with no underlying constancy is a middle path between two opposite views: One believing in Being and the other in Non-Being. According to the Buddha, the world is neither Being nor is it Non-Being, but it is the becoming. It is a continual change- to- be and passing away. He preferred a dynamic explanation to the static changeless position.

Each phase of experience, as it appears and disappears, is shaped into the next. That process of change with continuity ensures that every successive phase carries within it ‘all the potentials of its predecessors’. Hence, a man is not the same in any two moments’ and yet he is not quite different. The body which is the aggregate (skandas) of sensations, the thoughts, and the physical frame is thus    not only a collective, but also a   recollective unit.

The series of such births and deaths is ever current and is at every moment. What is called as ‘death’ is a mere extension of that process. Thus, transfer from one state to another takes place not merely at the end of this life but at every instant.

That process will carry on until the urge to perpetuate lasts; because, nothing that we do will disappear without leaving its result behind. The persisting momentum of one’s deeds, thoughts, urges and attachments causes another body to take shape. And, the being who is revived is not the same as the old one; he is not, on the other hand, different from the old one. This process carries on until the person in question has completely overcome his thirst, urge or craving to become.

That changeover is not transmigration or reincarnation, because there is no permanent entity. Buddhism does not also use the term re-birth. It prefers to call the process as punabbhava (Snkt.  Punarbhava), becoming again. It is just as the seed through a series of dynamic changes becomes a sprout. The seed is never inactive. The difference when the seed becomes a sprout is that instead of continuing as a seed its nature alters into that of a sprout. But one series is in as much in flux as another. Finally, as the sprout steps into the next series of changes the seed would already have died; yet the sprout would not have been there without the seed.

It is not merely when one lamp is lit from another that there is a transmission of light and heat. They are transmitted every moment; only in the former case a new series of flames is started.

References and sources:

Outlines of Indian philosophy   by Prof. M. Hlriyanna; Motilal Banarsidass; 1993.

The Sarva-darfanasamgraha ; Translated by ER Cowell; Turner & Co London; 1882.

Smt. N. Vanamamalai ‘Materialist Thought in Early Tamil Literature’ published during Nov 1973

Samannaphala Sutta 

RationalismMaterialism, Buddha, Lokayata, Charvaka ,Marx and Charvaka ,

Pictures are from Internet

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Charvaka, Indian Philosophy

 

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An-atta: On Self and Non-self

Dear Sreenivasa Rao Sb,

 Form your various blogs I noted that Buddha thought [1] everything in the universe is changing except the change; [2] consciousness is nebulous and cannot be defined. Probably Buddha did not discuss the existence or non existence of God or he had a clear opinion?

Recently I read a book in Telugu authored by one Buddha Ghosha which said that Buddha believed that there is nothing like “self”? Is it correct?

Saying that there is nothing called soul which is constant is different from saying soul is self but also changes [evolves], splits [as water drop lets in a river] and recombines [as genes do] is different. What is the correct position of Buddha?

May I expect a small blog or knol on this?

Thanks,

DMR Sekhar.

 

Dear Shri Sekhar, That is a tough one; and is a much debated one too. I am neither qualified nor I claim to have the right answers. Let me try.

1.1. The subject you mentioned refers to the Buddhist concept of Anatta (an-atman or an-atmavada) meaning the doctrine of no-permanent soul. The Buddhist tradition believes that the root of all  suffering is in regarding the “self” as a permanent or a static entity or as an unchanging essence; and clinging to it.

The Buddha a few days after his first discourse at Saranath on the outskirts of Varanasi, speaks about his concept of Anatta in his second discourse ‘Anatta-lakkhana –sutta’. The teaching instructs one not to identify self with ‘”Any kind of feeling whatever…Any kind of perception whatever…Any kind of determination whatever… Any kind of consciousness whatever…”

Rupam (material form) is an-atta (not the self); vedana (sensation) is an-atta; sanna (perception) is an-atta; samkhara (pre-dispositions) is an-atta; vinnanam (consciousness ) is an-atta (not the self) “ …” whether past, future, or present; whether gross or subtle; whether in oneself or in others; whether inferior or superior: whether far or near; must, with right understanding of things as they really are, be regarded thus: ‘This is not mine. This is not I. This is not my self …”

Please recall the five aggregates or the skandas that I mentioned in my post Consciousness- a Buddhist view. None of the skandas or all of it is construed as one’s self.

1.2. The Buddha did not deny existence of feelings, thoughts, sensations or whatever; but, he did not also talk about a permanent conscious substance that experiences all these. According to him, the streams of consciousness ever changing, arise and perish leaving behind no permanent “thinker”.In other words, it seems to suggest that there is no “self” apart from the process.

2.1. However, it must be mentioned that Buddhism does not deny a soul altogether. The Buddhist view is that the belief in a changeless “I-entity” (soul) is the result of incorrect interpretation of one’s experiences. It seems to me that in the Buddhist view, self/soul is not perceived as a permanent  entity, or a static substance, or as an essence, but it is understood as a dynamic process which one experiences as perceptions, ideas or desires. It says; self is wrongly taken as a fixed, enduring entity. Because, according to Buddhism, there is not anything which is enduring, fixed, and eternal. Everything is interdependent and changing. Everything is in constant flux and has no astitva or existence outside of shifting contexts. As Abhidhamma kosa explains that there is no soul apart from feeling, ideas, volitions, etc “There is no self separate from a non-self”.

2.2. The Buddha favored a middle path avoiding the extremes of an entity called soul that survives birth after birth; and that of a soul which perishes as the body withers away. The Buddha explained a human as the dynamic inter-relation of five skandas. “Truly, if one holds the view that self is identical with the body, in that case there can be no holy life. Again, if one holds the view that self is one thing and the body another, in that case, too, there can be no holy life. Avoiding both extremes the Perfect One teaches the doctrine that lies in the middle.” (Sauyutta Nikaya: 2, 61).

2.3. Thus, it appears to me, translating the Buddhist concept of an-atma or anatta as ‘no soul’ or ‘self does not exist at all ‘is rather misleading. An-atta, I reckon, means ‘self is not an enduring entity or eternal essence’.

The Buddha did not deny a soul; but maintained that it was not the ultimate reality (dharmataa). He seemed to imply that an-atta, whatever that term meant, was not The Truth (dharma). An-atta, I reckon, (just as a-dvaita), is a negative expression pointing to the un-definable positive ultimate reality (dharmataa).

3.1. The Buddha is often blamed for maintaining silence on the key question of a permanent self. But, in fact, the Buddha did explain  why he chose not to give out a partial answer of either  ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The Sutta Nipaata (6.400) elaborately narrates the context and the reason for the Buddha’s silence. I am mentioning its substance in a brief and a summarized form:

Vacchagotta the wanderer questions the Master “what have you to say about the existence of self (atta)?” The Exalted One was silent. Vacchagotta   again questioned “Is there no such thing as the self?” .The Exalted One was silent. At which Vacchagotta just walked out.

Soon thereafter, venerable Ananda the disciple enquires the Master why he chose to be silent.

The Master explains:

“Ananda, if when asked   ‘Does the self exists?’ had I replied to him ‘yes, the self exists’ I would then be siding with all those Samanas and Brahmanas who regard soul as eternal and unchanging (eternalists).And, that reply  would have also been not consistent with my knowledge that all things are impermanent….”

“Had I replied; ‘no, the self does not exist ‘I would then be siding all those Samanas and Brahmanas who are annihilationist (those who view death as the annihilation of consciousness).And, that reply would have added to the bewilderment of Vacchagotta who was already bewildered. He would have exclaimed in disgruntle ‘Formerly I had a self; but now I have one no more’ …”

3.2. In case the Buddha sided with the annihilationist that would have led to denying his own concepts of kamma, rebirth, and dependent origination etc.

3.3. Thus, the Buddha rejected the two extremes concepts of ‘Permanent Self’, and ‘Annihilation’.

3.4. The an-atta doctrine, undoubtedly, is extremely difficult to comprehend. Yet, it is the Buddha’s strategy to free oneself from identities and attachments.

4.1. The Buddhism believes that the self is a changing phenomenon. It is like a raindrop. When it is in the ocean it is a part of the ocean ; when it evaporates it becomes a part of the cloud; and, when it rains it becomes a part of stream or a lake or a well. It is its functions and relationship which give form to its character.

4.2. The Buddha was reluctant to define the indefinable which is the true self. The Upanishads too chose to describe the Truth as that which cannot be apprehended by mind. They also said (in almost the same words) the correct view is to assert ‘This is not mine; this am I not; this is not my self’.  Both the Buddha and the Upanishads refused to be attached to an identity.

To put it in another way, The Vedanta’s call of realizing ones true identity -is a philosophical view. The Buddhist interpretation of letting go all identities is an  objective prescription.

4.3. By negating identity with the conditioned skandas (in his second discourse: Anatta-lakkhana-sutta) the Buddha was pointing to the unconditioned impersonal nature of true self. That was also the view of the Upanishads.

5.1. Both accept that attaining liberation is the aim; rather than merely understanding what liberation is all about. Both accept that conceptual thinking is part of the problem; and therefore philosophy too must eventually be transcended or let go. Because, ultimately it is one’s experience that truly matters. Experience is the key.

Therefore, both the Buddha and Sri Shankara asserted that the truest test of all is one’s own experience.

