Dharma Talk

Here, I want to suggest that to learn from the Buddha, in a practical context, primarily means to learn two aspects of the Dharma that ideally should run parallel. I will call these self-transformation and self-transcendence.

The final goal of the teaching, enlightenment or liberation, is attained through an act of self-transcendence, an act by which we step beyond the limits and boundaries of the conditioned mind and penetrate the unconditioned truth. This act is exercised by wisdom. However, liberating wisdom can arise only in a mind that is properly nurtured, and the process of nurturing the mind is the work of self-transformation.


Self-transformation means that we cultivate ourselves in order to progress step by step towards the arising of genuine wisdom. Self-transformation involves two processes: one is elimination; the other is development. I will briefly discuss each in turn.

"Elimination" means the removal of unwholesome qualities from our lives. It means the avoidance of unwholesome actions of body, speech, and mind; the control and subduing of unwholesome thoughts; the rejection of false views and deluded ideas. Just as a gardener who wants to develop a beautiful garden must first eliminate the weeds and rubbish, so we have to wipe out the weeds and rubbish from our minds.

In learning from the Buddha we are trying to understand ourselves, to understand our own minds. The Buddha holds up a mirror to our minds and hearts, showing us the defiled mental states that bring harm to us and to others. Thus, by studying the teachings of the Buddha, we gain a better understanding of our weaknesses, the defects we must strive to overcome.

(We also learn the methods to overcome them, for this is exactly the strength of the Buddha’s teaching: it gives us, with remarkable precision, the medicines to eliminate all the illnesses of our minds. What is so astounding in the early Buddhist teachings is their incredibly detailed insight into the human mind.


These teachings give us a different kind of psychological analysis than we encounter in western psychology. The aim here is not so much to restore pathologically disturbed people to what is considered a normal level of mental health, but to treat "normal people" so that they can rise above all the limitations and bonds of the normal mind and realize their hidden potential, the utterly purified and awakened mind.

This requires an entirely different approach, an approach that is the outstanding contribution of the Buddha to the understanding of human nature).

The Buddha offers us not only an analysis of our defects, but a catalogue of our potential strengths. He also teaches the means to make these potential strengths real and effective. He gives us an extraordinarily pragmatic teaching that we can apply to our everyday lives for rising step by step to the ultimate realization.

To move in this direction is the meaning of development. "Development" means the cultivation of wholesome qualities, the qualities that promote inner peace and happiness and make our lives effective channels for bringing peace and happiness to others.

The Buddha offers a wide range of such wholesome practices, ranging from basic ethical observances to such practices as the five spiritual faculties the Noble Eightfold Path, and the six or ten paramitas. To learn about these, we should study the Dharma extensively and in depth.

Then we should learn how to apply them to our own lives in the most realistic and beneficial manner. The second major process that we learn from the Buddha is self-transcendence. Though the Buddha speaks about eliminating unwholesome states and developing wholesome ones, he does not aim merely at making us happy and contented people within the mundane limits of the world.

He points us towards a transcendent goal; he leads us to the unconditioned reality, Nirvana, the calm and quiescent state beyond birth, old age, suffering, and death. This goal can be achieved only by a full and clear comprehension of the ultimate nature of things, the final mode of existence of all phenomena.

While this reality has to be penetrated by direct experience, we need specific guidelines to understand it. The goal itself transcends concepts and words, but the Buddha and the great Buddhist masters have provided us with a wide variety of "photographs" that give us glimpses into the real nature of things.

None of these "pictures" can capture it completely, but they do convey some idea of the things we should be looking for, the principles that we need to understand, and the goal towards which we should be aspiring.

To engage in a study of the principles relevant to self-transcendence is a philosophical enterprise, but this is not philosophy as mere idle speculation. For Buddhism, philosophy is an attempt to fathom the real nature of things, to use concepts and ideas to get a glimpse of the truth that liberates us, a truth that transcends all concepts and ideas. (Buddhist philosophy is a great stream flowing from the Buddha, continually refashioned and extended to bring to light the different facets of reality, to expose different aspects of a truth that can never be adequately captured by any system.

