How Perceived Pleasures (Assāda) lead to Dukkha

March 11, 2016; revised October 31, 2017

1. The essence of the Buddha Dhamma is that what we PERCEIVE to be enjoyment (assāada) is actually the CAUSE of FUTURE SUFFERING; that is called ādīnava (or dangers) of assāada. But that understanding comes  in stages. This is a subtle point to understand, and requires some cleansing of the mind to “see”. Grasping the essence of Buddha Dhamma requires a concentrated mind.

  • At a minimum one should read these posts when the mind is calm. That will make a huge difference in comprehending Dhamma. Most people (especially those who come to this site) are not “immoral”, but the state of mind can change. Even an excited mind cannot grasp deep Dhamma. I discussed this in a few of my very first posts two years ago; see, for example, “The Importance of Purifying the Mind“.
  • This is why I highly recommend everyone to read the first several posts in the meditation section starting with “1. Introduction to Buddhist Meditation“.
  • Most people new to Buddha Dhamma (Buddhism), start at the wrong place: “Do I really need to give up all these sense pleasures?”. The answer is no. One will voluntarily give up things that one will be convinced to be dangerous or at least unfruitful. Nirāmisa sukha comes from this understanding.

2. The key here is to understand that “bhava” and “jāti” are according to one’s gathi. That is because “bhava” arises via “upādāna” and upādāna means what one likes or enjoys; see, “Paticca Samuppada – “Pati+ichcha”+”Sama+uppäda“.

  • Bhava means “potential to bring about existence” and that existence is according what one craves for (upādāna), not what one wishes for. Upādāna means things that one is AUTOMATICALLY attracted to. At least the initial reaction is automatic, and that is what counts at the cuti-patisandhi moment; see below.
  • If one craves for sensual pleasures in the kāma lōka, then it is hard to avoid a bhava and jāti in the kāma lōka.
  • More importantly, if one is seeking sense pleasures and is willing to do things that can be done only with “animal gathi“, “pretha gathi“, “asura gathi“, or “niraya gathi“, then no matter how much one wishes, one cannot avoid birth in those realms.
  • One cannot fool one’s mind. One has to see the dangers in the lowest four realms to cultivate the desire and drive to be free of them.

3. The four lowest realms are collectively called the “apāyas“. Those who are destined to go to apāya have “dugathi“. The word “dugathi” comes from “du” + “gathi” or immoral habits (character).

  • On the other hand, those who have moral character have “sugathi“, which means good (“su“) gathi.
  • Sometimes the apāyas themselves are also called dugathi, and the higher realms are called sugathi.
  • A given person could have both sugathi as well as dugathi. One becomes the Sōtapanna when the possibility for dugathi to surface (i.e., anusaya) is permanently removed.

4. It is hard to see the true anicca nature of the higher realms, i.e., in sugathi (for example in the dēva realm), until one is free of the lowest four realms. Most of us perceive dēva realms to be full of happiness. Until one’s mind is purified to at least the level of a Sōtapanna it is hard to comprehend the futility of a birth in the dēva realms.

  • But the animal and human realms have enough visible suffering for us to be motivated.
  • One cannot even imagine to comprehend the anicca nature of rūpa lōka or arūpa lōka until one is free of  kāma lōka, including the dēva lōka.
  • This is why COMPREHENDING Dhamma at each level is the essential. It is a step-by-step process.

5. In the Dhamma Cakka Pavattana Sutta, the Buddha described three rounds of bondage (tiprivattaya); see, “Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta“. Getting through those three walls is done via four stages of Nibbana (Sōtapanna, Sakadāgāmi, Anāgāmi, Arahant).

  • At each stage, one gains wisdom (ñāna) to ” see further”, i.e., the anicca nature of higher realms. Thus one has to make progress systematically. This process is analogous to the following example. Let us visualize a person wearing glasses that have been covered with four layers of a dark, but see-through, film. One could see through a single layer of the film, but when all four layers are on, one is virtually blind.
  • A normal human without exposure to pure Dhamma is like a person wearing those glasses covered with all four layers. He/she could just barely see the immediate surroundings, but not much else. Such a person would only be concerned with the immediate surrounding, and will not be able to see any dangers existing not too far away.

6. When exposed to Buddha Dhamma for the first time, it is like bringing in more light. Even with the dark glasses, one can see a bit more clearly, and that is enough for most people to get interested and learn more.

  • When one learns about the various aspects of Dhamma, one can see evidence that there is a much bigger hidden world out there, and at some point one could comprehend the dangers of rebirth in the apāyas. That stage can be compared to one layer of those dark films coming off. It is the attainment of the Sōtapanna stage. This is a big step since pancanīvarana (those five factors that cover the mind) are permanently removed.
  • Now, one can see much better, and thus has the ability to start comprehending the dangers of the higher realms in the kāma lōka, i.e., the human realm and the dēva realms. First one comprehends the dangers of sense pleasures associated with the human realm and when that happens one attains the Sakadāgāmi stage (one will never again be born in the human realm), and the second film comes off.
  • In two more stages (Anāgāmi and Arahant), the remaining two films come off and one will be able to clearly see the true nature of this world only at the Arahant stage.
  • Thus, it is useless to try to grasp everything at once or to try to give up “normal” sense pleasures forcefully. However, it is imperative to give up those extreme (immoral) behaviors (gathi) to be free from dugathi (apāyas).