5.2. The difference between the two, as I mentioned elsewhere, was that Sri Shankara described the reality from outside, as it were, because that is the only perspective from which it can be understood as One. Sri Shankara was basically a philosopher; and as all philosophers do, he looks upon the whole of reality objectively and attempts to comprehend its structure. It is as if the philosophizing intellect takes a look at the whole of existence from outside of it.

5.3. But the Buddha, the yogi, was describing his experience. He realized (just as Sri Ramana)  that one cannot get outside of reality and describe it as an object; because one is inseparable from that reality. He also believed too much philosophizing and clinging to ideas is an obstruction to enlightenment. He advocated: let go all attachments, even the attachment to ideas and concepts.

Regards

References

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn44/sn44.010.than.html

http://budsas.110mb.com/ebud/ebdha215.htm

http://www.buddhanet.net/buddhism-self.htm

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism, Indian Philosophy

 

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Consciousness – a Buddhist view

The question of consciousness

1.1. Consciousness is a very elusive subject. It is rather difficult to define consciousness, mainly because it is internal and is a subjective experience. Any experience is always from a given point of view; and it is hard to be objective about our internal experiences. This is particularly true in the case of consciousness where we cannot remove ourselves from the process. The very notion of observing the mind with the mind appears enigmatic, for it does not allow for separation of subject and object. It is a legitimate concern.

1.2. The other problem involved with describing subjective experiences is the use of proper language; these are quite considerable. The language we employ to articulate our subjective experiences have their roots in our unique cultural, historic and linguistic backgrounds. The terms employed by any school, be it oriental or western, have their own broader range of connotations covering not merely the realm of thought but also of emotions and beyond. For instance, in the western languages one speaks in terms of consciousness, mind, mental phenomenon or awareness etc. In the Indian context one speaks in terms of buddhi, manas, jnana, vijnana vidya etc all of which can roughly be translated as awareness or intelligence or mental states. But these terms have a wider range of connotation than their English equivalents. For instance the terms manas or chitta cover not merely the realm of thought but also of emotions and much more. It is therefore, not easy to transport the meaning of a term from one system to the other with accuracy. The terms employed are ever subject to varied interpretations.

1.3. The question of consciousness has attracted a great deal of attention in the Indian philosophical systems. Buddhism developed rigorous methods for refining the attention, and applying that attention to exploring the origins, nature, and role of consciousness in the natural world .The earliest Buddhist texts viewed consciousness as an important factor in determining the course of human happiness and suffering; liberation and bondage. Yet, Buddhism did not “define” consciousness; perhaps, because it is nebulous; and difficult to pinpoint. But in principle, Buddhism asserts it is possible to recognize experientially what consciousness is and identify it.

1.4. The Buddhist texts talk of consciousness in metaphors such as clear light- prabhasvara (implying clarity- all defilements being sort of infection), knowing, and cognizance flowing like a river. They repeatedly talk about consciousness as an ever changing stream.

In order to understand the Buddhist theory of consciousness we have to get to know certain basic Buddhist concepts.

Central reality of all existence is change

2.1. The Buddha pointed out that the central reality of all existence is change. All phenomena come into being as a result of causes and conditions, they change every moment, and eventually they pass away. A belief in a permanent or a changeless-self is regarded a false concept leading to mistaken notions about reality. This belief is in sharp contrast to the Vedanta view of a changeless, attribute-less and immutable Brahman. The Buddhists assert that one of the basic misconceptions is the notion of a self – atman; and, only those who free themselves of such false notions can attain liberation. They argue that if there were some disembodied, unchanging entity, it would have no relation to any individual. And, because it lies beyond the world of the senses it could never be perceived.

Five aggregates

3.1. According to the Buddhist view the individuals are not seamless continuum of an enduring essence such as Brahman or atman (soul) ; but, are actually composites of ever changing configuration of five factors or five aggregates – (Pali: khandha; Skt.: skandha).These relate to the physical form (rupa) – the body and all material objects including sense organs ; the sensations or the feelings (vedana) – one’s emotional response to the phenomena by way of desires and aversions in which the five senses and mind are involved; the third is the perception or recognition (sanna or sanjnya) of physical and mental objects;  and , the fourth factor – sankhara or samskara – is variously  called impulses or mental formulations or fabrications – these include volition and attention , the faculty of will , the force of habits etc. And, lastly there is the faculty of vinnana or vijnana the awareness or consciousness, which encompasses mental events and what is generally called sub-conscious in the West.

3.2. All the five aggregates are regarded “empty of self nature” in the sense they are dependent on causes (hetu) and conditions (patica); and are inter-related. In this scheme of things, consciousness too is conditioned and arises out of interaction with the other factors (physical or mental) .The consciousness in turn influences one or more mental factors. Thus consciousness and the mind-body (nama-rupa) are interdependent; there is no arising of consciousness without conditions. These form the chain of cause and effect (karmic).Yet, though consciousness and matter do contribute towards the origination of each other, one cannot become the substantial cause of the other.

3.3.In the Buddhist view, the difference between the plant, animal and the humans is in the level of intelligence; and all possess subtle consciousness. Any sentient being that can experience pain and pleasure is thought to possess consciousness. Therefore, the subtle consciousness is not uniquely human.

Consciousness

4.1. An individual, according to Buddhist thought, is ever changing or rather a fleeting, changing assortment or a procession of various unstable interacting factors. Consciousness too is highly varied made up of myriad mental states. Those mental states are dependent on the five senses.

4.2. Buddhist teachers suggest that through careful observation, it is possible to see consciousness as being a sequence of conscious moments rather as a continuum of awareness. Each moment is an experience of an individual mind-state: a thought, a memory, a feeling, a perception. A mind-state arises, exists and, being impermanent, ceases following which the next mind-state arises. Thus the consciousness of a sentient being can be seen as a continuous series of birth and death of these mind-states. In this context rebirth is simply the persistence of this process.

4.3. Consciousness is said to act like a life force which runs through the process and through life after life. But, consciousness, unlike atman, is subject to change every movement and influenced by the vicissitudes of one’s life. It is explained that one’s vocational actions produce karmas which influence the consciousness in a certain manner and determine ones rebirth. It is said, the five skandhascontinue on, powered by past karma, propelling births and rebirths. Here, Karma in essence is not action per se, but rather the state of mind of the person performing the action. The problem with such bad Karma is that it molds our personality, creates ruts or habitual patterns of thinking and feeling. These patterns in turn influence our present and future lives.

A major aim of Buddhism is to become aware of this process, and then to eliminate it by eradicating its causes.

Understanding is the key

5.1. The core problem of human existence, according to Buddhist belief, is duhkkha – the suffering .It is caused by the ignorance of the reality of things as they are. Such suffering leads to delusions, attachments and stress; and, results in continuing cycle of rebirths. Due to ignorance of the true nature of reality, human beings make choices that drive them to suffering. Since the problem originates from lack of right understanding, the solution to the malady should be sought in gaining the right understanding. Therefore, the Buddha said, one desirous of seeking liberation must discard mistaken ideas and acquire correct understanding.

5.2. In short, a person’s bondage is caused by ignorance or incorrect understanding. Liberation too is, in effect, caused by understanding- but it is the proper understanding; and nothing more. Bondage is the wrong understanding that binds; while liberation is the right understanding that frees. In either case, it is a matter of understanding. All that is from an individual’s point of view; But, in absolute sense there is neither bondage nor liberation.

Emancipation….And after..?

6.1. The dhukkha of bondage is thus a matter of mental process; modifications of the consciousness, projecting the world outside and conditioning our reactions to it. Emancipation is the knowledge of things as they really are; and is the freedom from constraints imposed by phenomenal involvements.Emancipation, it appears, is the reverse or the other side of involvement in the phenomena.

6.2. A right understanding when it arises frees instantaneously; and is not delayed until the exhaustion of the karmas that have brought the current life into existence. In other words, liberation need not wait until one’s death. Such an enlightened one is termed an Arhant in the Buddhist lore. [Its equivalent term in Vedanta is Jivan-muktha – the emancipated one even while alive in this body].

6.3. The Buddha was rather reluctant to be drawn into a discussion on the state of consciousness of an Arhant after he discarded his mortal coils.  Asked what happens to an Arhant upon his death, the Buddha was said to have replied: “What happens to footprints of birds in mid air?” Perhaps the Buddha likened the death of an Arhant to the extinction of a flame when the fuel (karma) runs out.

6.4. He evidently felt that such questions arose out of a false attachment to self, and that they distracted one from the main aim of eliminating suffering. Those who seek liberation, according to him, must discard the belief in self. And that requires meditative training, which removes defilements like aversions, attachments, cravings and stress.

Mind and consciousness

7.1. The Vedanta and the Buddhist text treat the mind and consciousness as being distinct. Vedanta believes consciousness is so called because the power of deliberation is hidden in it (like the fire in a log of wood that is not burning); and, it is called mind when deliberation is on (like log on fire).Mind is a deliberation of consciousness. Mind is that which discriminates the characteristics of objects.Mind is a pattern or a manipulation of consciousness which in turn is a function of our original nature. According to Tantra, Shiva is consciousness (chith) while Shakthi as its deliberation (vimarsha) is mind (dhih).The union of Shiva and Shakthi too is yoga.

