The journey towards Awakening by ramysaber


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									The Journey Towards Awakening
By Asuramuni Karunasena

Published by Asuramuni Karunasena at Smashwords
Copyright 2012 Asuramuni Karunasena
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
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To my loving grandchildren
Emaya and Kaynen

Table of contents
1. Introduction
2. The mind process
2.1 Investigation of the mind
2.2 Beginning of a process
2.3 Conditioning
2.4 A drift begins
2.5 Contacts lead to stimulations
2.6 Delusion
2.7 Different phases
3. Impediments: craving in different forms
3.1 Ignorance
3.2 Identification of impediments
3.3 Self
3.4 Self-appraisal
3.5 Knowledge
4. The way forward
4.1 Conventional truth
4.2 Sources of information
4.3 Discourses of the enlightened
5. The guidelines
5.1 Mind
5.2 Knowledge
5.3 Self
5.4 Timelessness
5.5 Impermanence
5.6 Present moment
5.7 Meditation
5.8 Look within
5.9 The Middle Path
5.10 Upstream
6. Conclusion
6.1 Availability of Information
6.2 Meditation
6.3 Four foundations of mindfulness
6.4 Deep sleep
6.5 Pure mind
Recommended reading
About the author

Mr Karunasena’s new book is a scholarly exposition of the Buddhist ideas
of “awakening” and a masterly guide to its personal realisation.
Awakening, arguably the most fundamental concept in Buddhism, the Buddha
himself being referred to as “the awakened one.” Bodhi in Sanskrit
translates into awakening or enlightenment. Not only does the author
present the basic tenets of Buddhism more succinctly than I have seen
elsewhere, but he exhorts and guides his reader to personally experience
Awakening to a level of one’s choice is accessible to everyone. The
author helps the reader to understand and overcome impediments that lie
in the way of achieving such a goal without blindly following the advice
of sages and pundits. One is exhorted to recognise the value as well as
the limitations of traditionally accepted paths towards enlightenment, in
particular meditation. We are reminded that Siddhartha Gautama attained
enlightenment (nibbana) after rejecting accepted practices including
meditation. Nibbana is ostensibly beyond the mind process, while all
forms of meditation lie firmly within it. The practical route to
enlightenment must of necessity depend on following an empirically tested
and highly personalised approach.
The author calls attention to two areas that are often ignored: deep
sleep to understand the qualities of kamma vatta; and nature of the
infant’s mind where identification and self are absent—both of which have
a profound relevance and an overlap with some qualities of nibbana.
By emulating the properties of deep sleep or of an infant’s mind we can
free ourselves from the shackles of self and selfishness and thus reach a
more profound understanding of the nature of things. Once we come to
realise that a permanent self/ego is an illusion we would begin to gain
true knowledge of the world—we become enlightened. By sublimating a
personal ego we are told that the timelessness of an infinite eternal
universe will be realised. I am not surprised that many ancient Buddhist
texts written thousands of years ago have described a Universe of stars,
planets and galaxies that is amazingly post-modern. And such knowledge
was not acquired using telescopes but through the still unexplored powers
of selfless introspection. The truth about the world lies deep within us,
waiting to be unravelled.
Professor Chandra Wickramasinghe
Cardiff University, UK, and
Director, Buckingham Centre for Astrobiology, University of Buckingham,
My first footstep in the direction of the teaching was taken in the
autumn of 1999, when I first met Dr. Kumar Senanayeka. He was in England
doing his post-graduate studies at the time. After I had shared several
discussions with him, my perceptions of the Buddha’s teachings began to
change. I was impelled to understand the teaching and to move forward in
search of the Truth. Dr. Senanayeka’s message was simple, but forceful
enough that it led me to critically examine my own understanding of the
dhamma. It was the most beautiful feeling that I have ever experienced.
With the awakening of this new interest in the subject, I was keen to lay
a proper foundation. I invited Mrs. Swarna Silva, to England in the
spring of 2000. This was on the recommendation of Dr. Senanayeka. Mrs
Silva has retired from her teaching profession and was a regular
participant of Mr Siriwardena’s dhamma discussion at the time. Mrs.
Silva’s visit was of the greatest benefit to me, and many others in
England. Her discussions helped me to clear some of my misunderstandings
of the teaching. It was a great, unforgettable beginning and I am
thankful to both, Dr. Senanayeka and Mrs. Silva for initiating such a
wonderful change in me.
Dr Senanayeka and Mrs Silva were also responsible for directing me to
study the teachings of Mr. Lokuge Siriwardena, a popular Sri Lankan
teacher of dhamma. I was told that both of them had greatly benefited
from Mr. Lokuge Siriwardena’s dhamma discussions. I first began listening
to these talks in the winter of 2000, in Galle, Sri Lanka. This resulted
in a major change, a radical transformation of my thinking. After
listening to Mr. Siriwardena, I developed an avid appetite for serious
investigations into the teachings. Since then I have attended or listened
to Mr. Siriwardena’s talks at every available opportunity. For the first
time in my life, the proper meaning of the Buddha’s words “pubbe
ananussutesu dhammesu” (dhamma unheard of before) seemed to be revealed.
After returning to England, I arranged for Mr. Siriwardena to visit
England and meet with many Buddhists there. I have had many precious
opportunities to meet with him during these visits. The most recent
meeting with Mr. Siriwardena was in the summer of 2011 in England. I have
no words to explain the benefits I gained from these discussions. I am
ever so grateful to Mr. Siriwardena for showing me the right path.
I have also been fortunate to enjoy discussions with Mr. Kularathne
Nakkawatte, Dr. (Mrs.) Sheila Subasingha, Mrs. Sumana Wijayatunga, and
Mr. Jayasiri Wijayasinghe during the past few years. With their help and
guidance, I was able to focus intensely on the deep meanings of the
teachings and thereby able to escape from my blindness to problems in the
traditional teachings of Buddhism. I am very grateful to them for having
pointed out many irregularities, inaccuracies, and inconsistencies of our
accepted traditional interpretations of the dhamma. They too have helped
me to set myself on the right path.
This book would not have been possible if not for the above-named persons
and their invaluable discussions, and therefore, I would like to
gratefully acknowledge my spiritual lineage. However, the contents of
this book are only a reflection of my personal understanding of the
profound teaching of the Buddha. If you find mistakes or
misunderstandings in my book, please attribute them to my own faulty
understanding of the dhamma, and not to my patient and wise teachers.
I would like to acknowledge with gratitude Professor Chandra
Wickramasinghe for writing the foreword to the book. I would like to
thank Ms Karen Lofstrom for editing the book amidst her busy schedule.
Most of all, I would like to acknowledge, my wife Indra, son Asanka,
daughter Shelani and daughter-in-law Kavudini for their tolerance,
unimpeded support and positive encouragement to proceed with this
difficult task.
The teachings of the Awakened help us understand that our experience of
the phenomenal world, the world that the senses manifest to us, is an
illusion. The illusion is only an impermanent result of a process that
begins with involuntary sensory stimulations. The teachings help us to
see through the clever manipulations of craving (tanha), manipulations
which create our ignorance-driven mind process.
Involuntary sensory stimulations cause thought; there is no need to
assume a creator of thought. However, the operation of cause and effect
leads us to believe that a thought must have a thinker. A ‘self’ is born.
Our ignorance leads us to believe that this mind creation is a permanent
self. It is the illusion of “I”, “Me,” and “Mine” that is established
through this process.
Many of us are intelligent enough to understand that “I” and “Me” are
illusions. But this intellectual capability—the capability to reject the
notion of a permanent entity called a self—is not sufficient for us to
awake from the illusion of self. The emotional feeling of identity—the
feeling of “I” as a person or “self”—continues. This illusion will
continue until we become fully conscious of the arising of the experience
of a self.
The notion of identity leads to emotional responses, which are responses
to thoughts. These emotional responses manifest in many different ways:
happiness, unhappiness, anger, sorrow, pain, grief, etc. These are the
experiences arising from the illusion of a self, as we ignorantly
personalise all responses resulting from involuntary sensory
stimulations. This personalisation, the clinging to mental constructions,
is the cause of our suffering and our continuance in the cycle of birth
and death.
The energy that perpetuates this cycle of birth and death, the samsaric
cycle, comes from our emotions. Thus our emotional responses to
involuntary sensory stimulations can only keep us trapped in this
samsaric cycle forever.
The teachings guide and assist us in calming our emotions. They help us
start our journey on the Middle Path to move towards the Noble Eightfold
Path and attain the ultimate experience of Enlightenment. But only a wise
seeker of TRUTH, a rational thinker with an open mind, can gain a clear
comprehension of the teachings and use them for this purpose.
As human beings, we are endowed with the capacity of reason, which helps
us understand the teachings, identify hidden impediments, discard what is
not relevant, and free the investigative mind within for direct
experience of the un-manifest.
The priceless inner richness, the ‘wisdom’ that rests within us is ‘here’
to be explored and experienced now, not in a better or a future life.
1. Introduction
In its most common use, the word “awakening” refers to the transition
from sleep to wakefulness, from unconsciousness to consciousness, from
thoughtlessness to an incessant stream of thoughts, from the unknown to
the known. Wakefulness is the state in which consciousness, awareness,
attentiveness, and all behaviours necessary for survival are conducted.
Awakening also refers to a revival or renewal of interest in a particular
topic or subject. In both situations, the underlying essential criteria
are the functioning of the time-dependent mind and the sense faculties.
Thus it is the experiencing of the phenomenal world, the world that the
senses manifest to us.
In Buddhism, awakening, the subject matter of this book, refers to
something more profound, independent of the activation or the functioning
of the sense faculties, independent of time and space, beyond the
confines of ordinary consciousness. It is the experiencing of the world's
true nature, reality in its absolute timelessness and spacelessness. It
is the awakening from unconsciousness or ignorance [1]. It is the
experiencing of the un-manifest.
Awakening in the context of Buddhism refers to the experiencing of the
un-manifest, an experience which has been called Bodhi [2] [3] [4] (the
same word is used in Pali and Sanskrit). The ‘one who has achieved bodhi’
is called the Buddha. The word Bodhi was traditionally translated into
English as Enlightenment or awakening. This is referred to as Nibbana [5]
or Nirvana in Buddhism. The ultimate goal of many Buddhists is this
awakening. They believe that awakening brings an end to the cycle of
births and deaths, and the suffering associated with this cycle.
The experiencing of the un-manifest, of Enlightenment is beyond our
object-related [6] consciousness or awareness. It cannot be experienced
by the time-dependent, mind-controlled thought process. It is the
experiencing of our hidden inner richness, the wisdom with which we are
originally endowed. It is the awakening of the real ‘I’ as opposed to the
mind-made, conventional, illusory ‘I’. At one time, when we were infants,
we experienced it [7], but at the time we were unaware of the experience.
As adults, we realise that we have not gained any benefit from our early
experience. However, Buddhism teaches us that this inherent quality of
priceless inner richness is with us every moment, waiting to be explored
and experienced. Some are aware of this aspect, but many are ignorant.
Some mistakenly believe that the development or improvement of this
object-related consciousness or awareness is the path to unfold our
hidden true richness, the luminous gem, the true wisdom. However, object-
related consciousness may point us towards awakening, but it can never
unfold the true inner richness. Consciousness is a thought, but the
Truth, the inner richness, is not.
We are aware that our object-related consciousness, our everyday
consciousness, is the ruler of our mundane life. It is our success,
happiness, and pride-and also our failure, frustration, and unhappiness.
It is the creation of the illusion of permanence from involuntary sensory
stimulations. It is the basis for the creation of our conventional world.
It is the essential ingredient for our day-to-day life. It is a process
that functions within finite boundaries, confined only to the reach of
our senses. It is basically the thought process of the conditioned, ego-
bound mind.
Referring to the mind as conditioned or personalised conveys a misleading
message to some individuals; it implies that the mind belongs to a self.
Does the mind belong to a self? Can anyone claim ownership of the mind?
On the conventional level, there is existence, and hence, the mind
belongs to a self, but in reality, in the absence of a self there is no
ownership for the mind. This is the conflict between convention and
reality. A wise seeker of reality knows that ownership exists only in
thought. Hence, while respecting the convention for the sake of social
harmony, he or she repudiates the ownership and moves on the right path
to experience the un-experienced, the un-manifested.
Of course, proper explanations of the un-manifest are best left to those
who have actually experienced it. For that reason, I do not speak about
this experience at any great length; I do not want to mislead my readers.
However, I believe that I have gained invaluable benefits from the
discussions I had with my teachers. I have moved away from darkness into
the light. I am now beginning to understand the Buddha’s teaching more
clearly. This is the understanding I wish to share with my readers. I am
confident that it will benefit many readers who are in search of Truth.
What my teachers tell me is that the experiencing of the un-manifest is
basically the awakening into the timeless present [8]. It is the shining
forth of the un-personalised mind [9], without limits or boundaries. It
is the experience of the inner richness, the dawn of the wisdom [10]. It
is to become free of identification with form. It is the realisation of
‘who I really am,’ beyond ego. Some refer to this awakening as awakened
awareness, awakened consciousness, or awareness without objects—
consciousness or awareness free of identification with forms. The words
used to explain or identify the concept do not matter, provided we are
not limited by the conventional meanings of such words.
Words are just signposts to communicate a message. They are only symbols,
representations that cannot fully describe anything. For example, the
word ‘apple’ is not an apple. It is just a label. The Enlightened have no
use for words except to explain things to those who still think words are
important. Words serve a purpose only until it is realised that they do
not serve a purpose. They are useful for the sake of explaining to others
that they are useless. When they occur spontaneously by themselves, in
the moment, for the sake of others, in the form of writing or speaking,
they serve a purpose, a conventional need. The Truth is beyond all words;
it must be experienced, not merely talked about. But we do not really
‘experience’ it because there is no self experiencing ‘that.’
To many the path or the journey towards awakening is not clear. The path
is cluttered with contradictory traditional interpretations and obscured
by punditry. Otherwise simple explanations are often complicated by
obscure Pali [11] [12] words. Implicit in these explanations is the
belief that Enlightenment is something beyond the reach and capabilities
of normal human beings. This myth is accepted by many as the norm and
accordingly Enlightenment is postponed to a distant future, subject to
fulfilment of certain requisites. Some have even postponed it to another
life, in the future, which contradicts the basic teachings of the Buddha.
The Buddha taught that Enlightenment is here and now. Unfortunately, due
to our ignorance, we do not experience this unique phenomenon, one that
is available to us every moment. Instead, we allow the illusory ego to
dominate and the thought process to continue. But awakening is possible!
To awaken is to experience the reality that underlies illusion. It is the
experience of inner peace beyond thought.
Moreover, awakening is a possibility for every human being, irrespective
of religion. We should not make the egotistical mistake of claiming that
awakening is limited to those of our own religion or faith.
The teachings of the Buddha, popularly known as Buddhism, can be
classified many ways: as a religion, a philosophy, a way of life, etc.
These classifications are opinions, based on the need to categorise or
identify. They are nothing more than purely subjective concepts. They are
the results of thought processes. There is no need to view the teachings
as confined by the rigid boundaries of any of these categories. If we
accept the boundaries, we lose sight of the Truth. Our categorisation
would simply exemplify the functioning of the ego—that we are right and
others are wrong. That does not mean the answer is to reject all
categorisation. That is also the functioning of the ego, and no better
than the other. Perhaps it is possible to adopt a more flexible, open-
minded approach. When one looks at the basic concepts of the teachings
with an open mind, the boundaries and the secondary nature of these
categorisations and concepts would become very clear. Once one realises
their limitations, one is better prepared for the journey ahead.
People are attracted to Buddhism for many different reasons, as these
different descriptions of Buddhism would indicate. For many, the
attraction may be the beneficial social effects of Buddhism as a
religion: non-violence, compassion, tolerance, and social harmony. The
increased level of violence in today’s world may encourage some to seek
solace in Buddhism.
Others seek the benefits of meditation. Certain meditation techniques can
bring peace of mind to individuals. Meditation helps to control anger and
selfishness, and fosters good qualities such as kindness, helpfulness,
etc. These characteristics not only increase social harmony, but are the
prerequisites for such happiness as we can enjoy as individual selves.
Many consider this fleeting happiness to be the most important aspect of
life. Meditation improves health, and many people desire to live in good
health until death.
For yet others, Buddhism is a way of life. They are Buddhists because
they were raised as Buddhists. They take comfort in familiar rites and
rituals. This is how Buddhism is practised in many places. These rituals
have crept into the teachings with the passage of time and still play a
dominant part in the practices of many traditionalists. Sadly, many
religious institutions that are supposed to be the guardians of the
teachings encourage these practices, which are believed to grant
protection and prosperity to the illusory self. Rather than helping
practitioners reach Nibbana, they strengthen the ego.
It is interesting that there is increased interest in Buddhism in many
countries that are not traditionally Buddhist. The newcomers are not
attracted to the traditionalist version of Buddhism; often they are
genuinely interested in the principles of the teachings.
Buddhism is now considered a major world religion. It has won
international awards. In 2009, the Geneva-based International Coalition
for the Advancement of Religious and Spirituality (ICARUS [13]) gave
their Best Religion of the World award to the Buddhist community. It is
estimated that there are around 375 million followers worldwide;
according to a recent article [14], Buddhism is the fourth-largest
religion in the world, behind Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. It is
disappointing to note that, despite the ever-increasing interest in the
great teaching of the Buddha, many are left without clear guidance and
direction and cannot attain the purpose for which the teaching was
intended, i.e., to be awakened from ignorance.
My first book, The Teachings of the Awakened [15], was written with the
hope that it could help provide guidance and direction to genuine seekers
of the Truth. It presented two simple, but very important, messages.
First, it asked readers to consider the concepts set forth there with an
open mind—that is, to consider the concepts without pre-judgement or
prejudice, even if the approach described differed from traditional
interpretations of the teaching. Second, it asked readers to adopt a
rational approach in order to understand the teaching in its proper
The aim of the first few chapters of this first book was to provide a
basic framework that would guide readers away from the rigidity of
traditional thinking. These chapters aimed to clear away restricted and
narrow views of the teachings. They also presented the teachings in
simple language, without the specialised, esoteric terminology used by
many monks and scholars. They encouraged readers to take an open-minded
approach to understanding the teachings.
Other chapters in my first book contained analytical examinations of
various basic concepts, conducted in simple language. ‘Self,’ ‘five
aggregates,’ ‘dependent origination,’ and ’timelessness’ were thoroughly
examined in these chapters. These discussions were illustrated with
simple examples, which were designed to help readers move towards the
experience of reality. They stressed the importance of the present
moment, where dhamma [16] is revealed. This moment, this instant where
the self is born, is explained in detail. This moment is the only moment
in which we can experience the Truth, but we look away from it, towards
the past and the future.
The Teachings of the Awakened was my first effort to make a contribution
towards meeting the needs of seekers of Truth. Following the publication
of this book, I was humbly grateful to receive positive and encouraging
responses from some of my readers, and to read positive reviews in
newspapers and journals. It is wonderful that my simple message has
reached so many corners of the world. Contemplating these responses, I
ventured to believe that a second book might be of some use to seekers.
The aim of this second book is twofold: first, to help readers understand
the beliefs that create barriers to a proper understanding of the
Buddha’s teaching, and second, to discuss some aspects of the teachings
which have been distorted by such beliefs. These aspects will be
critically examined, unconfined by traditional interpretations. The
reader will be encouraged to keep an open mind in order to approach these
teachings in a scientific, logical, and rational manner.