When we study Buddhist philosophy, we must always remember that these philosophical investigations are not undertaken merely to satisfy intellectual curiosity but to aid in the task of self-transcendence. They do this by pinpointing the nature of the wisdom we need to obliterate ignorance, the primary root of all bondage and suffering).

Learning the Buddha’s mind

I have been speaking about "learning from the Buddha" as if this always involves learning teachings explicitly recorded in texts. But that is only part of what learning from the Buddha involves. To learn from the Buddha means not only to study his words; it also means to learn from his conduct and his mind. Buddhist tradition has left us many records of the Buddha’s deeds in his lifetime in this world and in his previous lives, and these form a major part of the narrative heritage of Buddhism.

The life, conduct, and mind of the Buddha provide us with a model to emulate, the ideal standard that we, as followers of the Buddha, should try to embody in our own lives. The Buddha is the model of a human being who had been an ordinary person like us, but who had reached the pinnacle of human perfection.

To learn from the Buddha we should not only seek to find out what the Buddha taught. We should also try to mould our own lives in accordance with his qualities: his immaculate purity, his unhindered spiritual freedom, his great wisdom and compassion, his unshakeable peace and balance of mind.

To learn from the Buddha ultimately means that we learn to be ‘Buddha’, to become awakened human beings, pure, wise and compassionate, peaceful and magnanimous.

To advance at least a few steps in that direction should be our purpose in joining this Dharma Retreat.

Buddha Charithaya” with Sinhala subtitle – This is a wonderful piece of animation covering the life of Lord Buddha and his preaching’s, found on google 

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).

Buddha’s last words to the bhikkus, before his parinibbana, were: "Now monks, I declare to you: all conditioned things are of a nature to decay, work out your salvation without delay." (Vayadhamma sankhara, appamadena sampadetha). In this very brief exhortation the Buddha did not make reference to dukka (suffering), cause of dukka, or the liberation from dukka.

Also to Upatissa (i.e. Ven. Sariputta before ordination) who was in search of a teacher of dhamma, Ven. Assaji replied in a concise statement the teaching of Buddha; answering Upatissa’s query as to the teacher under whom he has taken refuge, Elder Assaji said:

"Of all those things that from a cause arise,

Thathagatha the cause thereof has told;

And how they cease to be, that too he tells,

This is the doctrine of the great Recluse"

In the Scriptures we find a similar epithet used to announce and convey the realization of the initial stage of experiencing the dhamma by a stream winner (sothapanna). The first disciple of the Buddha to have become a sothapanna was Ven. Kondanna; it happened while he was listening to dhammacakkapavatana sutta – the first sermon of the Buddha. The sutta says the eye of dhamma arose in Kondanna in that he realized ‘whatever that arises due to causes all that are subject to cessation’ (yan kinci samudaya dhammam sabbantham niridha dhammam). The same epithet was used in Dhiganaka sutta to announce the realization of sottapanna stage by Dhiganaka, Ven. Sariputta’s nephew.

True, a Buddha arises in the world to teach the four Noble Truths- (1) the dukka, (2)cause of dukka, (3) cessation of dukka (i.e. nibbana) and (4) the way for liberation from dukka which is the Noble Eightfold Path. But, to Ven. Ananda, the Buddha in a single stanza explained what every Buddha would teach. It is the famous verse most Buddhists will know: (sabba papasa akaranam`85. )

"Refrain from evil

Practice virtue

Cleanse the mind

This is the teaching of Buddhas"

Surprisingly, there is no reference to dukka, cause of dukka or cessation of dukka (nibbana). Yet; this is the essence of Dhamma as taught by every Buddha. Does it mean that we need not learn the three Noble Truths not referred to in this verse?