7.2. The Buddhist interpretation appears to be slightly different. It says; consciousness (vinnana) is separate and arises from mind (mana). Nagarjuna(c. 150 – 250CE), the celebrated Buddhist philosopher and founder of Madhyamaika school, expands on it by putting forth a series of vivid images. Nagarjuna compares the natural purity of mind to the butter lying un-extracted in un-churned milk; to an oil lamp concealed inside a vase; to a pristine deposit of lapis lazuli buried in a rock and to a seed covered by its husk. When the milk is churned, the butter is revealed; when holes are made in the vase, the lamp’s light pours out; when the gem is dug out, the brilliance of the lapis lazuli shines forth; and when the husk is removed the seed can germinate. Nagarjuna’s explanation is akin to that of the Sankhya belief which denotes that the effect is in reality a transformation of the cause. The cause is transformed and differentiated into multiplicity of objects.

Nagarjuna then argues that the essential nature of the mind is pure and its defilements are removable through meditative purification. When our afflictions are removed or cleaned through the sustained cultivation of insight, the innate purity of mind becomes manifest.

Practice of meditation

8.1. As per the Vajrayana Buddhism, Bhodhi-Chitta “that which is conscious” resides in all of us as a hidden pool of compassion, tranquility, unaffected, “ever washed bright” and beyond the phenomenal involvements. It can be experienced when our afflictions are removed or cleaned through sustained cultivation of insight. One way of experiencing pure consciousness, according to Buddhism, is to practice meditation.

8.2. The Buddha believed that if one wishes to avoid certain types of results, one needs to change the conditions that give rise to them.The effect lies latent in the cause; and that effect in turn seeds the next effect. He said, removal of a basic condition will remove its effect. Therefore, if one changes the conditions of one’s state of mind, one can change the trait of one’s consciousness and the resulting attitudes and emotions.

It is in this context that the Buddha taught practice of mindfulness anapana –sati; anapana meaning breath and sati (snkt.smruthi) is non-forgetfulness, being aware of it. The Buddha spoke of mind as being essentially pure, clear and peaceful. The distractions, dispersions, confusions and agitations are all apparent. But the appearances could be troublesome and stressful. They need to be cleared. The method he recommended for removing the disturbances is the mindfulness. He asked one to be aware of one’s own breathing; in other words, to be mindful of breathing and of the body, feelings, thoughts, and other phenomena. Accordingly, in order to get rid of dhukkha, suffering one should neither identify with nor attach to vinnana, consciousness; but just watch. That Mindfulness leads to understanding of the impermanent and fleeting character (anitya) and illusory appearance of consciousness and then on to eliminate it by eradicating its causes. [Please click here for more on Mindfulness]

8.2.Dharmakirti (c. 600 AD), a seventh century Buddhist philosopher, too stated that through disciplined meditative training, natural constraints on consciousness are removable and  substantive changes can be effected in human consciousness. Dharmakirti argued that, in principle, it is possible for a mental activity like compassion to be developed to a limitless degree. He, in fact, remarked that the greatness of the Buddha as a spiritual teacher lies not so much in his mastery or knowledge in various fields but in his having attained boundless compassion for all beings.

No-mind

9.1. After having said that, the Buddhist texts caution against treating consciousness as the ultimate reality. It should not be; because consciousness is only a projection of the original nature. And, consciousness is inconsistent and depends on other factors for its existence.The Buddha Manjushree explained the ultimate state of realityis not something that can be known by consciousness, nor is it an object of the mind..He said,   you cannot find This Ultimate One with the mind of thoughts … so how do you find it? … by no-mind, no-thought, by not attaching to thoughts but letting them just be there, but never attaching to them while maintaining presence.

Scientific investigations and Buddhist meditation practices

10.1. As discussed above, Buddhist texts hold the view that human consciousness emerges not from the brain or from matter; but from a deeper level. And, as the brain ceases the consciousness will dissolve back into the substrate and carries on from lifetime to lifetime. The continuum of consciousness will carry on; and it is a beginning- less continuum. They argue, the being that is reborn is different from the previous one that died; but its identity remains as before because of the continuity in the flow of consciousness.

10.2. The classical western theory (among other theories) appears to be that consciousness is an emergent property of a complex organization or of the matter called brain. The science thinks of consciousness as arising out of matter because no other explanation seems plausible. It rightly argues that the human emotions, visual perceptions or psyche cannot arise in the absence of the brain or the appropriate faculty.  They all arise because of a certain level of brain and nerve-cell complexity. In other words, the nerve cell complexity of the brain is the seat of consciousness. Thus consciousness is a kind of physical process that arises through the structure and dynamics of the brain. And, when the brain is dead, when it decomposes or when it is no longer capable of functioning as brain, the properties of the brain-based consciousness also vanish. That is the end.

10.3. B. Alan Wallace the noted scholar teacher in his essay “A Science of Consciousness: Buddhism (1), the Modern West (0)” observes the West presently has no pure science of consciousness and it also lacks an applied science of consciousness that reveals means for refining and enhancing consciousness.

Francisco Valera, the renowned Biologist who dedicated his life to the studies of ‘biology of consciousnesses’ , opined that if the scientific study of consciousness is to grow to a full maturity-given that subjectivity is a primary element of consciousness – it will have to incorporate a fully developed and rigorous methodology of first-person emphericism. He felt, there was a tremendous potential in this area for contemplative traditions like Buddhism to make a substantive contribution to science and its methods.

There are signs that the scientific community is trying to understand the Buddhist theories of the nature, origins and potentials of consciousness.

10.4. But, the path is not easy. Unlike that of modern science, Buddhism’s approach has been primarily from first-person experience. The contemplative method, as developed by Buddhism, is an empirical use of introspection. The scientific approach is not comfortable with an empirical investigation of subjective events from a first-person perspective. That is because; meditative experiences are not amenable to verification – both through repetition by the same practitioner; and through other individuals of same caliber and adopting same practices. One therefore wonders, given the highly subjective nature of consciousness, whether it is ever possible to gain a third person –objective and scientific-understanding.

The other problem is that it is very hard for the scientists to refuse the possibility that consciousness may not merely be a phenomenon of the brain.

10.5. HH the Dalai Lama in his book The Universe in a Single Atomadmitted that such disquiet is entirely understandable given the dominance of the third-person scientific method as a paradigm for scientific investigation .And, yet  trying to bridge the two systems , he  explained that the Buddhist approach to the study of consciousness is based on the understanding of functions and modalities of the mind and their casual dynamics – and this is precisely the area that the Buddhist understanding can most readily intersect with scientific approach because , like that of science, much of the Buddhist investigation of consciousness is empirically based.

10.6. B. Alan Wallace who in his essay “Training the Attention and Exploring consciousness in Tibetan Buddhism “ examines the methods of attention training and exploring consciousness in Tibetan Buddhism, joined the issue by stating that without the subjective evidence provided by introspection, there would be no discipline of consciousness studies. He argued that these (Hindu and Buddhist) attention-enhancing methods present a challenge to modern researchers in the consciousness studies “to broaden the scope of legitimate methods of scientific inquiry so that the introspective exploration of consciousness may begin to rise to the levels of sophistication of objective means of studying brain correlates of conscious states.”

10.7. HH the Dalai Lama explained, Buddhist psychology does not catalogue the mind’s make up or even describes how the mind functions. But the primary aim of the Buddhist contemplative practice, he said, is to alleviate suffering especially the psychological and emotional afflictions and to clear those afflictions. And, Science too has contributed enormously to the lessening of suffering, especially the physical suffering. It is therefore appropriate, he said, science and spirituality make common cause.

10.8. And, he concluded on a hopeful note saying “ I believe that it is possible for Buddhism and modern science to engage in collaborative research in the understanding of consciousness while leaving aside the philosophical question. By bringing together these two modes of inquiry, both disciplines may be enriched. Such collaborative study will contribute to a better understanding of the dynamics of the human mind and its relation to suffering. ”

10.9. B. Alan Wallace considers that such collaboration would mutually benefit scientists and Buddhists. According to him, “one of the greatest potentials of the interface between Buddhism and science is that Buddhists may encourage scientists to question their materialistic assumptions and incorporate sophisticated systems of contemplative inquiry within the scientific community. …. Likewise, scientists may encourage Buddhists to question their own assumptions, to revitalize their own traditions of contemplative inquiry, and to integrate them with the empirical methods of modern science. In short, Buddhists and scientists may help each other in overcoming their tendencies to dogmatism and replace this with a fresh and open-minded spirit of empiricism.”

 

PLEASE ALSO READ THE COMMENTS AND RESPONSES . SOME OF THOSE ARE TRULY INTERESTING

Sources and References

Let’s hope such collaboration takes off the ground and some good comes of it.

Zen and Dhyâna By Prof.SK Ramachandra Rao; Kalpataru publications, Bangalore

B Allan Wallace  : http://www.alanwallace.org/spr08wallace_comp.pdf

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi; Harper Perennial; 1990

A Science of Consciousness: Buddhism (1), the Modern West (0)

B. Alan Wallace- Published in The Pacific World: Journal of the Institute of Buddhist Studies

Third Series, No. 4, Fall 2002, pp. 15-32

http://www.alanwallace.org/Pacific%20World%20Essay.pdf

Buddhism and Science: Confrontation and Collaboration by B. Alan Wallace

http://www.alanwallace.org/PDF%20NEW/Buddhism%20and%20Science%20Paper.pdf

Training the Attention and Exploring consciousness in Tibetan Buddhism – B. Alan Wallace

http://www.purifymind.com/AttentionTibetBudd.htm

What is Consciousness vs. Awareness?

http://www.meditationexpert.com/consciousness-studies/cs_what_is_consciousness.html

Mixing Buddhism and neuroscience to understand human consciousness

http://seedmagazine.com/content/article/what_buddhism_offers_science/

Consciousness – Indian Thought – Buddhist Systems

http://science.jrank.org/pages/8802/Consciousness-Indian-Thought-Buddhist-Systems.html

Daniel Dennett  on Consciousness – And a Buddhist Response

http://integral-options.blogspot.com/2008/01/daniel-dennett-on-consciousness-and.html

Vijñāna: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vij%C3%B1%C4%81na

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddhism, Indian Philosophy

 

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The Early Buddhist women- Stories – Five – Visakha

[This story could be treated as an addendum to the main post-The Early Buddhist Women- stories]

The story of Visakha is the most delightful one among all the stories of the early Buddhist women.

