Physics and Metaphysics
A look at some of the unique doctrines of Buddhism.
Table of Contents
The fact that the first edition was exhausted in a few weeks’ time might prove to some extent the usefulness of this booklet.
In order not to disappoint the many applicants by a longer delay, we issue this second edition in substance identical with the first, except for a few additions, where fuller explanation proved to be necessary to prevent misunderstanding.
Two longer, and entirely new additions will be found with regard to the doctrine of Dependent Origination (Paṭicca-samuppāda) and Nirvāṇa.
I have made a grateful use of the suggestions made by a few who did not spare me for the sake of friendship. And it is my pleasant duty to acknowledge the constructive criticism of Rev. Bhikkhu Soma and of Mr. Julius de Lanerolle, and also the kind assistance of Mr. N.L. Napier in correcting the English idiom.
Bhikkhu Dhammapala, Kandy, August 2485—1941.
When driving a nail, a short, sharp blow from a hammer is more effective if even quite a heavy weight is laid upon it.
Thus these few pages, just on account of their fewness and brevity, might have a greater effect than thick volumes.
Their scope is not to throw new light on the problems of life, of intellect and of will which have been solved 25 centuries ago, but to see those solutions in the frame of our modern mind and language; not to improve on them, but to make them, perhaps, easier accessible for the fluttering mind of our present age.
The ancient Religion of Buddhism with all its Birth-stories is looked down upon by many now-a-days as old-fashioned and non-scientific, as good for the nursery only. But this is only in the eyes of those who did not have a scientific education themselves, or who never took the trouble to make Buddhism a serious object of their criticism.
For Buddhism is not like other religions based on the secrecy of revelation. Buddhism has no mysteries to be believed in, and hence it invites all critics who wish to come with an open mind. “Sanditthika”, plainly visible; “ehipassika” inviting every man to come and see for himself; “veditabba” to be understood. Thus is the teaching of the Buddha in his own words. Here is no authority but reason. Not even the Buddha himself wished us to believe him simply because he had said so. He is, moreover, not the Founder of our Religion, but the Finder. The Truth was there, but unknown the Path was there, but hidden. He found the Path and showed it to us; thus we venerate him as our Teacher, but we must learn and under stand his lesson, not merely believe in him.
This alone already proves the superiority of Buddhism as Religion and as Philosophy; a rational religion and a religious rationality. Buddhism is, of course, the complex of thoughts expressed by Gotama Buddha, as they are still found in our sacred Books, with the aim of solving the problem of life and death. Hence we have not to consider Buddhism as it exists now-a-days in different schools, more or less corrupted by false beliefs and superstitious devotions, but in its pure and simple essence, stripped of all its outward decorations which prevent us from seeing the architectural lines of its natural beauty.
Although at first sight the different schools of Buddhist thought vary greatly yet they all have preserved the internal, fundamental truth, which therefore can and should be considered as the pure Doctrine preached by Gotama, the Buddha. From this point of view, which is indeed a very broad one, too broad to observe those minor details which are only as so many varieties of flowers in one garden—, we shall be able to see the garden as a whole, and thus admire its layout. This is necessary, if we want to consider Buddhism as a system, a coherent group of thoughts, a philosophical System, leading up to one aim.
In all religions we first meet with the outer crust of symbols and prayers, which may be at variance to suit different mentalities and characters. These are simply an outgrowth from a gradually developed mythology. Both, symbols and myths, are only stepping-stones by which to raise ourselves from the material to the spiritual plane. But, the underlying basis of all is the philosophy. Symbols and ceremonies can and must go; then only we can discern the Truth underneath, the philosophy of religion.
Philosophy is a science which has as its object the knowledge of things in their ultimate causes. Philosophy tries to find a satisfactory answer to questions which lay already in the mouth of every child: Why? and how? whereto? and from where? But as a real science it cannot be so easily contented as a child: it will investigate always further and deeper till the whole truth is laid bare. As a science it must work along purely scientific lines, and can have therefore no other guide than a scientific mind. Therefore, that philosophical system will be the highest and most perfect which is the most logical in drawing its conclusions and following them up, wherever they may lead.
And so I attribute to Buddhism the qualities of being the highest and most perfect philosophy:
because, being based on actuality, it faces the most urgent problem;
it faces its questions not for the sake of speculation, but to find a practical solution;
it does so with an absolutely rigid logic, not to find a pleasing way-out, but to find the truth, “be it bitter or be it sweet”.
Other philosophical systems did not bring themselves up to this standard, either because they had not the courage to face actuality and became consequently lost in abstract problems, mostly the work of the imagination, or they started from a wrong principle and came quite logically to wrong conclusions. Later on we shall see examples of both categories. They are like doctors meeting in consultation, some with preconceived ideas, of which you can find a few fine examples in Bernard Shaw’s: “A Doctor’s Dilemma”, others misunderstanding the symptoms of the disease. Thus, though they may all deduce the effects logically, yet there is no basis, as the cause is only pre-supposed.
Then the Buddha comes as a capable surgeon and with a successful operation he cuts away the root of the disease. It will certainly cause some pain, but what does that matter, if it brings a cure?
Buddhism is a pure analysis, a pure psychology, it deals with concrete facts. And perhaps best of all, it is not content with making promises for the future, but it gives a complete cure here and now, if only the patient is patient enough to follow the prescriptions. If it were impossible to attain perfection here and now, there is no proof that we can attain perfection in any other life. Yet, here we meet with one of the greatest obstacles: most people do not even know that they are ill. And how can we expect them to take treatment under such conditions? The cure of this ignorance is not a question of faith, but of understanding. When we try to build on a foundation other than understanding, the effects may be very pleasant to our sensational devotion, but they will not be worthy of the name of science, and we shall be only deceiving ourselves.
Dr. William James in his “Psychology” says “Only a science which is directly related to life is really a science”. An Engineer e.g. can make a beautiful, detailed plan of a battle-cruiser with the wings of an aeroplane all around. But if those wings do not enable the cruiser to rise above the water, but on the other hand only serve to enlarge the target for the enemy’s guns, no admiralty would ever accept such schemes, because they would have no practical value.
In real science, which is directly related to life, theory and practice are united inseparably. Mere speculation therefore is valueless, no matter how beautifully the ideas may be expressed.
We call our Teacher the Buddha. This is not a proper name, but a title expressing his attainment. It means the Enlightened One, the One who is fully awake to the real facts of life. If we, therefore, call ourselves after our Master, Buddhists, then we too should be awake to the realities of life; we must be Awakenists.
And here I must first make a rather fine distinction between two words which in the course of time in daily conversation have lost their precise meaning and are now used indiscriminately. The words are “actuality” and “reality”.
Actuality (from to act) indicates the nature of the external world, in as far as it is related to us, in as far as it acts or re-acts on us.
Reality (from the Latin: “res”$\Relbar$thing) indicates the nature of the external world, as it is in itself, with disregard of any object on which it acts.
The reference to the external world, as it is in itself, does not refer to Kantianism, accepting an unknowable thing in itself (Ding an sich) i.e. a Substance behind the phenomena. This we shall discuss at a later Stage. For the present I only wish to make a logical distinction between the action and the object, to come to the conclusion that this distinction is not real, has no “fundamentum in re” and is the very ignorance which the Buddha tries to dispel. Actuality is the conventional truth (sammuti-sacca) objectified in time and space. Stripped of time and Space and of all its sensible qualities, the image vanishes in the reality of the absolute truth (paramattha-sacca). To understand this Reality is Nirvāṇa.
Thus we come in contact with the actual nature of things, and frequently mistake that for the reality. “The physical is always and only the manifestation of the mental; it is merely the mental made visible. That which is perceived by physical sense is only the belated outcome of what has already taken place in the inner world of things thought, conceived end formed in the mind. Things visible, audible, gustible, and so forth, are only the mind’s own objectified creations. Apart from sensation we know and can know absolutely nothing of any ‘object’ ” (Dr. Paul Dahlke.)
“No doer of the deeds is found,
No one who ever reaps their fruits.
Empty phenomena are there,
Thus does the world roll on and on”.
(Vis. Magga XIX)
But he does not say that there are no deeds and no phenomena.
We see colours and we hear sounds: that is actuality. But in reality both are only vibrations.
When we are alone in a quiet room, nobody will say that there is music; and yet, you have only to bring in a wireless-set, get on to some wave-length or other and you will notice how the air even in the room was and is full of music. Your radio-set, however, did not produce the music; it only received what was present already, but did dot penetrate into our ears.
But is it the contact with our ears which constitutes “sound”? No, certainly not. Because at night-time when we are asleep, there may be much noise around us, e.g. a barking dog, a crying baby, a lorry passing by, which sounds we do not hear, though they reach our ears. Why not? Because sleep has caused a temporary disconnection between ear and brain. The communication is broken; and though the message is received by the out-post, it is not transmitted to the H.Q. Result: we do not hear.
Exactly the same, of course, happens with regard to colour and sight. Many things are received by the retina of the eye, and yet we do not see them e.g. when we are day-dreaming.
But in that case, we cannot really (I say: really, not actually) we cannot really admit that a thing makes noise, that it has colour, taste, hardness, etc., because all those qualities are ultimately only found in the individual intellect. Hence the first verse of the Dhammapada: “In all mind is the first, mind is pre-eminent, by mind all things are made”.
