Dasa Akusala and Anatta – The Critical Link

April 2, 2017; revised November 10, 2017; September 1, 2018; June 6, 2019

1. This important post will help make the connection between deeper teaching of the Buddha Dhamma (anicca, dukkha, anatta) and the practice, i.e., cleansing one’s mind via abstaining from dasa akusala and cultivating dasa kusala.

  • The Tilakkhana represent the “theory side” or the “nature of this world” and dasa akusala are associated with the practice. Thus the connection between the two is important.
  • I have not seen this addressed directly, outside of the Tipiṭaka.

2. We discussed in the previous post, “Anatta – the Opposite of Which Atta?“, why the Pāli words “atta/anatta” do not convey “self/no-self” but rather “with essence/no essence” or “truth/untruth” or “useful/not useful” or “protected/helpless”.

  • We also discussed how “atta/anatta” are closely related to Sanskrit words “artha/anartha” (අර්ථ/අනර්ථ in Sinhala) also giving the meanings “truth/untruth” or “useful/not useful”.
  • Finally, we touched on the fact that the anatta (and thus dukkha and anatta) nature is a manifestation of engaging in dasa akusala.

3. Recently I realized that many suttā in the Anguttara Nikāya (AN) express various concepts in brief. Many suttā are just a paragraph, providing the key idea; see, “Anguttara Nikāya – Suttā on Key Concepts“.

  • Here we will discuss three short suttā in the Anguttara Nikāya that can be used to clarify the connection between dasa akusala and Tilakkhana.

4. First, the Kusala Sutta (AN 180; in the Sadhuvagga) is just one paragraph providing the definition of dasa akusala:

  • “..katamanca bhikkhave, akusalam? pānātipātō, adinnādānaṃ, kāmesumicchācārō, musāvādō, pisunā vācā, parusā vācā, samphappalāpō, abhijjhā, vyāpādō, micchādiṭṭhi akusalaṃ..”
  • Conventionally translated: “killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, slandering, harsh talk, empty talk, greed, hate, and wrong views”. These are discussed in “Ten Immoral Actions (Dasa Akusala)“.
  • In the next and last paragraph of the sutta, dasa kusala are defined as the opposites of dasa akusala (veramani means “abstain from”):  “..katamanca bhikkhave, kusalam? pānātipātā veramani, adinnādānā veramani, kāmesumicchācārā veramani, musāvādā veramani, pisunā vācā veramani, parusā vācā veramani, samphappalāpā veramani, abhijjhā veramani, vyāpāda veramani, sammādiṭṭhi kusalaṃ ‘ti.
  • Therefore, kusala and akusala are stated clearly and succinctly in that sutta.

5. Then in the very next sutta,  Attha Sutta (AN 181; in the Sadhuvagga) anatthō  is defined in terms of dasa akusala:

  • “..katamo ca bhikkhave, anatthō? pānātipātō, adinnādānaṃ, kāmesumicchācārō, musāvādō, pisunā vācā, parusā vācā, samphappalāpō, abhijjhā, vyāpādō, micchādiṭṭhi – ayam vuccati, bhikkhave, anatthō..”
  • In the next and last paragraph of the sutta, atthō is defined as the opposite of that: pānātipātā veramani, adinnādānā veramani, kāmesumicchācārä veramani, musāvādä veramani, pisunā vācā veramani, parusā vācā veramani, samphappalāpā veramani, abhijjhā veramani, vyāpāda veramani, sammāädiṭṭhi – ayam vuccati, bhikkhave, atthō. ‘ti.
  • This means dasa akusala are “not the real nature”. When one goes against nature, one gets into trouble; see, “Anatta – the Opposite of Which Atta?“.
  • Here are more short suttā that confirm this point: “Anguttara Nikāya – Suttā on Key Concepts“.

6. Those two short  suttā make it crystal clear the following important facts:

  • Anatta has nothing to do with a “self”.
  • Anatta is all about being helpless in the rebirth process due to one’s engagements with dasa akusala.
  • Therefore, getting to Nibbāna is all about avoiding dasa akusala, i.e., cleansing one’s mind.

7. Now, there are several suttā in the Anguttara Nikāya that put it all together. The first verse in the Patama Adhamma Sutta  (AN 10.113 in the Paccorohanivagga) states it nicely:

  • Adhammō ca, bhikkhave, veditabbō anatthō ca; dhammō ca veditabbō atthō ca“.
  • I will write another post explaining other verses in that sutta, but we can easily translate that verse: “Bhikkhus, it is to be comprehended that adhamma leads to anattā (helplessness), and dhamma leads to attā (refuge in Nibbāna)”.
  • Furthermore, those who are still clinging to the incorrect interpretation of “anatta” as “no self“, should be able to clearly see that it leads to the foolish statement: “Bhikkhus, it is to be comprehended that adhamma leads to no-self, and dhamma leads to self“.
  • The root cause of this misinterpretation is explained in, “Misinterpretation of Anicca and Anatta by Early European Scholars“.