Visakha was a person of great charm and independent spirit. She had certain poise and calm authority around her. She had a mind of her own and believed in her convictions. Though her family, on either side, was wealthy she ran a business of her own independently. She was known as an able manager and an effective communicator.

Visakha was the first female lay disciple of the Buddha and also the chief female lay benefactor of the Sangha. The Pubbarama monastery which she dedicated with love and reverence to the Sangha was one of the favorite places of stay of the Buddha in the later 25 years of his life.

She was well respected in the Sangha for her wisdom, generosity and for her managerial skills. She took charge of the Bhikkhuni Sangha (Order of the Nuns) and managed it efficiently. She was authorized to arbitrate the issues and disputes that arose among the nuns; and between nuns and monks.

The Pali Canon enumerates a number of discourses imparted to her by the Buddha, on a variety of subjects.

Visakha lived a long life. It is said she retained her poise, youthful charm; and sharp inquisitive mind even in her later years. Visakha is truly one of the most remarkable persons of the early Buddhist era.

1. Savatthi

1.1. It is said; the beautiful garden city of Savatthi (Snkt.Shravasthi) on the banks of the River Aciravati was the capital of the Kosala kingdom ruled by the king Pasenadi (Snkt.Prasenajit), an ardent disciple of the Buddha. The city of Savatthi occupied a significant position in the history of the early Buddhism.

1.2. The garden city of Savatthi, on its outskirts, had two major Buddhist monasteries: one was the Jetavana built in the Buddha’s service (thirty-one years after his Enlightenment) by the divot wealthy merchant Anathapindaka; and the other was the Pubbarama (Snkt. purva_rama, the eastern monastery), located to the east of Jetavana, and dedicated to the Sangha lovingly by Visakha the leading lay female disciple of the Buddha. In addition, Savatthi had another monastery, Rajakarama, built by king Pasenadi opposite the Jetavana.

1.3. The Master spent a greater part of his later years (25 vassas – rainy seasons or rains retreats) in Savatthi, dividing his time between Jetavana and Pubbarama, spending the day in one and the night in the other; or in whichever way it was convenient to him.It was in Savatthi; the Buddha dispensed a large number of his discourses and instructions; guided and helped large number of persons who came to him seeking remedy for their sorrows. (SNA.i.336)

2.  Pubbarama

2.1. As regards Pubbarama, the Canon records several important discourses (suttas or sutras) preached by Our Teacher while he was staying there. The better known among those suttas are:

The Aggañña-suttaṃ:  It was imparted to two Brahmins Bharadvaja and Vasettha who desired to enter the Sangha as monks, when the Buddha was staying at the Pubbarama (Ekaṃ samayaṃ bhagavā sāvatthiyaṃ viharati pubbārāme migāramātupāsāde) . The sutta elucidated that caste and lineage cannot be equated with moral (shila) and chaste conduct (Dhamma); and righteousness was beyond such artificial limitations. Dhamma is universal and anyone from four castes can become a monk and attain enlightenment. (D N. 27)

On one occasion at Pubbarama  the Buddha said ,”Him I call a Brahmana , who , in this world has transcended both ties-good and evil; who is sorrow-less and , being free from the taints of moral defilement, is pure”(Dhammapada- Verse  412)

yo ‘dha puññañ ca pāpañ ca ubho saṅgaṃ upaccagā / asokaṃ virajaṃ suddhaṃ tam ahaṃ brūmi brāhmaṇaṃ. // Dhp_412 /

The Utthana Sutta: It was imparted to practicing monks stressing the imperative need to be vigilant. The Teacher instructs “Rouse yourself..! Sit up..!Resolutely train to attain freedom and peace. Do not be careless; do not let weakness lead you astray. Go beyond any clinging. Do not waste your opportunity. (Sn.vv.331-4; SnA.i.336f)

On another occasion the Master declared that a Bhikkhu who though young devotes himself to Dhamma lights up the world as does the moon freed from the clouds. (Dhammapada Verse 382- 25 Bhikkhuvagga 107)

yo have daharo bhikkhu yuñjate Buddhasāsane / so ‘maṃ lokaṃ pabhāseti abbhā mutto va candimā.4 // Dhp_382 /

The Ariyapariyesana Sutta: It is rather a rare sort of sutta. For, it contains fleeting autobiographical glimpses   of Our  Teacher before he attained his goal. He mentions, in passing, how he too in his quest approached many teachers; how they could not lead to what he was searching for; and how he then went to the forests of the Uruvela country and practiced until he attained enlightenment. The Awakened-one also mentions how he was initially reluctant to go forth into the world preaching what he had found. The sutta then leads to the Buddha’s first sermon (pathama desana) addressed to five ascetics at the deer park of Isipattana on the outskirts of the ancient city of Varanasi. (M.i.160-75 and is repeated in the Vinaya and the Digha Nikāya).

2.2. The Vighasa Jataka was also narrated at the Pubbarama. This  Jataka tells the story of Bodhisattva in one of his past lives as Sakka (Shukra), when he  assumed the form of a parrot in order to  reform the ascetics who were about to go astray.(J No. 393)

2.3. It was here at the Pubbarama, the Buddha accorded permission for recitation of Patimokkha in his absence. It contained a set of 227 rules to be observed by the members of the Sangha. The rules pertained mainly to regulating the conduct of the Bhikkus towards one another and in regard to matters concerning the clothing, dwelling, furniture, and utilities etc that were held in common by the community.(Sp.i.187)

2.3. On one occasion while he was staying at the Pubbarama, the Buddha expressed his satisfaction with the way the   Bhikkus there were progressing. The Buddha therefore announced that he would remain at the Pubbarama until the following full-moon of the fourth month when Kaumudi the White-Lilly would bloom (sometime in Oct-Nov, perhaps corresponding to Sharad Purnima). As its news spread, the monks in the surrounding regions moved to Pubbarama. On the night of the Kaumudi full-moon the Buddha seated in open amongst a vast congregation of enrapt monks and divot lay, addressed the Sangha. He praised those Bhikkhus for their good conduct (shila), their adherence to Dhamma practice and their attainments. The Teacher then spoke about Anapanasati– Mindfulness of Breathing- and his experiences with it. He imparted instructions on using breath (apana) as a focus for practicing mindfulness (sati) meditation. The Buddha stated that mindfulness of the breath, “developed and repeatedly practiced, is of great fruit, great benefit.” (Anapanasati Sutta-MN 118) 

Pubbarama monastery, therefore, is frequently mentioned in the Buddhist texts.

2.4. How the Pubbarama monastery came into being, is a very interesting story. It is narrated in the Dhammapada Commentary (Vol. I, 384-420).

***

3. The early years

3.1. Visakha, bright and beautiful, was the daughter of Dhananjaya_Settthi and Sumana Devi who resided in the city of Bhaddiya in Anga, a province of the Magadha kingdom. Dhanajaya was the son of Chandapaduma and Mendaka_setthi a wealthy merchant and one of the five financiers or treasurers to the king of Magadha Bimbisara.  The family lived a life of comfort and luxury.

[ Visakha’s younger sister was Sujata who later married   Kala (?), son of Anathapindaka one of the leading benefactors of the Sangha and who constructed and dedicated in service to the Buddha the Jetavana monastery at Savatthi. Sujata was described as haughty, obstinate and harsh in speech; but, later reformed   on listening to Buddha’s discourse (Sujata Jataka).]

3.1. When Visakha was about seven years old, the Buddha visited Bhaddiya with a large company of monks. Mendaka offered several gifts to the Sangha; and invited the Buddha and his monks to his mansion and offered hospitality for a fortnight. Visakha an active, inquisitive and a lively child played around the monks and the Buddha. She was always questioning about the things that the monks did and said; and about Dhamma. The Buddha was fond of the little girl.

3.2. It is said when the Buddha departed from Bhaddiya for Anguttarapa (another city in Anga province), Mendaka instructed his servants to follow the Buddha with abundant provisions, food and fresh milk; as also ghee and butter until the party reached its destination. (DhA.i.384)(Viii.i.243ff)

3.3. Later, at the request of Pasenadi of Kosala, Bimbisara the king of Magadha asked Dhananjaya to move over to Kosala and function as a financier – treasurer (Bhandari) to king of Kosala. Accordingly, Dhananjaya with his wife Sumana and daughter Visakha, shifted to Saketa in Kosala, located about seven leagues (yojanas) away from its capital city Savatthi.

(Some accounts mention that Dhananjaya founded Saketa)

4. Marriage

4.1. Meanwhile in the city of Savatthi, a wealthy and a miserly merchant Migara was in search of a suitable bride for his son Punnavaddhana. The boy Punnavaddhana was, however, averse to marriage. It was not easy to convince him either. After much persuasion, Punnavaddhana agreed to the marriage but stipulated some tough conditions. He insisted the bride should be “an exquisite beauty who possessed the five maidenly attributes: beauty of hair, teeth, skin, youth and form. Her hair had to be glossy and thick, reaching down to her ankles. Her teeth had to be white and even like a row of pearls. Her skin had to be of golden hue, soft and flawless. She had to be in the peak of youth, about sixteen. She had to have a beautiful, feminine figure, not too fat and not too thin”.

