Handbook for Mankind

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu


In this chapter we shall examine the method to be used for eliminating clinging. The method is based on three practical steps, namely Morality, Concentration, and Insight, known collectively as the Threefold Training.

The first step is morality (Sila). Morality is simply suitable behavior, behavior that conforms with the generally accepted standards and causes no distress to other people or to oneself. It is coded in the form of five moral precepts, or eight, or ten, or 227, or in other ways. It is conducted by way of body and speech aimed at peace, convenience and freedom from undesirable effects at the most basic level. It has to do with the members of a social group and the various pieces of property essential to living.

The second aspect of the threefold training is concentration (Samadhi). This consists in constraining the mind to remain in the condition most conducive to success in whatever he wishes to achieve. Just what is concentration? No doubt most of you have always understood concentration as implying a completely tranquil mind, as steady and unmoving as a log of wood. But merely these two characteristics of being tranquil and steady are not the real meaning of Concentration. The basis for this statement is an utterance of the Buddha. He described the concentrated mind as fit for work (kammaniya), in a suitable condition for doing its job. Fit for work is the very best way to describe the properly concentrated mind.

The third aspect is the training in insight (Panna), the practice and drill that gives rise to the full measure of right knowledge and understanding of the true nature of all things. Normally we are incapable of knowing anything at all in its true nature. Mostly we either stick to our own ideas or go along with popular opinion, so that what we see is not the truth at all. It is for this reason that Buddhist practice includes this training in insight, the last aspect of the threefold training, designed to give rise to full understanding of and insight into the true nature of things.

In the religious context, understanding and insight are not by any means the same. Understanding depends to some extent on the use of reasoning, on rational intellection. Insight goes further than that. An object known by insight has been absorbed; it has been penetrated to and confronted face to face; the mind has become thoroughly absorbed in it through examination and investigation so sustained that there has arisen a non-rational but genuine and heartfelt disenchantment with that thing and a complete lack of emotional involvement in it. Consequently the Buddhist training in insight does not refer to intellectual understanding of the kind used in present day academic and scholarly circles, where each individual can have his own particular kind of truth. Buddhist insight must be intuitive insight clear and immediate, the result of having penetrated to the object by one means or another, until it has made a definite and indelible impression on the mind. For this reason the objects of scrutiny in insight training must be things that one comes into contact with in the course of everyday living; or at least they must be things of sufficient importance to render the mind genuinely fed up and disenchanted with them as transient, unsatisfactory and not selves. However much we think rationally, evaluating the characteristics of transience, unsatisfactoriness and non-selfhood, nothing results but intellectual understanding. There is no way it can give rise to disillusionment and disenchantment with worldly things. It must be understood that the condition of disenchantment replaces that of desiring the formerly infatuatingly attractive object, and that this in itself constitutes the insight. It is a fact of nature that the presence of genuine, clear insight implies the presence of genuine disenchantment. It is impossible that the process should stop short at the point of clear insight. Disenchantment displaces desire for the object, and is bound to arise immediately.

Training in morality is simply elementary preparatory practice, which enables us to live happily and helps stabilize the mind. Morality yields various benefits, the most important being the preparing of the way for concentration. Other advantages, such as conducing to happiness or to rebirth as a celestial being, were not considered by the Buddha to be the direct aims of morality. He regarded morality as primarily a means of inducing and developing concentration. As long as things continue to disturb the mind, it can never become concentrated.

Training in concentration consists in developing the ability to control this mind of ours, to make use of it, to make it do its job to the best advantage. Morality is good behavior in respect of body and speech; concentration amounts to good behavior in respect of the mind, and is the fruit of thorough mental training and discipline. The concentrated mind is devoid of all bad, defiling thoughts and does not wander off the object. It is in a fit condition to do its job. Even in ordinary worldly situations, concentration is always a necessity. No matter what we are engaged in, we can hardly do it successfully unless the mind is concentrated. For this reason the Buddha counted concentration as one of the marks of a great man. Regardless of whether a man is to be successful in worldly or in spiritual things, the faculty of concentration is absolutely indispensable. Take even a schoolboy. If he lacks concentration, how can he do arithmetic? The sort of concentration involved in doing arithmetic is natural concentration and is only poorly developed. Concentration as a basic element in Buddhist practice, which is what we are discussing here, is concentration that has been trained and raised to a higher pitch than can develop naturally. Consequently, when the mind has been trained successfully, it comes to have a great many very special abilities, powers and attributes. A person who has managed to derive these benefits from concentration can be said to have moved up a step towards knowing the secrets of nature. He knows how to control the mind, and thus has abilities not possessed by the average person. The perfection of morality is an ordinary human ability. Even if someone makes a display of morality, it is never a superhuman display. On the other hand the attainment of deep concentration was classed by the Buddha as a superhuman ability, which the bhikkhus were never to make a display of. Anyone who did show off this ability was considered no longer a good bhikkhu, or even no longer a bhikkhu at all.