Before I take you any further, perhaps I should say something about
myself. I was born to a Buddhist family in Sri Lanka and brought up in a
Buddhist environment. I am a Chartered Surveyor and not a Buddhist
scholar. I have no formal qualification in Buddhism nor have I any
monastic training. However, I have been fortunate to encounter teachers
whom I sincerely believe to be awakened. Their discussions helped me to
clear many of my doubts and improve my understanding of the teaching. The
journey may be long, but I will persist: listening to my teachers,
exploring the Buddha’s teachings, hoping to progress on the path. My
ignorance may have prevented me from fully understanding the teaching.
However, I hope that such understanding as I can share with you will be
of some help. If there are faults in this book, they are not the faults
of my teachers—the faults are due to my failure to understand the
teachers’ discourses.
When you read this book, you may begin to compare it with what you know,
or think you know, about Buddhism. It may differ from the versions of the
teachings with which you are familiar. When this occurs, you may be
inclined to agree or disagree. Be open-minded and analyse rationally. Do
not let yourself be carried away by the words; they are just signposts to
be left behind. Read as if everything here were something new. Test the
contents with rational thinking and assess the validity of the
interpretations. I do not ask you to accept because I am an authority; I
ask you to convince yourself of the truth or falsity of my words.
Many of us are so engrossed in daily life that we cannot find time to
consider the teachings. We remember them only when we need to seek solace
in difficult situations. Engrossed in the illusion of the permanent self,
anxious to protect this self, we put the teachings last on our list of
priorities. Until and unless we realise that it should become the number
one item on the list, we cannot proceed in the right direction. I hope
that this book will help remind you to put the teaching first.
Remember that Enlightenment is not confined to one religion nor it is
necessarily to be experienced via religious practices. There are no
religious or any other boundaries. It is within everyone’s capabilities
to attain the experience of the un-manifest, irrespective of religion,
caste, nationality, etc. Moreover, it is an experience that can be
attained now, in this life, not in the next.
Many Buddhists observe five or ten precepts [17] [18] of ethical
behaviour. They do so in the belief that they will gain merit. They
engage in charity to accrue merit; they carry out rituals to gain merit;
they believe that they can transfer merit to the deceased, so that the
deceased will gain some benefit in the next life. They do all this and
much more, in the hope of attaining prosperity and happiness in this life
and the next. If they think of Nibbana, of Enlightenment, at all, they
think of it as something to be attained in a distant future life. This is
clearly a misunderstanding of the teaching.
Is this what the awakened teachers of the past have taught? Is this what
the few awakened ones now in the world are saying? Are the popular
beliefs mentioned in the previous paragraph what the Buddha intended? No.
Such popular beliefs are all self-centred, whereas the Buddha’s teaching
is clearly about non-self.
The Buddha taught us to understand the illusion of self as the result of
the mind process: sensory stimulation, the arising of thought and the
acceptance of time, ignorance of the mind process facilitated by craving
(tanha [19]), the creation of mental constructs [20] and the self,
clinging to self leading to misery. If we can understand and observe this
process, we can liberate ourselves from it and so conquer the recurrent
cycle of birth and death. Therefore, understanding the thinking mind, the
mind process, is the starting point of our journey towards the intended
goal of Enlightenment. This mind process is discussed in Chapter Two,
which also introduces the concepts of the five aggregates [21] and
dependent origination [22]—concepts that are essential to the Buddha’s
critical analysis of this complex process.
As mentioned above, the first task of this book is to help readers
understand the impediments to a proper grasp of the teachings. They can
best be described as cravings. They, impediments are discussed in detail
in Chapter Three, which concerns craving in different forms.
Everyone knows that the teachings point to Nibbana as the final
destination. But many are wandering without clear guidance as to the best
way forward. True, there are traditional practices that claim to help the
seeker, but, unfortunately, many contradict the very basics of the
teachings. Hence, it is questionable whether they help practitioners to
gain any benefit. Chapter Four is intended to help readers to improve
their abilities to listen, read, and reason, to move beyond the
boundaries of tradition, and to grasp the teachings in a manner that
helps them to move forward.
Much of the information easily available to seeker is tainted with
impurities resulting from time, language, custom, tradition, etc. These
are hurdles that must be cleared if we are to gain a clear understanding
of the teachings. The methods for dealing with these challenges are
discussed in Chapter Five.
In the final chapter, many important concepts are summarised and
repeated; readers are invited to check their own understanding as to the
best way forward.
May you all experience the reality and be enlightened in this life.
2. The mind process
The ordinary human mind is not a thing, but a process. This process
creates our thoughts and thus, consciousness; from this consciousness
arise concepts of self, objects, world, and the divine. It is this
consciousness-related mind that we generally refer to as ‘mind’. Our very
existence depends on the functioning of this ordinary mind, which allows
us to consider the past and prepare for the future. The mind process is
so complex that it cannot be duplicated even by the most advanced
computers. It is the source of man’s superiority over the animal kingdom.
It helps men to ponder problems and create solutions. It is of immense
service to mankind, but has also created many problems in the world.
There are many theories of the mind and its function. The earliest
recorded works on the mind are by ancient Indian and Greek philosophers.
Some theories concentrated on the relationship between the mind and a
supernatural, individual soul. Modern theories, based on scientific
understanding of the brain, propose that the mind is a phenomenon of the
brain and is synonymous with consciousness.
Modern science and Buddhism both teach that the mind processes
information about our environment that we receive through specialised
receptors such as the five sense organs: the eye for sight, ear for
hearing, tongue for taste, nose for smell, and body for feeling.
Information resulting from external stimuli travels in the form of nerve
impulses to and from the brain. Nerve impulses are electrical signals,
which the mind processes into internal representations, or thoughts.
Thought is an effect of the basic mechanics of the human ‘mind,’ the
consequence of a process of pattern matching or recognition. At every
waking moment, signals are analysed and judged against recalled ones
through this process of pattern-matching or recognition; judgments are
made in the form of thoughts.
2.1 Investigation of the mind
By virtue of the mind’s importance for our own existence and also of its
exceptional complexity, the nature of the mind has long been an
interesting and challenging topic for scientists and intellectuals. They
have been trying to understand this complex mind process for centuries.
The Buddha was the first to present a detailed analysis of this very
complex mind process, more than 2,550 years [23] ago. He presented a
thorough analysis of the whole mind process: its origination, mechanism,
continuity, and the effects of its continuity. But his reasoning was more
than a mere scientific analysis; it pointed to a realm that is beyond the
comprehension of the ordinary human mind.
His analysis provides a clear understanding of our existence, of our
self, and the world. But it also helps us to understand the mind process
that gives rise to the notion of identity, of “I” and “me”. This notion
of identity is an illusion, a veil that blinds us to reality. Many of
Buddha’s discourses provide detailed explanations of this point. This is
a process veiled by ignorance, hard to understand. But it is this
analysis of the mind process that helps us find answers to fundamental
* The concept of “soul”—is the concept true or have we mistaken the mind
process for the soul?
* Rebirth—is there a rebirth or is it the continuation of a process that
results another birth?
* Birth of a self—is there a birth of a real being or is it only a birth
of the notion of identity, of an “I” or “me” by means of the thought
process known as punarbhava [24]?
* The concept of permanency—is it really true or is it only an illusion
of the mind process?
* Emotion and suffering—how do they occur? Are they the result of the
personalisation of mind constructs?
The Buddha’s teachings on these matters help us gain a clear
understanding of ourselves, an insight to our own existence. They help us
understand the usefulness as well as the limitations of this mind
process. What are the limitations? This process is dependent on our
senses and as such the boundaries of the sensory faculties become the
inbuilt boundaries for the process as well. In whatever direction we
look, we seldom go beyond the world of senses, and our senses are
confined to the world of objects (forms, sounds, odours, tastes, tangible
objects, and mental phenomena). All the manifold objects collectively
called the world are just those things we could feel or know by our
senses, within the boundaries of the framework created by an involuntary
process, the thought process.
We cannot know by our senses what is beyond the perception of our senses.
Our senses can make contact only within certain limits. For example, our
ability to hear sound is limited to the vibration ranges that the ear is
equipped to receive. Sound waves with higher or lower frequencies than
these limits will pass into the ear, but we hear nothing at all. We are
also unable to see certain colours, due to the limitations of our eyes.
We act as though such sounds and colours did not exist, even though they
are perceived by other creatures, or through the instruments of science.
All of the six senses can thus arouse delusion as to the nature of world.
Reality is not at all what we feel or know through our senses. It is our
own unconsciousness (ignorance, or avijja) that blinds us to reality
beyond the senses and this compels us to judge all truth by the norms and
standards set by the senses.
The senses urge us to believe in the existence of a permanent world in
front of us, even though science, and Buddhism, tell us that everything
is in a constant state of flux. The five vital functions—seeing, hearing,
smelling, tasting, and touching—seem to confirm beyond doubt that this
conventional world exists and therefore, it is difficult for us to
believe anything to the contrary.
A simple example will perhaps give some insight into the limitations of
the mind process. Let us consider the deep ocean, the wind, and the waves
near the shore. Wind acts upon the ocean to make waves. However, these
waves are localised, confined to a finite space and time, and are
relatively insignificant in comparison to the vastness of the ocean. The
waves are changing all the time, while the ocean as a whole appears to be
calm in comparison. Our mind process is like the waves: it is finite,
confined by the limitations of the senses, constantly changing in
response to input from the senses. Our whole world, everything we
experience as a self, is created by this limited mind process. However,
there is an infinite base that we do not ordinarily experience, like the
vast ocean that supports the waves.
Is there such a base for our consciousness, a base without boundaries or
limitations, independent of the confines of the senses? Could there be
anything beyond the boundaries of the sensory spheres? A base in which
there would no self, no time, and no language? The teachings say that
there is such a base, which is essential for the mind process (thought
process) to function. Most of us are ignorant of this vast and infinite
base, beyond our senses, beyond self, time, and language. However, a few
humans have experienced this infinite base and can help and guide the
rest of us. These are the Enlightened.
However, as there are no words to explain what they have experienced,
they must use conventional words to hint at these qualities. We use terms
such as ‘universal mind’ or ‘un-personalised mind’ to refer to the
infinite base, but the base is not defined or bounded by these words. A
simple example may help us understand this concept. When we look at the
moon as reflected in containers filled with water, we see an image of the
moon. Our minds are like those containers, reflecting images of the moon.
But in reality there is only one moon in the sky.
This is what is happening with the mind. We are conscious only of the
mind that has been created by the mind process, which moves from
sensation to thought to self. We ignore the basis of the mind, the un-
personalised aspect—mind without ownership, where unlimited potential
exists. (The use of the word ‘mind’ may be confusing, but it is used only
to hint at the existence of vast intelligence beyond the ordinary mind
If we are to experience reality, we need to be aware of this unknown side
of the mind, where unlimited potential exists. It is the luminous, un-
manifested, unconditioned mind, the powerful timeless present. This is
the wisdom referred to in the teachings. This is the Buddha nature or the
infinite intelligence beyond the time-constrained mind. It has been
buried by ignorance (avijja) and craving (tanha). But this limitless and
boundless Buddha nature is within us, waiting to be awakened. When it is
awakened, we will no longer be deceived by the illusions created by the
mind process. When the mind is awakened from unconsciousness (ignorance,
or avijja) and defilements (kilesa), we will understand that the self is
an illusion. This is the dawn of wisdom, a state of perfect peace free
from emotional urges [25] (craving, or tanha). It is the revelation of
the Buddha or Buddha nature [26]. It is the cessation of the mind
constructed illusionary world (loka nirodha).
Our mind process automatically creates many barriers that prevent us from
experiencing anything beyond the sensory spheres. These will be discussed
in detail in Chapter Three. It is sufficient here to mention self, ego,
mental creations (identification with form) and personalisation of mental
creations as barriers. We have been conditioned since infancy to function
within these barriers. This aspect will be discussed later in this
chapter. It must also be noted that the way to escape from this
compulsory conditioning is by means of understanding, or seeing through,
the conditioning process.
The teachings of the Buddha are primarily about this intangible mind and
its functions—a complex process beyond ordinary comprehension. The
teachings provide clear guidance for those of us seeking to see for
ourselves who we are and why we suffer so. They assist us to liberate
ourselves from conditioned mind, to function beyond sensory spheres and
The Dhammapada [27], an ancient text which is very popular with Buddhist
monks and laypersons, is one of the most succinct expressions of the
Buddha’s teachings. The first and the second verses [28] start thus:
“Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-
wrought.” This is one of the foundations of the teachings: mind is the
base or root from which self is born. These two occur together, creating
and conditioning each other. Self is born with the arising of the mind.
We wake from our sleep and the mind takes ownership of all activities.
All the natural phenomena that we would consider as mere natural
activities [29] [30] during sleep, become deeds (kamma[31]) of the waking
self. Breathing, circulation of blood, sound waves touching ear drums,
and all other natural phenomena, which are just activities in our deep
sleep, become deeds (kamma) of the waking self.
The Buddha’s discourses also point to a much wider aspect of the mind, an
area which is not accessible to our conditioned or time-constrained mind.
This aspect is far beyond our ordinary perceptions, outside any
scientific explanations. It cannot be tested by any scientific process
designed by the conditioned mind. It is the realm of mind uncontaminated
by ignorance (avijja), craving (tanha), defilements (kilesa), and
emotional urges. The discourses provide the guidance we need if we are to
truly experience that mind, to grasp the present moment in this life, to
experience reality and become enlightened.
2.2 Beginning of a process
How does the mind process start? It may be easier to understand, if we go
back to the beginning of our life, the physical birth. What happened at
birth? We became independent of the mother for our survival with the
removal of a connection, the severing of the umbilical cord [32]. Our
eyes received light reflected from objects; our eardrums heard external
sound and so on. We begin to synthesise images from external contacts,
just as we do now from the contacts that we make with our external
environment. But in the beginning, as infants, our minds were pure [33]
and uncontaminated. We had no concepts with which to identify and
organise these sensory contacts. We had no manifest consciousness. The
thought process was absent. In the absence of consciousness, our mind
functioned independent of time. That is to say we were experiencing the
present moment—a rare luxury that yielded no benefit to us at that stage.
But even though we have forgotten this stage, our journey should be to go
upstream to experience the present as we once experienced it as an
infant: without identification and discrimination of forms.
The unusual qualities of our infant minds are worthy of contemplation.
The self was absent. The thought process was not active, hence there was
no consciousness. Identification with form, separation or division from
the world did not occur. Personalisation did not take place. Mind did not
function outside the present moment; the past and future were absent.
Many of these qualities resemble the qualities of Nibbana, but it has not
been realised at that stage.
As adults, we continue to make contacts with the external environment,
but these contacts are now different. What is the difference? We feel
that our contacts occur to a self; as infants, we simply experienced,
without a self. This is the main difference: the absence of a self.
Infant or adult, we experience the incessant inflow from contacts of the
sense organs; however, as adults we take ownership of the contacts. For
us, self is at the centre of everything. This is reflected in the
knowledge we accumulate: ‘I see’, ‘I hear’, ‘my mother’, etc.
We are unhappy if something bad happens and happy when we have good news.
We are vulnerable to our emotions, which are driven here and there by
events. But the infants do not feel emotions as we do. Infants cry at
birth, but it is not for unhappiness. The cry is a reflex that pulls
oxygen into the body. Infants cry when their stomachs are empty, but this
is just an instinctive response, not an emotional response. An emotion is
the body’s response to a thought. The thought process has not yet begun
for the infant and hence the infant does not have a self that can be
happy or unhappy. This is nature; this is how it functions. Even as
adults, we function in ways that we do not ‘own’ as selves. The digestion
of food and the circulation of the blood are not thought processes; they
continue even in deep sleep. Breathing is not normally thought related,
though practitioners of meditation can control this process when awake.
The self does not take ownership or control of these functions. They
reflect the intelligence of nature.
According to the teachings, the infant’s mind is not activated by
unconsciousness (ignorance) at this stage and therefore, such functions
do not lead to the creation of a self. Natural, reflex actions without
any consciousness of self are the norm for infants up to about three
months. During this period of infancy, without the activation of the
thought process, infants are unable to acquire the knowledge necessary
for interpretation. The contacts simply occur and cease. It is only a
short story. It is just the operation of law of cause and effect, i.e.,
the operation of pure dhamma.
The infant’s eyes receive light reflected from objects, its eardrums
vibrate when touched by sound, and so on. However, the infant’s mind is
not contaminated by these external contacts and has yet to produce an
output, a thought. These persistent contacts, however, will result in
acquisition of knowledge with the passage of time. The infant begins to
form concepts of objects, and to reason, even before learning a language.
Later, infants learn a language with the help of their parents, and learn
to associate names with concepts. The infant learns to associate, for
example, an image falling on the eye with the words that the parents say
when they feed him or her. This same process occurs with sound, smell,
taste and touch. This is the beginning of the learning process; it is
referred to as the conditioning of the mind. It is the unconscious mind
beginning to become a part of the collective consciousness.
The above phenomenon is common to any human being. (Note that some
children are deeply retarded, and never learn a language; they do,
however, acquire some pre-verbal knowledge of objects.) This is the very
first stage in the acquisition of knowledge; it begins with an impersonal
process and ends in the creation of self. Stimulation leads to
interpretations—consciousness is activated—emotional responses arise in
consequence of input from the five sense organs. This process, once set
in motion within a self, will continue until the physical death of that
self, or until the self is lost to dementia, as sometimes happens to the
Note that emotional response occurs only when we are awake, not when we
are in deep sleep. For example, eardrums make contact with external
sounds in deep sleep, but no emotional responses occur. (One could argue
that a mother hears her baby cry and wakes from a deep sleep. Isn’t that
an emotional response? Similarly we wake up when we hear alarm bells.
These are instinctive responses, like an infant’s responses, and they
result in the awakening of the senses from sleep. Actual recognition of
the stimulus and the emotional response to it come only after one is
awake, and not before.) This implies that contact with the physical sense
organs does not necessarily result in an instantaneous emotional
response; that requires an input from the mind. The moment we are awake,
mind and senses arise together and respond emotionally to sensory
stimulation. Even if the stimulus ceases, the self arising from this
process will continue with the process of interpretation and reflection.
This is basically how we live within the time-frame of past, present, and
We make contacts with the external environment via our sense organs.
These contacts (sound, light, smell and so on) are known as form (rupa
[34]), which is the first of the five aggregates discussed in the
teachings. For ease of understanding, we may consider that this process
instantaneously leads to sensation/feeling (vedana [35]), or the
activation of the second of the five aggregates. In reality,
sensation/feeling does not occur after the occurrence of form; both arise
simultaneously. They lead instantaneously to the activation of the time-
bound thought process. The end product is a thought within the time-frame
of past, present, and future. Who creates this thought? No one creates
it. This is an impersonal process over which we have no control. But we
take ownership of the thought and personalise it—“I see,” ”I hear,” ”I
feel,” etc. According to the teachings, this process is the activation of
dependent origination. The bhava cycle [36] is in motion to link a
thought to a self. A self is born and the rest of the world becomes not-
self. A separation of subject and object arises. An impersonal process
thus produces a thinker and a thought, a self and a world.
2.3 Conditioning
After birth, the sense organs of the infant are subjected to constant
contacts with the external world. These inevitable, unstoppable contacts
lead to the surfacing of dormant craving (tanha) and defilements
(kilesa)—inbuilt desire to make some sense of the disturbances or
continuous contacts when the infant is awake. The dormant craving (tanha)
and defilements (kilesa) then begin to activate in order to understand
the processes occurring within. This is a natural involuntary process and
is similar to the surfacing of sediments that lie at the bottom of a
glass of water when it is disturbed. With the activation of dormant
craving (tanha) and defilements (kilesa), a self is beginning to emerge.
A thought process gradually activates. The involuntary mind process thus
produces a self. This natural phenomenon is common to every infant. It is
the beginning of conditioning.