4.2. Soon thereafter, the relieved Migara dispatched a pair of well-fed Brahmins with instructions to scout for a girl who answered the specifications stipulated by his son Punnavaddhana. The Brahmin pair roamed the Magadha and Kosala countries in search of a suitable girl who would make Punnavaddhana happy. They, however, could not spot the precious one.

4.3. Having given up their search and loitering in Kosala rather aimless, the Brahmins got busy cooking up a ruse to appease the “angry-old- bull “, the miserly and grumpy old Migara.

While they were so engaged, a sudden burst of storm caught them unaware. As they were running for shelter, they noticed, to their amazement, a young and a beautiful girl walking calmly, unhurriedly and gracefully through the storm towards a nearby shelter, just as her friends ran in all directions. The Brahmins quite impressed by the pretty girl’s poise and composure, went up to her and questioned why she did not run to the shelter, as her friends did, to avoid getting wet.

The fair maiden replied in her unhurried and measured voice, “It is not appropriate for a maiden in her fine clothes to run, just as it is not appropriate for a king in royal attire, a royal elephant dressed for the procession, or a serene monk in robes, to run.” Pleased with her reply, her calm bearing and her exquisite beauty, the Brahmins realized in a flash that their prayers were answered. They post-haste returned to Savatthi and reported to their master Migara about the amazing discovery they made of the most suitable bride for Punnavaddhana.

4.4. Migara then sent his messengers to Dhananjaya with a bouquet of flowers (malangulam) as a token of proposal seeking the hand of Visakha in marriage to his son Punnavaddhana. The proposal and its acceptance were later formalized by exchange of letters. It is said; since the wedding involved two wealthy and powerful financiers, Pasenadi the king of Kosala accompanied the wedding party as a mark of signal favor. At Saketa, the wedding was celebrated with great pomp and splendor.

4.5. Visakha entered Migara’s house with cart loads of dowry consisting money, gold, silver, various silks, ghee, as also rice- husked and winnowed. She brought with her suitable furniture, sets of vessels, retinue of personal attendants, milk- cows, bulls, oxen and a variety of farm equipments such as ploughs ploughshares etc. (DhA.i.397).

5…And after

5.1. Visakha and Punnavaddhana lived happily in Migara’s house at Savasthi. Migara though wealthy was not a generous person. One afternoon, while Migara was taking his lunch in a golden bowl, a Buddhist monk came to his doorsteps seeking alms. Migara noticed the monk, but ignored him and continued with his lunch. Visakha who was watching the proceedings went up to the monk and requested him to leave by saying, “Pass on, Venerable Sir, my father-in-law eats stale food.”

Visaka

Migara who overheard the remark was furious and demanded an explanation. Visakha, in her usual calm and measured voice, explained that he was eating the benefits of his past good deeds and he did nothing to ensure his continued prosperity. She told him, “you are eating stale fare”.

5.2. Migara was enraged and threatened to send her back to her parents. Visakha unruffled promptly ordered her servants to pack all her money, gold, jewelry etc and prepare for leaving to Saketa. Migara duly chastened, requested her to stay back. She agreed to that on condition that Migara changed his ways, invited the Buddha and his monks for their meal.

5.3. Migara invited the Buddha with his monks and arranged for rich food. But, he asked Visakha to entertain the guests and supervise the hospitality. Migara, from behind a curtain, listened to the Buddha’s sermon imparted at the end of the meal.

5.4. Visakha then prayed to the Buddha to grant her boons. She requested, as long as she lived, she be allowed to give robes for the rainy season to the bhikkhus; rice gruel to the bhikkhus daily; food to the monks entering Savatthi and to those leaving the city; diet and medicine to the sick bhikkhus; food for those attending the sick; and clothes to the bhikkhunis (nuns) to wear taking bath.(Vinaya 290-292)

As from a collection of flowers many a garland can be made by an expert florist, so also, much good can be done (kattabbam kusalam bahum) with wealth, out of faith and generosity”.

yathāpi puppa-harāsimhā kayirā mālāguṇe bahū /evaṃ jātena maccena kattabbaṃ kusalaṃ bahuṃ. // Dhp_53 //

(Dhp .Verse 53)

 

6. How the Pubbarama came into being

 

Visakha supervising construction of Pubbarama

6.1. After that event, Visakha continued her acts of generosity to the Buddhist monks and to the Sangha. One day, while on a visit to Jetavana monastery where the Buddha then resided, she forgot to bring back home her priceless jeweled headdress and other jewels. She did not notice their absence for a couple of days and later gave them up as lost.

6.2. Then, one fine morning a couple of clean shaven Buddhist monks presented themselves at her doorsteps carrying basketful of jewels and enquired whether they belonged to her. Visakha recognized the jewels as hers and was happy to see them. She, however, refused to accept them; remarking it was not proper to take back an item that was left behind in the monastery. She asked the monks to retain the jewels with them. The monks, bemused, said the jewels were of no value to them and walked back to the monetary, empty handed, singing songs praising virtues of renunciation.

6.3. Thereafter, Visakha offered the jewels for sale, with the intention of donating the sale proceeds to the Sangha or using it for building a new monastery. But, she did not succeed in finding a buyer; because none could afford to buy the exquisite jewelled headdress. There was none in Savatthi rich enough to buy it.

6.4. That ornament of extraordinary beauty and immense value was named Mahalata; and it reached all the way down her long hair to her ankles. It was a wedding gift to Visakha from her parents. It appears, going by its description, one had to be strong to wear the ornament with comfort and to walk about freely.

In its construction were used four pint pots (nāli) of diamonds, eleven of pearls, twenty two of coral, thirty three of rubies, one thousand nikkhas of ruddy gold, and sufficient silver. The thread work was entirely of silver; the parure was fastened to the head and extended to the feet. In various places, seals of gold and dies of silver were attached to hold it in position. In the fabric itself was a peacock with five hundred feathers of gold in wing, a coral beak, and jewels for the eyes, the neck feathers and the tail. As the wearer walked the feathers moved, producing the sound of sweet music. (DbA.i.393ff. MA.i.471)

6.5. Having failed to find a buyer to her expensive ornament Visakha decided to buy it herself. She thereafter spent the money on building a new monastery to house the Buddha; and his retinue of monks and nuns. It was a magnificent two-storied structure built of wood and stone. Besides the prayer and conference halls, it had a number of rooms. The mansion like monastery was richly furnished and tastefully decorated. The work was completed in nine months. That monastery came to be known as Pubbarama (Purva_rama) or the Eastern monastery because it was located to the East of Jetavana.

6.6. On the day Visakha dedicated the monastery to the Buddha, she was overjoyed. She sang and danced with immense delight.”Today is the day of fulfillment; my prayers are granted and I am truly blessed”. She ran like child in ecstasy, with her children and grandchildren around the monastery, many times. Her joy was infectious; even the Buddha was touched.(DhA.i.416f)

The ex-miser Migara too was touched. He requested his daughter-in-law to accept him as her son. He called her Migara_ mata (Mother of Migara).From that day the Pubbarama monastery also came to be known as Migara_matu_pasada (the mansion of Migara’s mother).

That was how the Pubbarama came into being.

7. Discourses imparted to Visakha

The Canon recounts number of discourses imparted to Visakha. They cover a range of interesting subjects.

7.1. Sometime after the completion of Pubbarama, Visakha took charge of managing the nuns’ section of the Sangha; and a number of nuns were housed in Pubbarama. One evening she faced a problem which she found it difficult to handle. While on her rounds, she was horrified to find some nuns fully drunk; dancing and singing crazy songs. When she asked the nuns to stop whatever they were doing, they did not listen to her. Instead, they asked her to join the party, get drunk and raise a toast to the Buddha.

The next day Visakha sought the Buddha’s counsel. Visakha bowed to him and asked, “Venerable sir, what is the origin of this custom of drinking an intoxicant, which destroys a person’s modesty and sense of shame?” The Buddha in response to her request dispensed the Kumbha Jataka, where a man found fermented fruit and water in the crevice of a tree and started to consume the fermented liquid to obtain a false feeling of well-being.

7.2. On one hot afternoon, Visakha visited Pubbarama where the Buddha was then staying. She was looking tired and distressed .The Master asked her “well now, Visakha, where are you coming from in the middle of this hot day?’ Visakha moaned that she was tired, annoyed and angry with the tax collectors, who were arbitrarily over charging duty on her goods; and her costs were going up unduly. The king Pasenadi too was not heeding to her plea. It was not fair, she said.  She needed to confine her pain in someone who could comfort and offer her solace. That is the reason she came despite the burning hot sun. The Buddha then calmed her mind by singing – (Sabbaṃ paramasaṃ dukkhaṃ sabbaṃ issariyaṃ sukhaṃ, 
Sādhāraṇe vihaññanti yogā hi duratikkamā)

Painful is all subjection,
Blissful is complete control.
People are troubled by common concerns,
Hard to escape are the bonds .  

 (Ud.2.9)

It is written, those words of the Buddha comforted Visakha.

7.3. On another occasion, Visakha asked the Buddha, what qualities in a woman would enable her to conquer this world and the next. The Buddha replied:

“She conquers this world by industry, care for her servants, love for her husband and by guarding his property. She conquers the other world by confidence, virtue, generosity and wisdom.”