This question has to be viewed from a practical point of view. Perhaps it can be better understood through an illustration. What should a patient do to cure from his illness? Take the medicine prescribed by the physician and that’s all. He need not know the scientific analysis of his illness. A child who is afflicted with an illness will even not know that he is sick. He simply takes the medicine given to him by his parents, and he would be cured from his illness. On the other hand, if a patient without taking the medicine, keeps researching about his illness to know what caused it; or keeps on reading the prescription and reciting it many times like a mantram will he get cured? Never, not by those means.

The extinction of suffering can come about only by practicing the way of Dhamma. That is why every Buddha will stress the importance of treading this ‘ancient path’ they discover, rather than merely reading the ‘sign boards’ giving directions. The verse above referred to contains nothing but the three essentials for one’s progress towards deliverance i.e. sila, samadhi and panna. In other words, it is the Noble Eightfold Path.

Sila is moral restraint – not allowing one’s desires generated by craving (thanha) for sensual pleasures (as well as aversion) to let lose. If we simply give in to our desires we will be behaving like wild beasts. Craving for sensual pleasures has no bounds unless controlled by sila. Like a fire that burns any amount of fuel, craving is insatiable. But, why should we not seek satisfaction through indulgence. Is it wrong because of a taboo according to the Teachings of the Buddha?

No, a Buddha can only teach us the way to end dukka; it is for us to follow the way. We should consider ourselves very fortunate to be born at a time when the Noble Teachings are found and can be practiced. If we let go this opportunity we are to be blamed for it. Indulgence in sensual pleasures will only keep us blind to reality; to use the famous simile, it is like the crab’s fleeting water dance in the curry pot. Indulgence in sensual pleasures would only make us stupidly delay (pamada) and postpone practicing the way of the Buddhas. This is why the Buddha exhorted the Bhikkus in his last words, ‘be heedful’. No amount of mere theoretical knowledge of Buddha’s Teachings would be of any use if we do not earnestly practice in accordance with the Noble Eightfold Path. If not, it would be similar to a patient reading the prescription without taking the medicine.

Full Awareness

– sathi

When a person’s sila is intensified, his awareness (sathi) will naturally develop, for there has to be awareness before one could observe the arising of the desires in one’s mind. In this manner sila and sathi will work together to bring about calmness of the mind which is smadhi. It is the samadhi that helps one to detect the arising of desires at its initial stage so that one’s sila becomes more refined. But, still there would be desires arising in such a way to justify giving into it. Say, even in the form of directing mettha to a person of the opposite sex. Beware of your mind which is so cunning and artful in getting what it wants through deception! At this stage one has to have developed skillfulness (panna) in determining what is wholesome (kusal) and unwholesome (akusal). Wholesome deeds or kusal are the bodily, verbal and mental activities that lead one towards cessation of dukka – i.e. nibbana. It is through panna one determines kusal and akusal. Through right effort one should suppress all akusal from arising and develop kusal. To do this, one must develop clear comprehension (sathi sampajanna) or full awareness.

The combined work of sila, samadhi and panna will now keep the practitioner in the right track. What happens is, with full awareness he would ‘let go’ every sensation, including the most subtle ones; no matter whether they are wholesome or unwholesome. So that even if a person has a vision of the Buddha while in meditation, he should ‘let go’ the vision without grasping it. It is due to attachment to sensations and grasping (upadana) them one gets carried away with what one has grasped. When one does not grasp and let go, with full awareness, one is free from attachment and there will be no more dukka for him.

By mere intellectual knowledge of Buddhism one will not be able to ‘let go’ sensations with nonattachment. It can only be achieved by practicing the Noble Eightfold Path which leads to the realization: ‘all that arise due to causes are subject to cessation’. This is the essence of Buddhism. This is the fundamental reason for dukka, which Upatissa realized when he listened to Elder Assaji’s aforementioned stanza. For convenience a person might get into a state of complacency that he is so learned in the Dhamma that he can ‘let go’ any thing. But the real test comes at the moment of his death. Unless he has developed the skill to the extent of instinctively ‘letting go’ what ever the sensation, mere intellectual understanding of the Dhamma would not be sufficient for his consciousness to release the grasp. His consciousness would cling on to the last sensation like the person who grasps even a straw to save his life when he is at the threshold of being drowned.