As this conditioning progresses, the infant begins to understand or
interpret stimulations or disturbances and begins to populate the world
of non-self with objects. In this initial stage, the infant usually gets
help from his or her parents, as previously discussed. That is the
starting point or base line from which infants develop their knowledge.
However, the parent’s minds are conditioned or time-constrained and are
subject to the collective consciousness. Infants naturally tend to follow
in the footsteps of their parents, imitation being the only avenue
available to them. As a result, the infant’s mind is conditioned just as
the parents’ minds are conditioned. The thought process is activated and
the infant begins to be conscious of the existence of a self and of the
external world. It starts to separate self and the rest, starts to
distinguish between objects, and so on. The output of infant’s mind
process—the thoughts—thus begins to reflect the collective consciousness.
The self is born. The notion of identity, of “I” and “me”, is established
by this process. The infant begins to accept the constraints of past-
present-future time.
This conditioning is completely unconscious. Hence, all the information
that the infant gathers is tainted by this conditioning. He or she stores
this information in memory to be retrieved when needed. We refer to this
as knowledge.
During this natural process, the infant begins to create a bigger picture
of the world in his or her mind. He or she accepts the existence of a
permanent world that is not-self. The infant does not realise that the
world and all the objects in it are just creations of the mind. The
separation of thinker and thought, self and others, observer and
observed, actor and action, etc., all this is accepted as normal and
Even though the information gathered in this process is tainted, it is
still useful for the purposes of living. Moreover, it allows us to begin
to reason critically, so that we can understand the teachings of the
Buddha. How sad that most people only utilise their knowledge to attempt
a fleeting happiness in this brief life!
2.4 A drift begins
We are aware that natural phenomenon such as light and sound make contact
with the sense organs. But we may not be aware of the impermanent nature
of these involuntary contacts. These contacts cease the moment they
occur. The teaching describes these contacts as ‘simultaneous arising and
ceasing’ or ‘ceasing within the arising.’ These contacts do not trigger
any form of emotional response in an infant up to the age of about two or
three months. The infant’s responses are instinctive rather than
emotional. In the absence of any emotional response, the infant does not
experience happiness or unhappiness from such involuntary contacts. This
is identified in the teachings as the experiencing of the unconditioned
mind or the pure mind, pure from contaminants. However, although it is
the experiencing of the present moment, it is not the experiencing of
reality. For this reason, the infant is unable to derive any benefits
from this experiencing of the present.
Inherited craving (tanha) is dormant at this stage of infancy. It has yet
to be activated. Without the activated craving, these contacts are just
appearances and disappearances for an infant younger than two or three
months. They do not lead to any kind of interpretation. The mind process
and the accumulation of information have not begun. However, this changes
as the child grows. The process that leads to conditioning is activated
with craving. The conditioning brings a permanent change to the process.
It is the start of a drift away from the infant’s initial experiencing of
the present moment.
This drift is a natural process, and happens to all but a few profoundly
retarded human beings during their infancy. It is the beginning of
acceptance of time: past, present and future. As we begin to learn how to
identify and discriminate between objects, we lose the ability to
experience the present. The mind begins to function with time. The infant
has no control over this process. This is the contamination of the pure
mind of the infant by external contaminants. The infant’s pure mind,
unconditioned mind, is exposed to the influence of the conditioned minds
of the parents, who accept self, time, and object-permanency as the norm.
The infant’s responses to the input from the senses are no longer
instinctive. They are emotional responses that result from the illusion
of self.
Images of objects disappear as soon as they appear on the retina of the
eye; sound waves vanish as soon as they make contact with the eardrums;
so it is with the other sensory organs. These processes are continuous
and occur in rapid succession. That is the nature of reality. The
momentary image that resulted from reflected light rays that fell on the
eye a moment ago has vanished without a trace. The eye is already
receiving new light rays and the mind is creating new images. The infant
mind learns, with the aid of its parents’ conditioned minds, to collate
these flickering, vanishing images and label them as an enduring object:
a ball, a hand. But these objects do not endure. Permanence is a
delusion. It is only when we accept past-present-future time, and imagine
objects as located in this time, that we can believe in the reality of
these collated sense impressions.
This is the beginning of ignorance, as we become unconscious of reality.
Our minds capture only one part of the process of simultaneous arising
and ceasing (the arising) and collate these impressions. We become blind
to the ceasing, and blind to conditioned mind processes. We become blind
to reality. This is the result of craving (tanha).
Once the mind has been conditioned in the above manner, it will be
extremely difficult to experience reality. Mind on its own will never
fall back to the original pure state to experience reality. Our ignorance
and blindness are strengthened every moment because of emotional urges
(craving, or tanha). Only by following the Buddha’s path and
understanding the conditioned mind can we experience the true reality.
2.5 Contacts lead to stimulations
When the outside world affects the physical sense organs, it makes
momentary contacts. Light reaches the eye and disappears; sound makes
contact with the eardrums and ceases; smell formed by chemicals in the
air makes contact with nerve fibres and ceases; and so on. No one is
responsible for these contacts. They are continuous, impersonal
occurrences of appearances and disappearances. These contacts are our
only means of connection to the external world.
These connections are not of permanent nature, because light, sound,
smell, and so on are impermanent entities. They are subject to constant
change, and change much quickly than we can imagine or the conditioned
mind could experience. The light that reflected off the object a moment
ago is not the light that reaches the eye. It has changed on its way to
the eye. Similarly, the sound originating from a certain object has
changed by the time it reaches the eardrum. It is like this with all the
sensory inputs.
The objects from which the light is reflected or the sound is generated
are not permanent entities either. They too are subject to constant
change [37]. By the time reflected light reaches the eye, the object has
changed from its original composition. This change is not noticeable to
our conditioned mind, but that is the nature of any object made of sub-
atomic particles. Even our sense organs are subject to this constant
The sense organs, the objects, and the mediums that connect the two are
all impermanent entities. They are changing constantly; they exist in a
state of flux. By the time reflected light reaches the eye; the object,
the light, and the eye have all changed. Furthermore, the moment light
reaches the eye, it disappears. New light particles or waves reach the
eye in the next moment and they also disappear instantly. This is true of
all sensory inputs.
We cannot perceive this flux. We collate these momentary impressions so
that our conditioned mind can grasp them as permanent objects. We assume
unchanged mediums of communication and permanent physical sense organs.
2.6 Delusion
When we wake up from our sleep, thoughts start to flow continuously as a
result of the impersonal contacts that occur in sense organs. This mental
commentary is a function of our conditioned mind, arising from its own
ignorance. The thoughts produced by the process create permanency from
The conditioned mind is basically a process that accepts past-present-
future time to produce the illusion of permanency. The process is based
on an unconscious acceptance of a past that is dead and gone, a present
that the mind is unable to experience, and a future yet to come. This
process distracts us from the present; we are pulled into the past and
the future. The mind brings up memories from the past and tries to use
them to envisage and manipulate the future. Hence the mind is unable to
experience the real present. The mind occupies itself instead with
illusory, mind-made constructs. In order to construct these illusions,
the mind assumes a separate self. The process creates illusory objects
and an illusory self.
In summary, ignorance-based conditioning due to craving (tanha) is the
root cause of the continuous creation of this illusory self and illusory
world. All this arises from our unconsciousness, our ignorance.
2.7 Different phases
Most of us would say that our mind alternates between two different
states daily: deep sleep and wakefulness (which we might say includes
being half-awake). Is this really the case? Or is it just another
illusion? Can we even answer this question with our conditioned mind?
That is possible to a certain extent. We are not aware of mind when we
are in a deep sleep, but we are aware of it when awake. In deep sleep,
mind appears to be still. There is no thought process, so there is no
personalisation and no self. Without the self, without the thought
process, happiness, unhappiness, loss, gain, anger jealousy, pride,
distance, and time are absent in deep sleep. Unfortunately, we are unable
to experience the absence of these distractions and illusions, so we
derive no spiritual benefit from the stilling of the mind in sleep. Could
these qualities be experienced when we are awake and conscious? This is
what we need to understand.
When we awake from deep sleep, our senses begin to receive inputs and our
conditioned mind starts to produce thoughts. Every single thought thus
produced is grasped as belonging to a self. Buddhist teachers have
categorised thoughts into ten categories: stimulation of the five sense
organs by the external world (five types of contacts) and internal
stimulations from memories (another five types). The scriptures refer to
these thoughts as the ten demons (maras) that the Buddha has defeated.
Even if half-asleep or half-awake, we are receiving internal stimulation,
producing thoughts, and falling into the illusion of self.
From this thought process, self is born. This self then experiences
happiness, unhappiness, loss, gain, anger jealousy, pride, etc. Have we
ever really pondered this amazing change, from no-self in deep sleep to a
self when we are awake? How is this possible? How is it that a self that
was not in existence is born the moment senses start to function? The
answer is that when we awake from deep sleep, the mind process (the mind
process created by ignorance) revives. This is the only difference
between deep sleep and wakefulness. Therefore it is this process, the
mind process activated by ignorance that leads to the birth of the self,
the creation of the world that is not-self, and the experience of
happiness, unhappiness, stress, relaxation, loss, gain, anger, jealousy,
pride, etc.
When we wake up from deep sleep, we start to think of many things:
planning the day’s work and planning for the future; thinking of happy or
unhappy moments, thinking of parents, children, etc. We recognise and
accept time, space, and objects. We accept separation: self from other
beings, self from other objects, etc. We accept ownership as it relates
to a self: I own a car; he is my father, etc. We accept that there is a
permanent self and a permanent world. We fall into the world of maya,
Throughout the waking day, thoughts continue to occur one after the
other. For most of us, this process is unavoidable and unstoppable. These
thoughts motivate a struggle to achieve happiness by way of work,
leisure, and various other means. This struggle continues until we are
tired, tired of processing information and producing thoughts. Nature
takes over and we fall into a sleep. As we fall into sleep, or rouse from
it momentarily during the night, we may pass through a transitory state
of half sleep, in which we experience dreams. That is the mind
functioning, but without external stimulations. As we fall into a deeper
sleep, the mind becomes still. The thought process stops and
personalisation does not take place.
What a weary cycle this is, when we see it clearly! How wonderful it is
that there is a means of escaping it!
3. Impediments: craving in different forms
For many of us, the real difficulty of understanding the Truth or taking
a step in the right direction seems to be the existence of unidentified
impediments. What are they? They are the unforeseen, unnoticed,
unobserved, and unexamined obstacles that exist within us. Every moment,
they operate within us, hidden from our consciousness. Even if we are
aware of them, we may not consider them impediments. However, they do
exist and cleverly obstruct the path towards deliverance.
Once we see through them, they are no longer impediments. Hence it is not
the impediments per se that create difficulties for us, but our ignorance
that such impediments exist. These impediments create barriers that
prevent us from taking corrective measures and also lead us away from
deliverance. They thrive comfortably within us with the help of our
egoistic mind, which is always trying to reach the illusory goal of
selfish happiness. At every moment and with every single thought these
impediments are strengthened. Many of us have no control over this
process. The outcome of this process is that we go down the stream,
drifting further and further away from deliverance, binding ourselves to
the cycle of birth and death—the samsaric cycle [38].
Impediments are not external to the self. They exist within the self.
They are here with us in every single moment. They are an intrinsic part
of the mind process that produces thoughts and thus the illusion that
world is divided into self and not-self, subject and object.
The impediments considered in this book have both positive and negative
impacts on our daily life. They are useful yet dangerous. It is beyond
the purview of this book to consider this aspect and therefore left
untouched. However, they pose a real danger to seekers of the Truth, as
these obstacles tend to obscure thinking and hamper proper understanding
of the teachings. Hence, these could take us on a tangent away from the
straight path, away from the goal [39] that we intend to achieve.
Therefore we have to be constantly mindful of these obstacles in order to
take corrective action and steer in the right direction—just like taking
aversive or corrective action to avoid a danger in a real life situation.
What are these obstacles that we have to be conscious of? In Buddha’s
language they are simply the surfacing of craving (tanha) in many
different forms—greed (loba), aversion (dosa), and delusion (moha)—the
demons (maras) of defilements (kilesa). We labour under the burden of
these demons. These three poisons are the roots of recurrent birth and
death (samsaric existence). In short, impediments are the clever
manipulation of craving, of which many of us are unaware.
3.1 Ignorance
The mother of craving (tanha), greed (loba), aversion (dosa), and
delusion (moha) is ignorance (avijja). Ignorance is generally understood
as lack of knowledge, education, or awareness. However, the term
‘ignorance’ is used in a different context in the teachings. It has a
much wider and deeper meaning.
Ignorance simply means not being acquainted with our own mind. This
definition however, implies a separation of self from the mind, i.e., an
existence of a permanent self and a mind that belongs to that self.
Although this is not really the truth, it is however a good vantage point
from which we may contemplate the mind and its functions. This
contemplation may help us to understand that both the self and the mind
arise together, conditioning each other. This is a single process, a
process activated by ignorance. If we realise this, we may start to
understand the delusion of separation created by that process. The mind
process leads to the illusion of the separate existence of objects
relative to a permanent self as well as to the illusion of space and
The ignorance referred to in the teachings is the ignorance of the mind
as to its own process. It is not the ignorance of a self. It is also
referred to as unconsciousness in this book. Ignorance activates in
infancy, as has been discussed in Chapter Two. Mind is not truly aware of
how it functions. Mind is blind to reality, to the timeless dynamism of
constant change, and is therefore forced to view the world through a veil
of ignorance. Mind functions from a conditioned base. This conditioning
is a form of contamination facilitated by ignorance.
As we read in Chapter Two, the mind was pure and free of contamination at
birth. Craving (tanha), although present, was dormant at that time. This
dormant craving is activated during infancy by the continuous sensory
stimulation from the sensory organs. This activation of craving paves the
way for contamination. External contaminants find their way into the mind
thanks to this activation. We learn how to identify and classify objects,
dividing the world into self and not-self. This begins a process that we
experience as the accumulation of knowledge, knowledge of an outer world
on the basis of the information that the mind is continuously fed from
outside. This is our learning process. Knowledge is gathered purely from
the outside, while the process inside—the conditioning of the mind from
activation of craving due to ignorance—is ignored. We learn to be
unconscious of the full reality.
The mind of a newborn baby is considered to be pure in the sense that it
is not conditioned by time and hence not tainted by external
contaminants. The infant’s mind cannot label or identify objects. No
complex thought process is operating. The infant’s body is subject to the
laws of nature, of cause and effect; the mind is also subject to a
similar process, that of arising and ceasing. The infant’s mind functions
in the present moment. Time is not a function for the infant’s mind, and
hence there is no past or future for the infant. The infant’s mind is not
conditioned but it is not free from craving (tanha). That has yet to be
activated. But with conditioning, the mind starts to accept time as the
primary factor for its function and survival. At this moment, the present
is clouded by the past or the future; it is no longer possible for the
infant to live in the present. When this happens, the infant loses the
ability to experience the true present.
The present event is the operation of the law of cause and effect, that
is, simultaneous arising and ceasing. This impersonal process is veiled
from the conditioned mind, which focuses instead on the arising and
ceasing of thought. This is the inevitable result of the mind’s inability
to experience the present. The present is clouded by time and the mind
recognises only the moments of arising from the whole process of
simultaneous arising and ceasing. The mind is conditioned to detect
continuous arising but not ceasing. The mind collates these memories and
forms a thought of a permanent object; it begins to believe in the
existence of permanent objects and beings.
When this continuous arising is confirmed by name and form [40] (that is,
the identification with form) the conditioned mind ceases to experience
the other part of the event, the ceasing. It identifies an object as
existing within past-present-future time and sees it as having name and
form. The mind unconsciously becomes content with this outcome. It
identifies the forms and clings to them as real. Mind has thus become
deluded. This is the essence of ignorance: the mind being ignorant of its
own process. It recognises the arising and not the ceasing, even though
both occur simultaneously. This inability of the mind to experience its
own process is ignorance in the Buddhist sense. This is quite different
from the conventional understanding of ignorance. This characteristic of
the mind is also referred to as unconsciousness.
Once the conditioning starts, it will continue until death, unless one is
fortunate enough to learn of the Path and take steps for un-conditioning.
The conditioning is a natural process. As the mind is deluded from the
start, it will continue to function on the same path, to process
information. Defilements and cravings (kilesa and tanha) dominate this
conditioning process. The root of the process is ignorance; ignorance is
rooted and strengthened as the conditioning continues.
What is acquired from outside is not the whole Truth. It is slanted,
partial, and distorted. The process begins with the information received
from parents. As the minds of the parents are conditioned, so they shape
their children.
Once conditioned, mind always functions in ignorance and creates
delusions. It is ignorance, mother of craving (tanha), that is in charge
of the thought process. We must be aware of this if we are to do anything
about it. We must simply be mindful, observing how the thought process
operates and seeing through it to the reality behind all the illusions.
It then becomes clear that we have been viewing the world through the
window of this delusion. Our observations are nothing more than mind-made
constructions. Everything comes out of ignorance: goodness comes from
ignorance. Evil comes from ignorance. To call things by their proper
names, ignorance is the requisite condition for fabrications (sankhara).
As long as we are trapped in this cycle, we will never be able to
experience reality. We need to come out of this ignorance and illusion if
we are to experience the Truth.
In summary, forms (fabrications or sankhara) are conditioned and
transient. Mind arises with form and consciousness is a reflection of the
conditioned mind.
3.2 Identification of impediments
How do we realise that impediments exist within us? Let us look at this
basic question. It has two main components, us and impediments. Now let
us try to examine the question further. The question implies that
impediments exist to a self—self exists and self is faced with
impediments. Where does self exist and what are these impediments? These
are the two basic questions. Are they really two? Or are they two sides
of the same coin?
Both of these—self and impediments—result from the thought process. That
is what we need to understand. Both are inherent in thought. They do not
exist in the absence of thought. More accurately, everything we know and
analyse exists in a thought. Self exists in relation to the world of
objects in space and past-present-future time. This is basically the
physical existence or permanency with which we are familiar, the world
that our experience confirms—all existing within a thought.
When the self exists, objects, space, and time exist. The experience of
self arises in thought. Thus the self, world, time, space, and experience
exist in thought. This leads to another question: what is thought? How
does thought arise? It is the mind process that produces thoughts; they
are the only outputs of the mind process. Where does the mind exist? How
does the mind process activate and function? These are some of the basic
questions to which we need to find answers. This is the starting point.
Let us go back to the basic questions: what are self and impediments?
Self is recognised only with the arising of a thought. Thus the self is
unaware of its own existence when it is in deep sleep and thought ceases.
There is no observer or experiencer or thinker in deep sleep, hence the
absence of the feeling of a self. With the thought process suspended in
deep sleep, impediments are also suspended.
Self and impediments arise together, in a thought, due to the operation
of the mind process. Subject and object, the thinker and the thought, the
experiencer and the experience, the observer and the observed, the actor
and the action, the viewer and what is seen, the taster and the taste,
etc., are the operation of thoughts resulting from the mind process.
Subject and object occur simultaneously and cannot be separated. Only
thoughts make us believe in the existence of a permanent self, a self in
which the impediments are embedded. In reality, the self and impediments
cannot exist independently; they are basically the two sides of the same
coin. They arise together and cease together.
3.3 Self
In daily life everything operates from self-centeredness, which is
universally accepted as the norm of worldly life. We do not consider self
as an impediment in our normal daily life. It is only an impediment to
those who are in search of the Truth.
This self-centeredness arises from our acceptance of the illusory self,
and our belief that the self exists in an external world. We are trapped
in a static concept. We fail to see self and other as components of a
dynamic process, which is reality. They are dependent on each other for
their illusory existences. However, these existences, which seem so real
to us, are just mental constructs formed by uniting the past, present and
future of a transitory process. To call them by their proper name, they
are formations or fabrications (sankhara) resulting from ignorance. These
mental constructs, these identifications and forms, are our life. But
they are just illusions arising from the mind process.