7.4. On the sudden death of her granddaughter Sudatta, who was very dear to her, Visakha broken-hearted approached the Buddha in the middle of the day, in wet clothes and wet hair. Visakha was much afflicted with grief. The Buddha consoled her by imparting a sermon.

The Buddha asked her “Visakha, would you like to have as many children and grandchildren as there are people in Savatthi?”

“Yes, lord, I would like to have as many children and grandchildren as there are people in Savatthi.”

“But how many people in Savatthi die in the course of a day?”

“Sometimes ten people die in Savatthi in the course of a day, sometimes nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… Sometimes one person dies in Savatthi in the course of a day. Savatthi is never free from people dying.”

“So what do you think, Visakha: Would you ever be free from wet clothes and wet hair?”

“No, lord. Enough of my having as many children and grandchildren as there are people in Savatthi.”

“Visakha, those who have a hundred dear ones have a hundred sufferings. Those who have ninety dear ones have ninety sufferings. Those who have eighty… seventy… sixty… fifty… forty… thirty… twenty… ten… nine… eight… seven… six… five… four… three… two… Those who have one dear one have one suffering.

For those with no dear ones, there are no sufferings. They are free from sorrow, free from stain, free from lamentation, I tell you.”

The Buddha told her, “Just think whether you would be free from wet clothes and wet hair”.

Visakha said that she did not want so many children  and grandchildren, because acquisition of more children  and grandchildren  would bring greater suffering.

Endearment begets sorrow, endearment begets fear. For him who is free from endearment there is no sorrow; how can there be fear for him? (Udana, 91-92).

Pemato jāyatī soko, pemato jāyatī bhayaṃ  Pemato vippamuttassa, natthi soko kuto bhayaṃ?

All sorrows, griefs and sufferings which appear
In great variety here in this world
They all originate from what is dear
And, if there is nothing dear, do not arise.
 
Hence, those are happy and free from grief
Who in the world hold nothing dear at all,
If you aspire to be sorrowless
Do not hold anything dear in this world.

 

8. 1. In appreciation of her wisdom, her ability and generosity to the Sangha, the Buddha declared that Visakha be his chief female lay benefactor. In addition to serving the Buddha and the Sangha, Visakha was authorized to arbitrate issues and disputes that arose among the nuns; and between nuns and monks. She was a well-respected person in the Sangha.

8.2. Visakha was a person of great charm and independent spirit.She had certain poise and calm authority around her. She led a long and healthy life;  and lived for over a hundred years.

Visakha, it is written, retained her youthful charm and her sharp and inquisitive mind even in her later years.

I have always had great admiration and affection for the girl in Visakha. A great girl she was.

The Issues:

1.  As mentioned at the end of the earlier stories, the society at the time of early Buddhism, despite its flaws, did provide space to women to participate in its social and commercial spheres.

They were respected for their wisdom and ability, as in the case of Visakha.

2. The girls were married after they came of age. Their consent was essential. Interestingly, in the Visakha story, the proposal from the groom’s side and its acceptance by the bride’s side was formalized by exchange of letters of agreements, as if the parties to the transaction were negotiating a business contract.

3. The women, at least the wealthy among them, were free to do pretty much what they liked. Some just walked out of their homes, roamed about the countryside without a care or fear, with a sort of bravado that bordered on recklessness. They were even free to walk out their marriage and take another husband.

Most of such women had their say in family matters; and, they decided on all internal matters. In that respect, I reckon, very little has changed in the Indian households.

Again, the parents were always very supportive of their daughters.

4 . In the case of Visakha, she was free to manage her resources; run her own business independently. Her business was apart from the family business managed by her husband and father-in-law. She was free to donate or gift away her money as she pleased.

She even had the nerve to browbeat her grumpy father-in-law when he threatened to dispatch her back to her parents. She could afford doing that .

Ruins of Pubbarama  _ Asoka period 

Notes:

1. Anga:  One of the sixteen Powers or Great Countries. It was to the east of Magadha, from which it was separated by the River Champa, and had as its capital city Champa, near the modern Bhagalpur. In the Buddha’s time it was a province of Magadha, whose king Bimbisara. The people of Anga and Magadha are generally mentioned together, so we may gather that by the Buddha’s time they had become one people.

2. Bhaddiya: A city in the Anga kingdom. The Buddha visited there several times and stayed sometimes at the Jatiyavana and with Mendaka who lived there.

4. Anguttarapa: A part of Anga on the other side of the river Mahi. The town was probably rich because as many as 1,250 monks accompanied the Buddha to this region.

3. Kosala: A country to the north-west of Magadha and next to Kasi. It is mentioned second in the list of sixteen Mahajanapadas. The river Sarayu divided Kosala into two parts, Uttara Kosala and Dakkhina Kosala. In the Buddha’s time it was a powerful kingdom ruled by Pasenadi. During his time Kasi was under the subjection of Kosala. At the time of the BuddhaSavatthi was the capital of Kosala. Next in importance was Saketa.

4. Savatthi: or Sravasti was one of the  six large cities of ancient India. The city located in the fertile Ganga valley was the capital of the Kosala kingdom. The ruins of Savatthi are in the Gonda district of UP state.

5.Saketa: A town in Kosala. It was regarded in the Buddha’s time as one of the six great cities of India, the others being Champa, Rajagaha, SavatthiKosambī and Varanasi. The distance from Saketa to Savatthi was seven leagues (yojanas).

AshtavakraGitaCh-4Of20Slideshow

Abbreviations:

A… Anguttara Nikaya; D… Digha Nikaya; Dhp.. Dhammapada; M.. Majjhima Nikaya; S… Samyutta Nikaya; Sn .. Sutta Nipata; Thag… Theragatha; Thig.. Therigatha; Pac… Pacittiya (Vinaya); J. Jataka; Ud. . Udana; Mil. .. Milindapañha; Jtm.. Jatakamala; Bu… BuddhavamsaDivy..  Divyavadana;   Ap… Apadana.

 

References and Sources

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/vy/visaakhaa.htm

www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/vy/visaakhaa.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/vy/vighaasa_jat_393.htm

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.118.than.html

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/me_mu/migaramatupasada.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anapanasati_Sutta

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/vy/vighaasa_jat_393.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/am/agganna_sutta.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/u/utthaana_s.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/ay/ariyapariyesanaa_sutta.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/ay/ariyapariyesanaa_sutta.htm

http://www.palikanon.com/english/pali_names/pa/pasadakampana.htm

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/ud/ud.8.08.than.html

http://www.dharmaweb.org/index.php/Jataka_Tales_of_the_Buddha,_Part_III

Pictures are from Internet

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism, Buddhist Women, Story

 

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The Early Buddhist Women – stories -Three – Bhadda Kundalakesa , the debater

[This story could be treated as an addendum to the main post – The Early Buddhist Women- stories]

A. The Early Years

1.1. She was born Bhadda in Rajagaha the capital city of the kingdom of Magadha ruled by the King Bimbisara.Her father was a wealthy banker who also  acted as one of the financiers and  treasurers (Bhandari) to the King. She was a lovely looking little girl and her father’s fortune took an upswing since the day she was born. He therefore aptly named her Bhadda (Snkt. Bhadra), the auspicious one .The little girl had a mop of thick, glossy curly hair; and her parents fondly called her kundala-kesa (the one with curly hair).Later in her life, that pet name became a part of her formal name, perhaps to distinguish her from another Bhadda, also a nun. The latter was Bhadda Kapilani, the former wife of Maha Kassapa, the leading disciple of the Master.

1.2. Her parents doted on their beautiful daughter; pampered her and strived to fulfill her every wish. She was very intelligent, articulate and argumentative. She had a frivolous and a passionate nature; she would love a thing intensely but for a very short while and discard it quickly to pick up another favorite. She was rather snappish; and would go into frenzy if her wish was not met promptly.

1.3. Bhadda was headstrong and unhappy. She argued with everyone, even speaking back to her father, which somehow made him love and indulge her more. He wasn’t sure what to make of Bhadda’s difficult behavior. Her mind and wit were sharp. She was never satisfied; she questioned every household decision, and seemed unwilling to enjoy her many pleasures.

When she came of age, in order to protect her from herself, her parents placed her on the seventh floor of their mansion, attended by servants.

2.1. One day while pacing up and down her balcony, she noticed a young and a handsome person led along the city street by the King’s guards. She at once fell in love with him; and demanded of her father to get her that youth. Her father promptly enquired about the boy’s background; and was shocked to learn that he was Satthuka the son of the purohith (priest), notorious as a habitual offender and a robber. He was also horrified because Satthuka was due to be executed shortly. He therefore tried hard to drill some sense into Bhadda’s curly skull and dissuade her from getting involved with a criminal facing execution. He pleaded with Bhadda to forget that despicable one and choose a suitable boy.

2.2. Bhadda would not listen to her father, would not eat or drink; and insisted on marrying that robber awaiting his death. She screamed; she would commit suicide right then and there, if her desire was not met. The hapless father, left with no option, bribed the prison warden to let the condemned criminal Satthuka stage a jail-break. He brought Satthuka home, had him bathed in perfumed water, dressed in finest silks and suitably bejeweled. The pleased Bhadda decked in jewels and dressed in her fineries, waited on her new-found love; and promptly married him. The helpless parents hoped and prayed that Bhaddha’s love and his good fortune would influence Suttuka to mend his ways.

