September 2, 2017
1. These days, it is customary to state that the Noble Eightfold Path is followed in three steps: sīla (moral conduct), samādhi (Concentration), and pannā (wisdom). What needs to be emphasized is that this sequence holds only for the mundane Eightfold Path. It does not lead to Nibbāna, but only sets up the conditions to get into the Noble Eightfold Path.
- In this initial stage, one cultivates sīla by living a moral life by making a determined effort not to violate the five precepts; see, “2. The Basics in Meditation“.
- Samādhi is much more than just concentration; see, “What is samādhi? – Three Kinds of Mindfulness”. When one lives a moral life, one’s mindset will gradually change to a calm state (“sama” + “adhi“) as explained in that post.
- With this calm mindset, one will be able to get rid of the 10 types of miccā ditthi (“Miccā Ditthi, Gandhabba, and Sotapannā Stage“. Then one gets to mundane Sammā Ditthi or the first level of wisdom.
2. One must first follow the mundane Path before one can understand anicca, dukkha, anatta, and get into the Noble Path; see, “Buddha Dhamma – In a Chart” and “What is Unique in Buddha Dhamma?“. Thus, there are three necessary steps to Nibbāna:
- Follow the mundane Eightfold Path by living a moral life (sīla) to remove the 10 types of miccā ditthi (not believing in kamma vipāka, rebirth, etc) about this world, get to mundane samādhi, and gain the first level of wisdom (pannā): sīla, samādhi, pannā .
- Then start removing a DEEPER layer of miccā ditthi (that this world can offer lasting happiness) by learning the CORRECT versions of anicca, dukkha,anatta (Tilakkhana).
- Once one grasps the basics of Tilakkhana one becomes a Sotapannā Anugami, one then starts living with this an unbreakable sīla to attain Sammā samādhi and the four stages of Nibbāna by following: pannā , sīla, samādhi.
3. The first level of wisdom, attained in the mundane path, is called kammassakata Sammā ditthi: understanding that one’s actions, speech, and thoughts (kāya, vaci, and manō sankhāra) — one’s kamma — WILL have consequences in the future, both in this life and in future lives.
- With kammassakata sammā ditthi, one understands and accepts the fact that what we experience (kamma vipāka, good and bad) are due to our past kamma.
- One understands that in order to encounter good kamma vipāka in the future (including future lives), one needs to cultivate GOOD kamma (i.e., good manō , vaci, and kāya sankhāra).
- Even more importantly, one starts avoiding BAD kamma (i.e., getting rid of the coarse levels of lōbha, dōsa, mōha, which is the same as avoiding dasa akusala).
- When one follows this “sīla step”, one will start experiencing the early stages of Nibbāna of “cooling down”; see, “Niramisa Sukha” and “How to Taste Nibbāna“.
4. Some people think that if one kills animals without knowing that will have consequences, that will not lead to kamma vipāka. That is not correct.
- There is no superhuman being that keeps track of what one is doing. But when one intentionally kills an animal, one’s mind knows that, and one’s viññāna will adjust accordingly; see, “Viññāna – What It Really Means“.
- The more one kills animals, that viññāna capable of killing will only grow and will lead to a corresponding bhava in the niraya realm (hell) where one will be subjected to similar suffering.
- Therefore, being ignorant of nature’s laws is not an excuse, just like when one gets caught doing an illegal act, one will not be excused for not knowing that it was an illegal action.
- There is another type of actions, where one kills animals unintentionally. For example, we kill many insects every time we take a walk. That does not lead to any kamma vipāka.
- So, only those sankhāra (or more correctly abhisankhāra) that are done with intention lead to viññāna (via “sankhāra paccaya viññāna“), and subsequently lead to births in different realms via “viññāna paccaya namarupa“,etc to …”bhava paccaya jāti“.
5. Most people also think that kamma are only bodily actions (done via kāya sankhāra). But bodily actions, speech, and thoughts all contribute to kamma: it is the cetana (intention) involved in thoughts, speech, and actions (i.e., manō , vaci, and kāya sankhāra), that is kamma. This is explained in the subsection, “Living Dhamma – Fundamentals“.
- When one starts comprehending how the laws of kamma work (causes lead to corresponding effects IF suitable conditions are present), one will gradually get to mundane sammā samādhi, and one’s ability to grasp deeper Dhamma concepts (pannā) will grow; see, “Mundane Samma Samadhi“.
- Suffering can only be stopped by stopping those abhisankhāra (“sankhāra nirōdhō bhava (and jāti) nirōdhō “. But sankhāra can be only stopped by removing avijjā since sankhāra are unavoidable as long as avijjā is there: “avijjā paccayā sankhārā“. This is why Sammā Ditthi (understanding Tilakkhana) is so important.