Non-self is the fundamental theme of the teachings. This differentiates
them from the teachings of other religions, which assume a permanent atma
or soul. Most people find this concept puzzling and very hard to accept.
They cannot believe that self is just an illusion, and that this illusory
self exists only in thought.
When we act or think with the belief that the self exists, any action or
effort on our part gives strength to the self. All our actions are
directed towards achieving results for a self. This is our
unconsciousness of reality in operation. In our ignorance, we always
separate self and results. This is the way we are conditioned, this is
the way we attempt to experience reality. That is our main problem.
This separation is the greatest hurdle to proper understanding of the
teaching. Unfortunately, all too many Buddhist teachers encourage just
this concept. They encourage people to accumulate good deeds in order to
have a better life in future births; eventually, they promise, we can
become enlightened after physically seeing the Maithree Buddha in a
future life. This is nothing more than strengthening of the self. It is
the self that is to do good deeds, to accumulate merit, to be born again,
to attain Nibbana after seeing the Buddha (which in this view is just
another self). Are we on the right path? We need to question our thinking
and actions. What is therefore required is a good self-appraisal, an
appraisal to understand these impediments.
What is thinking? It is just the thought process. That is to say it is
within the operation of our mind process. What about our knowledge? That
is also within this thought process? Functioning of this thought process
is essential to express our knowledge. It is the only way that we can
gain and express knowledge. This knowledge is however, nothing more than
the retrieval of our memory. It is the known that is retrieved from
memory as knowledge. How useful is this knowledge of the known to
experience reality, which is the unknown? In other words, can we
understand the unknown by means of known?
We always go from the known to the known; that is all we can do as a
self. But as seekers of the Truth our aim has to be different. It is to
experience something different, which is the unknown. But is the unknown
possible from the known? This is the question we need to ask ourselves.
The known is created by and imprisoned within the thought process; the
unknown is beyond the time-constrained thought process. Whatever we do is
within the known. Is it therefore possible to experience the unknown from
the known? Unknown is beyond time; it is the timeless present.
Experiencing the timeless present, the unknown, is Enlightenment or
The main obstacle to this experience is our attachment to self-view (“I”,
“me” and “mine”). When we see through the self-view, when we let go of
that, then we will understand the rest. We do not have to utilise complex
techniques; all we need to do is let go of the ignorant views of ‘I am.’
3.4 Self-appraisal
Self-appraisal and the methodology that it implies are rarely utilised,
even though they are essential to a proper understanding of religion.
This is especially true with regard to Buddhism. We Buddhists tend not to
pay attention to this methodology. Many of us are content with the
existing beliefs, practices and customs. We do not think to look beyond
this traditional framework. We are conditioned by customs and tradition.
The methodology of self-appraisal is essential if we are to understand
our attitudes, prejudices, beliefs, and customs. What we believe, accept,
and practise may not accord with the teachings of the Buddha. They may be
contradictory to the basics. We must thoroughly examine whether or not
they accord with the teachings. It is the only way to test our own
understanding; it is a starting point from which we can move forward in
the right direction.
Why do we try to accrue merits to become enlightened in a future life? Is
it the correct approach? Is it because we are encouraged in that
direction by custom and tradition?
Why do we try to experience reality through the development of the mind?
Is it really possible to do so if we remain mired within the mind process
that produces thoughts? The reality that we hope to experience is beyond
the mind process, i.e., beyond thoughts.
Why do we carry out many rituals? Is it because that they provide us some
sort of happiness or relief when we are in need of assistance? Do we even
realise that we engage in many rituals? Why do we offer flowers or even
food to a statue of the Buddha? What do we hope to gain or achieve from
such actions? Many believe that these help us in accumulating merits to
become enlightened in a future life. Are there any truth in those beliefs
and actions? Are there any proofs to justify such actions confer any
benefits? Do they form a part of the teachings of the Buddha?
First thing we must realise is that whatever we do as a self can only
strengthen the self. How can strengthening of the self be of any
assistance if we wish to truly experience reality? The reality or the
unknown is beyond thought and cannot be experienced as a self. Many
current practices, carried out because they are traditional, can only
help us achieve a fleeting sense of satisfaction. We believe that we are
accumulating merit that will take our self to Nibbana in a future life.
The practices are like medicine, used to restore some equilibrium, some
happiness to a troubled mind. Apart from this function, how can they help
us move towards an experience of the un-manifest, as described by the
How do we feel about explanations of the teachings that appear to be new,
that are different from the traditional understandings that we were
taught in our youth? Do we have the right attitude when we listen to
sermons by the enlightened, monks, and other knowledgeable persons? Do we
adopt a similar attitude when we read Buddhist scriptures? What is the
right attitude? It is basically, to examine ourselves for flexibility.
How flexible are we when we listen and read? How open-minded are we? Can
we listen to sermons or read books written by knowledgeable persons
without comparison and pre-judgment?
We need to examine our own attitudes thoroughly and make adjustments if
necessary. If we are not flexible and open-minded, if we make comparisons
and pre-judgments, very often we fail to hear what is actually being
said. This is the main problem with many of us. Sometimes we think we
know more than the Buddha. Sometimes we may have the knowledge, in the
abstract, but not the right attitude. Sometimes the knowledge that we
think we possess about the teachings is flawed and inaccurate.
We need to be more flexible and unbiased in our attitudes. We need to be
open-minded and listen or read without pre-judgment. We need to train
ourselves to consider facts rationally, to abandon prejudice and bias,
and strive for sensible conclusions. The Buddha emphasised the importance
of this striving in his sermon to the Kalamas [41] [42] more than 2,550
years ago.
Do our actions and practices reflect the inbuilt assumption of an
existence of a self? Do such actions aim at protecting and achieving
benefits for that self in this life or a future life? Have we stopped,
even for a moment, to consider that there is no self? Have we understood
the importance of the concept of no-self (anatta in Pali or anatman in
Sanskrit) in Buddha’s teachings? The futility of many of our actions
would become evident if we had ever reflected seriously on this concept.
Most of us have spent a lifetime embracing misguided views of who we are
and practicing self-serving rituals, believing that we did so within the
umbrella of Buddhism. Let the reading of this book mark the start of a
reconsideration of our existing beliefs and practices. It is an
opportunity to check whether or not they fall within the teachings of the
Buddha. If they do not, let us make the adjustments or corrections that
are required in order to move towards the intended goal.
3.5 Knowledge
We may have learned many things; we may be broadening the horizon of our
knowledge every moment. We may have a vast knowledge of many subjects.
This helps us to consider facts intelligently and rationally in order to
master any subject matter thoroughly. This knowledge, however, is but the
stocking and retrieval of memory; our memories are only of the past. Our
knowledge and rational thinking are bound within past-present-future
time. There are inherent limitations in our knowledge and rational
thinking, limitations that must be escaped if we are to reach Nibbana or
Enlightenment, which is an experience of reality outside past-present-
future time.
Due to the above-mentioned limitations, our knowledge may very well
become an impediment if we attempt to experience true reality. The
experience of reality is beyond the thought process and hence, beyond our
limited ordinary knowledge. In Buddha’s words, this experience is a state
of deliverance of mind (ceto vimutti). It is the unshakable deliverance
of the mind (akuppa-ceto vimutti [43]. While ordinary knowledge is useful
in daily life, we must let go of it if we are to reach realisation of the
Truth. This realisation must happen without any effort by the illusory
self, as any such effort is bound by the thought process and strengthens
the self.
Reality is simultaneous arising and ceasing. Within this reality there
exist no self or objects. Hence we must learn to observe without an
observer and experience without an experiencer. This is the path to
follow, the path that abandons the mistaken belief in the permanency of
self and objects. If we make an attempt to understand the teachings in
this way, self would not become an impediment. This is a very subtle
point, but it must be clearly comprehended if we are to experience
For these reasons, we need to re-examine our knowledge about the
teachings. Do we possess accurate knowledge? Do we understand the
teaching in its proper perspective? How carefully can we differentiate
between the teachings and the requirements of normal living? How can we
proceed in the right direction without becoming a slave to what we think
we know, or growing proud of our extensive knowledge? How far can we go
with the knowledge that we possess?
Many do not see traditional beliefs and practices, or traditional
understanding of the teaching, as obstacles. But close examination of
them will confirm they can be obstacles. We need to look into all these
aspects intelligently and with an open mind. We cannot be biased or
prejudiced; we must be ready to look beyond our rigid traditional
boundaries. Unless and until we are ready to take this approach, the path
towards the Truth will be far away. We need ingenuity, courage and
The Buddha reached Nibbana only with great difficulty. He had no teachers
to guide him on the path of Enlightenment. We, however, have his teaching
to guide us, so we do not have to face such difficulties. We only have to
be intelligent enough to use of the teachings in the correct way. The
Buddha has said that dhamma is your teacher. The dhamma is senses and
their functions. Thus, understanding of dhamma is the only way to follow
the teachings.
4. The way forward
At some point in our lives, most of us become aware that we experience
not only birth, growth, success, good health, pleasure, happiness, and
winning, but also loss, unhappiness, failure, sickness, old age, decay,
pain, and death. These are the two sides to our life, the good and bad
that exist side by side. This is what we experience from birth to death.
We feel happy, when we experience the good side of our life, but feel
pain when it turns to the bad. Enjoyment can change to suffering the very
next moment; a healthy person can become sick overnight.
Sometimes we find it hard to tolerate the unpleasant emotions that arise
when we experience the bad side. We begin to wonder why. Why me? Why now?
Where is the good side and what happened to it? The mental commentary
proliferates, causing more emotional disturbance, stress, unhappiness,
and pain. The so-called self is helpless and the thought process seems
out of control. There is no space within to experience peace, that is, a
state without the clutter of thoughts.
Even if we experience the good side, the clutter of thoughts denies us
the space we need if we are to experience absolute inner peace. Whether
it is enjoyment or pain that we experience, both are responses to
thoughts resulting from involuntary sensory stimulations, and they are
transient in nature. They are impermanent, passing away as they arise.
But the self tends to cling to them as they were real. They are just
impermanent thoughts, form-based and time-related, and experienced by an
impermanent subject—the illusory self, the “I”, the ego.
Most people are completely engrossed by these thoughts, the mental
commentary, the voice in the head—the incessant flow of involuntary and
compulsive thinking and the emotions that accompany it. They are enslaved
to their conditioned mind. They are unable to see beyond the veil that
the conditioned mind throws over the mind process. They are trapped in
self-view, or ego.
Most of us fail to realise that this ego is the result of selective
perception and distorted interpretation. These selective perceptions and
distorted interpretations dominate our daily life. Only through awakened
awareness are we able to differentiate between selective perceptions and
reality, distorted interpretations and truth. Only through awakened
awareness, or Buddha nature, can we see the Truth. We will never be able
to find absolute truth if we look for it where it cannot be found: in
books, in sermons, in scriptures, in doctrines, ideologies, sets of
rules, or stories. What do all of these have in common? They are made up
of thoughts. The thoughts can at best point to Truth, but they never are
the Truth. “The finger pointing to the apple is not the apple.”
If we do not properly understand religious teachings, we are tempted to
use them for purposes that contradict religion’s true objective. Religion
can be used either for the strengthening of the self, the ego, or for the
realisation of the Truth. We need not go far to understand these
deviations. If we believe that only our religion advocates the Truth or
is the Truth, we are in the wrong path. If, on the other hand, we
understand that religious teachings represent signposts or maps left
behind by enlightened humans to assist us in awakening from
unconsciousness (ignorance), then we can move beyond the signposts to the
experience of the un-manifest.
In simple terms, what we are trying to experience is real inner peace, a
transcendent inner peace unaffected by external/internal sensory
stimulations. This is the peace that arises from non-identification with
form. Identification with form is the result of our object-related,
sense-based and time-related consciousness and in fact it is the result
of unconsciousness or ignorance. This object-related consciousness, a
result of inherent emotional urge (tanha), is the greatest obstacle to
freedom from identification with form. This consciousness, the basis of
the self, will never allow us to experience inner peace. Only the Truth,
the awakening from unconsciousness (ignorance), can lead us to inner
peace. When we become aware or conscious of our unconsciousness, we
become aware of the need to awake from unconsciousness.
One cannot become free of identification with form starting from our
ordinary consciousness. This consciousness is not based on wisdom; it is
based on unconsciousness (ignorance). Wisdom blossoms within us only when
we experience the present that is beyond the thought process. This
experience is what we called “awakening”—awakening into reality,
awakening from unconsciousness (ignorance), awakening to the here and
now. It is the experiencing of the impermanence of mental creations; it
is seeing through the unconsciousness we have taken for granted to the
true consciousness, or wisdom. It has been called ‘Enlightenment’ or
‘Nibbana’. Anyone who achieves this state is called the Buddha [44], so
it is the attainment of Buddhahood. How do we experience this phenomenon?
This is the question before us.
It is believed that Siddhartha Gautama experienced reality and awakened
from unconsciousness (ignorance) more than 2,550 years ago. According to
the legend, this has occurred on the night of the first full moon of the
fifth lunar month, when he was in deep meditation under a pipal tree (now
known as bodhi tree or bo-tree) on the banks of the river Niranjana, in
the village of Uruvella [45], in India. Many believe that he was the
first human to experience such a phenomenon.
Do we know that he truly did experience reality? Do we know how he did
so? All what we know or hear are stories, later interpretations of what
might have happened. Many believe that it is essential to know what he
did, because knowing this would help us to progress towards
Enlightenment. No doubt it would help us to know. But is it really
possible? The simple answer is no. We cannot go back into the past to
verify the stories.
Fortunately, we do not need to verify the stories. What we now have is
his teaching. That is our guide. It is more important than the stories of
what he tried to achieve or what he did on that night.
Buddhists hold contrasting views as to what the Buddha did and what
methods he adopted. This is what one would expect after the passage of
more than 2,550 years. However, most followers of the teachings of the
Buddha believe that it was the technique of insight meditation that
helped him to experience reality.
This book does not intend to examine this methodology, to discuss
meditation techniques in detail, or to argue for or against this method.
This book does, on the other hand, intend to examine the teachings in
depth. This, it is hoped, will facilitate a proper understanding, one
that will allow the reader to make his/her own judgment as to the best
way forward.
If we take this position, our intelligence should guide us to only one
conclusion, i.e., one cannot know until one reaches the state of
Enlightenment exactly what Siddhartha Gautama did in order to experience
reality. This suggests that it would be a waste of time to ponder it now.
What we need to do is to take a more realistic and positive approach.
Does it really matter what methodology he adopted, if any? Is it not
possible for us to make use of his teachings in order to find the correct
path? The teachings he left behind are the signpost and the map, there
for us to use and find the path towards awakening.
If we recall the Buddha’s words—“one must find deliverance within and not
from outside”—the path we need to follow becomes clearer. There is only
one way. It is up to us to find the way forward. It is not readily
available outside the self, as one must find deliverance within. However,
much guidance is available if we have the ability to interpret the
teachings of the Buddha correctly.
This book is intended to help readers bridge this important gap. How
could one identify the right requisites for this arduous journey? How to
go from the known to the unknown, time-based knowledge to realisation of
wisdom beyond time, form-based consciousness to awakening? This chapter
discusses various considerations that should help the reader to develop
his or her own techniques in order to move forward in the right
4.1 Conventional truth
Civilized people live in a way that promotes good social order; they
follow the practices and behaviour that conform to established social
norms. These established concepts of right and wrong are beneficial to
society at large. However, when we embark on a journey to experience
reality, we should realise that these concepts exist only in association
with subject (self) and objects. They assume identification with form and
permanence within space and time; they assume a permanent self as well as
the permanence of other beings and objects. These visible or tangible
objects, these beings, as well as the social ethics that assume them, are
merely conventional truth. ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘mine’, ‘us’, ‘we’, etc., exist,
therefore, only within the framework of this conventional truth. Birth,
decay, illness, death, etc., are also associated with conventional truth.
These are the characteristics of form-based collective consciousness.
Conventional truth is a concept that has evolved in the collective
consciousness; it allows us to lead an everyday life, in which permanence
is considered the norm. The teachings of the awakened, however, point to
a completely different concept, a concept of impermanence. It is
therefore difficult for us to understand the teachings. Conventional self
is trying to understand impermanence—self is trying to comprehend the
non-existence of self, beings, and objects. In short, while living in the
conventional world, one has to try and understand that the self and the
world around self are just illusions—an incessant flow of form-based
consciousness arising from emotional urges. In order to avoid confusion,
one has to keep a proper balance between the two concepts: convention and
reality. This is expected from the seeker of the Truth. We need to be
wise, sensible, and practical to do this with an open mind. This is the
way forward to understand the teaching while living harmoniously in the
conventional world.
Many of us are intelligent enough to understand the concept of non-self—
self is an illusion and it is only a creation of the mind process. But
this intellectual capability—disappearance of intellectual notion of a
permanent entity called self—is only a start and nothing more. It will
not suffice for a full awakening from unconsciousness. The emotional
feeling of identity, the feeling of “I”, of self, continues. This feeling
will continue until we become fully conscious of unconsciousness, of the
experiencing of self.
4.2 Sources of information
Information on Buddhism is abundant. There are many avenues that we can
pursue to gather information about the teachings. These avenues include
temples, monasteries, books, and the Internet; existing customs, beliefs,
and rituals; learned people, such as monks and scholars. But even though
so many sources are available, many of them do not provide information
that is compatible with the teachings. In fact, some contradict the
teachings. This is not surprising; one could have anticipated such a
result, as much of the available information is likely to have been
tainted with impurities introduced over the many years that separate us
from the time of the Buddha, or by the difficulty of translating from one
language to another.
We should realise that an accurate interpretation of an ancient religious
text is based on a good understanding of the cultural context within
which it was written. This understanding is eroded by time. Language
changes with changes in culture and habits; it is heavily influenced by
the assimilation of other cultures and religions. The interpretation of
language is therefore dependent on custom and extremely subjective. The
information available to us is therefore likely to be tainted by the
customs, habits, and beliefs of past and current time, as well as by the
punditry of scholars and established traditional interpretations. In most
instances, the traditional interpretation is unlikely to reveal the true
interpretation of the teachings. Even if it does occasionally reveal the
Truth, our own resistance to change may hinder us in grasping the
No doubt many of us have developed our basic understanding of the
teachings from the aforementioned avenues. The traditional
interpretations may have raised questions that the tradition could not
answer; this may have created doubts in the minds of many who would
otherwise have been keen to proceed further. As one would expect, these
doubts will have led to various problems—problems resulting from not
having a clear understanding of the subject. Some might adopt various
erroneous views as to the appropriate course of action and consequently
undertake many practices that are alien to the pure teachings.
Doubt is one outcome of the ignorance underlying our mental processes.
This doubt, coupled with ignorance, could lead us to resist the
teachings. Our resistance could take us further into the land of
ignorance, thereby creating more doubts. This can lead to a never-ending
cycle of resistance, ignorance, and doubt.
Many Buddhists seem to have doubts; many do not seem to have a very clear
understanding of the teachings. Many have questions for which they have
found no satisfactory answers. All Buddhists know of the final
destination of the teachings, i.e., to become enlightened or achieve
Nibbana. But, unfortunately, the path to this destination is hidden from
many. Hence there is a diversity of views and practices. Many different
techniques are proposed, some of them promising only that the desired end
can be achieved in a future life. This is where many of us stand today:
lost in a wilderness of punditry, unable to move in the right direction
and benefit from the teachings. The only way forward is therefore, to see
clearly our own ignorance and doubts and thus to gain a proper
understanding of the teachings.