3.1. Sadly, their prayers were not answered. Satthuka was a criminal at heart and would never change. He started scheming and plotting ways, with alacrity, to decamp with money and jewels on which he could quickly lay hands. He coveted his wife’s elaborate set of wedding jewelry; and came up with a plan to steal it from her. He told Bhadda that he vowed to make an offering to a certain mountain deity if he escaped execution. It was time, he said, to keep that vow. He asked Bhadda to dress in all her finery, wear all her jewels and get ready for a trip to the mountain top. Wishing to please him and adorning herself with all her jewels, she mounted a chariot with Satthuka and drove to the cliff. By this ploy, Satthuka managed to take Bhadda away from her home.

3.2. After a long journey, Satthuka led Bhadda to the foot of a steep cliff with a sheer face. It was the robbers’ cliff from where the criminals condemned for execution were put to death by pushing them over the cliff. At the foot of the cliff, Satthuka asked the attendants to stay back and went up the cliff with Bhadda carrying the offerings to the mountain deity. Once atop the cliff, Satthuka brusquely asked Bhadda to hand him over all her jewelry; and informed her of her impending death as he planned to push her over the cliff and go to another city where a luxurious life awaited him. ‘You fool, do you fancy I have come here to make offering? I have come to get your ornaments.’

3.3. Bhadda pleaded that she loved him with all her life; he could take all her jewelry and more; and begged him to take her with him. Satthuka would have none of that; he told her bluntly he was never interested in her or her love. He reminded her it was after all she who came after him, in lust. He asked her to part with her jewelry without much fuss; and taunted her to get ready for a quick trip down the cliff by the shortest route.

3.4. The quick witted Bhadda said to herself “Bhadda, you bad girl; it is the end of the road for you. It is now or never; do something fast and get rid of this miserable pest before he does it to you”. Then with doleful eyes she said meekly,” you are my lord and master; you are my love. If my death brings you happiness, I willingly give up my life for you with a smile; what more can I ask? Just let me pay my final obeisance to you and pray that you be my husband in my next birth too”. Satthuka graciously granted her wish. Then, Bhadda with all her jewels on solemnly went round him three times, falling on her knees, saluting him from each direction. In the final round when she was directly behind him she mustered all her strength and pushed Suttuka to his death, quickly, over theprecipice(cf. Dhammapada. vol. II, pp.217 f).

Another version of the story says that Bhadda asked,” grant me this one wish: let me, while wearing my jewels, embrace you.” He consented, saying: ‘Very well.’ She thereupon embraced him in front, and then, as if embracing him from the back, pushed him over the precipice. (Psalms of the sisters)

In any case, Suttuka the criminal condemned to death by a push over the precipice met the very end that the judge ordered. In fact Suttuka drove himself to his execution, his ordained end; you could even say it was his karma.

 
A version of the story mentions that the mountain deity who was witness to this drama smiled, praising Bhadda for her presence of mind; and chuckled “Men are not in all cases wiser than women”.
Not in every case is Man though wiser ever; 
Woman, too, when swift to see, may prove as clever. 
Not in every case is Man the wiser reckoned; 
Woman, too, is clever, than she think but a second.
(Psalms of the sisters: Psalms of five verses; Canto five-46)
***
 

B. The Jain ascetic

4.1. After her escapade, something within Bhadda seemed to snap. The words like love, husband, the jewels and riches sounded hollow to her; seemed bereft of meaning and no longer worth pursuing. She pondered; there must be more to life than these things. She had also lost the desire to return home and carryon living as if nothing had happened to her and to her beliefs. She then decided to set forth into the world; and to discover for herself the meaning of life and of all existence.

4.2. She wandered aimless and adrift. Later she became a Jain ascetic and entered the Order of the Niganthas. She practiced extreme austerities; had her hair pulled out, at the roots, with a Palmyra comb. Her hair grew again in thick close curls (kundala kesa); and she had them pulled out again and again as a form of penance. She studied diligently and soon became proficient in Jain lore; and gained reputation as an excellent and a passionate debater in Jain philosophy and scriptural matters.  None could equal her in debate.

4.3. It was not long before Bhadda grew a bit tired and dissatisfied with Jainism; and said to herself , “They know so far as they go and nothing beyond that”. She walked out of the Nigantha Order, roamed about the country alone as a wandering ascetic. She wandered over hills and dales; she went from city to city, village to village wherever there were learned persons. And, she challenged all to debate with her. Debating almost became her passion. Thus she wandered over ancient India for nearly fifty years.

Hairless, dirt-laden and half-clad–so fared 
With plucked hair, covered with mud,
Imagining flaws in the flawless
And seeing no flaws in what is flawed.”
– (Therigatha 107)
 
4.4. As she entered a town or a city, she would make a sand pile at the city – gate and stick a branch of Jambu (rose apple) tree on top of the sand- heap. She would ask the village urchins to keep a watch on the sand-heap with a message:”whoever dares join issue with me in debate let him trample on the Jambu bough”. She would then retreat to her dwelling; and return after about a week. If the bough still stood in its place she would depart and proceed on her way to another city, to another challenge.
*****
C. Debate with Sariputta’
*

5.1. During the course of her ceaseless wandering, Bhadda came to the city of Savatthi (Snkt.Shravasthi) on the banks of the River Aciravati (now the Rapti River in Gonda district, UP). Savatti was the capital city of Kosala; and its king Pasenadi was an ardent disciple of the Buddha. The beautiful garden city of Savatthi had two major Buddhist monasteries: the Jethavana built in the Buddha’s service by the wealthy merchant Anathapindaka, and the Pubbarama dedicated lovingly by Visakha the leading lay female disciple of the Buddha. In addition, Savatthi had another monastery, Rajakarama, built by king Pasenadi opposite the Jethavana. The Master spent a greater part of his later years (25 rainy seasons) in these monasteries of Savatthi. It was in Savatthi, the Buddha dispensed a large number of his discourses and instructions. The city of Savatthi occupies a significant position in the history of the early Buddhism.

5.2. On the day Bhadda arrived at the gates of Savatthi and erected her challenge insignia, the Jambu branch, atop a sand pile, Sariputta the leading disciple of the Buddha was staying at the Jethavana monastery. When Sariputta heard of the arrival of Bhadda and of her planting the challenge, he sent a bunch of children to trample on the sand pile and throw out the Jambu (rose apple) branch stuck in its middle. That was Sariputta’s reponse, accepting the challenge thrown by Bhadda.

5.3. Following the acceptance of her challenge Bhadda marched confidently into Jethavana accompanied by a large number of her admirers and onlookers. She asked Sariputta a number of questions, all of which he answered until she fell silent. Then Sariputta questioned her. And, his first question was “What is the One?” She remained silent, unable to discern the Buddhist’s intent. She pondered, surely he did not mean “God” or “Brahman” or “the Infinite”; But then what else could it be? She debated within herself whether the answer could be “nutriment” because all beings are sustained by food;   or whether it could be “the one thing that is true for everyone”? But Bhadda, however, chose to remain silent and not answer the question. Technically, she had lost the contest.

But, Bhadda realized in a flash, she had stumbled upon what she had been searching in last fifty years of her wandering life.Here was someone who had found what she had been looking. She asked Sariputta to be her teacher.

D. Her ordination

6.1. Sariputta  led Bhadda  to the Master who quickly discerned the maturity of her attainments. The Buddha expounded the Dhamma at the Mount Gridhrakuta (Vulture Peak); and , preached her a short discourse saying that it was better to know one single stanza that brings calm and peace than knowing thousand verses of no merit.

 
Though a thousand verses are made of meaningless lines, better the single meaningful line by hearing which one is at peace. (Dhammapada 101)
 *

It is said; at the end of this sermon Bhadda attained the state of the Arhant instantly, perhaps because her intellect and emotions had been trained for long years.

6.2. The Buddha himself ordained her with the words: “Come, Bhadda,” and that was her ordination. She entered the Order of Nuns as one who was already an arahant; this was unusual. She was also the only nun to be ordained by Shakyamuni calling her by nameAgreat importance is, therefore, attached to Bhadda and her attainments.

6.3. Bhadda speaks of her experience: “Going out from my daytime resting-place on Mt. Grjhakuta, I saw the stainless Buddha, attended by the order of bhikkhus. Having bent the knee, having paid homage to him, I stood with cupped hands face to face with him. ‘Come, Bhadda,’ he said to me; that was my ordination.”

6.4. The Buddha declared that Bhadda Kundalakesa was foremost among the nuns in understanding the Dhamma quickly. Bhadda was assigned a chief position among the Bhikkhunis as one possessing great wit and wisdom. She   travelled far and wide preaching the Dhamma, using her debating skills.

6.5. In the Theri- gatha (Thig.vss.107-11), Bhadda speaks of her experiences wandering in Anga, Magadha, Kasi and Kosala; and living on alms. She also speaks   of her enlightenment

 

  • I traveled before in a single cloth; With shaven head, covered in dust; Thinking of faults in the faultless; While in the faulty seeing no faults 
  • When done was the day’s abiding; I went to Mount Vulture Peak; And saw the stainless Buddha; By the Order of  Bhikkhus   revered.
  •  
  • He then taught me the Dhamma; The aggregates, sense bases, and elements. The Leader told me about foulness;  Impermanence, suffering and non self.
  • Having heard the Dhamma from Him,; I purified the vision of the Dhamma. When I had understood true Dhamma ; (I asked for) the going forth and ordination
  • Then before Him my hands in anjali; Humbly, I bowed down on my knees. “Come, O Bhadda,” He said to me: And thus was I ordained.
  • Then, having been fully ordained;  I observed a little streamlet of water. Through that stream of foot-washing water; I knew the process of rise and fall.
 