7. The main problem is that some people go to extremes in seeking sense pleasures. They are willing to steal, lie, and even commit murder to acquire wealth, status, or titles. All those are perceived to lead to higher sense pleasures; but they are mind-made, they are just assāada.

  • Furthermore, they don’t see the dangers (ādīnava) of indulging in such assāada and breaking the basic moral conduct; see, “The Five Precepts – What the Buddha Meant by Them“.
  • In doing so, one will be cultivating gathi suitable for rebirth in the apāyas, i.e., dugathi.
  • One may enjoy such sense pleasures for maximum of 100 years or so. But when one is born in the apāyas it is very difficult to get out. One could be trapped there for millions of years to come. This is the danger that many do not see.
  • This is the difference a Buddha makes. In the absence of a  Buddha in the world, humans are unaware of the existence of these other 29 realms, and in particular, the four lowest realms.

8. Those akusala kamma that makes one to be eligible to be born in the apāyas have a special name: pāpa kamma.  I guess the closest English translation would be “akusala kamma of the worst kinds”.

  • As I have discussed in a previous post, there is a huge difference between lōbha, dōsa, mōha and rāga, patigha, and avijjā: “Lobha, Dosa, Moha versus Raga, Patigha, Avijja“.
  • Pāpa kamma are done with lōbha, dōsa, and mōha, the stronger versions of greed, hate, and ignorance.
  • When one attains the Sōtapanna stage one is left with the milder versions of rāga, patigha, and avijjā. It basically means a Sōtapanna still likes to enjoy sense pleasures, but not at the expense of others.
  • Sōtapanna is inherently incapable of doing anything that normally would qualify one to be born in the apāyas. Even under extreme pressure, a Sōtapanna would not be compelled to such pāpa kamma.

9. I have done analyses to show that such pāpa kamma are done because one has miccā ditthi. When one has miccā ditthi, one has the hidden ability (ditthi āsava) to generate “ditthi sampayutta citta” and those are strongest of the 8 lōbha citta; see, for example, “Akusala Citta – How a Sōtapanna Avoids Apayagami Citta“.

10. Another issue to think about is which factor dominates the determination of the next bhava and thus jāti (birth): kamma vipaka (seeds) from the past OR one’s gathi right now.

  • We all have done both highly meritorious deeds and highly immoral deeds in the past. Those cannot be eliminated easily. But the critical point is that unless one “willingly grasp” any one of those kamma seeds at the cuti-patisandhi moment at the end of the current bhava, those kamma seeds cannot bring about a new bhava.
  • When one attains the Sōtapanna stage, one permanently loses “gathi suitable for the apāyas“, i.e., one loses “upādāna” for bhava in the lowest four realms. Thus even though we may have potent kamma seeds for such bhava, they CANNOT be grasped at the  cuti-patisandhi moment.
  • At the Arahant stage, one loses “upādāna” for bhava in all 31 realms, even though he/she may have even an uncountable number of kamma seeds from the past.
  • This is why Angulimala, who killed 999 people, was able to attain the Arahanthood within 7 days. He lost craving for rebirth anywhere in the 31 realms.
  • We just need to get rid of gathi suitable to be reborn in the lowest four realms to become a Sōtapanna. That is the critical and first step.

11. To repeat: Avoiding immoral behavior and actively engaging in moral behavior is not only for the prevention of creating bad kamma seeds or for creating good kamma seeds, but for changing our bad gathi.

  • The more critical end result we are looking for is to change our mindset, our gathi. That starts with first getting rid of dugathi. For most people, it is easy to see the dangers of the apāyas.
  • When we lose dugathi suitable for rebirth in the apāyas, we will not grasp such a bhava at the cuti-patisandhi moment.
  • Until we lose both kinds of gathi at the Arahant stage, we NEED TO cultivate sugathi so that we will grasp only such a “good bhava” at the cuti-patisandhi moment.

12. Once one gets rid of dugathi, one advances to the next stage automatically. It is hard to see the bad consequences of “kāma gathi” (sense pleasures that keep one bound to kāma lōka), until one is free of the “apāya gathi” or dugathi.

  • In the same way, it is hard to see the anicca nature of “rūpa and arūpa lōka gathi” (jhanic pleasures that keep one bound to rūpa and arūpa lōka), until one is free of the “kāma gathi“.
  • This is why it is totally useless to meditate on things like “there is no self” or “there is no “me'”. The feeling of a self (or more correctly the samyōjana of “māna“) is removed only at the Arahant stage, which is infinitely far away compared to losing dugathi.
  • The perception of a “self” or “the sense of me” is going to be there as long as one craves for at least a trace of anything in the 31 realms. The critical point to understand is that it is unfruitful/dangerous to commit immoral actions to enjoy assāada or “mind-made pleasures”.
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