4.3 Discourses of the enlightened
It is of the greatest benefit to listen to the discourses of the Awakened
who live among us. Unfortunately, many are unaware of this source. Many
do not believe that there are enlightened beings in the world today,
whether from scepticism or simple ignorance.
This is not uncommon. Even during Buddha’s time, there were those who
failed to recognise the Buddha. If we expect to see any special features
in today’s Awakened, or demand that they be scholars with many academic
qualifications, we are mistaken and we will never recognise them. Their
physical appearance does not distinguish them from the ordinary person.
They are not necessarily monks; they may be lay people. They may not
possess high academic excellence. Indeed, academic qualifications could
be a hindrance, derived as they are from time-based knowledge.
However, some seekers of the Truth have recognised these noble ones, and
are privileged to have direct access to them and derive benefits from
their discourses.
How then shall we find these noble ones? The problem is with us and not
with the enlightened or awakened. Perhaps we resist because we do not
wish to abandon our cherished selves. Perhaps we are hindered by the
rigidity of our traditional framework of thought. This is where we need
to take a step backwards and think clearly. We need to identify skills
that we would need to recognise the enlightened. What are these skills?
The basic skills required are listening and reading skills. These skills
need to be improved as it is only through listening to their preaching or
reading what they have written that we can recognise them. Listening and
reading are the only avenues available, so we must make the best use of
our opportunities.
If possible it is better to use both of these avenues: listening to the
enlightened and reading what they have written. But our listening and
reading may be defective if we form judgment on the basis of tradition,
punditry, culture, habits, etc. If we are biased, prejudiced, not open-
minded, we may not be able to consider the discourses rationally and will
fail to derive any benefit. Open-mindedness and rational thinking are
required both to recognise the enlightened and also to understand their
teachings. It would be wise, therefore, to follow the guidance provided
by the Buddha in the Kalama Sutta [46], that is, to follow reason rather
than tradition in judging the truth of the teachings.
We may receive information from various sources, but it is left to us to
make our own decisions as to the right way to move forward. What is right
may differ from person to person, but this does not matter. The first
step, the beginning of this process, is to learn and understand the
teachings. How do we know that we are making the right decisions? A few
basic guidelines will keep a check on our understanding and ensure that
we are moving in the right direction. If we are intelligent enough to
develop proper guidelines, learning will be less difficult. We will be
able to identify the enlightened, without confusion. We will be able to
rationally consider the information they present. We will discuss
possible guidelines in the next chapter.
5. The guidelines
Information on Buddhism is abundant. But much of it—apart from the
dissemination of information by the enlightened—is to a certain extent
tainted with impurities. These impurities, of time, language, custom,
tradition, were discussed in previous chapters. These impurities are some
of the main hurdles we must clear if we are to gain a clear understanding
of the teachings and move in the right direction.
The first question is how to gain a clear understanding of the teachings.
The key is to select and use the appropriate guidelines in order to
improve our understanding as we proceed. We must engage in a continuous
process of refinement. We must engage in such activities out of interest
yet not with intention, and must do so until we reach the destination.
Activities undertaken with intention imply an effort that proceeds from
the self and builds up self; such activities lose their innocence. We
must focus our attention on the journey, not the destination. Then, if we
are on the right path, it may be possible to reach the destination—to
directly experience reality.
The second question is how to select the appropriate guidelines. As we
increase our understanding of the teachings, it becomes less difficult to
find our way. The proper guidelines become self-evident. However, in
order to choose the right guidelines at the start, we do not have to go
far. We do not need advice from scholars; we can use a common sense
approach to the basics of the Buddha’s teachings. We might be surprised
how many useful guidelines we can identify if we look carefully.
5.1 Mind
By now, readers realise that our ordinary existence depends on the
functioning of the intangible mind. This is the mind that arises on
waking from deep sleep. This is the mind with which we are familiar. It
is the mind that functions within past-present-future time. These
functions of the mind result in consciousness, awareness, and knowledge.
This mind is ultimately based on craving (tanha) and ignorance (avijja).
Is it really possible to use this mind to experience reality? How can a
mind based on craving and ignorance be used to experience reality, which
is in fact beyond time, lacking in self, free of craving and ignorance?
We must understand that the mind can be useful, even though bounded and
limited. The main problem is our identification with the mind; it is this
identification that allows thought to become compulsive. If we can escape
this identification, we can experience a reality that exists only in the
present, outside time. It is an experience without identification with
objects or self.
The natural tendency of the conditioned mind is always to move away from
the present. It resists the present and turns toward the past in order to
plan for the future. This is evident from the fact that the conditioned
mind constantly relies on memory. Knowledge is based on memory; it is not
the present, it is only collated images of the past.
What do we know about our mind and how it functions? Are we trying to
experience the pure mind we experienced as infants, or are we using the
conditioned mind, based on craving and ignorance, to experience reality?
The path would become clearer if we could see this distinction clearly.
What is the conditioned mind? Let us use a simple example. When we look
at the image of the moon as reflected in bowls filled with water, we see
an image of the moon, not the moon itself. There can be many bowls, like
many minds with images of the moon, but there is only one moon in the
sky. So it is with our conditioned minds. We see only limited images, not
the reality. However, we can use this conditioned mind not only to manage
daily life, but also to transcend daily life and deliver ourselves from
delusion. The mind can deliver us as well as delude us. We are trying to
balance two conflicting objectives using the limited capabilities of the
conditioned mind.
It may be difficult to comprehend that the mind is subject to
impermanency. Mind arises and ceases subject to the law of nature. This
occurs whether we are awake, half asleep, or in deep sleep. Normally, we
do not see the mind’s natural activity in deep-sleep as mind. However,
this is only an artefact of language and nothing more. What we may not
realise is that we are always using the conditioned mind whether we are
awake or half asleep. Mind is conditioned by form; form is conditioned
and transient. We mistakenly assume a permanent mind within past-present-
future time. Can we allow our inner richness to shine with its unbounded
wisdom, even for a moment?
We may consider this complex issue from another angle. Is the self one or
two? If there are two beings, who are they? One is the self with which we
are familiar, the illusory self resulting from the mind process. The
other is the true being, the Buddha nature, the Buddha. This is the
experience of the mind without self, the inner richness.
Once we understand the conditioned mind and how it functions, it is not
difficult to comprehend its limitations. It can create and accumulate
knowledge that is useful in our daily existence, but is unable to
directly experience reality. Therefore, any religious explanations that
encourage development of this conditioned mind will not help us to
experience reality. That is an experience beyond the mind process. Hence,
we need to guide the mind to experience ignorance in order to free it
from ignorance.
5.2 Knowledge
The usefulness of knowledge for daily living cannot be underestimated.
Hence, we attach a great importance to our knowledge; we believe that
everything can be achieved by means of this knowledge. The Buddha’s
emphasis on the usefulness of knowledge for lay people can be found in
Buddhist writings, the scriptures [47] [48] of Theravada Buddhism.
However, he taught that knowledge must be tempered with discipline.
Knowledge is the solidification of impermanent thoughts, as are
consciousness and awareness. Therefore, knowledge, consciousness, and
awareness are nothing more than illusions. They are creations of our
memory. Memory is limited to what we have acquired from outside. This is
the past. It will not allow the present moment to shine. It will never
take us towards reality.
Knowledge [49], consciousness, and awareness are products of the
conditioned mind. They are all illusions created by the thought process.
They are bound to the illusions of a permanent self and permanent objects
outside the self. All mental perceptions (feelings, tastes, physical
objects, world, universe, etc.) are mind-made constructs.
We must realise that a vast realm of intelligence (wisdom) lies outside
this limited mind. The knowledge derived from the thought process is only
a tiny speck when compared to the wisdom beyond the conditioned mind. The
wisdom [50] referred to here is not at all the same thing as knowledge.
Some have called this awakened awareness or infinite consciousness
without objects. Wisdom is the vast, boundless ocean and knowledge is
just a tiny wave near the seashore. Hence, we need to understand the
usefulness as well as the limitation of this knowledge when we embark on
our journey towards deliverance. Knowledge is useful for understanding
the teachings but not for deliverance [51].
It is clear from available Buddhist writings that many dhamma teachers
have cautioned their students that knowledge of dhamma can pose obstacles
for the journey ahead. At some point one has to put away the knowledge
before it becomes a hindrance. Knowledge of the teachings can become
memory (sanna, or perception) and interpretation, leading one into
speculation and pointless theory. The seeker may stray from the path and
become a person with no foundation.
5.3 Self
The teachings concern the non-self. They point out that the self is an
illusion created by the mind process. This should be the starting point.
This must be one of our most important guidelines in the learning
process. Any explanation that appears to deviate from this concept must
be disregarded as irrelevant. We must realise that many of our beliefs
are destructive, leading only to the persistence of the illusory self.
How can we safeguard a non-existent self? If self does not exist in
reality, what is the purpose of seeking help from the teachings for this
purpose, when we embark on the journey of learning? Any action taken with
the intention of safeguarding a self will not help us experience the
Truth. Any explanations or interpretations that strengthen the self
should be disregarded.
Some common religious practices that appear to strengthen the self are:
Striving to accumulate enough merits to see the Maithree Buddha [52] in a
future life; one would then become enlightened after listening to him.
Self, existence of another self (Maithree Buddha) and a concept of atman
[53] (a soul that can expect many future lives) are all implicit in this
example. However, according to the teachings there cannot be a self-
subsistent self or human soul. The teachings advocate anatta (Pali,
Sanskrit-anatman) [54].
Striving to accumulate merits (good or wholesome karma) by charity and
religious donations (dana), morality and discipline (sila), and
meditation (bhavana) to be happy in this life and the lives beyond, and
finally to attain Enlightenment. Many religious teachers advise that
these actions are to be carried out mindfully, that is, the actor should
carefully consider before acting in order to find happiness and merit.
But these would then be actions done with intention to safeguard and
strengthen the self. This raises an important question: such actions
would result in happiness to whom?
Charity (dana) is a good quality, to be sure, but ideally it should mean
giving without any attachment or expectation. Even an expectation of a
‘thank you’ will strengthen the self. Hence, expecting a better future
life as a result of our actions is only to live for self. Morality and
discipline (sila) [55] are essential in everyday life. The mind must be
controlled if we are to earn our livelihood and study the teachings.
Certain types of meditation (bhavana) help us develop our powers of
concentration. However, many practise charity, morality and meditation to
find happiness to a self. This is the problem.
Performance of rituals, such as offerings to statues, trees, etc., in
order to gain worldly, selfish happiness and prosperity. Many Buddhists
go to temples and chant, enumerating and praising the many good qualities
of the Buddha. What do we intend to achieve by performing such rituals?
Are we expecting to accrue merits for a better future life? Is it
happiness that we are after? In short, are we not trying to do something
for the self?
Seeking solace from the Triple Gems [56] in difficult situations. This is
again an expectation of benefit to a self.
Practise of a popular traditional meditation, loving-kindness (metta).
Loving-kindness is a good quality and well worth encouraging, but the
practice encourages focus on the self and has limited power to help us to
There is no doubt that some of the above practices, such as charity,
morality, meditation, and loving-kindness are essential at the beginning
of the journey. They may serve a useful purpose in helping calm and tame
the conditioned mind. However, they are not sufficient to proceed
further. We must rely on our intelligence to realise the limitations of
these practices.
If we properly analyse the practices listed above, as well as many other
traditional practices, we find that they are mainly aimed at bringing
happiness to the self. This is what the conditioned mind is craving, a
constant state of happiness. We may be seeking this happiness in the
satisfaction of giving something to a needy person, or the satisfaction
of accruing merits, or the satisfaction of cultivation of calmness, etc.
However, none of this will be of use to the seeker who is trying to learn
about non-self. True, there must be a self with a certain level of
commitment to this process in order for that self to persist in the study
of the teachings. Self has to do it—yet at the same time we must be
intelligent enough to understand that this self is just an illusion. It
is what we might call a “Catch-22.” The self must persist in realising
that it is itself an illusion and that this illusory self cannot become
enlightened. There is Enlightenment, but no one realises it.
The self is nothing more than a creation of a selfless mind process. This
self clings to fleeting thoughts without realising that they have already
ceased. The self of which we speak is created by thought; thought arises,
but not to a self.
5.4 Timelessness
The teaching of the awakened is about timelessness (akalika). Almost all
of Buddha’s discourses mention this concept. Many traditionalists,
however, fail to grasp the proper meaning of timelessness and explicate
the teachings as if they concerned past-present-future time. Therefore it
is always prudent to thoroughly examine such traditional explanations.
Any explanations that do not properly reference timelessness will be of
less use to us.
Some common beliefs that misunderstand timelessness are:
The belief that we can achieve Enlightenment at a future date or in a
future life: This implies a self with a goal to be achieved within a
definite time period. It assumes a unitary self, an atma (atman), that is
Enlightenment is here and now, not at a future date or in a future life.
It can be experienced only in the present. The illusory self cannot
experience it, either now or in the future. Both self and future are
mind-made, time-bound concepts.
The traditional explanation of dependent origination. This interpretation
sees arising and cessation as applying to an individual life, as a
process occurring over a very long period of time, comprising many
lifetimes. This is the commonly accepted interpretation.
This explanation assumes the birth, existence and death of a being. It
invokes the triad of arising, existing and ceasing (uppada thiti banga),
as found in Vedic teachings. A better understand of dependent origination
would be to see it as one moment in the mind process: thoughts arising,
existing, and ceasing. This moment is timeless. The traditional
explanation is time-bound; it does not comply with the concept of
timelessness, non self, and impermanence that are so prominent in the
Buddha’s teachings
The traditional explanation of the five aggregates [57]. They
traditionally categorised into two main groups: name and form. Mental
aggregates or mental components are comprised in name (nama), physical
aggregates as form (rupa). Beings are thus seen as a compound of two
components, name and form. Name includes four aggregates:
sensation/feeling, perception, mental formation, and knowledge. Form is
the time-bound physical aggregate, the body.
The traditional interpretation is that on physical death of a person,
form, the physical body, disintegrates and becomes part of nature; name
is responsible for re-birth. This explanation assumes past-present-future
time and a permanent self, or atma (atman), all of which we have learned
to be illusory.
The belief that the dhamma is to be found in books, not in close
observation of our mind process. It is thought that reading scriptures,
listening to traditional sermons, chanting, and performance of rituals
will lead us to Nibbana.
But these practices do not reflect the timeless nature of the dhamma. The
dhamma is timeless, vanishing within the arising. This is referred to as
uppada vaya dhammino in the teachings. In another text the Buddha is
recorded as saying, ‘constructs of the mind cease the moment they are
created’ (vaya dhamma sankhara). This underlines the importance of
timelessness, of the impermanence of constructs (sankhara). The Buddha
set forth the most fundamental principle of dhamma in his admonition to
Vakkali, who was attempting to see the Buddha by looking at his physical
form. The Buddha said, “he who sees the dhamma within sees the Buddha”
(yo dhammam passati, so mam passati). This is a clear and open
invitation—come to the enlightened vision by seeing the timeless dhamma
5.5 Impermanence
Impermanence (anicca) is one of the three characteristics (trilakkhana)
of existence (bhava or samsara or self). The other two characteristics
are suffering (dukkha) and non-self (anatta). They are all
characteristics of one-mind moment. Impermanence simply refers to an
activity in the present, not activity in past-present-future time.
However, in everyday language impermanence refers to the impermanent
nature of the physical world. Physical objects appear to be permanent,
but are subject to decay over time. Things are created or made to exist
and decay over a period of time. Beings are not immortal. Beings are
born, live and die. This is impermanence in everyday language. This is
the perception of many, who see the world with the framework of past,
present and future. This resembles the widely accepted Vedic concept of
arising, existing and ceasing [58], which existed in India even prior to
the Buddha.
This common understanding, however, has meaning only relative to time. It
fails when tested with the concept of timelessness. What we need to
understand is that impermanence refers to an impermanent process. It is a
phenomenon of the mind, a phenomenon of simultaneous arising and ceasing
beyond time, a phenomenon, which has no permanency. It is the impermanent
nature of the mind process.
The entire mind process is timeless. Cessation (nirodha) occurs within
arising (samuda), and everything linked to this process is subject to the
same phenomenon of impermanence. This is the impermanence that we ought
to comprehend. The process starts with sensory stimulation, which gives
rise to memory, thought, and the illusions of self and object. Sensory
stimulation is usually explained as the result of the five aggregates
(form, sensation, perception, mental formation, and knowledge), all of
which are impermanent. The five aggregates arise and cease beyond time
and are therefore impermanent. Hence everything resulting from this mind
process is impermanent. This is the impermanence implied by the concept
of timelessness as found in the teachings.
Any interpretation of the teachings that considers impermanence within
the framework of past-present-future time, that argues that everything
decays over a period of time, is therefore a distortion of the teachings.
5.6 Present moment
The teaching concerns a timeless process operating at the present moment.
Right here in this very moment! It concerns a process (dhamma) beyond
time. Enlightenment or Nibbana is in the present, but unfortunately we
miss it every moment. Every single moment, our conditioned mind takes
over and moves away from the present towards the illusion of permanence
within past-present-future time. Our aim is to understand this process.
We need, therefore, to develop a self-less mindfulness of the present in
order to experience the timeless present, true reality, Enlightenment, or
Nibbana—and do so here and now.
It is important to understand that we do not live in the present moment.
The present is clouded by a dead-and-gone past and an anticipated future.
Instead of living in the present, at every moment we create an illusory
world in our mind through the conditioning arising from the thought
process. We also tend to cling on to these creations and this clinging,
the personalisation [59] is the danger. This process results from the
contacts of the sense organs with the external environment, which gives
rise to thoughts, memory, and subject and object. By means of this
process we create the world and also become a part of the created world.
This mind process obscures the present moment with memories of the past
and anticipation of the future. This denial of the present moment is
happening at every moment. This is the effect of the conditioning of
We must examine any interpretation of the teachings to see whether or not
it helps us to live in the present moment. If it does not, we should set
the interpretation aside as not relevant.
5.7 Meditation
Meditation means the cultivation and development of mind. It brings
concentration and joy to the mind. It fosters mindfulness and a clear
understanding of natural phenomena. Many assert that it can help us
realise that the three universal characteristics of existence,
impermanence, suffering and non-self, are present in every moment.
The techniques of meditation are classified into two groups: tranquillity
meditation (samatha) and insight meditation (vipassana). One difference
between tranquillity and insight meditation is that the former is applied
on a fixed object of meditation, while the latter contemplates ever-
changing objects. In tranquillity meditation (samatha), it is the self
that concentrates on a fixed object. Therefore, the self and the object
exist within past-present-future time. Hence samatha can only be an
initial step. Many assert that tranquillity meditation is best used as a
preparation for insight meditation. Samatha pacifies the mind and
strengthens the concentration in order to allow the work of insight
It is said that while tranquillity meditation (samatha) can calm the
mind, only insight meditation (vipassana) can reveal how the mind was
disturbed in the beginning. This will lead to wisdom, which can shield
the mind from further disturbance. It is also said that in insight
meditation practitioners concentrate on four main objects: body,
feelings, consciousness, and mental objects. These are the ever-changing
aspects of reality. Vipassana is an investigation of the mind and body
processes at every moment.
It is traditionally analysed as the contemplation of the four foundations
of mindfulness (catu satipatthana [60]). These are:
Mindfulness of body (kayanu passana)
Mindfulness of sensations (vedananu passana)
Mindfulness of mind (cittanu passana)
Mindfulness of mental objects (dhammanu passana)
The four foundations of mindfulness (catu satipatthana) will be discussed
briefly in the next chapter. However, for the purposes of this section,
it may be useful to discuss some of the historical influences on the
teaching and practice of meditation in the current day. As we have noted
in connection with other aspects of the teachings, the interpretation and
hence the practice of the four foundations may have been warped due to
the passage of time. This is very likely. If we are to accept or reject
the several meditation techniques, we must examine them closely, using
our own understanding and rational thinking. We must understand the
fundamentals of meditation if we are to derive any benefits from
practising it. The big question is: are we trying to achieve a goal,
something outside the self, by the self, by means of the conditioned
Although the practice of insight meditation may vary between individuals,
many believe it involves the contemplation of the arising and dissolving
of mind and body processes. Will this technique guide us in the right
direction? It is not easy to say yes or no at first. However, let us look
into the techniques in more detail and we may see more clearly.