“Thing” here bas the meaning of three of the five aggregates (khandha): viz. feeling, perception and mental formations (vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra). “Mind” stands for the last one: consciousness (viññāṇa). Hence only “rūpa” is excluded, from which we draw the conclusion not that “matter” is mind-made, but all that we know and experience about it.
There is colour, however, and there is sound, you may say.
Yes, but they also are only effects produced in and partly by the mind. In reality there is only vibration in the object outside us, which produces vibration, a reverberation in the intermediate air and ether, the waves of which come in contact with our sense-organs, which on reception transmit those vibrations to the intellect, where they are interpreted as such and such a colour.
But there is colour and sound! Yes, they are, however, only effects produced in and partly by the mind. In reality there is only vibration in the object outside us, which produces a vibration, a reverberation in the intermediate air, and ether, the waves of which come in contact with our sense-organs, which on reception transmit those vibrations to the intellect, where they are interpreted as such and such a colour, sound, etc. There is nothing to guarantee, however, that those vibrations produce similar effects in different individuals. What I see as red, another may see as blue, though we call it with the same name, which perhaps explains the fact of colour-blindness, in which case people see different colours as one.
This is still more striking with regard to taste: what is too sweet for one, is not sweet enough for another. The truth is: nothing is sweet in itself, but thinking makes it so. And we call it a question of appreciation! Most of us drink tea with sugar, though in different quantities according to taste; but in Tibet they drink tea with butter and salt according their taste. If they can take my salt for sweet, perhaps they see my black as white, while a Scotchman must have both: Black & White!
The world as we know it, is within each of us.
“Verily, I declare to you, that within this very body, mortal as it is, and only a fathom high, but conscious and endowed with mind, is the world and the waxing thereof, and the waning thereof, and the way that leads to the passing away thereof” (Angutt. Nik: II, 48).
We do not know the object as it is. An impression comes from it to the eyes, then to the mind, and the mind reacts; and that reaction is what I call the object: my reaction is all that I know, like a lake reacts with ripples on its surface, but does not know the stone thrown into it. A heap of sand reacts quite differently, yet the stone was the same, the effects different, the real cause unknown by both.
This does not deny the existence of a world outside of us. To doubt the reality of an outside world must necessarily lead to doubt about our own existence, which is only Absolute Scepticism. With this school of philosophy it is impossible to deal or to argue, as there is not one single point from which an argument could be started. Buddhism merely doubts the actuality, and thus it comes to reality.
“Men are not affected by things themselves, but by their opinion about things” (Epictetus).
Two friends walking on the street meet with a third person whom they have never seen before. Yet this first contact may produce in one friend a feeling of sympathy, in the other a feeling of antipathy. It is clear that the stranger cannot possess contradicting qualities; therefore the cause of likes and dislikes lies not in him, but in the appreciation, the mind of the two friends. It is like water which takes different shapes in different vessels. The outside world is there in the empirical sense, but it shapes itself according to the receptacles, which we are. It is all a reflection of self. Good and evil exist only in us. A child believes and trusts everybody, because it is true itself; but as soon as it can tell a lie, mistrust is born, because it thinks others capable of the same. Others are measured by self. When self is no more, there will be no more good or evil. Self is the veil which hides the reality.
It is self which makes a thing good for one, and evil or another. It is self which makes heaven and hell.
Thus the actuality has brought us to the real understanding of the fact. We must admit the facet before we begin to find out its true nature.
This was neglected by many, while others, going to the other extreme, like Descartes, ($\Relbar$Cartesius), preassumed that which they wanted to prove.
The fundamental thesis of Descartes was: “Cogito, ergo sum: I think, therefore I exist”. The argument looks quite healthy, but analysis will show that it is no argument at all. “I think”, that is: “from the fact that I am thinking, I draw the conclusion that I am existing”. What had to be proved was: I exist or I am. Well, this conclusion is pre-assumed in the first part: I am thinking. He has introduced “I” in the first part and thus no wonder that he finds “I” in the second.
Buddhist Philosophy does not go beyond the facts, and in this case the thesis should be corrected thus: “Here is thought”, and then the conclusion would never have been: “therefore I am”. On the contrary it only leads to Anatta: Soullessness, ego-less-ness. About this later this later.
But if we want to investigate the nature of facts, how are we going to do it? With reason? How do we know that reason is a safe guide? There are so many lunatic-asylums now-a-days, and Spearman said that every normal man, woman or child is a genius at one thing and an idiot at something else. And many of those treated in asylums maintain that they alone are the wise ones, and that all the rest are fools! It was this that puzzled the Chinese Philosopher Chuang-tse, when he said: “Last night I dreamt that I was a butterfly; and now I ask myself: Am I a man who has dreamt he was a butterfly, or am I a butterfly which at this moment is dreaming that it is a man”?
This has led to several distinct schools of thought which can for conveniences sake be grouped in two classes, of which one denies the possibility of knowing anything for certain, while the other class maintains that this certitude about the reliability of the intellect is not required in Criteriology.
Buddhism again makes a distinction by saying that perfect logic, or Right Reasoning is not always possible; the Dhamma is called; “atakkāvacara” i.e. not to be reached by logic alone. But Samma-diṭṭhi: Right-Understanding, or Right-Insight is necessary.
There are truths which are so true, that they cannot be proved, but are evident at the first sight, There is e.g. the principle of contradiction: one thing cannot be and not be at the same time, considered under the same aspect. With all possible effort we cannot even doubt the veracity of this principle, but we cannot prove it; we simply see and understand. And again, there are the axioms which form the basis of our geometry e.g. the shortest connection between two points is a straight line, which is indeed so evident that it needs no proof, though all further these derive their validity from this unproven axiom, Buddhism helps us out of the difficulty, it brings us to Reality through actuality. It does not matter in the least whether we are a dreaming butterfly or a dreaming man. The dream of life is actual, even if it does not correspond to reality. If life be but a dream, then let us analyse that dream, and we shall have solved the greatest of all problems, the ghastly riddle of life.
We have already seen that the actual life as it appears to us, is indeed a dream, because science teaches us that the whole phenomenal world is mind-made. We see the world as through coloured glass and this is the reason why we have so different outlooks. It is the mind which has coloured the glass. But:
“What mind has done, mind can undo. Mind has made us prisoners, mind can make us free”. (Bhikkhu Sīlācāra).
And thus we come to the conclusion that the actual value of life is participated to it by our own mind, it all depends on our own appreciation; it only has a relative value, which means that it has no intrinsic value for its own sake, just like paper-money, bank-notes.
Indeed, Buddhism is a kind of Relativism. And in this the Lord Buddha has not only forestalled modern Psychology, but also the ancient Greek Philosopher Plato. Because modern Psychology with its intelligence-test tries to measure the intellect according to a system, the fundamental truth of which was known by Plato and long before him used by the Buddha as the foundation-stone of his Philosophy: the highest mark of intellectual capacity lies in the ability to perceive the relations between things.
When we have learned to make a distinction between the value a thing has, because I want it, and the value it has, separate from my desire, then we have made a good deal of progress. Thus the actual value of a thing is regulated by my desire; and if I want to know its value, I must give up my desire for it; but then we see at once that it has lost all value.
Desire or craving “taṇhā” is therefore shown as the chief-agent of this dream of life, which is sometimes a real night-mare, “with its fair faces and false hearts, its howling righteousness on the surface, and utter hollowness beneath” (Swami Vivekananda).
Yet Buddhism teaches that “dukkha: unsatisfactoriness” is one of the main characteristics inherent in all beings, in all things. And indeed, if value is dependant on our desire, then dissatisfaction must be the result. We will be dissatisfied when our desires are not fulfilled, or not in that degree which we expected. We will be dissatisfied when our love and joy are failing. And even in the actual experience of our happiness there is always the fear, that that happiness may be taken away from us. Children are said to be the happiest beings, because they are free from care; yet nobody sheds so many tears as a child.
The final unsatisfactoriness of all things is a fact which cannot logically be proved, but everybody can understand it, because everybody experiences it. This most universal characteristic then: “dukkha” is taken by the Lord Buddha as the first of the four Noble Truths. And thus it has stigmatized Buddhism in the eyes of those who did understand it as a pessimistic religion. The German Philosopher, Schopenhauer, who is famous for his pessimistic world-view, went even so far as to say that Buddhism came nearest to his system of philosophy. Nothing is less true. If the Buddha lays so much stress on the existence of suffering, he only states a universal fact, but he does not stop there. The purpose of his teaching is exactly to make us free from that universal suffering: “As in the great ocean, O disciples, there is but one taste, the taste of salt, so in the doctrine which I preach unto you, there is but one taste, the taste of Deliverance” (Angutt. Nik. VIII 2.19).
Though the fact of the existence of suffering is admitted by all thinkers, yet many ascribe it to different causes, The easiest way of solving a problem is to attribute it to an unknown higher force to which we have to submit, whether we like it or not. If we cannot answer a question and argument fails us, the simplest way to hide our ignorance is to answer: “Thus is the will of Almighty God; and who are you that you dare to question Him”? And any child will keep quite, awe-stricken.
He is supposed to be the Absolute One, who has dictatorial power over all that is and that is not. But even this fact that he should have power over others, shows that he stands in relation to them, and therefore he cannot be limited and therefore not absolute. The very distinction between him and others contradicts his absolutism.
