By U. Mapa

There are three kinds of knowledge in relation to dhamma. First, knowledge acquired by learning- called suthamaya nana. It may be by hearing from some one or by reading. Second type is knowledge gained by reasoning which is chinthamaya nana; and the third is direct knowledge gained through contemplation or meditation. This is called bhavanamaya nana which is insight knowledge.

These three kinds of knowledge can be better understood by means of an illustration. Imagine a young child from a rural area who has never heard the existence of a creature called ‘giraffe’ in the animal world. However, from his class teacher in school, he learns for the first time about this animal. Now he has knowledge about the existence of such an animal. This is suthamaya nana. If he is a keen student to learn more about it, he would attempt on his own to develop his imagination about this animal based on the description given by his class teacher. He would think whether it is like a buffalo, a horse or a dear. In his imagination perhaps he might even visualize an animal with features that closely resemble a giraffe. And, from the information he has received he would even reasonably come to the conclusion that a giraffe cannot resemble a reptile like a snake or a crocodile. This is achieved through chintamaya nana. Yet, if some one shows him a picture of a camel and says it is a giraffe, he might believe it, because his knowledge is still speculative; provided of course he has never seen a camel either.

Through chinthamaya nana some persons could even achieve brilliant intellectual feats. Classic examples are the great physicist Albert Einstein, who discovered the famous Theory of Relativity; Archimedes, who discovered the Law of Specific Gravity while he was in the bath tub; and Sir Isaac Newton who found the universal laws of motion. It is said that he discovered these laws after seeing an apple falling from its tree due to gravitational force. Before him, there must have been many thousands who had witnessed such occurrences, but the difference is that it did not occur to any of them to find out the cause for things to fall on to the earth and not shoot up to the sky. On the other hand, Newton pondered deeply into this phenomenon and drew certain conclusions which were later confirmed scientifically.

To come back to our illustration, the child student now joins a school excursion to the Colombo Zoological Gardens. There he sees with his own eyes the real animal –giraffe. Very keenly he observes its features- the long neck, the form of its body, tan colour of its skin and the spots, number of legs it has, how it eats etc. This special knowledge which he has thus acquired by seeing the animal is direct knowledge which is same as the third type viz. bahvanamaya nana. He cannot be fooled by showing a picture of a camel any more.

Seeing the Dhamma

Out of the three types, suthamaya nana has to be derived from an external source, while chintamaya nana is developed from within oneself through deductions and inferences. As referred to above, scientists and mathematicians have discovered principles of science; and developed important mathematical equations using chinthaaya nana. Recent speculative theory about the existence of ‘black holes’ in the universe is yet another example. However, the only accurate and surest is direct knowledge –bhavanamaya nana. Actually bhavanamaya nana has to be understood in relation to Dhamma as insight knowledge derived by ‘seeing’ the mental process of sense perception. It can be compared to the knowledge gained by seeing a minute item which is not visible to the naked eye such as an amoeba, through the microscope.

How does this relate to the understanding of Dhamma ? Say, a person who had never heard of the Buddha’s teachings learns it from some other person or by reading. He comes to know, that according to Buddhism everything is impermanent (anicca); there is no real self (anatta); and existence in any form, be it as a human being or as a deity, is unsatisfactory (dukka). Up to this point is suthamaya nana.

Perhaps on hearing these salient features expounded in Buddhism he might develop an interest to know more about the Dhamma . From now on he would ponder over these characteristics deeply, while he reads about the subject and engages himself in Dhamma discussions. By these means he would conceptually understand that there is no self that has mastery over anything; the ‘self’ or ‘I’ is a mere illusion created due to ignorance or avijja,. And, as long as there is avijja a person is bound by the samsaric bond. He is now inclined to accept that everything arises due to causes; and whatever that is conditionally arisen, due this very fact, it is subject to cessation. Through pure reasoning he develops initial faith (sadda) in the Noble Teaching. His understanding of Dhamma at this level however, is conceptual which is chintamaya nana.

