Buddha Dhamma for an Inquiring Mind – Part I

April 12, 2018; revised April 27, 2022

Today, Buddha Dhamma remains hidden under a lot of incomprehensible Pāli words. I can see that many people use Pāli words without knowing their true meanings. If one has a good understanding of the “basics” or the “framework,” it is easier to understand and remember the meanings of key Pāli words.

  • This post will be in summary form since it is impossible to describe even an outline in several essays. One can find relevant posts using the “Search” box at the top right. Furthermore, one can ask questions at the discussion forum (“Forum.”) I encourage any opposing views, as long as one provides evidence from the Tipiṭaka.
  • This website is based solely on the Tipiṭaka and only the three Commentaries there. The reasons discussed in the section “Historical Background“.
Buddhism (Buddha Dhamma) – What Happens After Death?

1. The majority of people in the world today belong to one of the following two camps:

  • The next life is going to be forever, in heaven or hell.
  • This life is all one has. When one dies, it is over—no rebirth or hell or heaven.

2. The first theory has been handed down from generation to generation, and there are many “holes” in that theory. It seems illogical in many ways (it is one thing to create the Earth, but to make billions of galaxies with billions of planets like Earth? And how did the Creator come about?), but think about this:

  •  if a baby dies within a few months, will it go to heaven or hell (it has not done anything good or bad)?
  • Furthermore, how come some people are born wealthy and thus have a better chance to go to heaven than one who is born poor and therefore may be tempted to do immoral things to survive (and hence go to hell)?

3. The second theory appears more logical to many “scientifically-oriented” people with a  “materialistic” view.

  • But even if just one of the rebirth stories is believable or proven to the satisfaction of someone, then that person has to throw away that theory.
  • More importantly, no explanation is available for how consciousness arises from inert matter. Our bodies are made of the “same stuff” that makes a tree or a house.

4. In contrast, Buddha Dhamma says that there will be future lives as long as there are causes for future lives to arise.

  • We can learn a lot about Buddha Dhamma by looking at what those causes are. Those causes arise in one’s mind.
  • One’s Creator is oneself. And, as long as one perceives that one can find ultimate happiness in this world, one will be reborn in this world.
The Four Noble Truths

1. In simple terms, Buddha Dhamma is based on the following four truths about this world, called the Four Noble Truths:

  • The Noble Truth about suffering.
  • The causes for such suffering.
  • One can eliminate those causes and thereby stop future suffering.
  • Fourth is the way to eliminate those causes. That leads to ultimate happiness (Nibbāna).

2. The Buddha said that when one understands the First Truth, one will automatically understand the other three. Therefore, let us discuss the First Noble Truth.

  • The key and critical issue here is understanding what is meant by “suffering” in Buddha Dhamma.
  • It is essential to realize that “suffering” and “the Truth about suffering” are different.

3. Everyone knows suffering very well as a FEELING. One does not have to be a Noble Person or even a Buddhist to see that suffering. Even animals know what that suffering is, and they don’t like that either. We all have seen dogs cry with pain when hit.

  • So, what is the Noble Truth about suffering? The Buddha said that this Truth is unknown and is hidden from humans until a Buddha teaches what it is.
  • The cause for FUTURE suffering is attachment to sense pleasures. That is the Noble TRUTH about suffering. Thus, “attachment to sense pleasures” is what the Buddha called “dukkha.”

4. Understanding the truth about suffering requires an understanding of the broader world of 31 realms and that most of that future suffering would be in the four realms or the apāyā (of which the animal realm is one). But suffering is associated with all realms.

  • There are causes for that suffering, i.e., causes for leading to rebirth in the apāyā or any realm in general. Those are the immoral actions done while seeking sensual pleasures.
  • Thus, one can stop the worst types of suffering by abstaining form such immoral actions. Yet, it is difficult to overcome such temptations.
  • The Noble Eightfold Path is the way to overcome such temptations. So, now we can begin to see why one will know all four Truths when one understands the First Truth.
Mind – Where Root Causes for Suffering Arise

1. We know that we are conscious because we can think. We think via thoughts. We can think about many types of things.

  • When we are sleepy, we are just aware that we are alive.
  • On the other hand, if one is about to be run over by a car, one will generate enough power to jump a long distance away from that car or,  if chased by a lion, can probably beat a world record for sprinting.

2.  One’s mind also controls one’s actions and speech via thoughts or citta that arise in mind.

  • We cannot even lift a finger without a citta or a thought arising in mind. We may not even think about lifting that finger, but we do. It is easy to figure out this way: We can fold that finger any time we want to.
  • You may not realize that speech comes via thinking or citta. Again, it is easy to see that we can stop that speech any time we want to.

3. One’s actions, speech, and thoughts have consequences. One’s conscious thoughts determine the level of future suffering.

  • Future suffering arises due to our conscious thoughts or citta, and they are also called saṅkhāra in some contexts.

4. There is a difference between citta and saṅkhāra (the English word “thought” does not translate precisely as either).

  • The word citta is used in Abhidhamma to denote the smallest mental activity that lasts only a fraction of a billionth of a second.
  • Saṅkhāra  represents the overall effect of billions of citta.
  • In that sense, the word thought is closer to saṅkhāra.

5. Those thoughts that move the body (e.g., lifting that finger) are kāya saṅkhāra, because those saṅkhāra control the body or kaya.