- One will have a good idea of how births in different realms are associated with different types of suffering, and how one’s actions (sankhāra) lead to such births. I have summarized them in the table below.
|Realm(s)||Level of Suffering||Causes||Generation/Stopping of Sankhara|
|Niraya (Hell)||Incessant suffering||Dōsa: Killing (especially humans), torture, rapes, etc|
|Peta (Hungry Ghosts)||Starvation||Excess greed (may I get all, not others)|
|Vinipatha Asura||Spend time aimlessly; mostly heavy bodies not movable||Moha : Tina middha, vicikicca (lazy, lacking wisdom).|
|Animal (Tirisan: "tiri" + "san" or with all 3 causes)||Combinations of above three types||Combinations of lobha, dosa, moha|
|Human (Manussa: "mana" + "ussa" or with advanced mind)||In between lower and higher realms||In between lower and higher realms||Almost all sankhara responsible births in all realms occur here.|
|Deva (similar to human bodies, but much less dense)||Mostly no physical suffering and abundant sense pleasures (kāma). But there is mental stress.||Good kamma vipaka (done with alobha, adosa, amoha). Mental stress arises due to kama raga.|
|Rupavacara Brahma (only manomaya kaya; cannot be even seen with a microscope)||Mental stress is much reduced. Mainly jhanic pleasures. Viparinama dukha when close death.||Suppression of kama raga and cultivation of rupavacara jhana (while in the human realm)|
|Arupavacara Brahma (only hadaya vatthu and mind)||Only arupavacara jhanic pleasures. Viparinama dukha when close death.||Cultivation of arupavacara jhana (while in the human realm)|
|Nibbana||Permanent release from all suffering.||Elimination of all causes for existence, i.e., ragakkhaya, dosakkhaya, mohakkhaya.||Mostly attained in the human realm, but possible in higher realms, especially after the Sotapanna stage.|
6. Now it is clear how future suffering arises via one’s own actions, speech, and thoughts (sankhāra). It is also clear that suffering decreases and “niramisa sukha” grows at successively higher realms.
- When one engages in extreme kāya, vaci, and manō sankhāra that involve lōbha, dōsa, mōha (i.e., immoral living and engaging in dasa akusala like killing, raping, etc.), one is likely to be reborn in the lowest four realms (apāyas), and to face much suffering.
- When one cultivates jhanas by even abandoning kama raga (at least temporarily), one is likely to be born in rupa or arupa Brahma lōka.
- When one has reduced lōbha, dōsa, mōha to rāga, patigha, avijjā (see, “Lōbha, Dōsa, Mōha versus Rāga, Patigha, Avijjā“) by following the mundane eightfold path, one is likely to be reborn in the human or deva realms. In these realms suffering is much less, and especially in the deva realms most remaining suffering is mental.
7. However, especially as humans, there is suffering that has been covered by our willingness to disregard sankhāra dukha and viparinama dukha; see, “Introduction – What is Suffering?” and the follow-up post.
- That suffering arises due to kāma rāga, i.e., craving (upādāna) for sense pleasures. Thus even if one is not engaged in dasa akusala, one cannot be released from kāma lōka as long as one has kāma rāga.
- At the next higher level in the rupa and arupa realms, kāma rāga is absent and thus one enjoys jhānic pleasures.
- Unlike sense pleasures, jhānic pleasures can be sustained for longer times, and are of much refined nature. However, that is still not permanent as the Nibbānic bliss arrived at by eliminating all suffering.
8. As humans, we can overcome suffering in the kāma lōka during this life itself, by cultivating jhānas. This essentially means being able to “temporarily live” in rupavacara or arupāvacara realms.
- This can be done via either REMOVAL or SUPPRESSION of kāma rāga and patigha (of course this is not possible if one is engaging in dasa akusala).
- There are Buddhist and non-Buddhist meditation techniques to achieve this. We will discuss this in detail in an upcoming series on jhāna.
- If one develops jhānas, one will be born in rupa or arupa realms in the next birth. However, as we can see from the above table, any future births in those rupa and arupa realms are temporary. One could later be reborn in the apāyas.
- The only permanent solution to end all future suffering is to attain Nibbāna, as shown in the above table.
9. When one gets to mundane sammā samādhi cultivating sīla, one will be able to see the truth of the overall picture shown in the table above. It is at this stage –with this wider world picture — one can take the second important step towards Nibbāna by comprehending the Tilakkhana. However, one needs to be exposed to the correct versions of Tilakkhana; see, “Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta“.
- This is the pannā (wisdom) associated with the first path factor (Sammā Ditthi) in the Noble Eightfold Path.
- It is then one will be able to really comprehend the First Noble Truth about the suffering in this world, the Dukkha Sacca.