There have been other, sincere thinkers like Emmanuel Kant, who with his pure criticism discovered what the Lord Buddha taught more than 20 centuries before him, namely that time and space are mere classifications of the mind, modes of thought. He too admitted that the existence of such a supreme Being could not be proved. Yet at the last moment he failed; and instead of a categorical denial or at least an indifferent Agnosticism, which would have been a logical consequence of his thinking, he said that we must accept the existence of God, though unknowable, because without him the social and moral order in this world would not find sufficient sanction, and would dissolve in disorder. Kant was afraid for his own logic. In refutation we may point to the present European war which shows the influence the idea of God has to maintain social and moral order! And how frequently in the past have people murdered one another in the name of that Supreme Being!
With regard to the Absolute Lord Buddha said to Anāthapiṇḍika: “If by the Absolute is meant something out of relation to all known things, its existence cannot be established by any reasoning. How can we know that anything unrelated to other things exists at all? We know and can know nothing that is unrelated. The Absolute is the outcome of human imagination”.
“If sorrow and suffering, which spring up in all conscious beings, be the work of creator, he himself must be capable of those feelings; and if he has these, how can he be said to be perfect? If, however, sorrow and suffering are attributed to another cause, then there would be something of which the creator is not the cause” (Bodhicaryavatara).
Yet there must be a cause. And no Philosophy shows so much unity as Buddhism. To explain Buddhism fully, it would require months and years of lecturing, and we would not have measured its depth yet. But also, if only half-a-minute’s time would be given to me to give a comprehensive idea of Buddhism, it would be more than enough; I would simply say: Buddhism is the law of cause and effect; nothing more, nothing less; be logical and make the applications for yourself. This is the ground principle, in which all the other truths are contained: the law of cause and effect. Law here does not require a law-giver; it is simply a constant way of action, like e.g. the law of gravitation. If a stone falls, it is not because somebody has told or commanded the stone to do so, but it is the nature of things, the attraction of the earth, the weight of the stone. Likewise the law of cause and effect is not dependent on a supreme will who has dictated this law, but it is in the nature of all things to be caused, to be conditioned. While all admit the universality of this law, they cannot find sufficient ground for an exception. And therefore we rightly may ask, who was the cause of God? If his existence cannot be proved we cannot admit him as the cause of anything.
But on the other band, if we see in different individuals different degrees of suffering, and if the law of causality belongs to the intrinsic nature of all things, then we should not look for the cause of suffering in some external agency, but within each of us.
And that is Karma!
5. Karma And Dependent Origination
Karma means action, and nothing else. It is a gross misconception to refer to Karma as fate. It is our own action which according to the law of causality must produce a proportionate effect. And we may equally invert the argument: when there is an effect, it must be due to our own Karma. Well, one of those effects, the most universal in all beings, is suffering. Thus, for this too we have only to thank ourselves, But suffering seems to anticipate action e.g. in small children who cannot do anything wrong which would result in bad effects. Thus the doctrine of Karma is linked up with the doctrine of Rebirth. For, if the cause of an effect cannot be found in this life, it must must be sought for in a previous life. Our action is not limited to this short span of life, but it goes back and back in a long line, “the beginning of which cannot be known”.
Objection: but any line must have a terminus at the beginning and one at the end.
If it must have a final terminus, then an eternal heaven, and eternal hell are impossible.
A beginning, however, is not necessary, because the line of lives of which we are speaking, is not a straight line, but a circle. Hence we speak of the Wheel of continued and repeated existences: the Wheel of Saṃsāra.
But then some opponent might insist still further: if Christianity believes in an eternal Soul which has had a beginning and yet goes on in all eternity, does not Buddhism fall into the very same error, though in an inverted form, by teaching that a beginningless past can be brought to an end?
Christianity: Non-being passes into being.
Buddhism: Being passes into non-being.
No! this last is not Buddhism at all. Nirvāṇa is not the end of being, but the end of becoming. There never was “being” (atta) in the past, but there was “non-being” (anatta) throughout the past, present and future. There only was becoming; and the end of that is no-more-becoming: cessation of rebirth. Just because there is only a process it can come to a stop, when the driving and reproducing force, Karma, is exhausted.
Karma is nothing else but the force, the energy produced by action, action itself. The actions pass away, but in their passing by they have influenced, conditioned, caused; and the effect rising therefrom will in its turn be the new cause of new effects. We are like silkworms, says the Vedanta. We make the thread which is our Karma out of our own substance and spin the cocoon; and in course of time we are imprisoned inside. But this not for ever. In that cocoon we shall develop spiritual realisation, and like the butterfly come out free.
Thus all we have is Karma, all we are is Karma, all we think, speak and do is conditioned by our Karma from the past, from where it received its energy. And thus our Karma influences too our future. But Karma itself is conditioned, dependent on influences. Hence the difficulty: where is the place for free will in Buddhism? And we must admit that a free will in the absolute sense i.e. independent from any cause, condition, influence, surrounding, etc. is non-existent. If we analyse “Will”, it is but another form of the “I”, and hence a mere illusion. Will is not existent as a force, but comes into being under given circumstances, like craving taṇhā does not exist individually, but arises as a result of a contact “phassa” and sensation “vedanā”. The Pali language has not even a proper word for “will power”; nearest to it come words as “liking”, or “determination”, but both are only relative terms, dependent in their existence and their change on equally changing, impermanent, unsubstantial objects.
In his Analytical Psychology Prof. Stout writes: “It is impossible to find any bit of mental process which is determined purely from within”.
Yet Karma is no blind force, no fate from which there is no escape. Because in Karma there are many influences at work. Our Philosophy distinguishes as many as Sixteen different kinds. (Visuddhi Magga XIX; Abhidhammattha-Saṅgaha 144)
If we bring with us in a new conception a certain amount of reproductive force of past efficient action (janaka kamma), there are other forces unfavourable and even destructive to the effects of it (upapīdika and upaghātika kamma). Karma can be barred by more powerful Karma and thus remain inoperative for ever (ahosi kamma). Some Karma will not find an immediate opportunity of coming into action, and it remains accumulated, residual, till it is capable of operating, whenever circumstances are more favourable (aparāpariya vedanīya kamma). There is good karma and there is bad karma, always at war with one another, a war of which everyone can bear witness within himself. We know what is good, what is duty, and yet so many times we do the opposite.
Deceived by our senses we might think that in us there is somebody at work, which is most emphatically denied in Buddhism. This is the great delusion, which is the cause of all the misery in our existence.
What is the cause of this delusion? Ignorance, we say: Avijjā. Is then Ignorance the cause of all, the uncreated creator, or what is the cause of ignorance? Ignorance also is a result sprung from previous existences, back into a beginningless past.
Though this answer admits no further questions, it leaves us none the wiser, because our question was such a foolish one. The sun shines brightly, and you ask me: why is there darkness? But darkness is non-existent. To talk of darkness as an entity is absurd; that is delusion. We do not see the light, though it is always there, because we close our eyes; that is ignorance, foolishness. Do our closed eyes create darkness? But there is no darkness; open your eyes and see!
Does Ignorance create delusion? But there is no delusion, except in our foolishness not to see the Reality.
The Reality is that all arises depending on a previous cause. This is expressed in the famous foundation of Buddhist doctrine: the Paṭicca-samuppāda, the Law of Dependent Origination. In those eleven statements the Buddha does not want to solve the problem of the absolute origin of life. Placing ignorance ($\Relbar$avijjā) as the first of the twelve links, he does not acknowledge it as the ultimate cause. Elsewhere (Angutt. Nik. X. 61) he said that one never could imagine a time when there was no ignorance and no craving for existence.
The general formula of this causal chain is very tersely put in the Majjh. Nik. (II, 32): “Imasmim sati idam hoti; Imass’uppada, idam uppajjati: This being, that becomes; from the arising of this, that arises”. This simple formula is worked out in the light of “craving”, and extended over past, present and future.
First we see the seed-producing forces of the past: Ignorance and karma-volitions (avijjā-saṅkhāra), which brought about the seed of present effects: consciousness, individuality (or corporeality and mentality) the six sense-bases, contact or impression, feeling (viññāṇa-nāma-rūpa- saḷāyatana-phassa-vedanā).
Present fertilising forces, craving, clinging, action (taṇhā, upādāna, kamma-bbava) develop that seed which effect will be manifested in the future rebirth, old-age, death etc. (jāti, jarā, maraṇa).
Thus we see a double series of cause and effect: past cause + present effect, present cause + future effect: seed-producing force, seed, fertilising force, fruit.
The past cause is not different from the present cause: ignorance is the same as craving and clinging, while the volitions of the past are identical with the actions in our present life.
Hence the effects from past karma which we see in this life, consciousness, body-mind, the six sense organs and bases, contact and feeling will be the same as the future effects of our present actions viz. rebirth, old-age, death etc. The fruit contains the seed for further development.
The reverse of this causal chain is still more important:
“Imasmim asati, idam na hoti; imassa nirodhā, idam nirujjhati: This not being, that does not become, from the ceasing of this, that ceases”.
We cannot stop the present effects of our past actions, but we can prevent our present actions from bearing future results, by not applying the fertilising forces of craving and clinging to the seed, produced from the past. Thus the whole process will come to a stop “and that is just the end of ill”.
“Besides these conditionally arising and passing phenomena, no self, no Ego-entity is to be found in this ever repeated process of rebirth” (Nyāṇatiloka Thera).
This is the Doctrine of Dependent Origination, the proof of the Soullessness of all things, the understanding of which will dispel all ignorance.