In vipassana practice, is it the self that observes the four aspects as
separate entities? Are we trying to separate self and objects? Are we
trying to achieve a goal that will benefit and strengthen the self? Are
we trying to use the mind to move away from the mind process? Will the
implicit separation of mind and object confine us to past-present-future
time and trap us in duality? If we practise in this manner, meditation
may not assist us to attain the timeless present.
If we are to derive any fundamental benefits from our meditation, we need
to practise proper mindfulness, or appropriate attention (yoniso
manasikara [61]). This term was frequently used by the Buddha when he was
pointing out the path to Nibbana. This means attention to the arising of
sensation, mind, objects, body, and self as they arise together and cease
within arising. This means attention to the arising of thought. It
implies a contemplation that is one of selfless interest, of complete
absorption, not an intention of the illusory self.
When we understand the correct mindfulness and how to practise it
appropriately, the usefulness and also the limitations of the several
types of meditation will become clearer. It is most important to realise
that meditation should not be an exercise intended to benefit the self.
5.8 Look within
The importance of the concept ‘look within’ in the teachings cannot be
underestimated. The self and the world, happiness and unhappiness,
everything is created by the mind process. Nothing exists outside this
mind process. Therefore, it is futile to look outside for our
deliverance. It has to be realised by seeing through the mind process
rather than being captured by it. The Buddha's words on this subject are
very clear: the world and the cessation of the world are within. The
Buddha has said, “seek refuge in yourself and do not seek refuge outside
of yourself” (Atta deepa viharatha, atta sarana ananna sarana).
It is human nature to seek deliverance with the aid of outside
assistance. Seeking solace from the Triple Gems (Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha)
is one such effort. It is possible to understand this as a resolution to
persevere on the path, but as it is commonly practised, this seeking of
solace, this taking refuge, is contrary to the spirit of the teachings.
Many take refuge as a way to seek benefits for the self.
* They ask for help from the Buddha, the physical man who lived in India
more than 2,550 years ago.
* They ask for help from the Dhamma, the actual books containing the
* They ask for help from the Sangha, the community of monks [62] wearing
the yellow robe.
They are taking refuge in entities seen as outside the self. This implies
that self, others, space, time, etc., exist. This is looking outside,
rather than looking within. Such practices are unlikely to bring any
benefits to the seekers of the Truth.
It is possible that some traditionalists may misinterpret this view as a
lack of respect for the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. It is not lack of
respect, but a different interpretation of what Buddha, Dhamma, and
Sangha mean in this context. Different views are possible because we can
interpret the same words differently. Most of us are familiar only with
the meaning of these terms in common or everyday language. In ordinary
language, Buddha is a man, Dhamma refers to books containing scriptures,
and Sangha refers to community of monks.
However, the Enlightened, having perceived the true dhamma, speak in
terms appropriate to their experience using the existing language of the
time. We can call their speech dhamma language. If we are to understand
what they are trying to convey, we need to understand the meanings of
their words in dhamma language [63].
In dhamma language, the word ‘Buddha’ refers to the wisdom, the awakened
awareness that the historical Buddha realised. It is an extraordinary
quality; it does not refer to a person, nor belong to a self. This
quality, Buddha–nature, is within all of us, waiting to be awakened,
realisable by anyone. In dhamma language, “I take refuge in Buddha”
clearly implies that I am taking refuge in my capacity to be awakened.
The dhamma does not refer to books containing Scriptures or the spoken
words of the preacher. The true meaning is much more profound. It refers
to something non-physical, non-tangible. The dhamma refers to the six
senses and the activity that they arouse in the mind. Dhamma is a process
of simultaneous arising and ceasing, the operation of the law of cause
and effect [64]. However, the mind is ignorant of this basic law.
Ignorance and desire lead to thoughts, etc. This is the eternal cycle of
dependent origination [65] as expounded by the Buddha. If we see this
process (cause and effect) in operation we have seen the dhamma and are
enlightened. “I take refuge in the dhamma” should therefore be understood
as taking refuge in one’s own capacity to be awakened.
Similarly, we need to seek the sangha within and not outside. If the
sangha is to be found within, it cannot refer to any external, material
sangha. It will be of a non-physical nature, an extraordinary quality to
be realised on Enlightenment. In dhamma language, therefore, sangha must
refer to an extraordinary quality, which is the non-construction of
mental forms for discrimination or differentiation. The labelling and
identification of mental constructs, which are the natural outcomes of
the thought process, disappear on Enlightenment. The mind is no longer
activated by craving and ignorance and therefore does not construct
forms. Every one is the same, not in the conventional sense, but in
having realised the Buddha nature. Taking refuge in the sangha therefore
means taking refuge in one’s capacity to be awakened.
5.9 The Middle Path
Siddhartha Gautama is said to have lived for seven years as an ascetic,
starving himself, perhaps torturing his body, as was the custom for
ascetics in India at that time. When he was so weak as to be near death,
he realised that the path towards realisation of the Truth does not lie
in self-mortification. He had of course long since realised that the path
does not lie in the other direction, in the gratification of one’s
sensual desires. He saw that the path to liberation lies neither in
sensual indulgence nor in self-mortification [66]. He saw that the proper
path lay in the avoidance of the two extremes and the adoption of a path
of moderation. This is called the Middle Path. The term is familiar to
every Buddhist and student of Buddhism.
The human tendency to go to extreme is not and has never been limited to
any particular period or religion. Many religions had and still have
their penitents. We also witness other types of extremes: excessive love
and hate, praise and condemnation. Sadness and happiness, stress and
relaxation are also extremes. The list is limitless. Often the same
person indulges by turn in many such extremes. This is perhaps the nature
of things—arising from a single source (oneness), they manifest a world
of diversity. These diversities are our life and everyone experiences
them to a certain degree. When it comes to defining the Middle Path,
however, we set the boundaries as the extremes of sensual indulgence and
self-mortification, leaving aside the other kinds of extremes.
But is it correct to see the Middle Path as lying only within those two
narrow boundaries? Perhaps it is wiser to view the extremes of self-
mortification and sensual indulgence as only the beginning of the Path.
We need to find the deeper meaning of the Path if we are to gain the full
benefit. Surely there cannot be a fundamental difference between the
extremes of sensual indulgence and self-mortification and the other types
of extremes. All of them result from the same thought process, differing
only in degree.
These diversities, whether minor or extreme, are thought-related and
thought-dependent, and hence time-dependent. Basically, they are all
moments in our thought process. Whether it is self-mortification and
sensual indulgence, love and hate, appreciation and condemnation, etc.,
they are actions, intentions, and attitudes that reflect our thought
patterns. The basis of these diversities, whether they are extremes or
not, is the mind process, a single source. We could not experience these
extremes without the operation of our thought process.
Avoidance of any extreme simply means that it helps to bring one’s
attention to the centre. This is a neutral position for the self, one in
which it is possible to be more content. It is a place of rest, not an
oscillation from one extreme to the other, not imprisonment in one
extreme. In a broader sense, the Middle Path is a guide to controlling
the flow of thoughts in either direction, a way to gain control of our
incessant mental commentary. It is guide to letting go of thoughts and
focussing on the present moment. It is a way to experience the present
moment free of thoughts and thus realise the Truth. The Middle Path is a
move away from enslavement by thought and time. Hence, it is the Noble
Eightfold Path [67] [68], not the time- and thought-related Eightfold
Path as usually understood.
5.10 Upstream
The teachings explain that our mind is like a river. Thought always goes
downstream and never goes upstream by its own force. The mind co-exists
with thoughts and hence flows with the stream of thought in the wrong
direction. That is why the Buddha has said the real practice of dhamma is
like going upstream. In the Buddhist scriptures, this concept has been
illustrated by the story of the bowl going upstream [69] [70] in the
Neranjana river.
What is this upstream? How do we go there? Let us return to the earlier
discussion of the mind of a new-born baby, the mind that is free of
thoughts, free of time, free of self. When we were infants, we could not
derive any benefit from this stage. Now let us visualise this stage,
using as our instrument the conditioned mind, which is always trying to
go downstream. The Buddha described the infant’s mind as pure [71] and
free of external contaminants. There, images appear and disappear without
identification and discrimination. The infant’s mind is in a timeless,
pristine, pure state. It experiences only the present moment. The adult
thought process is absent; the infant experiences none of the emotional
responses that cause suffering. Our aim is therefore to move towards in
this direction, to experience this pristine and pure mind. This is going
6. Conclusion
There is a vast difference between knowing that we have an untapped, un-
experienced, inner richness and actually experiencing that richness.
Still it is useful to know that this richness exists, because we can then
focus our attention and attitudes in the right direction. If we
understand the qualities of that richness, we may begin to skilfully
approach the goal. We will have guidelines as to what should or should
not be done in a given situation. We will be able to understand what
techniques are available and how best to use them. For example;
understanding that the basis of this richness is timelessness helps us to
work with techniques which involve timelessness. Understanding that the
thought process results from ignorance helps us to combat ignorance.
Understanding that the thought process is an outcome of the conditioned
mind helps us to understand the limitations of techniques that merely
improve the conditioned mind. Similarly, understanding the development of
self or ego helps us to understand what practices might strengthen the
self and thus helps us to avoid such strengthening.
Let us remember, always, that there is an inner richness yet to be
experienced; let us strive for a full understanding of how best to
utilise the teachings of the Awakened for this purpose. Their teaching is
only for this purpose. The teaching guides us to experience our inner
richness now. It guides us towards liberation from ignorance, self, and
the conditioned mind. It helps us experience the timeless present, the
true reality. This experience is the attainment of Enlightenment or
Nibbana. It must be experienced here and now, in the present. It is non-
dualistic; there is no here and there. Most importantly it is not an
experience of self, but of non-self. It is experience without self, time,
and space. It is freedom from the mind process and compulsive thought. It
is the eradication of ignorance and emotional urges or cravings (tanha).
It is the realisation that self is only an illusion created by the mind
process. It is an experiencing of impermanence—simultaneous arising and
ceasing. It is the realisation of the vast realm of intelligence, the
true richness that lies beneath the sands of time. It is the unfolding of
the wisdom. Above all, it is the conquest of birth and death, the end of
suffering and the samsaric cycle.
We can liken this mind process to the projection of pictures on a movie
screen; just so, sensory stimulations are projected on the mind screen.
They are viewed through a veil of ignorance by the conditioned mind.
These impersonal stimulations are ultimately interpreted by the thought
process, which recreates the world at every instant. This process occurs
continuously and, for the most part, uncontrollably. (The Awakened have
escaped these bonds.) The entire universe is thus created at each moment:
time, space, self and objects. All of this exists within us, created by
our mind process. Hence, it is here that we need to find the solution.
The aim of the teaching is thus twofold: first guiding human beings to
understand this mind process and second to allow them to escape it and
experience the hidden richness, the reality, the Buddha nature within. To
experience this richness is see clearly, to be enlightened. Wisdom dawns
and the recurrence of births and deaths is ended. The samsaric cycle and
its associated suffering are no more.
We now know that our everyday world is created here and now, but within
past-present-future time. We also know that Enlightenment is here and
now, but outside time. The two states are separated by time and space
[72]. If there are no time and space in Enlightenment, it is therefore
futile to prepare for Enlightenment in a future life. Yet traditional
views encourage us to lay aside seeking Enlightenment in this life,
because we hope to see the Maithree Buddha in a future life. The prudent
seeker of Truth will be able to form a correct opinion on such views.
6.1 Availability of Information
We now live in a time when we have many opportunities to read and hear
correct interpretations of the teachings. We have the rare opportunity to
listen to the enlightened. Let us not waste this opportunity. Let us
dedicate ourselves to understanding the teachings, doing so with a clear
mind, without blindly following tradition. We need to free ourselves of
our blindness and wrong attitudes. Let us commit ourselves to learning
and in so doing, move away from the untruth towards the right path. We
should be developing our rational thinking, to free ourselves of the
rigid traditional framework.
When we learn to think clearly, when we develop useful guidelines, we can
then move forward with a better understanding of the teachings. When this
understanding develops, we begin to realise the futility of many
traditional practices. It is then easy to let go of our blind practices.
We begin to see through the veils thrown up by the functioning of the
mind, which creates all illusions. In short, what is necessary for our
forward journey, as well as what is to be disregarded, will become clear.
Siddhartha Gautama found the way and attained Nibbana without any
assistance whatsoever. We are very fortunate that all the necessary tools
required for our assistance have been made available to guide us in the
correct path. How sad that they are so rarely utilised. The self needs
assistance only for the journey. The final exit is without assistance or
effort—assistance and effort imply a self and a goal.
The techniques examined in this book are intended to help readers to gain
a right understanding of the teachings. They are directed towards an
understanding of the complex mind process that creates all illusion. They
also facilitate the essential component of the learning process, i.e.,
allowing mind to understand its own process. When we really understand
the mind process, i.e., what is happening here within us, we may not need
much guidance from outside. As we learn, we move away from the labelling
of mind constructions. The mind process no longer tempts as strongly. The
mind’s resistance to the present moment is weakened. Mind itself may
guide us in the right direction, away from the dead past and the
imaginary future, beyond past-present-future time towards the present,
where reality, simultaneous arising and ceasing, the impermanence, and
non-self can only be experienced.
Once we acquire a proper understanding of the teachings and develop the
essential skills and discipline, we can move forward in the right
direction. We do not need to look outside ourselves to consider the
boundaries and limitations of many existing practices, such as
meditation. Everything becomes more or less self-explanatory. We need to
focus our attention on the journey and not the destination. The journey
is necessary for the self, but the destination is not. The journey starts
with the true understanding that we are unhappy because we do not live in
the present. We carry the heavy baggage [73] [74] of the dead past and
hopes and fears for the future. Past and future obscure the present, not
allowing the mind [75] to shine in the present moment.
We usually think of the present within the context of a time period. Our
present is bounded and constrained by past memories and plans for the
future. We identify everything we sense, feel, or think in the present on
the basis of thought, which is based on past-present-future time. By
means of these thoughts, we identify objects, giving them name and form
in the conventional present. Name is retrieved from memory; form is only
a mental construct of attributes such as colour, smell, taste, texture,
etc. All this takes place within past-present-future time. This is how
the thought process functions in the conventional present. The real
present is clouded by memory, the past, and an imaginary future, created
by our desires, hopes, and fears, compulsively projected into the future.
Past memories bring happiness or sorrow and urge us to plan better for
the future. This brings anxiety and stress, as the anticipated future
could be better or worse.
In the real present, mind-made time is absent and there is no
identification with name and form. Here there are no past memories or
future plans. As the self is absent, mind is free and radiant. This is
the shining of the hidden luminous gem, the priceless richness within.
This is the pristine, pure, timeless state [76] of wisdom.
We think that we are using our mind, but it is the conditioned mind that
uses us. This normal mind process denies and resists the present moment.
It views the involuntary activities of the senses through the window of
ignorance to create illusion. To live in the present is to be liberated
from the mind process that produces thoughts. It is to be outside mind-
made time.
Let us look at this situation from a different angle. We spend a great
deal of time and energy in the continuous production of thought.
Sometimes we are absorbed, sometimes we are tired or bored. What a
wearisome cycle! If we could only save the energy that we spend in this
futile rumination, if we could only find a space without thought and
worry, what peace this would be! It is a clear unbound vision not limited
to conditioning.
The starting point of the journey is therefore to direct the conditioned
mind to live in the present. This requires un-conditioning of the mind,
not allowing it to follow the usual patterns. We must educate the mind to
move away from its conditioned denial or resistance to the present. We
must direct the mind away from identification and separation, bounded
time and the bounded self. We must train the mind to observe sensory
input without identification. This is usually a gradual process, as the
un-conditioning is extremely difficult to achieve. The best way forward
is to develop an interest rather than making an effort as an individual,
as any effort by an individual strengthens the self.
We must attempt to move out of the time dimension as far as possible. We
must not indulge in past and future dreams whenever they are not strictly
required for daily needs. Whatever we do has to be done in this way, with
the mind as an observer and not a participant. We must try to avoid
entanglement in thoughts. Any relaxation of such efforts would facilitate
the mind’s denial of the present and drag us back towards to conventional
This is the daily, hourly, constant practice of mindfulness. When we see,
we should only be seeing, when we hear, we should only be hearing, and so
on [77].
The practice of mindfulness need not be constrained to a formal
meditation session. It is an activity that can be done at any time; it
does not require sitting, or even focusing on the breath, but rather is
done by bringing the mind to observe on what is happening at the present
moment, the conventional present. For example, when washing our face, we
should concentrate only on that activity. However, the mind resists this
focus and wanders, multiplying thoughts of anything other than the right
here now. We should be watchful of this resistance and always return to
our mindfulness as soon as we realise that we have strayed.
Let us consider a simple example … say, writing a letter of the alphabet.
This is a simple process, one that takes very little time to complete
from start to finish. Yet even within this process, the start of the pen
stroke is already in the past and what is yet to be written is still in
the future. We can thus narrow down the present to a very short moment,
the moment that pen touches the paper. This is only enough time to make a
dot of ink. But if we concentrate on that moment, and all the moments
that follow, the letter will be written beautifully. This is mindfulness,
narrowing our thoughts to one moment of one activity in the present.
We know that if we do any activity without full attention that the result
will be of poor quality. Whether it is work, driving, eating, or anything
else we do, we must be mindful of what we are doing if the activity is to
be carried out effectively and efficiently. If our thoughts take us away
from the activity, the work will be affected.
Mindfulness is the focusing of our attention on the present moment.
However, it should be noted that even if this is living in the present,
it is the conventional present; thought, self, world, and time still
exist. Hence it is important to realise the limitations of this
technique, as it is constrained by the conventional thought process.
Does that mean it is useless? No, it is extremely useful, for the journey
if not the goal. Seekers are advised to adopt this technique for
everything they do.
6.2 Meditation
In tranquillity meditation (samatha), the mind is focused on a fixed
object. This calms the mind and improves concentration. With continued
practice, the mind learns to recognise the loss of concentration when it
occurs and brings attention back to the object. In this way the mind’s
natural wandering capabilities are tamed. The thought process continues
to create the illusion of a self, but in a more controlled manner.
Breathing [78] and walking [79] meditation are the most common kinds of
samatha practice; they are used world-wide. They calm the mind and
develop inner peace. The thought process is controlled, the power of
concentration is improved, and the mind becomes more peaceful and alert.
When we do samatha, there is a tendency to use the conditioned mind, the
thinking mind. In order to move forward we need to move away from the
thinking mind. We must not dwell on thoughts. We should concentrate only
on the present moment, maintaining alertness without labelling the input
from the senses. Proper mindfulness is that when we see, there should
only be seeing, when we hear, there should only be hearing, and so on.
The conditioned mind wants to label these contacts, even though they
appear and disappear in quick succession, without any permanence.
Thoughts arise, a consequence of the conditioned mind’s urge to create an
illusion of permanency.
When we realise that thoughts are just thoughts and not reality, we are
better able to release the thoughts (“let it go”). The thoughts cannot
then contribute to the illusion of self. The intensity of the illusion is
decreased when we let the thoughts go. Thus one is able to observe and
release thoughts without getting caught in mental commentary. When
letting go is practised with a full understanding of the impermanency of
mental creations, we will be less apt to cling to such creations. Now,
the mind is still recognising the cumulative effects of the arising of
sense perceptions, without realising that the sense perceptions cease
even as they rise. The mind is still trapped in past-present-future time.