If this is the case, why did Buddha preach the other three Noble Truths? The answer is, if the Buddha did not preach them, no one would have accepted the Noble Truth relating to the path only. Supposing, if a person did not even suspect that he was afflicted with a cancer would he take treatment? No, in the same way there must be initial acceptance of the Noble Teachings (about dukka), for a person to generate right view (samma dhitti) by placing his confidence in the Buddha, Dhamma and the Sangha. ‘Right view’ being the first step on the path of Dhamma is so essential. But, that does not mean to suggest one should learn the Dhamma in depth before one begins practicing.

Buddha’s Instructions

Pali Canon has enough examples where the Buddha had not preached the four Noble Truths to every one who came to him, but just what was necessary; of course having regard to their past accumulations which only a Buddha has the ability to do. The best example is the instructions given to Bhikku Nanda (former prince) who was feeling so depressed because he could not return to his fianc`E9e–Janpadakalyani as requested by her when he was walking behind the Buddha. When the Buddha came to know about his problem, using his psychic powers the Buddha made him to see beautiful nymphs in the deva world. Nanda then agreed to meditate as instructed by the Buddha, not for extinction of suffering but to be born in the heavens so that he could have a celestial nymph as promised by the Buddha! Nevertheless, Nanda was fully cured of his desire for lust with the realization of ultimate truth of Nibbana. He immediately released the Buddha from the promise he had made.

What is to be understood from this is the importance of practice without which there would be no progress towards liberation. The purpose of this article is not to discourage those who wish to study the Buddha’s teaching, but to convey to them that Dhamma is understood better when one studies it while practicing. It’s like doing practical experiments in the school laboratory by science students. Only after seeing sunlight passing through the prism the student gets convinced that it has seven colours. Dhamma is sandhittika i.e it has to be realized through direct knowledge. -by U.Mapa

SELF: I think it is Lady Pankhurst who told Winston Churchill, in Parliament, "If you were my husband, I will poison your drink." And Churchill retorted, "Madam, if you were my wife, I shall drink it!" Throughout history, the world has witnessed this play and display of the self. The over-arch of the self in its many-faceted splendor, vanity and frustration has dominated literature and art, passion, creativity, discovery, war and terror, and much besides.

Perception of Self

We would all be zombies if not for the perception of self. We regard ourselves alive from having body, mind, limbs, sensuality, mobility and so on; and the sum total is the self. No one sees it as described by the Buddha: matter, feeling, perception, determinations, consciousness. Then where exactly is this putative elusive self? Its origin, in the uninstructed person [puthujjana], is outlined in the following charming way:

1. Matter…consciousness is identical with self, as a flame and its colour.

2. The self is endowed with matter…consciousness, as a tree has a shadow.

3. Matter…consciousness belongs to self, as scent of a flower.

4. Self is in matter…consciousness, as a jewel in a casket.

Focus and nature of Self

Where, anatomically or physiologically, is this ‘thing’ self, soul, atman? Sites such as the pineal body in the recess of the brain are posited but no one has located it. No one has even indirectly demonstrated that it is nevertheless there, somewhere.

May be it is an external aura like infrared radiation captured by a hologram?

Some are very definite of one thing: animals do not have it. It is a prerogative gift for being born human, and unique – no two, even identical twins have it same. It remains unchanged through life, from birth to death, and beyond. It escapes from a natural aperture of the body to await judgment and redemption.

The Greeks thought someone then weighs it to assess sin.

