July 27, 2021; revised August 2, 2022
This world is of “anicca nature,” meaning there is no refuge from suffering anywhere in this world. The translation of “anicca” as “impermanent” is wrong.
Difference Between “Living a Moral Life” and “Pursuing Nibbāna“
1. When I hear the common statement, “all religions are the same; they teach you how to live a MORAL LIFE,” I cringe. I think about all those people unaware of the Buddha’s actual message. In particular, this is the mindset of those who follow “secular Buddhism.”
- Most religions indeed teach how to live a moral life. And there is also evidence that atheists may be as moral as religious people are; see, “Morality in everyday life-Science-2014-Hofmann“.
- However, Buddha Dhamma goes beyond that. The Buddha said that would not help in the LONG TERM no matter how well we live this life.
- Yet, to understand the deep message of the Buddha, living a moral life is necessary.
The Perfect Mind of a Buddha
2. When a human mind loses greed (lobha) and anger (dosa), it gains wisdom (paññā.) In other words, a mind not burdened with greed, anger, and ignorance can “see” things more clearly.
- We can verify that for ourselves. People do foolish/immoral things when greed takes over (think bribes, rapes, etc.) Anger can lead to even harsher offenses like bodily injuries or even murder.
- The tendency to be “triggered” by greed or anger will reduce with the cultivation of wisdom. Here wisdom (paññā) is to see the harsh consequences of such actions in this life and in the rebirth process.
- That wisdom is in the Four Noble Truths, Tilakkhana, and Paṭicca Samuppāda.
3. Even without a Buddha appearing in the world, some people can SUPPRESS greed/anger and attain “higher mental states” or “jhānic states. As one gets to higher jhānic states, one may be able to perform supernormal tasks. One of such capabilities is to be able to “look back” at SOME of one’s previous lives. But since they had not removed greed/anger permanently, those ancient yogis had only limited capabilities.
- But a true disciple of a Buddha would attain the same jhāna while PERMANENTLY removing defilements. Some would be able to attain many more supernormal powers as well. This is described in detail in the “Sāmaññaphala Sutta (DN 2)“. See “Jhānic Experience in Detail – Sāmaññaphala Sutta (DN 2).”
- It is also a good idea to read the following English translation of the whole sutta: “The Fruits of Recluseship (DN 2).” It describes in detail the process of attaining Ariya jhānās via gradually getting rid of greed and anger by understanding the Four Noble Truths, Tilakkhana, and Paṭicca Samuppāda.
4. A Buddha is unique because he has cultivated paññā to the maximum possible and thus figured out how to REMOVE lobha and dosa completely without a trace. He gained that knowledge the night he attained Enlightenment or Buddhahood.
- With that perfect mind, a Buddha gained the highest supernormal powers that allowed him to personally verify the existence of 31 realms. He is able not only to see selected previous lives but as many as he wishes. Thus, he has provided detailed accounts of his past lives. Not only that, but he can also see HOW any given past life arose due to causes and conditions. That is how he figured out the Paṭicca Samuppāda process.
- That is a brief account of how a Buddha discovers that “this world” is very complex with 31 realms. Of course, we can see only two of them, the human and the animal realm.
Buddha Was Abe to Verify the “Anicca Nature”
5. There are many accounts in the Tipiṭaka where the Buddha visited various realms. There are also many accounts where Devas and Brahmas came to the Buddha to ask questions.
- For example, we all know about the account of Brahma Sahampati requesting the Buddha to teach his new-found Dhamma to the world. There is an account of how the king of a Deva realm, Sakka Deva, attained the Sotapanna stage during one of his visits.
- An interesting account in the Brahmanimantanika Sutta (Majjhima Nikāya 49) provides a good background on the “anicca nature” of the Brahma realms. Let us briefly discuss that account.
Brahmanimantanika Sutta (MN 49)
6. The sutta describes that one day the Buddha, with his abhiññā powers, could see the following wrong idea came to Baka Brahma’s mind. Now, all Brahmas in the Mahā Brahma realm consider Baka Brahma to be their leader and their “Creator.”
- The wrong view of Baka Brahmā was the following: “My existence is of nicca nature, it is permanent, it is eternal, it is whole, it is imperishable. Here there’s no more birth, growing old, dying, passing away, or being reborn. And there’s no other higher release beyond this.”
- The Pāli verse is: “idaṁ niccaṁ, idaṁ dhuvaṁ, idaṁ sassataṁ, idaṁ kevalaṁ, idaṁ acavanadhammaṁ, idañhi na jāyati na jīyati na mīyati na cavati na upapajjati, ito ca panaññaṁ uttari nissaraṇaṁ natthī’ti.”
- Note that “dhuva” is the Pāli word for “permanent.” The word “nicca” (as well as the opposite “anicca“) CAN NOT be translated to ANY language as a single word.
- As we have briefly discussed, “nicca nature” guarantees a suffering-free future. That means the recurring cyclic process of “birth, old age, death, birth, old age, death,..” would be absent.
7. To correct the wrong view of the Baka Brahmā, vanishing from near the great sāl-tree in the Subhaga Grove at Ukkaṭṭhā, the Buddha appeared in that Brahma-world.
Baka Brahmā saw the Buddha coming, welcomed him, and told him: “Idañhi, mārisa, niccaṃ, idaṃ dhuvaṃ, idaṃ sassataṃ, idaṃ kevalaṃ, idaṃ acavanadhammaṃ, idañhi na jāyati na jīyati na mīyati na cavati na upapajjāti. Ito ca panaññaṃ uttari nissaraṇaṃ natthī’ti.“
Translated: “This existence, good sir, can be maintained to my liking; it is stable, it is eternal. It encompasses all, not liable to passing away; it is not born, nor does it age or die or pass away. No further release is necessary from this existence”.
