Buddha Dhamma for an Inquiring Mind – Part I

April 12, 2018

This is going to be a series of posts that looks at Buddha Dhamma from a “bottom up” approach. Today, Dhamma is hidden under a lot of incomprehensible Pāli words. I can see that many people just 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 will be in summary form, since it is not possible to describe even the outline in several posts. One can find relevant posts by using the “Search” box at top right. Furthermore, one can ask questions at the discussion forum (“Forum”) where opinions of others can be seen too. I encourage any opposing to views, as long as one is providing evidence from the Tipitaka.
  • This website is based solely on the Tipitaka and only the three Commentaries included with it. The reasons for that are 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 the 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 for many, and there are obviously many “holes” in that theory. It seems illogical in many ways (it is one thing to create the Earth, but to create billions of galaxies with billions of planets like Earth? And how did the Creator come about?), but just 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 thus may be tempted to do immoral things to survive (and thus 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, there is no explanation available for how consciousness arises from inert matter. Our bodies are made of the “same stuff” that a tree or a house is made of.

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 ultimate happiness can be found 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.
  • Those causes can be eliminated and thus it is possible to stop future suffering from arising.
  • The way to eliminate those causes and to attain ultimate happiness (Nibbāna).

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

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

3. Suffering as a feeling everyone knows very well. One does not have to be a Noble Person or even a Buddhist to know what suffering is. Actually, even animals know what 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 the humans until a Buddha teaches what it is.

4. Understanding the truth about suffering requires an understanding of the wider world of 31 realms, and that most of that future suffering would be in the four realms or the apāyas (of which 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 apāyas or in any realm in general. The worst suffering can be stopped from arising by eliminating the causes for births in the apāyas, and that is where one should first focus on.
  • There is a Noble Eightfold Path that one can follow to achieve that goal (a procedure to remove those causes). So, now we can beginning 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 very 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 being chased by a lion, can probably beat a world record for sprinting.

2.  One’s actions and speech are also controlled by one’s mind via thoughts or citta that arise in the mind.

  • We cannot even lift a finger without a citta or a thought arising in the 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. In fact, 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 sankhāra in some contexts.

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

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

5. Those thoughts that are used to move the body (lifting that finger) are called kāya sankhāra, because those sankhāra control the body or kaya.

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

6. Those manō sankhāra arise automatically even without us being aware of it until they arise. They arise based on our gati (or character or habits).

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

7. Another important observation from the above discussion is that our physical bodies are “inert shells”. It is controlled by a mental body (called “gandhabba“) where all thoughts (and thus sankhāra) arise.

  • This 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 that we have discussed in detail at the website. One can use the “Search” box to find details as needed.
Importance of Javana Citta

Not all thoughts are the same. In order to get a better idea about thoughts or sankhāra, 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 just need to know that some of those 89 types is called a “javana citta” and those are very powerful citta.

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

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

  • Javana citta generate energies that is 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 hidden in javana citta.
  • However, not all javana citta lead to abhisankhāra. For example, kusala kamma (wholesome deeds) done by Arahants  are not called abhisankhāra. They are called kriya. They don’t have kammic energy to fuel rebirths or bring pavutti vipāka.

3. A very strong kāya sankhāra 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 very agitated and is full of hate. These are called apunnabhi sankhāra (apunna abhi sankhāra, meaning “bad strong sankhāra“).

  • However, high javana power does not necessarily mean a bad action. When someone does good deeds (kusala kamma), they are done with  punnabhi sankhāra (punna abhi sankhāra, meaning “good strong sankhāra“).
  • High javana power may involve neutral actions too. For example, lifting a heavy object requires high javana power. But if that is done while cleaning house, for example, that is a neutral action (no kammically good or bad intention), therefore is not called good or bad (punna or apunna). Such javana citta 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 8 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 8 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 in order to avoid rebirth in the apāyas and to attain Nibbāna.
  • However, “good” and “bad” in the above are relative. It is just that “bad realms” have obviously harsh 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 (that are 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 apāyas.
  • 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).
  • Obviously, such activities leads to suffering or dukkha, the second of the Tilakkhana.
  • Once one gets a rebirth in the apāyas, it is very hard to get out and thus one becomes “helpless”. Furthermore, clearly such actions are fruitless in the long run even if born in “good realms”. This is the key to understand “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“.

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