Then I reflected that all formations; Are exactly the same in nature.
 
  • Right on the spot my mind was released;  Totally freed by the end of clinging. The Victor then appointed me the chief; Of those with quick understanding.” – (Apadana 38-46)
  • “Free from defilements, for fifty years; I travelled in Anga and Magadha. Among the Vajjis in Kasi and Kosala ; I ate the alms food of the land.
 
That lay supporter – wise man indeed –Who gave a robe to Bhadda,Has generated abundant merit,For she is one free of all ties.”– (Therigatha 110-111)
 
[Translated from the Pali by Hellmuth Hecker & Sister Khema]
***
Bahdra Kundalakesa
Lotus0Flower (1)

E. The Issues

1. Again, the girl child was loved and pampered. The strong willed girls had their way.

2. I am amazed at the bravado bordering on recklessness of the women of that era. The spirited ones walked out the house and wandered freely in the world for long periods without a care or fear.

3. In matters of intellectual debates and doctrinal matters the women were respected for their wisdom and attainments. There appeared to be no discrimination.  None could equal Bhadda in the debating skills and knowledge of scriptures.

4. It appears the monastic Orders of the Jains and Bhuddhists were yet to stabilize. The seekers switched from one sect to the other, according to their inclinations.

5.  Unlike in other religions, The Buddhist Order of Nuns did not place a premium on the state of virginity of the women entering the Sangha. A vast number of its inmates had been mothers and wives; and, a few had been courtesans. The Master himself was once a husband and father. This again was an assertion of the Buddha-faith that the road to enlightenment is not blocked by the state of the body and its condition.

Notes:

Savatthi or Sravasti was one of the cities of six large cities of ancient India. The city located in the fertile Ganga valley was the capital of the Kosala kingdom. The ruins of Savatthi are in the Gonda district of UP state.

Rajagaha or Rajagriha was the first capital of the Kingdom of Magadha which a couple of centuries later evolved into the Maurya Empire. It is identified with the present Rajgir in Patna district of Bihar, located near the ancient ruins of Nalanda.

Vulture’s Peak or Gridhrakuta Hill is a few kilometers to south of the town of Rajgir.

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2012 in Buddhism, Buddhist Women, Story

 

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Citta the preacher

Among the followers of the Buddha there were many lay disciples , the householders, who excelled in the understanding of the Dhamma and in preaching the Dhamma . The foremost among them was Citta .He was the model that the Buddha urged others to emulate .He was the foremost disciple in expounding the Dhamma.On one occasion, the Buddha said to the monks: “Should a devoted mother wish to encourage her beloved only son in a proper way she should say to him: ‘Try to become like the disciple Citta “

A wealthy merchant who owned the hamlet of Macchikāsanda near the city of Savatthi celebrated the birth of a son by covering the village streets with flowers of various hues. The streets at once looked colorful and picturesque . The baby boy was hence promptly named Cittagahapati . His family and friends called him , for short , Citta . Because of his birth in Macchikāsanda , he also acquired the name Macchikásandika. The boy grew up to be a bright and an articulate young man . Besides his family trade Citta acted as the Treasurer of the City Council of Savatthi, where he now lived. He also owned a tributary village called Migapattaka . He had a resort in the grove Ambarukkhavana, in his native village of Macchikāsanda .

Once when the monk the Elder Mahānāma visited Macchikāsanda, Citta, pleased with his demeanor, invited him , for a meal at the Ambarukkhavana grove .Citta was so impressed with the discourse delivered by the monk that at its conclusion he dedicated the Ambarukkhavana grove to the Sangha . Later he built a splendid monastery there for the use of monks . The monastery came to be celebrated as the Ambātakārāma; and was the residence of a large numbers of monks . Discussions often took place there between Cittagahapati and the resident Bhikkhus . Among eminent Elders who visited the Ambātakārāma were Isidatta of Avanti , Mahaka of magical powers ,Kāmabhū ,Godatta and the Elder Lakuntaka Bhaddiya who lived there in solitude and in meditation . A monk named Sudhamma was another permanent resident of the Ambātakārāma .

Citta , by diligence and dedication , not only grasped the heart of the Dhamma but also became quite an adept in explaining the Dhamma. The Buddha considered Citta the most learned and lucid of all the lay Dharma teachers. The Buddha recognized Citta as the foremost in expounding the Dhamma .He held up Citta as a model for others to follow. The Tipitaka contains discourses preached to and by Citta . The sixty-first section in Tipitaka , Citta Samyutta Nikáya is named after him and contains a record of his discussions . In the Samyutta Nikaya there are two sutras wherein he discussed Dhamma with the monks. They indicate his profound grasp of the subtle aspects of the Dhamma.

The first documented teaching by Citta relates to a discussion that a group of monks were having at the Ambātakārāma monastery . The discussion was about whether it is the sense objects that fetter the mind ; or whether it is the sense organs that cause the fetters or whether fetters and sense objects are one and the same. Citta joined the discussion and explained by using a simile .“ Suppose a black ox and a white ox were tied together with a yoke or rope. Now , would it be right to say that the black ox was the fetter of the white ox or that the white ox was the fetter of the black ox?” he explained “Certainly not; The black ox is not the fetter of the white ox nor is the white ox the fetter of the black ox. They are both fettered by the yoke or rope. Similarly, the eye is not the fetter of visual objects nor are visual objects the fetter of the eye .The sense faculties do not bind the external objects. Instead, they are bound or yoked by craving.”. The monks were delighted by Citta’s lucid explanation .

On another occasion, the monk Kamabhu, perplexed by one of the Buddha’s sayings, asked Citta if he could explain what it meant. The saying was:

Pure-limbed, white-canopied, one-wheeled,
The chariot rolls on.
Look at he who is coming,
He is a faultless stream-cutter, he is boundless.

Citta explained the verse with understanding and insight. He said: “‘Pure-limbed’ means virtue, ‘white-canopied’ means freedom, ‘one wheeled’ means mindfulness, ‘rolls on’ means coming and going. ‘Chariot’ means the body, ‘he who is coming’ means the enlightened one, ‘stream’ means craving, ‘faultless’, ‘stream-cutter’ and ‘boundless’ all mean one who has destroyed the defilements.” Citta’s ability to give a spiritual interpretation to what appeared to be merely a beautiful verse surprised and delighted Kamabhu .

The laymen and Bhikkhus respected Citta as a great teacher. Citta used his knowledge to help both believers and non-believers.

It appears that Citta did not formally join the Order though he had encouraged many of his friends to do so. That might have been because of his certain commitments in his personal life as a householder.

Citta’s visit to the Buddha at the Jetavana monastery is recorded in the Canon. It is said , Citta loaded five hundred carts with food and other offerings for the Buddha and his disciples visited Savatthi, accompanied by three thousand followers. They traveled at the rate of one yojana a day and reached Savatthi at the end of a month. Then Citta went ahead with five hundred of his companions to the Jetavana monastery and fell at the feet of the Buddha. Citta stayed at the monastery for one whole month offering alms-food to the Buddha and the bhikkhus ; and also feeding his own party of three thousand. All this time, his stock of food and other offerings. were being replenished. The Buddha preached to him the Salāyatana-vibhatti.

The Salāyatana-vibhatti Sutta is a series of definitions of the

six internal senses,
* six external sense objects,
* six groups of consciousness,
* six groups of contacts,
* eighteen mental researches,
* thirty six tracks for creatures,
* six satisfactions to the banished,
* three bases of mindfulness, and
* the supreme trainer of the human heart. 

On the eve of his return journey, Citta put all the things he had brought with him in the rooms of the monastery as offerings to the Buddha .The Buddha said, “Ananda, this disciple is fully endowed with faith and generosity; he is also virtuous and his reputation spreads far and wide. Such a one is sure to be revered and showered with riches wherever he goes.”

Then the Buddha spoke in verse as follows:

He who is full of faith and virtue, who also possesses fame and fortune, is held in reverence wherever he goes.

The Dhammapada Atthakatha says that once Citta made offerings to some monks and one of the monks was rather rude. He was therefore rebuked by Citta . The monk complained to the Buddha against Citta but Buddha rebuked him and asked him to apologize to Citta (the monk became an arahant eventually).

The Buddha uttered the following Verses to the monks :

The fool will desire undue reputation, precedence among monks,
authority in the monasteries, honor among families.

Let both laymen and monks think, “by myself was this done;
in every work, great or small, let them refer to me.”
Such is the ambition of the fool; his desires and pride increase.

Asantam bhavanamiccheyya / purekkharanca bhikkhusu / avasesu ca issariyam / pujam parakulesu ca.

Mameva kata mannantu / gihi pabbajita ubho / mamevativasa assu/ kiccakiccesu kismici / iti balassa sankappo/ iccha mano ca vaddhati

When Citta lay ill just before his death, he did not wish for heaven because he did not aspire to anything so impermanent. True to his calling he gave his last advice to those gathered around his death bed. Citta requested them to have trust and confidence in the Buddha and the Dhamma ; and to remain unswervingly generous to the Sangha.

Citta was an ideal lay disciple , an ideal preacher and an ideal son.

****

Should a devoted mother wish to encourage her beloved only son in a proper way she should say to him:

‘Try to become like the disciple Citta

buddha-tashkent-behl

Reference:
http://www.budsas.org/ebud/rdbud/rdbud-05.htm

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Buddha, Buddhism

 

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