8. Dhammā is what one bears, i.e., what principles one lives by. But it is normally used in the sense of “good dhamma“.

  • Adhamma (or adhammā) is the opposite: immoral living. If one engages in dasa akusala, then one is engaging in adhamma, i.e., one bears adhammā.
  • This can be compared to the following: We use the word “smell” normally to mean “bad smell”. We specifically say “good smell” to indicate an actual good smell.
  • In the same way, dhammā can be good or bad (“what one bears”). However, we normally use the word dhammā to indicate good dhammā.  Bad dhammā are adhammā.

9. Normally the word dhamma is used to indicate a teaching or a principle, as in Buddha Dhamma. The word dhammā (with a long “a”) is used to indicate what one bears as a result of past kamma; see, “What are rūpa? – Dhammā are rūpa too!“. Dhammā are the same as kamma bīja.

  • We need to be able to figure out meaning depending on the context, how the word is used in a given verse.

10. When one examines carefully ANY sutta in the Tipiṭaka they will be consistent with the above explanation.

  • It is clear that those three suttā make the key connection between the deeper Tilakkhana (“theory”) and the practice (cleansing the mind via sila, i.e., staying away from dasa akusala). We don’t need to analyze hundreds of suttā to see the connection.
  • When I go to online discussion boards, I get totally confused. People just quote suttā from different sites, and normally they have incorrect meanings of key Pāli words. It is a waste of time to read all those long posts providing “evidence” from different places, and of course there are usually inconsistencies among them.
  • This was a major reason that I decided to start this website, because I can show that everything is consistent if one uses the true meanings of key Pāli words.

11. It is also good to keep in mind that a major problem with many texts is that they take conventional meanings of key words and apply them in the wrong places.

12. In the previous post, “Anatta – the Opposite of Which Atta?“, we briefly mentioned that anatta is closely related to dasa akusala. I hope the connection is much more clear now.

  • Engaging in dasa akusala can only lead to suffering and thus helplessness in the long run. Therefore, engaging in actions, speech, thoughts associated with dasa akusala are not only pointless but also dangerous.
  • This idea is quite clear in the Sinhala word for anattā: “anārtha” that we discussed in that previous post. It literally means “doing things that are totally useless and can only bring harm”.

13. Those who believe that doing dasa akusala can bring “bad vipāka” only in future lives are mistaken. Many people do not realize that even having immoral thoughts can bring us stress in this life itself.

This was discussed in detail in the beginning posts in the “Living Dhamma” section. That section is important in two aspects:

  1. When one starts abstaining from dasa akusala, one can experience a definite sense of relief — also called nirāmisa sukha — and that should be the initial focus.
  2. When one starts experiencing this nirāmisa sukha, one also starts comprehending deeper aspects of Dhamma like the anicca and anatta nature. Only with those insights that one can actually start to “see” the long-term kamma vipāka due to dasa akusala — like those leading to births in the apāyās (lowest four realms).

14. Note that atta is sometimes spelled out as “attha” (with an “h”) in many texts and each may imply mundane or deeper meaning. For example, the old Sinhala commentaries are called “atthakathā“. It means “accounts about the truth” (“kathā” means “story”).

  • Those are the reliable commentaries in the TipiṭakaPatisambhidamagga, Petakopadesa, and Nettippakarana. Out of many Sinhala atthakathā, those three are the only ones that survived.
  • On the other hand, commentaries by Buddhaghosa and others are do not belong to atthakathā. Visuddhimagga is one such popular but erroneous commentary; see, “Buddhaghosa’s Visuddhimagga – A Focused Analysis“.

15. Finally, we can now see the truth in the verse, “Dhammō ca yathā Dhammō, yathā attō” that is also in the  Patama Adhamma Sutta of #7 above.

  • That means, “when one bears true (yathā) Dhamma, one comprehends the truth (and avoids being helpless in future)”.
  • If one bears dhammā and stays away from adhammā, that will help one grasp the Tilakkhana. Then one will not become anattā or helpless in this rebirth process. One will have “attā” or refuge.
  • This is an important post which provides a simple but critical link between “theory and practice”. It is good idea to read those relevant other posts and come back and re-read this post, until this connection is grasped.
  • This basic idea can go a long way in comprehending Tilakkhana.
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