The Buddha replied: “You are ignorant. You say your existence can be to your liking, but that is not so. It is not permanent as you say…” (yatra hi nāma aniccaṃyeva samānaṃ niccanti vakkhati, addhuvaṃyeva samānaṃ dhuvanti vakkhati).
- Again, it is important to note that the Pāli word for “impermanent” is “addhuva” (or opposite of “dhuva“) and not “anicca.”
- The Buddha added, “..although you say there is no need for a further release, there is indeed a permanent release you are not aware of” (“santañca panaññaṃ uttari nissaraṇaṃ “natthaññaṃ uttari nissaraṇan” ti vakkhatī’ti.”
8. Baka Brahmā then replied: ‘But, good sir, I say “nicca” because it is so, I say “stable” because it is stable, I say “eternal” because it is eternal. There is no more suffering…I have escaped from the cravings for pathavi, āpo, tejo, vāyo dhātu..”. (Meaning he has overcome taṇhā for sensual pleasures available in the kāma loka comprised of the four mahā bhuta).
- The Buddha told the Baka Brahma that he knew that Baka Brahma had transcended the kāma loka and was fully aware of his powers.
- The Buddha added that there were things in this world that Baka Brahma was not aware of. (1) There are higher Brahma realms, (2) Baka Brahma himself was in the higher Abhassara Brahma realm, died there, and was now reborn in this lower Brahma realm. The Buddha told the Baka Brahma: “you neither know nor see those higher realms, but I know and see them.”
Here is the relevant part of the Sutta where the Buddha tells Baka Brahma: ”Pathaviṃ kho ahaṃ, brahme, pathavito abhiññāya yāvatā pathaviyā pathavattena ananubhūtaṃ tadabhiññāya pathaviṃ nāpahosiṃ, pathaviyā nāpahosiṃ, pathavito nāpahosiṃ, pathaviṃ meti nāpahosiṃ, pathaviṃ nābhivadiṃ…”
Translated: “Brahma, knowing pathavi to be just pathavi (devoid of life), knowing the true nature of pathavi, I do not take pathavi to be me either. (No attachment to things in the kāma loka made from the four mahā bhuta)”.
- Then he repeated the same verse for the other three mahā bhuta of which the bodies of beings in kāma loka are made of, i.e., āpo, tejo, vāyo.
- But that itself is not enough to be free from suffering. One has to cleanse the “defiled consciousness” or “kamma viññāṇa.“ (That requires comprehension of the Four Noble Truths, Tilakkhana, and Paṭicca Samuppāda.)
9. The Buddha summarized it all in the following verse, which we discussed in the post “Pabhassara Citta, Radiant Mind, and Bhavaṅga“: “Viññāṇaṃ anidassanaṃ anantaṃ sabbato pabhaṃ, taṃ pathaviyā pathavattenaananubhūtaṃ, āpassa āpattena ananubhūtaṃ, tejassa tejattena ananubhūtaṃ, vāyassavāyattena ananubhūtaṃ, bhūtānaṃ bhūtattena ananubhūtaṃ, devānaṃ devattenaananubhūtaṃ, pajāpatissa pajāpatittena ananubhūtaṃ, brahmānaṃ brahmattenaananubhūtaṃ, ābhassarānaṃ ābhassarattena ananubhūtaṃ, subhakiṇhānaṃ subhakiṇhānaṃ subhakiṇhattena ananubhūtaṃ, vehapphalānaṃ vehapphalattena ananubhūtaṃ, abhibhussa abhibhuttena ananubhūtaṃ, sabbassa sabbattena ananubhūtaṃ.”.
Translated: “Viññāṇa is unseen, infinite, and leads to the rebirth process for all. With viññāṇa (defiled consciousness), one cannot comprehend the real nature of pathavi, āpo, tējo, vāyo, bhūta, deva, pajapati brahma, abhassara brahma, subhakinha brahma, vehapphala brahma, etc., i.e., everything in this world (sabba)”.
- Also, see “Bhūta and Yathābhūta – What Do They Really Mean.”
10. Then, the Buddha concluded: “Thus, Brahmā, I am not equal with you. I am indeed higher in knowledge.”
- The Baka Brahma then challenged the Buddha, saying that he would disappear, and If the Buddha is of higher knowledge, try to find him. But he was unable to hide from the Buddha.
- Then the Buddha said, “‘Now I am vanishing from you, Brahmā. Find me if you can.” Of course, Baka Brahma could not find the Buddha and thus had to concede defeat.
That is the essence of that long sutta relevant to this discussion.
11. Baka Brahma thought he had overcome all suffering when he transcended the kāma loka.
- But he was unaware that his existence — even though very long — was not permanent. There are higher Brahma realms with even longer lifetimes and still not permanent. Even more importantly, he could still be born in an apāya in the future.
- Thus, any existence in the 31 realms is of anicca nature. Anicca nature inevitably leads to dukkha (suffering.) Thus any efforts seeking release from suffering WITHIN this world of 31 realms are useless, which is the third characteristic, anatta nature. There is no refuge from suffering anywhere in this world!
- Therefore, those three characteristics of this world (anicca, dukkha, anatta) are interrelated. We will discuss those connections in the next few posts.