6. Soullessness and Impermanence
“Anatta”, soullesness is an essential characteristic of all things. In this doctrine Buddhism stands all alone, and it is especially with regard to this that we way say that Buddhism is the highest and most perfect philosophy.
All other religions of East and West have not been able to make themselves free from that craving for a permanent existence of “self”. Even the Vedanta Philosophy of the Hindus, though almost perfect in their teaching of Karma, which includes the doctrine of rebirth, could not develop their system beyond a reincarnation of soul. As the “self” is the basis of all egoism the Lord Buddha made his Anatta-teaching the distinguishing feature of our Religion.
That which we call “self”, or I, or Ego, or soul etc. is nothing but a name, which we use in conversation for convenience’s sake, but not corresponding to reality. A man may take a long series of such sentences as: I do, I go, I dream, I sleep, I move; and here you will find it claimed that the doing, going, dreaming, etc., have been changing, but what remained constant was that “I”. As such they conclude that the “I” is something which is constant and an individual in itself; but all these changes belong to the body. Though apparently very convincing and clear, this is based upon mere play of words. The “I” and the doing, going and dreaming may be separate in black and white on paper, but no one can separate them in his mind. When I eat, I think of myself as eating: I am identified with eating. When I run, and the running are not two separate things. Thus the argument for an individual soul from personal identity does not hold.
A heap of bricks, placed in a certain position and relation to one another, is called a house; differently placed it becomes a parapet-wall, or a dagoba, etc. With my hand I can make a fist without adding anything to it. Nāgasena’s famous example was the chariot of King Milinda, which being analysed into the pole, axle, wheels, etc. could not be found to exist.
Likewise analysing a human being, we simply find a composition of mind and matter, mind being further analysed into sensation, perception, mental formation and consciousness, which all together constitute the five Khandhas or aggregates of existence, a composition of physical and psychical elements which form together a character, or individual, or person.
Physics also keep the same general division of Nāma and Rūpa, and call them Energy and Matter. But there is no real, ontological distinction between the two, but only a logical distinction, i.e., a distinction not in the thing but only in our mind, because the one cannot exist without the other. What is Energy? That which acts upon matter. What is Matter? That which is acted upon by energy.
The individuality of beings, however, is not denied by the doctrine of soullessness, (anatta) but, only the permanent existence of an unchangeable entity, a substance underlying all phenomena. There is indeed not a single scientific motive to be found to patronize the soul-doctrine. It was only human egoism and craving for permanent existence which invented the imagination of a soul. Many, of course, have tried to prove the existence of a soul from the working of the intellect. It would lead us too far to show here in detail, how the mind has no general or abstract ideas. We cannot think of a thing without dimensions, without colour, or form, so much even that the most abstract idea of God must be thought of with human characteristics like love and anger, and even depicted in human form as a dignified old gentleman with a flowing beard.
In other words: mind is thoroughly material and even less stable than matter itself. If our body requires seven years before every particle of it is replaced, for a complete change in the mind not even seven seconds are needed.
Thus soullessness (anatta) is intrinsically connected with impermanence (anicca). If there were a permanent entity in us, there would be no escape from “self”. But an intransient state can be reached, just because all conditioned beings are transient, impermanent.
This is one of the problems which throughout the history of world-philosophy has interested men most. And every thinker has pronounced his opinion either in favour or in denial of an everlasting world. This question, whether the world, the universe is eternal or not eternal, was put also to the Lord Buddha. And he alone among the many observed a dignified silence. In later ages, even in our present time, this silence is sometimes explained as ignorance. Some well-wishers try to explain this strange silence by saying that the solution of this problem was not in the Buddha’s line whose only aim was the deliverance from suffering. But his silence has a far deeper meaning than any word could express. Where all who were put before this dilemma had answered: “either this, or that”, the Buddha alone said by his silence: “neither this, nor that”. It is indeed impossible to answer the question which contains a contradiction in terms. An example will make this clear.
If the question were put: “Has a square circle corners, or has it no corners”?, the answer can be neither Yes, nor No. Silence is the only answer, not as a result of ignorance, but because the question contradicts itself: a square circle is non-sense. Likewise in the question: “Is the world eternal or not” the answer cannot be given positively or negatively, on account of the contradiction: world—is. Nothing “is”, but all flows by in a constant flux, an ever new “becoming”. As a river is not stagnant, so that nobody can bathe twice in the same river, thus all that seems to be is changing at every moment so rapidly that the continuity makes an impression of unity. The idea of substance, Ego, individual, entity, soul, etc., comes from the rapid interchange and succession of qualities, not from something unchangeable which exists behind them.
A film on the screen gives the impression of one image, but really there are hundreds and thousands of separate photos; only their rapid succession deludes the eye and makes them appear as one.
It is as the waves alongside a steamer travelling all the time with her, till a new harbour is reached; and yet we know that the water has not gone down from Colombo to Singapore. The only movement was of tiny drops moving up and down, passing on that movement to the next one, like ears on a wind-blown paddy-field. No entity is passing on, but only force. Thus is the soulless working of Karma. An impulse is given here, the motion as a result is noticed elsewhere. And what happens every moment, that happens in the long run of many lives. We die every moment, and every moment we are born again. But no person, no substance, no soul as the carrier of the burden. Simply: cause and effect!
The change at the end of a life is somewhat more striking, but in essence it is the same as at the end of every thought-moment. Nothing is reborn, but the Karmic force which disappeared here, bursts out somewhere else, as an electric current appears here as light in a bulb, there as heat in an oven, or as cold in a refrigerator, or as sound in a wireless-set, or as power in a dynamo, or as motion in a motor. But the current is no entity only energy.
7. Energy And Craving
Not so long ago our school books on Physics taught us the law of the conservation of matter. Progress of science, however, with regard to the facts of radiation, and especially the discovery of cosmic rays have led to the plausible theory of the annihilation of matter, i.e. of protons and electrons, or rather their transformation into radiation, in which process mass is conserved and energy developed. Solid matter melts into insubstantial radiation.
The next step will be the discovery that energy can be changed into matter, which would be equivalent to saying that matter is energy.
Then only will science have reached the level of the teaching of the Lord Buddha 2500 years ago.
An excellent proof is given already by Science discovering that even the atom—which was considered to be the very type of permanence and to recover unchanged from all its chemical combinations,—was not an entity at all. Investigations in radioactivity have shown the process of “life” in the atom. Has the atom broken down in still simpler forms of matter? No. but it is shown that there is no matter at all. In this electronic theory the unit is a mere electric charge, a force; and there is nothing besides, there is nothing that is charged. What then is matter else than energy?
Some scientists already maintain that the radiation by which the present stars, of which our Sun is one are melting away, may be re-consolidating itself again into matter. Thus they advocate what in our books are called æons or world-cycles; out of the products of the death of one universe is rising a new one.
Wireless is no more a novelty, and amateurs make now-a-days their own sets at home in their spare time; television is still in its youth and not within the reach of the masses. But more marvellous than all that is thought-transmission which was known and practised thousands of years ago. Then the mind of some, when concentrated, had so much energy that it could control matter. “If a man goes into a cave shuts himself in, and thinks one really great thought and dies, that thought will penetrate the walls of that cave vibrate through space and at last permeate the whole human race”.
Here we find mind controlling matter; and how many people are suffering from indigestion and all kinds of stomach-trouble as the result of an emotional upset? Mind can control matter because mind is energy and matter is energy; and even in the deadest material we find that energy which makes the electrons move in every atom. In fact, movement is of the very essence of matter; if the movement ceases, the atom no longer exists; there is nothing left. “Force, force, everywhere force; and we ourselves a mysterious force in the centre of that” (Carlyle). That mysterious force in us which keeps us going we call life and is usually defined as an intrinsic power striving after self-perfection.
According to this an engine is not alive because its driving-power is not intrinsic resulting from its nature. Yet when we go deeper into the matter i.e. into the material of which it is composed, we will find there attraction and repulsion without which the material would not even exist.
Matter in other words in nothing else but condensed force. Mosharrafa, among others, suggested that matter was nothing but a sort of congealed radiation travelling at less than its normal speed. Condensation forms visibility, rarefaction of particles brings about invisibility. Well, this attraction and repulsion between positive and negative charges is a struggle which is getting on in the inanimate world as well asin the animate. It is a real struggle for existence, a struggle to be or not to be. Well, that is life.
Movement being the very essence of matter, we must conclude that all matter is alive. We know from excavations, how even the most solid rocks have grown, which is proved from-the fossils which are embedded in the stone. But growth is a striving after self-perfection, is life. And being alive, matter tries to protect that life: hence the resistance offered by matter. Thus we see in all beings, organic or so-called inorganic, a striving after self-preservation: world-craving.
I do not say that all this craving is conscious, but it is craving all the same and in many cases it needs but little to become fully conscious and hence karmic resultant.
There are e.g. in the deep-ocean the sponges which take about the lowest place among the animals. They cannot move, but are fixed to the sea-bottom; they do not posses any sense-organs or nerves; they have neither mouth like an animal, nor roots like a plant; food is extracted from a current of water passing through their body. How poorly developed their life may be, yet there must be consciousness to some extent, though it is difficult to imagine them having a higher standard of life than carnivorous plants e.g. which clearly show the possession of a of a smelling-organ when meat is brought in their vicinity, and thus show to have, if not more life, at least more grasping. Life is indeed not an entity, the function of a soul, but a process of becoming, of grasping.