  • Those that lead to speech are called vaci saṅkhāra, which are two types: We can speak out loudly or just “talk to ourselves” (thinking consciously); both are vaci saṅkhāra.
  • However, the word “vācā” is used only for speaking aloud.
  • Other thoughts that arise are called manō saṅkhāra, which are those thoughts that arise without us even thinking about it consciously.
  • So, I hope it is clear what those three types of saṅkhāra are. It is crucial to be able to see the differences. But they all arise in mind.

6. Manō saṅkhāra arise automatically based on our gati (or character or habits). We only become aware of them after they arise.

  • Immediately after manō saṅkhāra arise, we become aware of them, and if we are not paying attention, we may just keep generating vaci saṅkhāra along the same lines.
  • For example, when an alcoholic sees a bottle of alcohol at a party, their first reaction is to have a drink. But if that person has willpower, they can think about the harmful consequences and forcefully move the mind to some other matter.
  • Both Satipaṭṭhāna and Anapāna bhāvanā is based on understanding how vaci saṅkhāra arise based on manō saṅkhāra that occur according to one’s gati (and that we have control over vaci saṅkhāra).

7. Another critical observation from the above discussion is that our physical bodies are “inert shells.” It is the mental body (called “gandhabba“) where all thoughts (i.e., saṅkhāra) arise, thereby controlling the physical body.

  • That is why in many confirmed Out of Body Experiences (OBE), the body becomes lifeless when the gandhabba comes out of the body.
  • These are all key concepts discussed in detail on the website. One can use the “Search” box to find pieces as needed.
Importance of Javana Citta

Not all thoughts are the same. To get a better idea about thoughts or saṅkhāra, it is good to know some basic facts about citta.

1. Citta can be of 89 types, and that analysis is very complex. We don’t need to know all those. We need to know that some of those 89 types are called “javana cittā.” They are very powerful cittā.

  • The word “javana” comes from the root “ja,” meaning “birth.” Thus javana citta is the root for all births. Javana can also mean “running” or “spear” that can penetrate to indicate the power.
  • The opposite of javana citta would be “ati parittārammana citta,” that we don’t even feel. Cittā (plural) arise when we are asleep and are responsible for breathing.
  • Breathing involves the movement of body parts (lungs), and is thus a “kāya saṅkhāra.” That is an excellent example of an “undefiled” saṅkhāra. It is a necessary action to maintain life.

2. On the other side of the spectrum, we have powerful javana citta, which CAN lead to strong saṅkhāra called abhisaṅkhāra.

  • Javana cittā generate energies that are the root cause of future vipāka (results) that can give rise to various types of vipāka during a lifetime. Strong ones can lead to future rebirths. Thus, the key to future suffering is in javana citta.
  • However, not all javana citta lead to abhisaṅkhāra. For example, kusala kamma (wholesome deeds) done by Arahants are not abhisaṅkhāra. They are called kriyā (or “actions without lobha, dosa, moha.”) They don’t have kammic energy to fuel rebirths or bring pavutti vipāka.

3. A very strong kāya saṅkhāra would be to kill a human, say by stabbing.  That requires a very strong impulse, a high javana power. One can do that only when one’s mind is agitated and full of hate. These are called apuññābhi saṅkhāra (apuñña abhi saṅkhāra, meaning “bad strong saṅkhāra“).

  • However, high javana power does not necessarily mean an evil action. When someone does good deeds (kusala kamma), those involve puññābhi saṅkhāra (puñña abhi saṅkhāra, meaning “good strong saṅkhāra“).
  • High javana power may involve neutral actions too. For example, lifting a heavy object requires high javana power. But such an action while cleaning house, for example, is a neutral action (no kammically good or bad intention), therefore is not called good or bad (puñña or apuñña). Such javana cittā are not included in Abhidhamma because they do not have kammic consequences.

4. There are 12 types of javana citta corresponding to the 12 types of akusala citta and 8 types of javana citta corresponding to the eight types of kusala citta.

  • These are the javana citta of importance to us.
  • The 12 types of akusala citta with akusala javana can bring bad vipāka during a lifetime or rebirth in “bad realms.”
  • The eight types of kusala citta with kusala javana can bring good vipāka during a lifetime or rebirth in “good realms.” We need to do kusala kamma to avoid rebirth in the apāyā to attain Nibbāna.
  • However, “good” and “bad” in the above are relative. It is just that “bad realms” have extreme suffering. But no realm out of the possible 31 realms is free of suffering.

5. Now, we are beginning to see why dasa akusala kamma, or the ten immoral deeds (done with those 12 types of akusala citta), are at the heart of Buddha Dhamma.

  • When one is engaged in such immoral deeds, they generate “energies” called “bhava shakti” to fuel future kamma vipāka (bad results), including rebirths in the apāyā.
  • Thus it is unfruitful and dangerous to engage in dasa akusala; this is why such activities are of anicca nature (do not lead to what one expects and only lead to more stress and suffering), one of the three characteristics of this world (Tilakkhana).
  • Such activities lead to suffering or dukkha, the second of the Tilakkhana.
  • Once one gets a rebirth in the apāyā, it is tough to get out, and thus, one becomes “helpless.” Furthermore, such actions are fruitless in the long run, even if born in “good realms.” That is the key to understanding “anatta,” the third characteristic of this world.

So, that is the first part of a highly-condensed outline of Buddha Dhamma. We will continue this outline in the next post.

Ongoing discussion on this topic at the discussion forum:Buddha Dhamma for an Inquiring Mind.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email