The Self in Dhamma

The Buddha was the first to argue that self is a deception of a deception as a mirage (a deception) is real (a deception) to one seeing it. No amount of introspection can overcome it. However one reflects, in successive deeper layers of reflexion, either it is with self that one sees no-self, or with no-self see self.

The majority does not bother. The self is taken as granted.

The indirect way

The method of the Teaching from the beginning, in the middle and end is indirect. The technique is to develop insight. There is no other way to override inferential thinking by the self. That is, no amount of inferential knowledge can lead to seeing what it actually is. The word ‘absolute’ has no meaning till there is insight and direct knowledge of what is actually the case.

To reach this stage of intuitive development, the Buddha appeals to unprejudiced reasoning. If matter…consciousness is changing, does it mean the self is also changing with them? Since one can experience only one kind of feeling any one time, pleasant, unpleasant, neutral, does it mean there is a different self feeling pleasant…neutral? Is it proper to regard notwithstanding, there is a permanent, unchanging self?

The coup de grace is now dealt. If in this impermanent bundle of matter…consciousness there is a permanent self, why cannot it be: Let my matter…consciousness be this, not that? Why cannot the self interfere or direct or control or stop change?


Regardless whether there is or there is no self, the observed truth is there is relentless breakdown of the body, and death. Existence is underscored by impermanence. In Dhamma, the focus is the body and mind, and impermanence is subjective instability – to change, fade and disappear whatever appropriated by the self.

Additionally, when what appropriated is regarded as mine, belonging to me, yearning to retain hold of pleasant and dear produces sadness. It is not the impermanence of things per se that brings sorrow but holding to things by the self. In Dhamma, this is called upadana. The existential disappointment is ‘but in truth, there is no self’.


Self-identity, as taught in psychology, is the self as when seen in the mirror. This is not the ‘self’ taught in Dhamma. Nor is the ‘self’ personality. We build personality from childhood. Puberty is the beginning of adolescence shaping manhood. That is, personality or the totality of attitudes and so on, changes. When discussing this, a friend told me how after his father died, his mother gave up living and a sprightly person became bed-ridden, sad and died.


‘This significance (or intention, or determination), ‘mine’ or ‘for me’ is, in a sense, a void, a negative aspect of the present thing (or existing phenomenon), since it simply points to a subject; and the puthujjana not seeing impermanence (or more specifically, not seeing impermanence of this ubiquitous determination), deceives himself into supposing that there actually exists a subject – ‘self’ – independent of the object (which is the positive aspect of the phenomenon – that which is ‘for me’)… But care is needed; for, in fact, the division subject/object is not a simple negative/positive division…The fact is, that the intention or determination ‘mine’, pointing to a subject, is a complex structure…The subject is not simply a negative in relation to the positive object: it (or he) is master over the object, and thus a kind of positive negative, a master who does not appear explicitly but who, somehow or other, nevertheless exists. [Nanavira Thera]

Tragedy and Comedy

All intra and inter-personal, all internecine societal conflict can be traced back and understood as arising from the delusion of ‘self’. In Dhamma, there is no ethnicity or any essential difference in living beings, human or animal. All is matter, chiefly carbon. Living beings have joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure. They have the perception of self, their own precious identity. In sum, it leads to more of tragedy than of comedy.

The teaching of the Buddha aims to disabuse the demarking primitive notion of self, not surely by discriminative thinking. He aims to develop insight: If you look for a self in any thing, you shall not find it – sabbe dhamma anatta. -ANCL

Alone one delights in solitude
He who sits alone, rests alone, walks alone unindolent, who in solitude controls himself, will find delight in the finest.
Pakinneka Vagga – The Dhammapada

By: Ven. Dr.K.Sri Dhammananda Maha Nayaka Thero (PhD. D Lit.)
Chief Prelate of Malaysia, Singapore.

What is the Purpose of life?

Man is the highest fruit on the tree of evolution. It is for man to realize his position in nature and understand the true meaning of his life.