“This grasping”, said Dr. Paul Dahlke, “is not the origin, the ultimate cause of life, but it is life itself; Just as a seed is not the cause of a tree but it is a becoming tree, it contains the whole tree. Where grasping is, is life. And grasping is always becoming, because it is grasping. And it is grasping, because it is ignorance”.
This ignorance is not opposed to consciousness; but it is delusion, (moha), opposed to Right-Understanding, while consciousness grows out of the group sensations (saṅkhāra) in which it is buried as a latent force.
Consciousness according to Faith, is a power of cognition, lent by God, as a faculty of the soul, directly created and infused by him in the human body; therefore it is, according to Faith, of a metaphysical nature, and exists “a priori” to sensation.
According to Science it is conditioned by the experiences in the senses.
Buddhism refuses to accept the Faith-theory, as not-being based on evidence; and it improves on the science-theory by maintaining that it is present prior to contact and experience, as a latent force; but it is not metaphysical. If it were not pre-existing as a latent force, all contact and sense-experience should result in consciousness.
Not all friction can produce fire, but only the friction of those materials which contain the fire in a latent form e.g. matches. The fire does not exist prior to the friction, yet it is there as a latent force, hidden in the phosphor; only the friction is needed to make it active, alive.
Thus we see in the Paṭicca-samuppāda, the twelve links in the chain of Dependent Origination, how “becoming” (bhava), that is: new life, arises from desire-to-have (taṇhā) and craving-to-keep (upādāna).
Life being but a constantly renewed process of becoming, it leads us naturally to the question of re-birth. If matter is but condensed force, there is no reason to believe that this force would cease as soon as matter becomes invisible. There is absolutely no reason to assume that death should mark a sudden break and an absolute halt in the process of change and renovation. Moreover, according to the law of cause and effect, there must be an opportunity for many causes to produce their due effect, which opportunity is not given them in this single life-time. How many crimes remain unpunished, how much virtue unrewarded! And also, with how many effects do we meet, for which no adequate cause can be found in our present life. The solution of the omnipotent will of an Almighty God, who disposes everything according his liking, we have already dealt with and disposed of.
The cause must be looked for there, where the effects are found, that is in ourselves: because the effect is only the cause in another form. Everything becomes clear and orderly when we attribute the unequal distribution of happiness and misery to our own actions in previous existences. There a force was produced which appears here; and here again we generate a force which will have its effect in some future.
Objection: But if there is no “self” or “I”, according to the theory of Anatta: soullessness, how can we speak of our previous lives, or of our future existences, because these terms seem to imply an identity of person in different lives. The “self” of to-day seems to be responsible for the acts of that “self” of yesterday. Thus there seems to be a permanent entity passing on from life to life.
No, there is no personality passing on, there is no identity, and yet there is responsibility because there is the correspondence, the link between cause and effect. The man in this life and the one in his next birth is not the same, and is not altogether another. If we light one candle from another, the communicated flame is one and the same in the sense of a continuity; but as the flame is depending on different combustible aggregates, we may equally say that it is not the same.
Nature provides us with many illustrations. We all know that water is a chemical combination of hydrogen and oxygen, two gasses; yet water, not a gas, results from them.—A caterpillar spins its cocoon and comes out as a butterfly. The physical make-up is entirely different, yet the butterfly is not something else produced by the caterpillar, but is an evolution of the very same animal into a completely different category of life.
Even in our own body we find that the inorganic matter, which is taken in as food, builds up the organic cells of our senses. Here it is dead matter producing life or at least preserving it.
The effect is not the same as the cause, but it is the cause in another form: “not the same, and not another”: “na ca so, na ca añño”, is the expression in our Abhidhamma.
The effect is not felt in the same aggregates which produced its cause. Therefore, “rebirth” does not mean a transmigration of soul, but the effects of our deeds taking shape in a new existence.
Two boys are fighting with the result that one gets a black eye: but nothing passed over from one to the other, not even energy, because the second boy did not receive more strength together with his black eye; but the excess of energy in the one produced an unpleasant effect in the other. That is all; but it was enough, will the second boy say.
In as far as we originate the cause, in so far are we responsible for the effects. An egoist might say that he would not feel those effects in another life, if there is no identity. If we do not feel the consequences of our acts in a next life, because there is no identity between the persons now and then, why should we abstain from such acts in this present life?
The first answer is that, notwithstanding there is no identity, yet we feel at present the unpleasant effects of a previous life. Let now be done what we would like to have been done in the past. Moreover, if we change this egoistic objection a little, the solution will be very clear; for with the same right I could ask: If I do not feel the consequences of my actions on others, why should I bother myself about them? Why Should I care for the effects of my deeds upon my fellow-men, as long as I do not feel them? The only difference between the two questions is the difference in time, which certainly cannot change the value of the remark. The answer to the second question will ke that of the first also. We should abstain from bad actions, because they produce suffering, never mind where and when.
If the boy of our last example, instead of hitting his friend’s eye had struck on a piece of stone, he would have hurt himself. Thus is the working of Karma, the effect of which is felt now here, and sometimes later in other aggregates. But the effect, wherever it was felt, was suffering all the same. Our position therefore should be thus: I must bring my suffering to an end, not because it is mine, but because it is suffering.
There is a difficulty arising from the doctrine of soullessness (anatta) with regard to Re-birth. According to the teaching of our Philosophy there is no permanent entity; and thus no person is reborn in the sense of a soul or spirit passing on from this body to be reincarnated in a new body. The new life is only linked with the previous existence, as any effect is conditioned by its cause.
Now the difficulty is that not only in our sacred Books, but even now-a-days several people claim to remember their previous life or lives. How is this possible without a memory, faculty of the mind, having passed over, thus establishing an identity? The answer is that the term “remember” is not correct. It will do, of course, for daily use: but when we do some psychological research-work we have to be more accurate. The fact is that some people, on account of acquired purity, have developed a greater amount of insight than the average man. Thus they possess the faculty of seeing the origin, the cause of an effect. We all have that faculty to some extent: the flame of a lamp is going down, and we conclude immediately that there is insufficient oil in the lamp. No remembrance is required here, but only some intellect.
Those who can “remember” their former existence are not possessed with a supernormal memory, but with a supernormal insight which enables them to read previous causes in present effects.
It is as if we strike a tuning-fork, the sound of which will only be heard, if we place it e.g. on an empty box, the air of which will reverberate and make the sound audible. If the box were full of saw-dust, no reverberation takes place, no sound is heard. This explains why not all people have the power to recall the past. In the case of most of us our mind is not free and empty, but occupied with worldly cares, full of desires, so that the past cannot reverberate in the present, even if we strike the tuning-fork of the mind. Our sight is only perfect, when our heart is pure.
There is still another aspect of the soulless rebirth in connection with Karma. Karma, as we have seen, means action. But there cannot be action without re-action. Action must have an object. Cause must have an effect. There is always a mutual working, an exchange of labour When I hammer a window with my fist, I may smash the pane, and at the same time glass-splinters may cut my hand. A collision of two ears will be injurious to both.
All that acts, being dependent on other causes is in itself but re-action, the resultant of other forces whatever happens to us has some influence on us and leaves some impression. Likewise any contact we make with others leaves some impression behind. Thus, though we admit the soullessness of all beings, and also the soullessness of the universe taken as a whole, we cannot admit the separateness of so-called individuals. Even the different forces at work are not continuing on their own lines, but all are interdependent. Our line of action is always connected with, influenced by the actions of others.
Thus, we come to see the whole universe as one mighty ocean with many different currents which might change according to the winds and the season; but none of those currents stands by itself, and as a matter of fact they are only currents in so fur as they form part of the whole. Our karma could not exist separately, and thus it is intrinsically linked up with the world-karma.
In our conventional way of speaking we may use the term: individual karma; but its nature requires the connection with others, just as one electron cannot have a separate existence, but can only live in the atom, where it finds a right adjustment of attraction and repulsion. Thus we may speak of a national karma, by which all members of that nation experience the same effect of a common cause, not as individuals, but as parts of one community, e.g. the lot of a nation whose country is invaded by the enemy. The same applies, of course, to any group, society, community, race, etc.
We may further rightly conclude that any so-called individual karma or karma-effect does not only affect that individual, but to some extent all beings coming under the law of karma, as a transmission from a broadcasting-office produces a vibration in the air all over the world. A small pebble thrown into a perfectly tranquil lake produces a disturbance, felt even at the other shore.
Thus the most individual act is most intimately connected with the whole, as being a reaction of, and causing a reaction on the whole. Yet we should not go so far as some in saying that all life is one, though there is a basis of truth in it. If all life were one, all merit and demerit would be common property, which would make us all equal saints or equal scoundrels according to the dividend paid out to the spiritual shareholders. It would be like communicating vessels in which the liquid takes the same level, notwithstanding the different sizes of the vessels. But we experience every day that virtue and vice have different dimensions in different individuals. Therefore, there is no real communication, but only the mutual influence.
Hence vicarious atonement is not possible; giving a share of our merit to others is likewise impossible. But our good, meritorious deed can become the source of other new meritorious deeds performed by others. A burning candle can light another candle, but cannot really share its light, it cannot give it partly away. In the same way we cannot take over the spiritual bur den of another, though we can make it lighter by our compassion sometimes. We cannot stop the universe, but we can lessen the friction, so that it runs smoothly. Thus compassion should consist in actual help, not in mere feelings. Very sensitive individuals will suffer by seeing the sorrow of others; but this is not real virtue, but weakness.
