Where to Start on the Path?

This is a very important post. Please read the post through without clicking on any link first, in order to get the main idea that I am trying to convey. You may want to re-read the post several times, clicking on the links to find out more as you digest the key points. Actually, this is true of all the posts: It is better to read through a given post first to get the main idea, and then to look into the details provided by the links as needed.

  • Anyone reading this website has been exposed to Buddha Dhamma in the past; by “past” I mean beginning-less time. Each of us have been “living” and “dying” innumerable times, in most of the 31 realms of existence; see, “The Grand Unified Theory of Dhamma“. Even though a Buddha appears in the world after very long times, there have been innumerable Buddhas too. Some of you may not believe this, and that is fine. It may make sense later on.

Each of us has listened to a Buddha delivering a discourse, attained the highest jhānā, and also been born in the animal and niraya (the lowest realm) too. Our character and habits may have changed from “good” to “bad” many times over. Infinite time is very hard to grasp with the mind; see, “Saṃsāric Time Scale, Buddhist Cosmology, and the Big Bang Theory“, and “Infinity – How Big is it?“. Also, you may want to read the excellent book, “The Beginning of Infinity” by David Deutsch (2011) IF you are interested in a “scientific opinion”; actually, the descriptions are very similar in both cases in the sense that many things that sound implausible are not scientifically implausible, and in fact are necessary to explain the scientific data.

  • As in this life, it is easy to remember relatively recent events in the sansaric journey. Those who can remember past lives, remember only the past one or few lives; see, “Evidence for Rebirth“. The ‘habits” and “tendencies” that we have are the ones that we have had in the recent rebirths.
  • Therefore, for some people, it may be easier to get into a jhāna (or to have a good meditative experience) just because they have had that experience in more recent lives; for another person, it may be harder just because that person may not have had that experience for very many births in the recent past.

One should not be discouraged if one’s understanding of Dhamma or “meditation experience” seems to be different from what one hears from others. The important thing is to first determine where one is in the relative scale of things and start at the right place. Most times there is no correlation between this evaluation and one’s “book knowledge” either.

One could use the basic guidelines provided by the Buddha. There are five stages starting with dana and ending with nekkhamma:

  • Dana (giving, generosity, caring for others’ well being).
  • Sila (moral conduct).
  • Sagga (literally heaven, but meaning calm and peaceful mind).
  • Ädeenava (seeing the fruitlessness and the danger of the 31 realms or the rebirth process).
  • Nekkhamma (losing attachment to “things” in the 31 realms, and working diligently  towards Nibbāna), which in turn leads to nissarana (stop this suffering-filled rebirth process) and thus Nibbāna.

These are not clear-cut steps, but are guidelines.

1. Most people, irrespective of the religion, are generous and enjoy giving. Just like sila below, dana induces happiness in oneself.

2. In Pāli it is sila (pronounced “seela”); in Sinhala it is “seelaya” (“sisil” means cooling down and   “laya” means heart, so cooled heart), and thus is a bit more explanatory.

  • Any act that makes one’s heart to cool down is an act of sila, i.e., it is moral conduct.
  • When we act with compassion, say give a meal to someone hungry or help out an elderly person to cross the street, it makes our heart cool down. On the other hand, when we do something immoral or inappropriate, our heart gets agitated and the heart rate goes up, and the whole body heats up; also see, “How to Taste Nibbāna“.
  • It is the same compassion, extended to other living beings as well, that makes up the basis of the five precepts: avoiding any act that is harmful to any living being; see, “Five Precepts – What the Buddha Meant by Them“.
  • The humans are at a much higher “consciousness level” compared to animals, so we need to pay special attention not to even hurt the feelings of another human being; see, “How to Evaluate Weights of Different Kamma“. It is a good habit also to cultivate metta (loving kindness) to all beings; see, “Kamma, Debt, and Meditation“.

3. When one gets to the Sagga stage, it is relatively easy to calm the mind. One starts feeling the niramisa sukha (see, “Three Kinds of Happiness – What is Niramisa Sukha?“) or the happiness of “cooling down” by voluntarily “giving up” (and sharing with others)  things that one used to be quite possessive of. It is very subtle. One cannot just start giving everything that one owns; that will only lead to paṭigha or internal friction. In addition, one has responsibilities and debts to pay; see, “Kamma, Debt, and Meditation“.

  • Different people get “agitated” due to different “triggers”. This is because we have very different sansaric habits: things we really like and things we really dislike; there are several posts on these habits and “āsavā“. It is a good idea to make a self-assessment, figure out the “bad triggers” and make an effort to remove them.
  • For example, if one has an “explosive temper” it is a good idea to make an effort to restraint oneself and also to do metta bhavana. It is important to realize that the anger is within oneself; it is not in an outside person or thing. I could get mad by thinking about person A, but there are many other people who have loving thoughts about the same person A. Same with greed, it is inside of us, not outside. These all originate from our sansaric likes and dislikes.

4. While it is hard for some to even start thinking about the ‘bigger picture” of the 31 realms, and the possible suffering in future rebirths, some others may have thought about this “in the recent past in the sansaric rebirths”, and thus may be motivated to explore more.

5. The last stage is for those who have “seen the big picture” and the dangers of staying “in this world of 31 realms”, or at least have some inkling of it. When one starts feeling the niramisa sukha strongly, and also start seeing the suffering to come in the lower realms, giving up the rebirth process becomes an urgent need, instead of being anxious about “giving up rebirth”. Again, this cannot be forced. One will feel it when one’s mind is ready.

  • This website has posts that could be helpful in any of the above categories. One needs to look around and find the suitable topics; even though I have tried to put posts into different categories, there may be posts suitable for anyone in any category.
  • My intention is to add material at all different levels, mainly up to the Sotāpanna stage of Nibbāna. I hope that will help a wide spectrum of people and also illustrate that Buddha Dhamma describes the ultimate natural laws not only about our human world, but of all existence. Buddha Dhamma is not just a philosophical theory; one can actually experience the improvement in one’s quality of life as one follows the Path.

September 13, 2016: I recently started a new section, “Living Dhamma” detailing a step-by-step process on how to get started on the Path. One could get started even without belief in rebirth or the existence of 31 realms. There we start by looking at the (hidden) suffering experienced in this life and how to eliminate it.

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