To know the purpose of life, you will first have to study the subject through your experience and insight. Then, you will discover for yourself the true meaning of life. Guidelines can be given. but you must create the necessary conditions for the arising of realization yourself.

There are several prerequisites to the discovery of the purpose of life. First, you must understand the nature of man and the nature of life. Next, you keep your mind calm and peaceful through the adoption of a religion. When these conditions are met, the answer you seek will come like the gentle rain from the sky.

Understanding the nature of man

Man may be clever enough to land on the moon and discover wondrous things in the universe, but he has yet to delve into the inner workings of his own mind. He has yet to learn how his mind can be developed to its fullest potential so that its true nature can be realized.

As yet, man is still wrapped in ignorance. He does not know who he really is or what is expected of him. As a result, he misinterprets everything and acts on that misinterpretation. Is it not conceivable that our entire civilization is built on this misinterpretation? The failure to understand his existence leads him to assume a false identity of a bloated, self-seeking egoist, and to pretend to be what he is not or is unable to be.

Man must make an effort to overcome ignorance to arrive at realization and Enlightenment. All great men are born as human beings from the womb, but they worked their way up to greatness. Realization and Enlightenment cannot be poured into the human heart like water into a tank. Even the Buddha had to cultivate his mind to realize the real nature of man.

Man can be enlightened – a Buddha – if he wakes up from the ‘dream’ that is created by his own ignorant mind, and becomes fully awakened. He must realize that what he is today is the result of and untold number of repetitions in thoughts an actions. He is not ready-made: he is continually in the process of becoming, always changing. And it is in this characteristic of change that his future lies, because it means that it is possible for him to mould his character and destiny through the choice of his actions, speech and thoughts. Indeed, he becomes the thoughts and actions that he chooses to perform. Man is the highest fruit on the tree of evolution. It is for man to realize his position in nature and to understand the true meaning of his life. (more…)

Dhamma: The word for ‘intention’ in the Dhamma is cetana. It is ubiquitous in the teaching. Understanding it correctly is integral. In this short essay, I shall try to explore its meaning.


Let me begin with consciousness [vinnana]. Vinnana is the existential determination determining all experience. No one can know how it came to be incorporated in matter. Characteristically, the Buddha does not speak about its origination because it is irrelevant. He taught a fistful of things relevant to the present problem: arising of dukkha. Thus, the standpoint to understanding vinnana and everything in the teaching is this element, dukkha.

Vinnana is not substance. A sample of it cannot be extracted and examined. That is, no one can be conscious of consciousness. How then are we to understand it?

To be conscious, is to be conscious of something even of ‘nothingness’ and ‘neither-perception-nor-non-perception’ in advanced states of meditation.

In everyday experience this ‘something’ is intention. We intend to see, hear, smell, taste, touch, act, imagine and think. For example, we normally think and ponder before speaking. That is, speech is intentional. But feeling and perceiving are not intentions. They lead to intentions.

How about breathing? While breathing in and out is a body process independent of intention, meditation on air going in and out is intention. We may regard these instances of arising of intention in consciousness as basic.

Before proceeding, we must consider another thing about consciousness in the ordinary person. The all-inclusive feature of consciousness is awareness of ‘self’. It is always the case that ‘I am’ intending. In other words, the ‘self’ and consciousness are one.


Consciousness is a thus a duality: in-oneself and in-the-external-world-of-things. On account of this, the self interprets big and small, good and bad, pleasant and unpleasant, ugly and beautiful and so on though there is no duality.

A flower is a flower – neither beautiful nor not-beautiful. If no one sees it, it is as it is – a flower. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ does not inhere in a thing. Only the arhant who has deleted the artefact of ‘self’ in consciousness tells ‘the seen in the seen, the heard in the heard, the sensed in the sensed, the cognized in the cognized.’

This is experience of things as they actually are. There is no intention [as in an ordinary man] in consciousness.