When the Lord Buddha was on the point of passing away finally, Ãnanda was sorely distressed, but was promptly rebuked by the Master. And later on at the cremation some of those who were not Arahats wept, others even fainted. But those who had reached the final state of sainthood, stood there unmoved without a tear, reflecting: How could it be else? It is the universal law to which even a Buddha is Subject: all component beings are impermanent.
The law is hard like steel and there is no escape whatever from its grip. It is inflexible, rigid and without mercy. Why no mercy? Because thus is the nature of all things. Sentimental characters with more heart than brain would certainly prefer more gentleness, tolerance, softness. But we cannot sacrifice the truth for the sake of our feelings. This is what other religions have done: they appeal to the feminine weakness and attract thus many followers. But true love is not weak, will not flatter or deceive, but wishes to cure. We are not completely isolated in the Karma of our lives, we can help one another, but not to the extent of saving someone else. Each one has to work out his own salvation. “Be a refuge unto yourselves”!
“Eager to escape sorrow, men rush into sorrow; from desire of happiness they blindly slay their own happiness, enemies to themselves” (Santi-deva). The reason is ignorance about sorrow. If the impermanence of things is the chief reason of their unsatisfactoriness, it is a great consolation that sorrow and suffering also are impermanent. But the strongest motive to bear our suffering manly is the knowledge that it is our own making. “There is nothing that can happen to us, however miserable, that can justify tears and lamentation, and make them aught but a weakness” (Lord Buddha to Ãnanda on Sāriputta’s death).
First of all we may say that our mind, and especially our imagination play a great part in exaggerating our misery. Self-love leads to constant self-reflexion and produces a mental state of self-compassion, which only increases our suffering. But if we consider our state in the light of Karma, that is of cause and effect, then we must recognize how we have brought about our own unhappiness. Being responsible for the effect, it is only manly to bear up with the results, because he who wills the cause, implicitly wills also the effect. That the cause was produced, perhaps, in some previous existence, is no excuse, for even now we daily perform actions which later will have an equally bad effect.
Even the wrong done to us by others should be considered from this point of view. If we are hurt in our feelings, it is our own fault that we are so sensitive. We should never blame others for it, for they are making their own Karma, which will produce its proper results in due time.
Again, any suffering should be a reason for Joy, because it is a debt we are paying off.
And most of all, suffering should be a great teacher, for if freedom draws, not less does sorrow drive; it convinces us of the need of detachment, of the impermanent nature of all things. “He alone can be truly happy who has realised that life and death are one. He who resigns to death that which belongs to death, will be calm and self-possess his fate”. (Lakshmi Narasu)
Our suffering is not a punishment, but a consequence of a deed not free from self. Therefore, we cannot atone for our sins; sins cannot be forgiven, because nobody is offended. We have only harmed ourselves, and now that the results have come, we have simply to outlive them. It is a sign of growth, because it will leave us purer and wiser. Even as we will always miss the target, unless we aim higher, so we will never be happy if we only try to get rid of suffering. Suffering is imperfection; thus we must aim at higher perfection, and the result will be happiness. For if sorrow and misfortune be recognized as blessings, no need is there to seek happiness. “The wise man seeks after freedom from pain, not pleasure” (Aristotle).
Thus the removal of suffering: dukkha, requires a thorough understanding of the doctrine of Karma and that of Anatta: soullessness.
“The suppression of the I-conceit is indeed the highest happiness” (Udāna), because then our view loses all egoism and becomes world-wide. Personal interests, are not longer interesting, and the little pinpricks of daily life lose their former significance. Then we can say with Somerset Maugham: “I am building up the greatness of a universe and cannot now go back to that petty, narrow life”.
But it is our egoism which creates a division between self and others, which tries to extend its influence at the cost of others and thus causes many a conflict. By undue attention to individual physical needs we increase the source of suffering. The will to dominate, even out of self-protection, can never lead to emancipation, but is an obstacle to freedom, and leads only to renewed becoming. But this is a lesson very few will try to understand. We know that life is suffering and yet we do not try to stop rebirth. On the contrary our only wish is to be reborn in some happier surroundings, and we forget that not the surroundings can make us happy or miserable.
“This world become ablaze, by touch of sense afflicted,
Utters its own lament…
Bound to becoming, yet in becoming it rejoices.
Delight therein is fear, and what it fears is ill”.
Life itself, wherever and under whatever conditions, is essentially unsatisfactory and impermanent.
“In the case of living beings here in the world, birth, old age, sickness and death are like cowherds with staves in their hands. Birth drives them on to old age, and old age to sickness, and sickness to death; they cut life short as though they cut with an axe. But despite this, there are none that desire absence of rebirth: rebirth is all they desire” (Dhammapada Commentary: 135).
It is not that a happy rebirth will bring with it more suitable conditions. On the contrary; an excessive degree of happiness might prove a serious obstacle for a spiritual life. “If it is impossible to attain perfection here and now, there is no proof that we can attain perfection in any other life” (Sri Ramakrishna). Human life here on this earth, having a fair mixture of sunshine and rainfall, of ups and downs provides us with the best means of making ourselves free from the fetters with which we have chained ourselves to the Wheel of Saṃsāra, of continued existence. If this life be thoroughly unsatisfactory there is still enough by which we can see the way out under the safe guidance of our Master: “Verily, I declare to you, my friend, that within this very body mortal as it is, and only a fathom high, but conscious and endowed with mind, is the world, and the waxing thereof, and the waning thereof, and the way that leads to the passing away thereof” (Angutt. Nik. II, 48). But it is this craving and thirst for existence “which trap both gods and men” (Sutta Nipāta: II, 10).
9. Merit, Demerit and Renunciation
For the majority Buddhist perfection exists in doing meritorious acts which will ensure us a heavenly rebirth; but meanwhile we forget completely that rebirth can never be the ideal. And unless we strive after the ideal we shall never attain.
As Buddhist Philosophy, however, is based on actuality, i.e. on facts as they act and re-act on us, we have for a moment to consider the question of merit and demerit.
Even this is nothing else than the application of the law of cause and effect, and there is therefore no question of reward or punishment. Each deed contains a certain amount of energy, which one day under favourable circumstances will produce a proportionate effect. And thus it may happen also that an action has no effect, namely in the case that this energy cannot find a footing. This happens in the Arahat, who is beyond merit and demerit, in whom the capacity for rebirth is destroyed. To return to the old simile: in him there may be wood, but as there is no friction, no fire will be the result.
What is then the distinction between merit and demerit? It would be more correct to translate the words “kusala” and “akusala” by “karmically wholesome” and “karmically unwholesome”, as there is no supreme judge to pass a sentence over our deeds, but their own “character” produces the effect. Well, it is the intention which gives “character” to our deeds.
We have seen how craving is the root of all evil, like a hunger never to be satisfied. There are four kinds of nutriment which correspond to four kinds of grasping, craving. They are: material nutriment, sense contact, mental assimilation and consciousness. Food and drink are not always a nutriment in the process of grasping (that is why an Arahat still eats and drinks); they are a nutriment in this sense only as long as Ignorance and Craving: stand behind them. And this is so in the case of almost all of us, not only with food, but with any sense-contact or mental contact. Most of our actions are done with a bad, at least not with a pure intention. Even the intention to increase our merit by performing virtuous acts, is not a pure one, as it includes craving for a higher life.
The Visuddhi Magga tells us how to induce pure views or right intention: “By means of this virtue there will be purity” (I, 12). The only motive to make light should be to expel darkness. Any other motive is a kind of advertisement, or to create a cosy atmosphere at home.
Virtue for a show is vice, virtue for a reward is bribery or shop keeping. Thus e.g. the motive for giving is not merit, but renunciation. Renunciation is the great and the only means which can bring us to the goal. This follows already from the statement that desire: “taṇhā” is the only obstacle on the road. To give up desire means to renounce everything, because all that we are and that we have is the result of craving.
Renunciation, however, should not make us morose. If it is well understood, it will bring the greatest, purest happiness, because renunciation is not mortification, but it only means the giving up of what is harmful. We are asked to exchange something which does not agree with us for something better; an opportunity is given to us to improve our position. Who would not be willing to do so? But as everywhere, the improvement of our status includes the giving up of our previous position. A buffalo and a pig like to bathe in mud, but an elephant prefers clean waters and so do we. There is here not a question of making a virtue out of a necessity, of being content with the lesser, owing to a lack of choice, because both are always at hand, and the choice is ours. Not: give up and be empty! but: love and choose the highest!
As said the Arahat Maha-Koṭṭhita:
“…who for the world not grieves,
serene, he shakes off mental harm,
a tree the wind-blown leaves”.
Renunciation cannot be learned, it must grow, it must come naturally as the dawn. When it is night, we can admire the millions of stars; but all their beauty and that of the moon too fades with the first rays of the sun. Likewise the world loses its attraction in the light of a higher and purer ideal. Seeing that when we die we must depart empty-handed, and that on the morrow after our death our corps will be expelled from our own house, it is useless to labour and to suffer privations in order to make for oneself a home in this world. For only a fool wants to and will live for ever.
But though the intellect may be convinced of this truth, the heart with all its craving, desire and attachment is slow to follow.
“I call thee, heart, the breaker of my luck,
I call thee, heart, despoiler of my lot”.