But the mind’s natural tendency to go with the flow of thoughts is
restricted and therefore, the evils of anger, resentment, etc., are
gradually smoothed away.
The moment we awake from sleep, the conditioned mind arises. A self is
born; thought arises; mental constructs are created and named. It is a
single process. Names do not arise after the self is born and vice versa.
All arise together, conditioning each other. We can try to focus our
attention on to the moment that self and thoughts are born, not on the
thoughts and comments that have arisen. This is difficult, almost
impossible. The self is born with the conditioned mind the moment we
awake from sleep. The transition from non-self to self becomes almost
instantaneous. If our meditation is directed by this self, it will not
bring the benefits we expect. The only way forward is to become mindful
as a non-self. It should be the mind that observes the mind-process and
not the self. We must practise without an effort, as any effort comes
from the self and strengthens the self.
This is ever-present mindfulness, heedfulness in the present moment. A
being can be heedful only where the being exists. So where does being
exists? Being does not exist in the past or the future. It cannot exist
in the moment before the present moment or in the moment after the
present moment. However, this present moment is fleeting. The existence
of being is also momentary. A being exists only in the present moment and
dies or vanishes even as it arises. The being that existed in the
previous moment has been completely destroyed. This being will not exist
in the next moment either, because it is not yet born.
6.3 Four foundations of mindfulness
It is commonly believed that the development and maintenance of moment-
by-moment mindfulness is necessary for awakening. What is moment-by-
moment mindfulness? It is usually explained as the contemplation of the
four foundations of mindfulness (catu satipatthana):
Mindfulness of the body (kayanu passana)
Mindfulness of the sensations (vedananu passana)
Mindfulness of the mind (cittanu passana)
Mindfulness of mental objects (dhammanu passana)
Different Buddhists have different views on the four foundations of
mindfulness. Many practise what we might call the mundane mindfulness.
This mundane practice puts the self at the centre. The practice, it is
said, is only a beginning. The goal we intend to reach is far away, only
to be experienced as a non-self. We should be careful in accepting
traditional views. Our search for the Truth should be an investigation
and not an acceptance of punditry or tradition. If we accept that
awakening can be achieved in this life, then our practice of mindfulness
will be different.
The practice of moment-by-moment mindfulness relates to four components:
body, sensation, mind and mind objects. They exist only insofar that
being exists. In other words, being, body, sensation, mind and mind
objects exist all at once, in a fleeting moment—or, to put it more
correctly, they arise together, conditioning each other, and vanish even
as they arise. The past or the future therefore has no relevance to
mindfulness. That is why we must be mindful of the present moment, where
illusory being arises and ceases.
A self is not born in isolation, without mind, body, sensation and mental
objects. Similarly the mind will not arise without the self, body,
sensation and mental objects. If we consider this for a moment, we will
be reminded of our earlier discussion of deep sleep, and waking from deep
sleep. If sensation does not arise, mind, body, mental objects, and self
do not arise. If the body is not experienced, sensation, mind, mental
objects, and self do not arise. All of them arise together and cease
within arising. If we can truly experience this, we can experience
impermanence and attain Enlightenment. Our aim should therefore be to
develop the necessary skills to move in this direction. We must cultivate
mindfulness in the present, as a non-self, in order to experience the
vanishing of the self as it is born, experience the cessation of mental
creations within the arising. We must experience without attachment,
without a self, a doer and actor.
The appropriate mindfulness [80] is developed by allowing the mind to
move in the right direction rather than intentionally trying to achieve a
goal by the self through the thought process. Once this is achieved,
realisation occurs unexpectedly. The inner richness blossoms as the mind
becomes free from conditioning, from imprisonment in past-present-future
time, from a thought process activated by ignorance. It is a state free
from the process of the conditioned mind. This is the experience of
impermanence, of the simultaneous arising (samuda) and ceasing (nirodha).
This is freedom from the conditioned mind, from (avijja). This is
existing in the present, here and now, which is Enlightenment.
At this moment, the cessation of perception and ending of the conditioned
mind are experienced. The deliverance of mind (ceto vimutti [81]) is
realised, non-existence of self is realised, the Four Noble Truths are
realised, and we enter into the Noble Eightfold Path [82]. This is the
dawn of Buddhahood, which does not die. We are free from self, thought,
and time for that precious moment. When in the next moment cause and
effect activate as before, the mind process activates with wisdom and the
self is not reborn. The Awakened One lives in the conventional world, but
with wisdom, until the physical body decays and dies. Because the self
was given up completely upon Awakening, there is no identification of the
self with the physical body and there is no self to grow old, fall sick,
and die.
6.4 Deep sleep
It is interesting to note the many characteristics of deep sleep which
resemble the state of Nibbana. (This is resemblance, affinity, rather
than identity.) In deep sleep, self is absent and hence ego does not
exist. Time, space, and thought do not exist. Duality of subject and
object, judgment and discrimination do not exist. There is neither a doer
of kamma nor a person reaping the effects of kamma; birth and death do
not occur. In the absence of a self, there is no suffering: we do not
experience happiness or sorrow, we feel no pain, we hear no words, we
sense no smell, we experience no taste. There is no interaction between
the physical sense organs and the five aggregates, (form, feeling,
perception, formation, and knowledge) and therefore the chain that links
us to samsara via dependent origination does not exist. However, we
experience all these states without any knowledge, in total darkness or
ignorance. Deep sleep is the repository of ignorance (avijja). It is
useful for us to remember that there is another side of our life, one in
which we spend many hours each day, a side of which we are completely
ignorant. It cannot be accessed through our mind process, which has very
limited capabilities.
It is a state that provides much-needed rest to the physical body and the
wandering mind. The self cannot ever experience this state, which is
without conventional consciousness. It is a state away from the realm of
the senses. It is a state where good or bad deeds do not occur [83].
Hence it could be called a repository where our real richness, Buddha
nature, awakened awareness exists, but is not experienced. Thus it is
reasonable to think that in an ordinary person, ignorance and Buddha-
nature co exist in deep sleep. This situation, however, changes
completely on awakening from deep sleep. We go from ignorance to
consciousness [84]. We wake to sensory input, ignorance, and the
activation of the mind process. We go from timelessness to past-present-
future time. The self arises and experiences suffering. These are two
contrasting situations that exist side by side. It is always a transition
from one state to another, but we cannot experience the timelessness in
deep sleep, as the senses are inactive. Possibly it is worth probing into
deep sleep to understand the qualities of Enlightenment. Yet, however
hard we try, it may not be possible for us to experience the transition
from deep sleep to wakefulness or vice versa.
We think we are awake when our senses are functioning. But in one sense
we are still in deep sleep, as we have not properly awakened from
ignorance. We experience the illusions created by ignorance as real. As
discussed in Section 2.1 of Chapter Two, we are forever revolving within
the three rounds known as the bhava cycle: actions (kamma vatta),
defilements (kilesa vatta), and results (vipaka vatta). This is happening
at a very high speed when we are awake. We are always moving from
ignorance (round of actions) to consciousness (round of defilements)—
avijja paccaya sankhara—as our Buddha nature has not blossomed. Our aim
is therefore to free ourselves from this bhava cycle—bhava nirodha [85]
and to experience Enlightenment.
6.5 Pure mind
As infants, we experienced the round of actions (kamma vatta) [86], but
without deriving any benefit. At that time, our mind was pure, in a state
of pure dhamma only. The thought process did not operate, self did not
exist, the conditioned mind did not function, and identification and
discrimination did not take place. Only images appeared and disappeared.
Our destination is therefore clear: we must experience this pure mind
[87], here and now. We need to move in this direction—to go upstream
[88]—in order to experience the qualities of the pure mind and reflect
the qualities of actions (kamma vatta). This experience is the
realisation of the unlimited power of the present when self and mental
fabrications (sankhara) do not exist. It is the dawn of wisdom, of
How do we go upstream when the qualities of the pure mind cannot be
experienced by the self? It is not a goal to be achieved by the self. A
goal is a concept and therefore is a product of the conditioned mind. It
is the process within that has to go upstream. We need to develop an
interest in being in the present all the time. It should be an interest
only and not an effort as an individual. Any effort by an individual is
aimed at benefiting a self. We may be forced to start this process by
means of thought, but we should soon to be move away from the thought
process, as the journey is not thought-related. Once we understand the
basics, this may not be as difficult as we might expect.
In this book, I have begun by discussing the mind process, as we must
first understand this if we are to grasp the profound teachings of the
Buddha. In Chapter Three, I have attempted to identify the main obstacles
that stop us from proceeding further in the right direction. Chapter Four
was intended to improve listening, reading, and reasoning abilities, so
that we might move beyond the boundaries of tradition. Chapter Five
provided useful advice on finding our own way of understanding the
teachings and taking the path. Chapter Six suggested some guidelines that
might facilitate our journey. In this, the concluding chapter, we are
reviewing the previous analyses and advice, in an attempt to point the
reader towards the right path.
Now, throughout this book, I have urged the prudent reader to exert his
or her own judgment, to cultivate an investigative mind that does not
accept beliefs or practices on mere authority. I trust that readers have
read this little book with the same rational mind. I hope that you will
have found my discussions relevant and useful. They are offered with deep
humility, as a gift that may be of assistance to those who are in search
of Truth.
May you all be awakened in this life!
1. Unconsciousness: as used in this book, refers to our everyday
‘consciousness’ or stream of perceptions and thoughts. This
unconsciousness is object-related and time-dependent; it is really
unconsciousness or ignorance (avijja). Avijja is often misinterpreted. It
does not refer to a lack of understanding or knowledge. It is the
ignorance or the blindness of the mind to its own process, which is the
operation of the law of cause and effect. I take this use of
‘unconsciousness’ from the Venerable Madawela Punnaji, who used this
English word to translate avijja in his book on Awakening Meditation.
Return to chapter
2. After the death (parinibbana) of the Buddha , his followers separated
into different traditions. This separation may have been due to the
inroads made by Vedic (Hindu) principles, or the cultural differences
between regions, or simply due to differences of opinion regarding the
teachings. The most notable traditions are:
a) Theravada or Southern Buddhism, also known as Southeast Asian
Buddhism. This is practised mainly in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia and
parts of Malaysia, Vietnam and China. This branch of Buddhism emerged at
the time of the Third Buddhist Council (circa 250 C.E.), during the reign
of Emperor Asoka in India.
b) Mahayana or Eastern Buddhism, also known as East Asian Buddhism. This
is practised in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. This version originated
in the Indian subcontinent, in what is today northern Pakistan, and
spread throughout East Asia during the first century C.E.
c) Vajrayana or Northern Buddhism, also known as Tibetan Buddhism. This
is practised in Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan and parts of Nepal, India, China,
and Russia. Vajrayana is a variant of Mahayana Buddhism. It has adopted
some practices (skilful means or upaya) not used in other traditions.
Return to chapter
3. In Mahayana Buddhism, Nibbana was taken to mean only the extinction of
greed and hate, implying that delusion was still present in one who
attained Nibbana, and that one needed to attain Bodhi to eradicate
delusion. Therefore, according to Mahayana Buddhism, the Arhat (Sanskrit;
in Pali this is Arahant ; see note 5. below) has attained only Nibbana,
thus still being subject to delusion, while the Buddha (one who has
attained Bodhi) not only achieves Nibbana but full liberation from
delusion as well. However, in Theravada Buddhism, Bodhi and Nibbana have
the same meaning, that of being freed from greed, hate and delusion. It
should also be noted that in the Mahayana Mahaparinirvana Sutta,
parinirvana (Sanskrit: parinirvana; Pali: parinibbana) is equal in all
respects to Bodhi and indeed is the state of perfect Buddhahood.
Parinirvana is the final Nibbana, which occurs upon the death of the body
of someone who has attained complete awakening (bodhi). It implies a
release from bhavachakra, samsara, kamma, and rebirth.
Return to chapter
4. The four stages of Enlightenment in Buddhism are the four degrees of
approach to full Enlightenment as an arahant , which a person can attain
in this life. The four stages are sotapanna, sakadagami, anagami, and
Return to chapter
5. Nibbana (Nirvana): Enlightenment. The extinction of greed (loba),
aversion (dosa), and delusion (moha). This unique experience has been
explained in many ways: experiencing of the timeless present or reality;
blowing out of the fires of greed, aversion and delusion; liberation from
craving -driven mind process; the ‘end of the illusory world,’ in which
no identity is left and the mind has no boundaries; the power of the
present moment. The subject is at peace with the world, has compassion
for all, and gives up obsessions and fixations. This peace is achieved
when the existing volitional formations are pacified, and the conditions
for the production of new ones are eradicated. The root causes of craving
have been extinguished, so that one is no longer subject to human
suffering (dukkha) or further rebirth in Samsara.
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6. Object-related consciousness: this is the everyday consciousness,
which attributes mental formations (sankhara) to a self. These mental
formations are also referred to as arammana—identification with form.
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7. Pure uncontaminated mind: this refers to the infant’s mind . This is
mind without any external knowledge; it is mind experiencing arising and
ceasing without identification, judgment, discrimination, and comparison.
The images stimulated by all five senses occur and disappear without
identification. The Buddha referred to this state as phabassara mind
(pure mind) and his words were “Phabassara midam bikkhave chittam,
Agantukehi sankilitthena sankilttham”—“The infant’s mind is pure but is
contaminated by external contaminants.” Contamination is the beginning of
consciousness and the thought process.
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8. Timeless present: the Pali word for ‘timeless’ is akalika. Timeless
means not within the time that is experienced in the context of past and
future. It is the present state, the now where true reality can be
experienced. It is this very moment where duality, subjectivity,
comparison, and judgement do not exist and self is absent. It does not
refer to the conventional present.
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9. Un-personalised mind: the Buddha -nature within. Perhaps the word is
somewhat misleading, as Enlightenment is beyond the mind process.
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10. Wisdom: the Pali term panna (Sanskrit prajna) has a deeper, wider
meaning than the English term ‘wisdom.’ It is the vast realm of
intelligence beyond the time-constrained thought process. It is not mind
-related and hence cannot be realised by the development of mind or the
improvement of the powers of concentration. It is the unfolding of ‘inner
richness,’ the Buddha nature.
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11. Pali: A Middle Indo-Aryan language (or Prakrit) of India. It is best
known as the language of many of the earliest extant Buddhist scriptures,
as collected in the Pali Canon or Tipitaka (see note 13 below). It is a
liturgical language (a language that is cultivated for religious reasons
by people who speak another language in their daily life) of Theravada
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12. Pali Tipitaka: the Tipitaka (Three baskets), or Pali canon, is a
collection of primary Pali language texts that forms the doctrinal
foundation of Theravada Buddhism. Theravada Buddhists believe that it
contains the very essence of the teachings voiced by the Buddha himself,
more than 2,550 years ago. The basket of discipline (Vinaya Pitaka)
consists of the guidelines and disciplines to be followed by the monks,
the basket of discourses (Sutta Pitaka) contains the sayings of the
Buddha, and the basket of philosophy (Abhi Dhamma Pitaka) contains
Buddhist philosophy.
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13. ICARUS: International Coalition for the Advancement of Religious and
Spirituality. A Geneva-based International Coalition founded by spiritual
and religious people to spread non-violence.
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14. Perry Garfunkel, “Buddha Rising.” National Geographic Magazine
(December 2005): 88–109.
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15. The Teachings of the Awakened. Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Associated
Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd., 2009.
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16. Dhamma (dharma in Sanskrit): operation of ‘cause and effect’ in the
mind process. It is the nature or operation of impersonal activities
leading to the birth of a self due to ignorance. In short, dhamma refers
to the sense faculties and their activities. Pure dhamma is also known as
Sathdhamma, which is the teaching of the awakened. A fuller explanation
of dhamma can be found in Chapter Two of The Teachings of the Awakened.
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17. Five Precepts: 1) refrain from killing living beings; 2) refrain from
stealing; 3) refrain from sexual irresponsibility; 4) refrain from lying;
and 5) refrain from taking intoxicants.
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18. Ten Precepts: The Five Precepts , as above, and in addition: 6)
refrain from taking food at inappropriate times; 7) refrain from singing,
dancing, playing music, or attending entertainment programs; 8) refrain
from wearing perfume, cosmetics and decorative accessories; 9) refrain
from sitting on high chairs and sleeping on luxurious, soft beds; and 10)
refrain from accepting money. Keeping the precepts constrains the thought
process, but does not extinguish it; Enlightenment is beyond rules.
Hence, it is up to the prudent seeker of the Truth to understand the
usefulness and limitations of these and other precepts.
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19. Craving (kilesa/tanha): greed (loba), aversion (dosa) and delusion
(moha). The reader will find a more extensive discussion in Chapter Three
of this book.
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20. Mental constructs: mental formations (sankhara). Deep sleep is the
repository of ignorance; awakening to the senses from sleep is termed
avijja paccaya sankhara. This is also the process that occurs every
moment when we are awake—it is the activation of the five aggregates and
dependent origination. See notes 21 and 22, below.
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21. Five aggregates: the five heaps (skandha) are form (rupa), sensation
feeling (vedana), perception (sanna), mental formation (sankhara), and
knowledge (vinnana). A more detailed discussion can be found in Chapter
Six of The Teachings of the Awakened.
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22. Dependent origination: The principle of dependent origination is a
profound teaching. It is variously rendered into English as "dependent
arising," "conditioned genesis." "dependent co-arising," "interdependent
arising,", "co-dependent origination," "causal interdependence," etc. It
is conditionality, the cause and effect relation, which is fundamental to
the principle of dependent origination. When there is a cause there is an
effect. Effect arises with the arising of the cause. When the cause is
not present there is no effect. Effect ceases with the ceasing of the
cause. The concept of dependent origination explains the interdependency
of impersonal processes. It provides the basic framework to understand
the mind process leading to the birth of a self and the origin of
suffering. A more detailed discussion can be found in Chapter Seven of
The Teachings of the Awakened.
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23. The dates of the Buddha ’s birth and death are uncertain. In
Theravada countries, it has been traditionally accepted that his death
would have occurred in 544 BCE or 543 BCE.
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24. Punarbhava: renewed becoming, the arising and ceasing of self-view
that occur every moment in thought. This becoming can only be ended by
attaining Nibbana, Enlightenment. However, it is often mistakenly taken
to mean the process of rebirth, or what is commonly called reincarnation.
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25. Emotional urge: refers to craving (tanha). It is a more appropriate
term for craving because, after the mind has been conditioned, it occurs
as the response to a thought.
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26. Birth of Buddha nature: the day on which the Buddha experienced
Nibbana or Enlightenment. Buddhists all over the world celebrate this day
as Vesak or Wesak (Vesakha in Pali). It marks the birth, enlightenment
(Nibbana), and passing away (Parinibbana) of Gautama Buddha. The Vesak of
May 2011 was celebrated in Sri Lanka as the 2,600th anniversary of
Sambuddhattva Jayanthi (the Buddha’s experience of the bliss of Nibbana).
It is generally believed that the Buddha was born, enlightened, and died
on this day. It is better to understand this day as the birth of Buddha
nature and not the birth of a baby. It was also the day of Enlightenment
(Nibbana), and the day on which Buddha was liberated from kilesa, or
defilements (kilesa parinibbana), not the day on which he died.
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27. Dhammapada: a collection of Pali ethical verses that is one of the
most widely known of early Buddhist texts. The Pali Dhammapada contains
423 verses in 26 chapters. The title, Dhammapada, is a compound word
composed of dhamma and pada. Each of these two words has several
meanings. In this case, dhamma refers to the teachings of the Buddha and
pada means path.