The Buddha says, ‘Tell, then, where do earth, water, fire and air no footing find? Where likewise the long and short, small and big, and fair and foul? Where is it that name and matter do without remainder cease? And the answer is this: The consciousness that makes no showing, nor has to do with finiteness, claiming no being apart from all: There it is that earth, water…do without remainder cease’.

We cannot conceive this disappearance of consciousness. But we can understand duality of consciousness in another way. ‘Cetana, properly speaking is ‘intentional intention’ – i.e. ”will’ or ‘volition’ – but the word intention, in its looser meaning is the best translation for cetana.

All consciousness is intentional, teleological. In unreflective consciousness we are ‘directed’ upon objects, we ‘intend’ them; and reflection reveals this to be an immanent process characteristic of all experience, though infinitely varied in form.

To be conscious of something is no empty having that something in consciousness. Each phenomenon has its own intentional structure, which analysis shows to be an ever-widening system of individually revealed components.

The intentional structure of a perception must conform to a certain type, if any physical object is to be perceived as there! And if the same object be intuited in other modes, if it be imagined or remembered or copied, all its intentional forms recur though modified in character…Judgment, valuation, pursuit are experiences compounded of an intentional stream.


Intentions may be regarded basically as the relation between the actual and the possible…The set of relations between the actual aspect and all the alternative aspects is the same, no matter which one of the various aspects should happen to be actual…There is now exercise of preference (with the pleasant preferred to the unpleasant), this is volition in its simplest form…We must also consider the difference of emphasis or ‘weight’ possessed by the various aspects…some stand out more prominently than the others…this is attention [manasikara] in its simplest terms: it may be described as ‘direction of emphasis’…Every voluntary or reflexive intention is perpetually revocable.

Every involuntary or immediate intention is modifiable… An inclination is an active seeking of a still only possible state of affairs.’ [Nanavira Thera]

An intention is essentially negative. It denies the existence of a positive but in the very act of denying, asserts its existence. The intention ‘to kill’ denies the intention ‘not to kill’ but asserts that the intention ‘not to kill’ exists.

There is now voluntary or informed exercise of preference. This is the basis of the division of kamma [action] as unskilful [akusala] and skilful [kusala].

The intention ‘to kill’ is the native intention of the built-in intentions of greed, hate and delusion [kilesa] in consciousness of the ordinary man. Any action is regarded unskilful as it reinforces the built-in intentions.

The intention ‘not to kill’ is intention to abstain. It is skilful, as it does not produce arising of action. This is the definition of kusala. That is, actions based on kilesa are intentions that produce arising of action, which is dukkha, because it perpetuates kilesa. It ripens in re-becoming. [Mahacattarisaka Sutta].

Skilful and unskilful intentions

Intentions or actions of the ordinary man arise in the self. He is prone to both unskilful and skilful intentions. One who has heard and learnt Dhamma has the advantage to make an informed choice of intentions. But from wrong view he may intend the unskilful assuming it skilful.

The tendency to greed, aversion and wrong view is likely when akusala and kusala are regarded unwholesome and wholesome, as demerit and merit. It can lead to intentions of collecting whereas the aim in practising Dhamma is to abandon. ‘The purpose of understanding [panna], is direct knowledge [abhinna]; its purpose is full understanding [parinna]; its purpose is abandoning.’ [Mahavedalla Sutta].

Accordingly, intentions of the arhant are neither akusala nor kusala. Unlike in the ordinary man, they are void of craving [tanha]. Why is that? The dualities imposed by the kilesa are extinct in vinnana of the arahat.

Intention does not imply craving or arhantta would be impossible. ‘Craving is a gratuitous parasite on the intentional structure.’ [Nanavira Thera].


There are simplistic ways to understand intention. But in whatever way understood, there should be no conflict with the fundamental aim of the Dhamma, namely to abandon, not acquire.

This is the core understanding I want to communicate and intend by this essay.


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