Happiness is satisfaction, and only he is satisfied who has no more wants. But desires are never satisfied. “Sateless are desires, they areas a bone scraped bare whereon a hungry dog can find naught where with to appease its hunger; a scrap of flesh which a bird of prey must part with, if it would not be torn in pieces by its fellows; a flaring torch borne against the wind which a man must cast from him if he would not have his hand scorched” (Majjh. Nik. 22).
The happy one, who is satisfied, seeks nothing, longs for nothing, wants nothing, wills nothing. He has found all that he seeks, otherwise he would not be happy. But what is then that happiness which everybody seeks and but so few can find?
Real happiness is freedom. Freedom is the prominent ideal running through everybody’s life. It is the marrow of the backbone of all our striving. It is that ideal for which everyone of us has been practising himself during countless previous lives and which has given to the current of our Karma a certain direction and tendency. Some have a wrong conception of real freedom; many others have not enough energy to follow that inclination for a higher, ideal life, though few have a vague idea where alone true happiness, true freedom can be found for them. Others, the worst of all, put even obstacles on the road, close their eyes intentionally for the light which is just dawning, and thus prevent the growth of their ideal, the attainment of their real happiness.
Real happiness is freedom. But he who tries to satisfy the senses under which form so ever, becomes their slave. And slaves there are not only here on earth, but even in the highest heavens. As long as we have the feeling of unsatisfied desires, we place ourselves under the yoke of the material, and thus become worse than the beasts which are serving the human intellect.
“Desires bring no contentment in life; they are like honey on the edge of a razors blade …The stillness lies in the surrender of all things, and my spirit is fain for the Stillness” (Sāntideva).
Renunciation means making ourselves free, and therefore renunciation means happiness: “Happy indeed we live, we that call nothing our own, feeders on Joy, like the bright gods” (Dhammapada: 200). “The gods themselves can hardly win the bliss of contentment that is enjoyed by him who wanders homeless at his own free will and unattached to aught” (Sāntideva).
Care-free, that is the secret of happiness; but not care-less.
True happiness bas not to be made, everyone carries it within himself, in the conviction of purity of life, in a pure conscience. That freedom of care is the result of the forgetting of self, of self-renunciation. For all desires are like circles with the Ego in the centre. Self-interest stands in the way of the realisation of our ideal. Self makes man slave; and most men are slaves, because they cannot say; No! Selfishness is attachment, and its source is craving’ (Majjh. Nik. 44). “Let naught be dear to thee; there are no bonds for those to whom nothing is dear or not dear”. (Dhp. 211) “Whoso have not one thing beloved, they have no sorrow. Sorrowless are they and passionless; serene are they, I declare”. (Khuddaka Nik. 8).
And because the aim of a Buddhist way of life is deliverance from suffering, and because suffering is only found in desire, therefore renunciation of all desire is the only way to happiness, to real freedom which is beyond all heavens. What is the profit of the bliss of Arūpaloka, if even there craving for form can exist. (Kathavatthu 138).
Thus we see that Buddhism logically leads to perfect renunciation not only of desires, but also of actual possessions. “How difficult it is for the man who dwells at home to live the higher life in all its fullness, in all its purity, in all its bright perfection. Free as the air is the life of him who has renounced all worldly things” (Dīgha Nik. 2. 41).
Many will object: But it is impossible that everyone should leave home, relations and possessions. What would become of the world? What of the human race? My only answer is that the world would continue its journey round the sun, and that the extinction of the human race would make of this earth a real paradise.
But, no fear! Though the ideal is meant for all, yet the majority have not had sufficient preparation. And this accounts for the many failures even in the Saṅgha. But then it follows that it is this lack of preparation which we have to make up first. We can and must prepare ourselves by partial renunciation, thus acquiring a habit, which like a seed will grow out into a character. Thus we should work not to acquire merit, but to acquire the spirit of renunciation, which is the proper spirit of Buddhism.
Other religions turn our gaze to the future to a reward in heaven, to a renewed, purely spiritual life. Buddhism, however, in contradiction to all that, teaches the eye to turn away from that false picture to the actual world. Not: Right-Expectation, but Right-Mindfulness (sammā-sati).
But the law of cause and effect is constant, and thus a good deed will have a good result. And even if our intentions have not been so pure as to bring us the final cessation of dissatisfaction and impermanence, some good will be the result.
In Oriental fashion we find in our Books allegorical descriptions of those places of reward. But an intimate geographical knowledge of all those various heavens and the denizens thereof will not bring us nearer to the goal. Some of those heavens, moreover, are so overflowing with happiness, that if I had to choose, I would prefer this world rather than to waste my time with celestial nymphs.
However, all those different celestial planes can be grouped in three categories; and those classes, I am so happy to say, can be found here on earth.
The three are:
Kāma-loka or the planes of sensuous happiness; and this corresponds to pure love which is found also among men. Love, even in this miserable life, can transform it in a life divine, if we have to believe novels and experts.
Rūpa-brahma-loka or the sixteen planes of form where sensuous joy has been transcended. This too can be experienced here on earth by those who prefer e.g. beauty in nature and art to carnal desires.
Arūpa-brahma-loka, or the four highest planes, free from sensuous joy and not conditioned by forms. But is that not the supreme happiness of him, who purely lives for Truth and Duty, who knows how to sacrifice everything and self to make himself free from all bonds? It is the satisfaction of a holy life. And even if there were no beyond, a holy life is yet the best, because it transcends all the trouble and all the cares of a worldly life. Untouched by good or bad he lives in perfect equanimity; always happy, because always content; always content, because having no desires, all his wishes are fulfilled.
There is only one step beyond: Nirvāṇa, and even that can be realised here on earth: the Arahat. “The story admits of being told thus far, but what follows is hidden, and cannot be told in words” (Jallāluddin Rūmi).
With regard to our colour-spectrum we know that our sight is very limited; we know that there are “colours” beyond, we notice their influence, we have given them even names and make use of them: ultraviolet, infra-red, X-rays, gama-rays …but we cannot see them.
There was once a turtle which had been travelling on land; coming back into the water it was questioned by a fish, whether land was wet, transparent, whether you could eat it, etc., etc. The turtle each time denied and said finally that land was “no water”. “Then it does not exist”, concluded the fish, thinking itself very wise and the turtle very foolish.
Likewise Nirvāṇa does not come within our sense-limits, and hence all descriptions of Nirvāṇa are negative, which has led to the misconception that it is annihilation. The very fact, however, that Nirvāṇa can be realised here on earth proves that it is not nothing, though it is not a place, but a state.
To speak once more in physical terms: Nirvāṇa is the only static energy all the rest is dynamic energy, vibration. Nirvāṇa is perfect equilibrium, all the rest is motion, resulting from lost balance. Why does the wind blow? On account of a depression somewhere, an air pocket which has to be filled. Why do we have craving? Because we feel the emptiness within. But when all our desires have gone and all forces are perfectly balanced, then the energy does not become annihilated, but remains static; then it does not flow any more, there is no more becoming, no more re-birth. That, in fact, is the only reality.
The only ones who could speak about Nirvāṇa with authority were the Arahats. Some of them have given expression to their experience in verses collected in the Theragāthā. The descriptions of their attainment are classified by Mrs. C. Rhys Davids under three aspects.
From a negative aspect Nirvāṇa is seen a sa getting rid of greed, ill-will and delusion, a release from sorrow and rebirth, from social and spiritual bonds, release from grasping, from fear, from the delusion of Self.
From a positive aspect, subjectively considered, Nirvāṇa is conceived as mental enlightenment, insight, state of happiness, calm, peace, self-mastery, steadfastness, victory.
Objectively it is considered as truth, communion with the best, perfection, otherness of life, the supreme good, salvation.
Nirvāṇa cannot be entered into like heaven, because if is no place; but it can be realised, because it is the only reality.
It is not nothing, yet it is No thing.
Becoming has stopped: Nirvāṇa is.
With one great leap of our imagination we can place ourselves on the brim of the universe. Having passed the last star with its sphere of ether, that is: having gone as far as the light of the furthest star possibly can penetrate, what do we find there? Absolutely nothing. It is the infinity of space.
There are two kinds of space: one is limited by objects, the other is unlimited. Limited space is caused, produced by its limits on which it is dependent. Unlimited space, just because it has no limits, is uncaused, unconditioned, unproduced and therefore independent; “asaṅkhata”, like Nirvāṇa, the reality.
Those are the two extremes: the Absolute Nothingness of unbounded space and the Absolute Reality of unbounded being. Space is not; Nirvāṇa is!
And yet the space which knows the boundaries of objects is only a part of that unbounded space. If the last star of the universe would not be there, unbounded space would begin at the second last star. Thus we see that space can be unbounded and yet have a beginning which is a boundary on one side. But it is not a real beginning, because the unbounded space is to be found all round the universe, which is therefore like a small island in the Ocean of Nothingness.
Nirvāṇa, being the opposite of unlimited space, seems likewise to have a beginning, namely at the moment that the mind emancipates itself in Arahatship. But here also it is not a real beginning, because Nirvāṇa is, and all the rest is like a small island of illusion in the Ocean of Reality.
This is the reason why Buddhist Philosophy teaches: sabbe saṅkhārā anicca-sabbe saṅkhārā dukkha: All conditioned beings are impermanent and unsatisfactory. But: sabbe dhammā anattā: All that is (conditioned and unconditioned,) is soulless.
In unlimited space and in Nirvāṇa no impermanence, no suffering is found, because what has no component parts cannot be decomposed.