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28. Verse 1:
Manopubbangama dhamma manoseṭṭha manomaya
Manasa ce padutthena bhasati va karoti va
Tato nam dukkhamanveti cakkam'va vahato padam
Mind is the forerunner of (all evil) states. Mind is chief; mind-made are
they. If one speaks or acts with wicked mind, suffering follows one, even
as the wheel follows the hoof of the draught-ox.
Verse 2:
Manopubbangama dhamma manosettha manomaya
Manasa ce pasannena bhasati va karoti va
Tato nam sukhamanveti chaya'va anapayini.
Mind is the forerunner of (all good) states. Mind is chief; mind-made are
they. If one speaks or acts with pure mind, affection follows one, even
as one's shadow that never leaves.
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29. Natural activities: deeds (kamma) do not occur in deep sleep, in the
absence of a self. Deep sleep in some ways resembles kamma vatta. This
often quoted stanza describes the state of kamma vatta:
Kammassa karako Natthi, Vipakassa ca Vedako Suddha Dhamma bhavissanti,
Evametam Sammadassanam.
There is no doer, neither is there a person reaping the effects of kamma.
There is only pure dhamma and therein I declare that Enlightened Vision.
See note 30 below.
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30. Realm of existence: Realm of existence: this consists of actions
(kamma vatta), defilements (kilesa vatta), and results (vipaka vatta).
Our existence within time cycles through these three round. We go from
deep sleep (kamma vatta) to wakefulness (kilesa vatta); from wakefulness
(kilesa vatta) to half sleep (vipaka vatta); from half sleep to deep
sleep. This is our life. In a broader sense, it is the cycle of samsara.
In deep sleep, there is no doer and only nature operates. In the absence
of a doer, no one reaps any effects. As one awakes, as a being is born,
actions become deeds (kamma). In half sleep, memories reappear as images.
The non-existence of time is apparent at this stage, as we sometimes
dream of dead persons. The above realms of existence are easy to
visualise and comprehend.
However, it is important to take a step further and try to understand the
occurrence of these three rounds (vatta) in every moment. We may be
unaware of it, but we are revolving again and again forever within these
three rounds, which known as the bhava cycle. We do this at great speed,
unconsciously. This happens every moment that we are awake: cycling from
actions without a doer (kamma vatta) to actions with an ownership (kilesa
vatta) and then to their reappearance in memory as images (vipaka vatta).
This bhava cycle can also be called bhava-chakra or punarbhava.
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31. Deeds: the transition from deep sleep to wakefulness is the
transition from kamma vatta to kilesa vatta. The following stanza
describes the state of kilesa vatta:
Kammassakomhi, kammadayado, kammayoni, kammabandhu, kammapatisarano, yam
kammam karissami kalyanam va papakam va tassa dayado bhavissamiti.
I am the owner of my kamma, heir to my kamma, born of my kamma, related
to my kamma, abide supported by my kamma, whatever kamma I shall do, for
good or for evil, of that I will be the heir.”
See note 30 above.
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32. Umbilical cord: the cord that connects the developing embryo or fetus
to the placenta.
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33. Pure state of infant’s mind: see note 5 in Chapter One.
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34. Form (rupa): the first effect of the contact between the sensory
organs and sensory input (light, sound, smell, taste and touch). The
waking mind grasps this contact as form. Form is the first of the Five
Aggregates resulting from such sensory contacts. Form is conditioned and
transient. Form in itself is not noticeable, but one becomes aware of the
cumulative effect of this process, thought. The Buddha has explained
forms as something like foam or froth. They appear and disappear
continuously, without any permanency. This impermanency is characteristic
of all of the five forms arising from the five senses.
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35. Vedana: sensation or feeling. Form is the cause and sensation is the
effect. Both arise and cease simultaneously, conditioning each other.
Sensation is the second of the five aggregates.
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36. Bhava cycle: the bhava-chakra (wheel of becoming); it is also called
the wheel of samsara. Self is born every moment with the arising of a
thought and dies with the cessation of that thought. This cycle of
continuity is the bhava cycle. Our conditioned mind is a natural victim
of this cycle.
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37. Change: everything is made up of sub-atomic particles, which are in
constant motion.
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38. Samsaric cycle: samsara is generally taken to mean the cycle of
birth, death, and rebirth by traditional Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and
other Indian religions. It is viewed as a cycle of birth (jati), decay
(jara), and death (marana). This view reinforces the concept of atma, the
soul or self.
A better understanding might be that a being (self) is born of thought
every moment and dies at the same moment. This has been termed
punarbhava. It is the result of the continuous movement within the bhava
cycle, which revolves again and again, at a rapid speed, between actions
(kamma vatta), defilements (kilesa vatta), and results (vipaka vatta).
This is an understanding that differs from the usual ideas of rebirth or
reincarnation. See note 30 above.
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39. Goal: something to be achieved in the future. This implies the
existence of the self and a goal, two separate things. If the
experiencing of reality now is our goal, we cannot reach it by aiming at
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40. Nama-rupa: nama is name, rupa is form. Name and form arise together,
as the mind process constructs an object and gives it a name.
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41. Kalama Sutta: the Kalamas were citizens of the town of Kesaputta in
India. They had been visited by many religious teachers of divergent
views. Each one would advocate his own teachings and condemn the
teachings of those who had preceded him. This left the Kalamas confused.
When the Buddha arrived in their township, they approached him in the
hope that he might dispel their confusion. This Sutta is a summary of the
Buddha’s advice to the Kalamas. It is therefore, prudent to consider the
contents of the Kalama Sutta in light of the context in which the Buddha
spoke. The Sutta calls for rational investigation. See note 42 below.
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42. The Kalama Sutta says:
“Do not believe in anything
Simply because you have heard it;
Do not believe in anything
Simply because it is spoken and rumoured by many;
Do not believe in anything
Simply because it is found written in your religious books;
Do not believe in anything
Merely on the authority of your teachers and elders;
Do not believe in traditions because
They have been handed down by many generations;
Do not believe in anything
Simply because it was said by the Buddha.
But after observation and analysis
When you find that anything agrees with reason
Then accept it.”
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43. Ceto vimutti: deliverance of mind, freedom from illusions; liberation
from the time-constrained thought process. It is also called ‘unshakable
deliverance of mind’ (akuppa cetto vimutti) as it will never change. It
is unbounded by the conditions of existence, and free from greed, hatred,
and ignorance.
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44. Buddha: refers to the wisdom or awakened awareness that the
historical Buddha realised. It is beyond the six senses and the thought
process. It is an extraordinary quality. It does not refer to a person;
it does not belong to a self. This quality, the Buddha nature or the
awakened awareness, is within us and it is waiting to be awakened. It is
realisable by anyone.
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45. Uruvela: It is believed that the place where Buddha was Enlightened
was on the outskirts of a small village called Uruvela, which nestled on
the banks of the sandy Neranjara River. This area is now known as Bodh
Gaya or Bodhgaya, a city in Gaya district in the Indian state of Bihar.
The present-day Mahabodhi Temple is built on this site. For Buddhists,
Bodh Gaya is the most important of the main four pilgrimage sites related
to the life of Gautama Buddha. The other three sites are Kushinagar,
Lumbini, and Saranath.
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46. Kalama Sutta: See notes 41 and 42 above.
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47. Scriptures: the Mahamangala Sutta in Sutta Nipata (Sn 2.4). See
stanza IV, which emphasises broad knowledge and well-mastered discipline.
See note 48 below for more details.
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48. Mahamangala Sutta: Sutta Nipata (Sn 2.4), Stanza IV reads:
“Bahu saccanca sippanca
Vinayo ca susikkhito
Subhasita ca ya vaca—
Etam mangala muttamam.”
“A good education, accomplished in many skills,
Well disciplined,
Pleasant speech—
This is the Supreme Blessing.”
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49. Knowledge: the English term used for the Pali vinnana. The term
consciousness can also be used to translate vinnana.
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50. Wisdom: the Pali term panna (Sanskrit prajna) has a deeper, wider
meaning than the English term ‘wisdom.’ It is the vast realm of
intelligence beyond the time-constrained thought process. It is not mind
-related and hence cannot be realised by the development of mind or the
improvement of the powers of concentration. It is the unfolding of ‘inner
richness,’ the Buddha nature. (As previously stated in note 10.)
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51. Vinnanan anidassanam: Pali term which expresses the insight that
vision, Enlightenment, cannot be achieved by means of knowledge.
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52. Maithree Buddha: Maitreya (Sanskrit) or Metteyya (Pali) is a future
Buddha of this world. According to traditional interpretations of the
teachings, Maithree Buddha will be a successor of the historic Sakyamuni
Buddha. One can only be enlightened after physically seeing him and being
exposed to his teachings. Many believe that this life should be spent in
accruing sufficient merits to ensure this fortunate rebirth. It is true
that one must see the Buddha in order to attain Enlightenment. However,
it would be better to understand this not as seeing a physical Buddha,
but as a vision of the Buddha within. One must experience the Buddha
nature within, which can be done in this life.
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53. Atman: a permanent soul which is reborn, again and again. This is a
Vedic concept. The Buddha taught anatman, the non-existence of the self,
for which see note 54 below.
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54. Anatta or anatman: the doctrine of the non-existence of a permanent
self. It is this understanding which differentiates Buddhism from other
religions. All other religions of the West and the East believe in a
permanent immaterial entity, a soul or ego.
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55. Noble morality: a state without views (right or wrong) is required
for the vision of the here and now. The Buddha ’s words were, “dittinca
anupagamma silava dassanena sampanno …”
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56. Triple Gems: the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha . They are also called
the Three Jewels, Three Treasures, or Three Refuges. For further
explanation, see Section 5.8 of Chapter 5.”
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57. Five aggregates: form, sensation, perception, mental formulations,
and consciousness. Also called the five khandas (Pali) or skandhas
(Sanskrit). A detailed discussion of the five aggregates can be found in
Chapter Six of The Teachings of the Awakened. The Buddha discussed the
aggregates in his second discourse, the Anatta-lakkhana Sutta (also known
as Pancavaggiya Sutta) which can be found in Samyutta Nikaya of the
Suttapitaka (SN 22.59). The five aggregates arise and cease endlessly,
conditioning each other, and are therefore impermanent.
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58. Arising, existing and vanishing: uppada (arising), thiti (existing),
and banga (vanishing) are terms from Vedanta philosophy.
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59. Personalisation: refers to the clinging and grasping (upadana) of
mental formations, or, more accurately, to the grasping of the five
aggregates. This is called pancaupadaankkandha in the teachings. The term
pancaupadanakkhandha dukhka asserts that clinging to the five aggregates
is the cause of suffering.
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60. Catu satipatthana: four-fold mindfulness. This is discussed in the
Maha-satipatthana Sutta, Sutta Pitaka, Digha Nikaya 22.
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61. Yoniso manasikara: proper or wise attention; attention to the point
at which the mind arises.
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62. Community of monks: monks wearing the yellow robe and living in
monasteries, temples, or places of worship. They form the spiritual
community that supports the spiritual growth of the laypeople. In its
broadest sense, this community extends into the past and includes all the
monks since the time of the Buddha.
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63. Dhamma language: ordinary language as used by the Awakened to teach
the Dhamma. Ordinary words may be used metaphorically or allusively to
convey a truth that is otherwise beyond words.
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64. Law of cause and effect: the operation of natural order within the
mind process. Hetu pala in Pali.
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65. Dependent origination: this is discussed in detail in the Samyutha
Nikaya, in the Sutta Pitaka. However, it is also mentioned in many of the
discourses in the Pali Canon.
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66. After Prince Siddhartha Gautama left his parents’ palace, he visited
the hermit Bhagava and learned his ascetic practices. Afterward he
visited Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta to learn their meditative
practices. He attained the highest level of meditative consciousness, but
he was not satisfied, as he had not attained a state without birth and
death. Siddhartha then joined a group of five companions (Kondanna,
Vappa, Baddiya, Mahanama and Assaji) who practised extreme austerities.
They tried to find Enlightenment through self-mortification. Despite such
intense efforts, Siddhartha was unable to experience the true peace. He
ultimately gave up the practice of asceticism, realising that it was not
the path to liberation.
In the first sermon he delivered, he was very clear; his followers were
not to imitate his previous, useless, practices. This implies that
everything he had done was useless, including his meditative practices.
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67. Noble Eightfold Path: Many believe that they are treading this path.
In fact, what they practise is the mundane Eightfold Path, a thought-
related, time-dependent, and self-centred version of the Noble Eightfold
Path. See note 68 below.
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68. Noble Eightfold Path: 1. Right View; 2. Right Intention; 3. Right
Speech; 4. Right Action; 5. Right Livelihood; 6. Right Effort; 7. Right
Mindfulness; 8. Right Concentration. The path is usually described as a
way to the end of suffering. The stages of the path are conventionally
divided into three categories:
Wisdom (panna), stages 1 and 2;
Ethical conduct (sila), stages 3, 4, and 5;
Concentration (samadhi), stages 6, 7, and 8.
The common conception of the Noble Eightfold Path is that it stresses
dana (charity, sharing and giving), sila (morality and self-discipline),
and bhavana (meditation). This is to practise the mundane (lokiya)
Eightfold Path, which is not at all the same as the true Noble Eightfold
Path. A person cannot say that he or she is on the path without having
stepped onto the path. This first step is the vision of Enlightenment.
Noble Eightfold Path is supra-mundane (lokuttara), and only opens up with
the vision.
If you or I were to say that we were following the Noble Eightfold Path,
that would be the ego talking. We are still identified with the mind. We
are still in thrall to the thinking process. Only the Enlightened can say
that they are on the Noble Eightfold Path. They are free from the
ignorance -driven thought process. They use it only as a tool, useful for
communication, without being enslaved by it. They follow the path that is
beyond the thought process, hence, not thought-related, self-centred, or
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69. Upstream: see note 70 below for the story.
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70. After seven years of asceticism with no results, Siddhartha Gautama
decided to rest under a banyan tree near the Neranjara river. On that
day, Sujatha brought milk-rice (rice porridge) to fulfil her vow to the
tree-god. When she saw someone under the tree, she thought it was the
tree-god, to whom she had been praying for a husband and a son. Sujatha
offered milk-rice to Siddhartha Gautama and he accepted it, breaking his
vows of asceticism. When the five ascetics (Kondanna, Bhaddiya, Vappa,
Mahanama, and Assaji) saw him partaking of nourishment they grew
disgusted with their companion and hurriedly distanced themselves from
him. They thought he was returning to the life he had lived before and
was leaving the life of a holy seeker.
When he finished the food, he took the bowl and threw it in the river,
saying, "If I am to succeed in becoming a Buddha today, let this bowl go
upstream , but if not, let it go downstream." The bowl went upstream, all
the while keeping in the middle of the river.
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71. Pure mind: Pure uncontaminated mind: this refers to the infant’s mind
. This is mind without any external knowledge; it is mind experiencing
arising and ceasing without identification, judgment, discrimination, and
comparison. The images stimulated by all five senses occur and disappear
without identification. The Buddha referred to this state as phabassara
mind (pure mind) and his words were “Phabassara midam bikkhave chittam,
Agantukehi sankilitthena sankilttham”—“The infant’s mind is pure but is
contaminated by external contaminants.” Contamination is the beginning of
consciousness and the thought process. (As previous stated in note 7.)
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72. Time and space dimensions: there are conventionally three dimensions
of space and a fourth dimension, time.
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73. Baggage: memories or knowledge that reinforce the illusion of
permanency of mental creations. They create barriers to experiencing
reality in the present. They can bring happiness as well as unhappiness
to the self. Such baggage is discussed in relation to the stories of
Kisagotami and Patacara. See Note 74 below for details.
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74. Kisagotami was distraught with grief on the death of her dearest
child. She came to see the Buddha seeking medicine for the dead child.
Similarly, Patacara, who had lost her husband, two children, brother, and
parents overnight, was also grieving and came to hear the teachings of
the Buddha. After listening to the Buddha, both were able to realise a)
the impermanency of mental creations and b) that suffering is caused by
personalisation of such creations. These stories are recorded in many
places in the Pali Canon, most notably in the Therigatha, a compilation
of verses uttered by the Theris when they saw the clear light of the
Dhamma. This compilation is part of the Khuddaka Nikaya of the Sutta
Pitaka. The stories of Kisagotami and Patacara are two of the best-known
stories of early Buddhism.
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75. Mind: the word ‘mind ’ is learned during conditioning and often
refers to the conditioned mind. As such, it is just a perception (sanna),
like any other word. But it can also be used to refer to the Buddha-
nature. Other terms used in this book are ‘awakened awareness,’
‘consciousness without objects,’ ‘un-manifested infinite awareness,’
‘infinite or boundless consciousness,’ etc. This mind is un-personalised
but also wise, unlike the infant mind.
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76. Pristine pure timeless state: un-personalised mind, selfless mind,
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77. Seeing is only the seeing: deep meaning can be found in the following
words of the Buddha to Bahiya (Bahiya Sutta: Tipitaka , Sutta Pitaka ,
Khuddaka Nikaya, Udana 1.10).
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78. Breathing meditation: meditation on the breath, and the sensations as
it enters and leaves the nostrils. One focuses on the breath to the
exclusion of everything else.
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79. Walking meditation: meditation on movement and the component parts of
the steps. A mindfulness practice (see note 80 below).
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80. Mindfulness: activity without dwelling on thoughts, which allows us
to see through the illusion of self.
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81. Ceto vimutti: deliverance of mind, freedom from illusions; liberation
from the time-constrained thought process. It is also called ‘unshakable
deliverance of mind’ (akuppa cetto vimutti) as it will never change. It
is unbounded by the conditions of existence, and free from greed, hatred,
and ignorance. (As previously stated in note 42.)
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82. Noble Eightfold Path: for previous discussion, see Section 5.9.
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83. Deeds: for an explanation of the absence of deeds in deep sleep, see
note 30 above.
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84. Awakening of the senses (avijja paccaya sankhara): the activation of
the five aggregates and dependent origination.
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85. Bhava nirodha: to be free of the bhava-cycle forever.
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86. Round of actions (kamma vatta): see notes 30 and 31 above.
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87. Pure mind: see note 7 above.
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88. Upstream: see Section 5.10 in Chapter Five for further details.
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Recommended reading
1949-1950 Sri Lanka Talks, by J. Krishnamurti
Colombo, Sri Lanka: Krishnamurti Centre, 1994
1957 Sri Lanka Talks, by J. Krishnamurti
Colombo, Sri Lanka: Krishnamurti Centre, 1998
Awakening Meditation, by the Venerable Madawela Punnaji
Edmonton, Canada: Puremind Publishers, 2001
The Universal Truth, by Kularathne Nakkawatte
Colombo, Sri Lanka: Godage International Publishers (PVT) Ltd, 2008
The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle
USA: New World Library, 1999
Stillness Speaks, by Eckhart Tolle
London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2003
A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle
London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2005
The Teachings of the Awakened, by A. Karunasena
Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd, 2009
About the author
A. Karunasena is a double degree holder, a member of the Royal
Institution of Chartered Surveyors, UK and a Fellow member of the
Institute of Valuers, Sri Lanka. He is currently attached to the
Valuation Office Agency of the UK Civil Service. He was a lecturer in
Valuation at Sri Jayawardenapura University, Sri Lanka from 1976 to 1984.
He served as the Chief Municipal Assessor of the Colombo Municipal
Council, Sri Lanka, from 1985 to 1990. Mr. Karunasena was born and raised
a Buddhist, but only began to look deeply into the teachings of the
Buddha late in life. In 2009, he published a book about Buddhism, The
Teachings of the Awakened. This book is his second publication.
He can be contacted by email at awake.1711 at gmail dot com.

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