10. The key message of the Buddha is that nowhere in this world one can find happiness in the long run; any such temporary happiness would be miniscule compared to suffering in the apāyas, and in kāma lōka. This is very hard to be grasped by a normal human (no matter how well educated).
- This fundamental fact of nature — that NOTHING in this world can bring happiness (and WILL only bring suffering) in the long run — is called the anicca nature.
- When one has the opposite perception of nicca, and focuses on seeking a long-term happiness in this world, one WILL BE subjected to suffering (dukha) in the long run.
- Thus, eventually one will become helpless in this rebirth process and that is called anatta nature.
- Those are the Three Characteristics of nature. Therefore, the second key step towards Nibbāna (permanent happiness) is to learn these key characteristics of nature from a true disciple of the Buddha.
11. When one starts comprehending the Tilakkhana to some extent, one becomes a Sotapannā Anugami and enters the Noble Path; see, “Sotapannā Anugami and a Sotapannā“.
- In this third and last step towards Nibbāna, one starts with a NEW concept about the real nature of this world, i.e., that one can only expect to face unimaginable suffering in the future if one does immoral things in seeking sense pleasures.
- Thus one starts to understand the First Noble Truth or Dukkha Sacca: That there is unimaginable suffering in this world of 31 realms. At this initial stage, it is hard to see the dangers/suffering in the human and deva realms; but if one has comprehended the fact that apāyas (four lower realms) must exist in order for the laws of kamma to work, then one can clearly see the unimaginable suffering in the apāyas.
- The Buddha said that when one understands the First Noble Truth, one will simultaneously understand the other three: one will be able to see that lōbha, dōsa, mōha are the origins of that suffering (Samudaya Sacca), that one needs to remove those causes (Nirōdha Sacca), and the way to accomplish that is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path (Magga Sacca).
12. This understanding becomes permanent forever (through future lives) when one attains the Sotapannā stage. From that point onward, one will not be CAPABLE of doing a kamma that could make one eligible for rebirth in the apāyas, i.e., one will be free from the worst suffering in the future.
- How this is automatically enforced by nature is explained in the post, “Akusala Citta – How a Sotapannā Avoids Apāyagami Citta“.
- Thus any thoughts that are automatically generated with this unshakeable understanding belong to Sammā Sankappa. One will be prevented from an apāyagami act even on a sudden impulse.
13. One will also starts understanding paticca samuppada: that future bhava (existences) arise due to causes that one is willingly grasping (upādāna) now.
- If one is capable of hurting and killing others, then one will be subjected similar conditions in the niraya.
- If one has excessive greed where one is willing to hurt others to get pleasures, then one could be born a peta (hungry ghost).
- If one is lazy and depends on others, one is cultivating asura sankhāra that could lead to asura viññāna and thus give rise to an asura existence.
- And if one is capable of thinking, speaking, and acting like an animal, one is then cultivating animal sankhāra, and thus one could be born in an animal existence.
14. At this stage, one starts living by the ariyakānta sīla. This sīla is different from the sīla that was followed in the first step.
- In the first type of sīla, one forcefully avoided doing pāpa kamma or immoral acts. But there could have been occasions where one “could not help breaking the sīla“, because the temptations were too strong.
- However, this new ariyakānta sīla is unbreakable, no matter how strong the temptation is. One’s mind has grasped the fact that it is NOT WORTH to commit apāyagami actions, no matter how much wealth or pleasures they could possibly bring.
- For example, is it worthwhile to make a lot of money by killing animals or fish, selling drugs that can harm others, by lying, bribing, etc?
- It is important to realize that at this stage, one could still be attached to sense pleasures that can be enjoyed WITHOUT hurting others. Thus one could live a normal married life, which is “moral living”.
15. This Sotapanna stage can be arrived at without getting into any type of jhāna. These days there is too much emphasize on jhāna.
- One needs to realize that rupavacara and arupāvacara jhāna are the sense experiences of the beings in the rupa and arupa realms, and are thus still experiences belonging to “this world” of 31 realms.
- The Buddha stated that any of his lay disciples with the Sotapanna stage is million times well-off than a yōgi who had attained all the jhānas and all abhinnā powers.
- That is because, while those jhānas and abhinnā powers last only during this life (they can make one’s next birth in rupa or arupa realms, but could be born in the apāyas in subsequent births), a Sotapannā is freed from the apāyas FOREVER.
- However, understanding jhānas is important since it confirms the wider world view of the Buddha in the above table: there are many in the world today who have experienced jhānas.
- But some mistakenly believe that jhānas are intrinsically connected to magga phala, because of the relief felt. But as the above table shows, jhānas are still part of “this world” and can be attained even by following “non-Buddhist meditations”. I will write a series of posts on jhāna to further clarify this issue.