At this stage he goes to a teacher who can guide him on meditation as prescribed by the Buddha i.e vipassana bhavana or insight meditation. Through vipassana bhavana he begins to ‘see’ the interrelation and interdependence between mind and matter (nama & rupa). He sees this through arising of sensations. He realizes that every sensation is dependent on a cause; nothing arises without a cause; every thing is continuously fading away; nothing is stationery even for a split second. As such, there is no basis to form a self; it (self) is a mere mental formation due to not seeing reality. With clarity of his mind he now gradually begins to ‘see’ what actually takes place. It is the initial contact felt through the sense faculties which is misconceived due to ignorance (avijja) to create an illusion of a self. Centered round this ‘illusory self’ arises the craving (thanha) to keep it happy. He realizes that it is yet another futile exercise because his happiness, being dependent on sensations which are impermanent (anicca), is fleeting. This realization comes through direct knowledge which is bhavanamaya nana.

Distinctive Features in Dhamma0

When he begins to ‘see’ the Dhamma directly in this manner his inner transformation takes place. He gets disenchanted (nibbida) with sensual pleasures and earnestly work his way towards extinction of dukka. This ‘leading on’ nature is one of the distinctive features found in the Dhamma. For this reason dhamma is opanayko. But it operates only when one enters the path – the Noble Eightfold Path – led by right view (samma dhitti) gained through direct knowledge. In Mahacattarisaka sutta the Buddha has stated:

"Therein bhikkus right view comes first. And how does right view come first ? In one of right view, wrong view is abolished, and the many evil unwholesome states that originate with wrong view as condition are also abolished, and the many wholesome states that originate with right view as condition come to fulfillment of development."

The same sutta continues: "`85in one of right mindfulness, wrong mindfulness is abolished`85In one of right concentration, wrong concentration is abolished`85.In one of right knowledge, wrong knowledge is abolished." The ‘right knowledge’ (samma nana) referred to here is direct knowledge or bhavanamaya nana. It is this penetrative knowledge gained from insight meditation that gives the vision of Dhamma, and no amount of intellectual understanding of the Dhamma, by itself, would cause the transformation within. Through direct knowledge he realizes that there is no self in reality, and it is only an illusion (anatta); that every thing is impermanent and subject to change (anicca). And existence in any form is suffering (dukka).

It is not an absurd situation where both existence and non existence are experienced simultaneously as misconceived by those who have not grasped the profound Dhamma. According to them Nibbana is impossible, as it ‘presupposes presence and enjoys absence’. No, Nibbana is not ‘enjoying’ absence of any thing; it is the ‘experiencing’ of reality with the arising of the Dhamma-vision. With bhavanamaya nana he realizes that everything is impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen, subject to destruction, vanishing, fading away, and ceasing. This true nature of phenomena has to be ‘seen’ with the eye of Dhamma (which is dhanmma cakku) as in the case of the Venerable Kondanna. This is why Dhamma cannot be understood by mere intellectual and speculative knowledge; for it is said, ‘seeing is believing’.

Now a question might arise, if one does not get this realization from mere intellectual understanding then how did some persons instantaneously get the vision of Dhamma as related in the Buddhist scriptures? A good example is Ven. Sariputta. Before he was even ordained as a disciple of the Buddha he became a stream winner (sotapanna) by merely listening to a short stanza from Elder Assaji. Later, he became an arahant – fully accomplished one- while listening to a Dhamma discourse given by the Buddha to Ven. Sariputta’s nephew, Dhiganaka.

It is possible in the case of those who already have a deep understanding of Dhamma through bhavanamaya nana which they have acquired in their previous lives. Ven. Sariputta was one such fortunate person. If not, he wouldn’t be disenchanted with the lay life so as to seek liberation in his prime youth. In our case, we are less fortunate than Ven. Sariputta. That is why we are born at a time when we have to struggle to live in accordance with the Noble Teachings of the Buddha. Yet, we are fortunate to have been born in Sri Lanka – the dhamma dipa – which still provides the best environment conducive to practicing the Dhamma.

The purpose of this short article is to inspire the reader to strive to gain direct knowledge of the Dhamma in this very life, here and now. Dhamma is to be ‘seen’ well (sandhittika).