Dhamma and Dhammā – Different but Related

Dhammā means to “bear or give rise to things in this world,” and Dhamma explains how. Buddha Dhamma explains how such dhammās arise and how to stop them from arising.

December 30, 2022; January 2, 2023; July 21, 2023

Introduction – Different Types of Dhamma

1. In the post “Dhamma – Different Meanings Depending on the Context,” we briefly mentioned that Dhamma generally means “various teachings/principles about our world.” But most of the discussion was focused on Buddha Dhamma, the teachings of the Buddha.

  • All other types of dhamma are “lokiya dhamma.” They express various viewpoints about the world.
  • Most religious teachings say that a Supreme being created the world, a Creator God; if one lives a moral life, one will be born in a heavenly realm with a permanent existence. Otherwise, one will be born in hell for eternity. People who follow such teachings are “theists.”
  • Others believe that life ends with the death of the physical body; there is no afterlife. Because they don’t believe in a Divine entity creating life, they are called “atheists.”
  • Buddha Dhamma has a unique position away from both above worldviews. It says rebirth happens according to the merits of deeds (laws of kamma.) Furthermore, it says most rebirths lead to much suffering. That suffering-filled rebirth process can be ended by understanding the causes/conditions for rebirth and removing necessary conditions. The endpoint is Nibbāna with no more suffering. Buddhists do not belong to either of the above two camps.
Underlying Principles for Various Teachings/Worldviews

2. The idea of a Creator can neither be proven nor disproven. It is faith-based. According to that belief held by theists, the Creator created both the physical world and humans.

  • Atheists believe that the physical body defines life and that our thoughts originate in the brain. When the physical body dies, that is the end of life. The world originated with the “Big Bang,” and life evolved from inert matter over billions of years.
  • Buddhists believe that life arises due to causes and suitable conditions for those causes to lead to their corresponding effects. The world itself and each sentient being (not only humans) have existed for eternity, i.e., a beginning is not discernible. That is the natural conclusion for a theory based on cause and effect. There would be no “First Cause” as in the case of a Creator, where the Creator is the First Cause. The world does not arise without a cause, as in the “Big Bang theory” either.
Three Worldviews – Details of the Theories

3. How do things (people, animals, plants, mountains, oceans, etc.) come into existence? A self-consistent worldview needs to explain that.

  • The “Creator theory” is the easiest to state but impossible to verify. It says the Creator created the world and the humans in it. Of course, it cannot be proven scientifically.
  • Atheists‘ position on the origin of the material world is the “Big Bang Theory” proposed by scientists. It states that everything in the universe originated in a “Big Bang,” where all the matter came into existence some 15 billion years ago. However, scientists cannot explain what happened before or at the moment of the “Big Bang.” Furthermore, it says that sentient beings evolved from inert matter over time; but the transition from inert matter to living sentient beings with minds has not been explained.
  • Buddha Dhamma has a self-consistent theory. Summarizing that worldview in a paragraph or even a single post is impossible. 
  • I have dedicated a section to discuss all three worldviews, where the worldview of the Buddha is discussed in detail. See “Origin of Life.” I will extract some critical elements from that to elaborate on the topic of this post.

4. Now, we can see the main arguments of the theists and atheists against each other.

  • Theists say that consciousness cannot and does not arise from inert matter in the brain (as claimed without proof by scientists.)
  • Atheists argue that there is no proof that a Creator can create everything in this world, including living beings.
  • Buddha Dhamma teaches that there is no Creator and consciousness does not arise from inert matter. However, no permanent entity like a soul goes to the next life.  Everything in this world (including our rebirths) arises via Paṭicca Samuppāda, the Principle of Causation in Buddha Dhamma. 
  • All three worldviews are discussed in detail in the section “Origin of Life.”
What Are “Dhammā” in the Three Worldviews (Dhammas)?

5. Buddha Dhamma is the teachings/worldview of the Buddha followed by Buddhists. They believe that dhammā” or “kammic energies” bear things (inert and living) in this world.

  • In that sense, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism are examples of other “religious Dhammas” followed by the theists. They are Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, etc. Except for Hinduism, in other religions, the Creator “bears everything in this world. Hinduism is a hybrid of a Creator (Mahā Brahma) but also believes in the laws of kamma (even though not the same as Buddhism.)
  • Modern science is an example of a “non-religious Dhamma” followed by many atheists. In modern science, laws of physics “bear things made of inert matter.” How all that matter was created at the “Big Bang” is unresolved. Even though modern science can explain many material phenomena, it cannot explain the origin of consciousness either.

6. Let us briefly discuss some contradictions/implausibilities with the worldviews (Dhammas) of the theists and atheists.

  • Theists say the world (the Earth) was created in a day and is supposed to remain forever. But we know the Earth will be destroyed in a few billion years. Also, the Creator only created only a man and a woman. Where did billions of other people come from? If only the DNA in the original couple is responsible (without each human having a soul,) where did the other souls come from? That is a direct contradiction to their view of an unchanging soul that survives death.
  • Atheists say that mental phenomena arise in the brain. But they have not made ANY progress in providing evidence for that. Also, they cannot explain numerous Near-Death Experiences (NDE) tabulated by heart surgeons and other physicians. Of course, there are numerous rebirth accounts from countries worldwide. Also, they cannot explain how all these galaxies came into existence in one moment some 15 billion years ago in a “Big Bang.”
  • I have discussed these in detail in “Origin of Life.”
Dhammā – What “Bear” Things in the World

7. In Buddha’s detailed theory, dhammā” (with a long “a” and usually starting with a lowercase “d”) means “to bear things in this world.” For example, “Ye dhammā hetuppabhavā” means “those dhammā that sustain the rebirth process or samsāra.” 