Limited space can be measured, like time; but unlimited space cannot even be imagined, like Nirvāṇa. Both escape all description, because there is nothing to get hold of by our delusive mind.
Both escape, because Space is not and Nirvāṇa is. We stand between the two; we and the whole universe neither are, nor are not; we simply move and change in a constant flux, till our karma, no longer resulting in “vipāka”, permits an escape from the delusion of “self”.
In the Arahat rebirth has been destroyed, the the higher life has been fulfilled, what had to be done has been accomplished, after his present life there will be no beyond, the burden has been laid down, there is nothing else to be done, the prize of prizes which crowns the highest life has been obtained, he has attained Deliverance and dreams no longer. Nirvāṇa is freedom from all sights and forms, but it is not annihilation. How can there be annihilation, where nothing is?
It is the salvation from the illusion of actuality, freedom from the illusion of the mind, “the great slayer of the Real”.
This light of freedom, “every man carries it in his own heart, darkened it may be, and crusted over with our ignorance and sin, but never dead, always burning brightly for us when we we are to seek for it”. (H. Fielding Hall.) Because Enlightenment does not mean to make light, but to open ones eyes for the light which is there already.
“Mokkhan hi vijjamāne: Nirvāṇa is here, within our grasp”! There is only one obstacle: our craving. Hence there is only one way to Deliverance: renunciation.
Restraint in thought: Right-understanding, right-intention, right-mindfulness, right-concentration.
Restraint in word: Right-speech.
Restraint in deed: Right-action, right-livelihood, right-effort.
This the Path, the Noble Eight-fold Path, which leads to the cessation of craving, the origin of all suffering,
Nirvāṇa is shown as the only remedy for the evil of rebirth. Existence is bad under whatever form. And as even a single spark of existence, left smouldering, is likely to rise to a blaze of fire, eradication of existence is the only means, the device by which that calamity can be avoided.
The “sa-upādisesa-nibbāna-dhātu” i.e. the extinction of passion with some life-substratum left, is the emancipation of Arahatship in this life, which contains the assurance of no further birth. After his last lifespan, the so-called “an-upādisesa Parinibbāna”, i.e. the extinction with no substratum left, is said to be untraceable like the track of birds in the air (Dhp. 93), where the four elements (paṭhavi, āpo, tejo, vayo): “Which stretch, and cleave, and burn, and move, No further footing find” (Saṃy. N. I).
It is objected that desire for total extinction is not natural in mankind. I fully agree, and give as reason that where there is life and action, which is volition, “craving” is natural; and thus a desire for extinction becomes unnatural.
Nirvāṇa is not only rest, quiet, silence, absence of noise, but the impossibility of motion, noise, etc., not like a silent gong which is not struck, but “like a broken gong” which cannot sound: “kanso upahate yatha” (Dhp. 134).
Nirvāṇa is the highest Bliss, not as pleasurable sensation, but on account the absence of suffering and dissatisfaction, absence of “self”.
“There, monks, I declare is no coming to birth, no going (from life), no duration, no falling, no arising. It is not something fixed, it moves not on, it is not based on anything. That indeed is the end of ill” (Udāna. Pāṭalī gāma-sutta).
11. The Buddha
All this, of course, is only the briefest outline of the religious philosophical system called Buddhism.
Yet summarizing we have seen its:
Logic based on the law of causality, Karma;
Criteriology: distinction between actuality and reality;
Ontology: no being, but becoming;
Cosmology: all matter is energy;
Psychology; actuality is mind-made;
Ethics: the noble Eightfold Path, Renunciation;
Eschatology: Rebirth, and finally Nirvāṇa.
We have seen, to quote the words of Bhikkhu Subbadra, that “Buddhism teaches the way to perfect goodness and wisdom without a personal God: the highest knowledge without a revelation; a moral world-order and just retribution carried out of necessity by reason of the laws of nature and of our own being; continued existence without a separate immortal soul: eternal bliss without a local heaven; the possibility of redemption without a vicarious redeemer, a salvation in which everyone is his own saviour and which can be obtained in this life and on this earth by the exercise of one’s own faculties, without prayers, sacrifices, penances or ceremonies, without ordained priests, without the mediation of saints and without divine grace”.
And thus this booklet might restore our noble Religion to some extent in the esteem of those who boast of a scientific education. While Western theology is at its wit’s end to accommodate itself to the ever rising tide of aggressive modern thought, Buddhism stands unshaken, unmoved by the progress of science. While they had to yield to the demands of the latest discoveries, our Religion stands as the master with reason as its faithful servant, inviting the most severe critics, if only they be sincere.
But we must remember well that all reasoning will not help us, the Dhamma is given to us not for speculation, but for practice. These are principles given to us for the regulation of our lives; for then alone we may call ourselves Buddhists, if we live according to the noble Teaching of our Master, the Buddha.
A French philosopher Charles Renouvier has said: “The saddest of the sadnesses of life is, if one has to leave this life before terminating one’s task”. And the Dhammapada:
“By ourselves is evil done,
By ourselves we pain endure,
By ourselves we cease from wrong,
By ourselves become we pure, No one saves us but ourselves
No one can and no one may
We ourselves must walk the Path,
Buddhas merely teach the Way”.
Many of my readers, when going through these pages, will have felt growing their mind a certain uneasiness. They might think: Buddhism, thus seen, looks indeed a strong building; but the building is more fit for a college than for a temple. The old traditional Buddhism which has reached us, crossing 25 centuries and which is loved by our people is not taught in this college. How will our people ever understand this?
“It is true that there breathes about this system something of the coldness of mathematics; on the other hand, however, there lives in it that purest, sublimest beauty, that taintless beauty, which belongs only to mathematics”.
It is true! Buddhism, the real Buddhism is not for the many, but only for those who think and have the courage to follow their thought. This was the reason why the Lord Buddha immediately after his Enlightenment thought of retiring into solitude without proclaiming his Teaching to the world, which would not understand. Only the reflexion that perhaps a few, whose eyes were only covered with some dust, might see the light, made him devote his remaining 45 years in expounding his Dhamma.
Buddhism is not a religion of devotion, but one of action. “Warriors! warriors we call ourselves! We fight for noble virtue, for lofty effort, for sublime wisdom. For this reason we call ourselves warriors”! (Angutt. Nik.)
Thus all emotional devotion is misplaced in Buddhism. Devotion shows itself always first with regard to the Founder of a School, the Teacher; it is born from gratitude and love. Exaggerated devotion has made of the Founder of Christianity a God. We have luckily not gone so far, at least not in Ceylon, Burma and Siam. But our veneration for the Master insists almost in overlooking one essential quality of the Buddha which should be the most attractive: his manhood! Our people like to hear all the miraculous happenings in his last and in his previous lifetimes.
But they almost forget that he was man like we, that he had to fight for the final victory, a struggle which we cannot even imagine. Just because he was a man with human capacities and limitations, he can serve us as an example we can look up to and follow.
H. Fielding Hall in his book “The Soul of a People” has a beautiful passage: “This man was no inspired Teacher. He had no one to show him the way; he should go; he was tried with failure, with failure after failure. He learnt as other men learn, through suffering and mistake …He is no model of perfection whom it is hopeless for us to imitate, but a man like ourselves, who fought, who failed and fought, who failed and fought again, and won”!
What a courage that gives to us! And how great does he become in our eyes, just because he was not born a Buddha, but he made himself so.
And we can make ourselves so toe. Perhaps not in this lifetime. But then, even the Lord Buddha had to prepare himself for kalpas and world-cycles to acquire the necessary virtues. Well, this is a thing we all can start with, right from this moment; it will be a better worship than any flower-offering.
Let us keep our Master, our Leader, in mind.
Let us cultivate a certain enthusiasm for him, which will urge us to follow him closer, wherever he may guide us.
For us it will be so much easier, because we have someone to show us the way, and following him, we are beforehand assured of the victory.
A son of man, a Buddha, He
self-tamed, composed, serene,
Walking the Path of deathless End,
in joy, with tranquil mind.
Him men adore and devas
praise as holy, perfect Sage,
As happy knower of the world,
as guide of every age.
Him do follow, Him I love,
my Master, strong and kind;
Him do I honour with my deed
and worship in my mind.
My Buddha is the man who fought
who found Deliverance of mind,
Whose Teaching is the supreme Naught,
the Nothingness of all behind.
He fought and failed and fought again;
then finally victorious
He showed the Eight-Path glorious
of living without stain.
The Master failed, and so did I,
but perseveringly He sought.
Like Him I’ll find, if only I
with perseverance try!
About the Author
Henri van Zeyst was born in Utrecht, the Netherlands, in 1905. Educated throughout in Catholic schools and colleges, he spent his final years of studies in philosophy and theology and the first year of his priestly ordination in an Italian monastery near Florence. At the age of 31 he was sent to London to be in charge of a new foundation of his Order, where he was also teaching Dogmatic Theology to the scholastics of Christus Rex Priory in North London. An intensive course of comparative religion brought him in contact with Buddhism. Within a year of his coming to Sri Lanka he was ordained a Buddhist monk there in 1938 under the name of Bhikkhu Dhammapāla. From 1956 to 1968 he worked at the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism at the University of Ceylon in Peradeniya of which he was in the final years of that period the Senior Assistant Editor and Administrative Officer. During the last stages of his life he was residing in a meditation centre at Nilambe, Kandy, giving instructions to those who came to him for guidance on meditation.
He died on 15 September, 1988.
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