  • See “Ye Dhammā Hetuppabhavā.. and Yam Kiñci Samudaya Dhammam..
  • Dhammās are kammic energies created by abhisaṅkhāra. Such dhammā with kammic energies are created in javana citta while cultivating abhisaṅkhāra; see “Javana of a Citta – The Root of Mental Power.” 
  • Such kammic energies are strengthened in the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step. Such kammic energies (also called kamma bija) can bring kamma vipāka during a lifetime or lead to rebirths (jāti.) Thus, dhammā, kammic energy, bhava, and kamma bija are closely related. 
  • Those dhammā are the kammic energies we all have accumulated through the rebirth process. We accumulate kammic energies with the Akusala-Mula Paṭicca Samuppāda process, starting with “avijjā paccayā (abhi)saṅkhāra.”

8. Such kammic energies are established in the “upādāna paccayā bhava” step, where the PS cycles loop back to the “avijjā paccayā (abhi)saṅkhāra” step repeatedly, thus initiating many PS cycles. It is good to understand the: “Difference Between Tanhā and Upādāna.”

  • Such kammic energies (also called kamma bija) can bring kamma vipāka during a lifetime or lead to rebirths (jāti.) Thus, dhammā, kammic energy, bhava, and kamma bija are closely related. 
  • Everything in this world arises based on “dhammā” based on various types of adhamma. Buddha Dhamma or saddhamma does not give rise to dhammā. Instead, Buddha Dhamma help neutralizes/deactivates the dhammā that “sustains the world of 31 realms.” 
Dhammā May Include Everything in This World

9. Dhammā is a complex world that embeds different meanings in different contexts. 

  • The second meaning of dhammā is a watered-down version of “bearing something in this world.” The Buddha explained that to Ven. Ananda in the “Ānanda Sutta (SN 22.21).”
  • For example, our physical body or any other material object (at present) bears the results of causes that led to its arising. The Buddha says: “Rūpaṁ kho, ānanda, aniccaṁ saṅkhataṁ paṭiccasamuppannaṁ khayadhammaṁ vayadhammaṁ virāgadhammaṁ nirodhadhammaṁ..”

Translated: “Ānanda, any rūpa is of anicca nature, prepared (by the mind), originated via Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS,) is a khaya dhamma, a vaya dhamma, a nirodha dhamma.

  • That verse needs to be explained in detail. By “rūpa,” the Buddha refers to the “mental image of an external rupa.” The word-by-word translation in the above link, as follows, is WRONG or INCOMPLETE: “Ānanda, form is impermanent, conditioned, dependently originated, liable to end, vanish, fade away, and cease.”
  • We will discuss in detail what is meant by “khayadhammaṁ vayadhammaṁ virāgadhammaṁ nirodhadhammaṁ” in upcoming posts.
  • For example, a nirodha dhamma can be stopped from arising. The five types of dhamma discussed in this sutta arise via Anuloma PS and can be stopped arising via Patiloma PS. All those entities stop arising at the Parinibbāna of an Arahant. See “Paṭilōma Paṭicca Samuppāda – Key to Nibbāna” and “Distortion of Pāli Keywords in Paṭicca Samuppāda.”

10. Next, the Buddha states that any vedanā, saññā, saṅkhārā, and viññāṇa arising at any moment are also dhammā since they “bear” the mental states at that time.

  • Therefore, rupa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhārā, and viññāṇa arising are also dhammā. 
  • Note also that dhammā can be the plural of dhamma. Also, note that Dhamma (not italicized and without a long “a”) refers to teaching or explanation.
  • In a series of suttas,Aniccādisuttanavaka (35.43–51),” the Buddha stated that anything in this world (sabba) is of anicca, dukkha, and anatta nature. Note that dukkha and anatta nature are listed below the main text on anicca. (By the way, “Sabbaṁ, bhikkhave, anattā” is a direct statement that contradicts the interpretation of anatta as “no-self.” The translator translates that as “Mendicants, all is not-self. …” in the English translation, there: “Aniccādisuttanavaka (35.43–51).” Does that make any sense? How can we talk about a “self” for any rupa, including a tree or a rock? But that is not the topic of this post.)
Dhammā Arising via Abhisaṅkhāra Responsible for All Dhammā

11. As we saw in #9 and #10 above, the Buddha stated, “Ānanda, any rūpa (or vedanā, saññā, saṅkhārā, or viññāṇa) is of anicca, dukkha, anatta nature, prepared (by the mind), originated via Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS,) is a khaya dhamma, a vaya dhamma, a nirodha dhamma.

  • All types of “secondary dhammā” (discussed in #9, #10) arise via the primary type of dhammā (kammic energy, bhava, kamma bija) created in Paṭicca Samuppāda (PS) processes. These are the dhammā that bring vipāka via, “manañca paṭicca dhammē ca uppajjāti manō viññāṇaṃ.” These kammic energies are created in javana cittās with abhisaṅkhāra.
  • As we have discussed, three types of abhisaṅkhārā initiate the creation of kammic energies (bhava) that can give rise to existences in the 31 realms in kāma loka, rupa loka, and arupa loka. Any rūpa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhārā, or viññāṇa arising in any realm have root causes in those kammic energies (dhammā.)
  • A basic description at “Six Root Causes – Loka Samudaya (Arising of Suffering) and Loka Nirodhaya (Nibbāna).” Many sections provide detailed explanations; see, for example, “Basic Framework of Buddha Dhamma.” Also, see various subsections in “Paṭicca Samuppāda.”
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