To attain concentration necessitates making sacrifices. We have to put up with varying degrees of hardship, to train and practice, until we have the degree of concentration appropriate to our abilities. Ultimately we shall gain much better results in our work than can the average man, simply because we have better tools at our disposal. So do take an interest in this matter of concentration and don’t go regarding it as something foolish and old-fashioned. It is definitely something of the greatest importance, something worth making use of at all times, especially nowadays when the world seems to be spinning too fast and on the point of going up in flames. There is far more need for concentration now than there was in the time of the Buddha. Don’t get the idea that it is just something for the people in temples, or for cranks.

Now we come to the connection between the training in concentration and the training in insight. The Buddha once said that when the mind is concentrated, it is in a position to see all things as they really are. When the mind is concentrated and fit for work, it will know all things in their true nature. lt. is a strange thing that the answer to any problem a person is trying to solve is usually already present, though concealed, in his very own mind. He is not aware of it, because it is still only subconscious; and as long as he is set on solving the problem, the solution will not come, simply because his mind at that time is not in a fit condition for solving problems. If, when setting about any mental work, a person develops right concentration, that is, if he renders his mind fit for work, the solution to his problem will come to light of its own accord. The moment the mind has become concentrated, the answer will just fall into place. But should the solution still fail to come, there exists another method for directing the mind to the examination of the problem, namely the practice of concentrated introspection referred to as the training in insight. On the day of his enlightenment the Buddha attained insight into the Law of Conditioned Origination, that is, he came to perceive the true nature of things or the “what is what” and the sequence in which they arise, as a result of being concentrated in the way we have just described. The Buddha has related the story in detail, but essentially it amounts to this: as soon as his mind was well concentrated, it was in a position to examine the problem.

It is just when the mind is quiet and cool, in a state of well- being, undisturbed, well concentrated and fresh, that some solution to a persistent problem is arrived at. Insight is always dependent on concentration though we may perhaps never have noticed the fact. Actually the Buddha demonstrated an association even more intimate than this between concentration and insight. He pointed out that concentration is indispensable for insight, and insight, indispensable for concentration at a higher intensity than occurs naturally, requires the presence of understanding of certain characteristics of the mind. 0ne must know in just which way the mind has to be controlled in order that concentration may be induced. So the more insight a person has, the higher degree of concentration he will capable of. Likewise an increase in concentration results in a corresponding increase in insight. Either one of the two factors promotes the other.

Insight implies unobscured vision and consequently disenchantment and boredom. It results in a backing away from all the things one has formerly been madly infatuated with. If one has insight, yet still goes rushing after things, madly craving for them, grasping at and clinging on to them, being infatuated with them., then it cannot be insight in the Buddhist sense. This stopping short and backing away is, of course, not a physical action. One doesn’t actually pick things up and hurl them away or smash them to pieces, nor does one go running off to live in the forest. This is not what is meant. Here we are referring specifically to a mental stopping short and backing away, as a result of which the mind ceases to be a slave to things and becomes a free mind instead. This is what it is like when desire for things has given way to disenchantment. It isn’t a matter of going and committing suicide, or going off to live as a hermit in the forest, or setting fire to everything. Outwardly one is as usual, behaving quite normally with respect to things. Inwardly, however, there is a difference. The mind is independent, free, no longer a slave to things. This is the virtue of insight. The Buddha called this effect Deliverance, escape from slavery to things, in particular the things we like. Actually we are enslaved by the things we dislike too. We are enslaved insofar as we cannot help disliking them and are unable to remain unmoved by them. In disliking things, we are being active, we are becoming emotional about them. They manage to control us just as do the things we like, affecting each of us in a different way. So the expression “slavery to things” refers to the reactions of liking and disliking. All this shows that we can escape from slavery to things and become free by means of insight. The Buddha summed up this principle very briefly by saying: “Insight is the means by which we can purify ourselves.” He did not specify morality or concentration as the means by which we could purify ourselves, but insight, which enables us to escape, which liberates us from things. Not freed from things, one is impure, tainted, infatuated, passionate. Once free, one is pure, spotless, enlightened, tranquil. This is the fruit of insight, the condition that results when insight has done its job completely.

Have a good look at this factor, insight, the third aspect of the threefold training. Get to know it, and you will come to regard it as the highest virtue. Buddhist insight is insight that results in backing away from things by completely destroying the four kinds of attachment. Those four attachments are ropes holding us fast; insight is the knife that can cut those bonds and set us free. With the four attachments gone, there is nothing left to bind us fast to things. Will these three modes of practice stand the test? Are they soundly based and suitable for all in practice? Do examine them. When you have another look at them you will see that these three factors do not conflict with any religious doctrine at all, assuming that the religion in question really aims at remedying the problem of human suffering. The Buddhist teaching does not conflict with any other religion, yet it has some things that no other religion has. In particular it has the practice of insight, which is the superlative technique for eliminating the four attachments. It liberates the mind, rendering it independent and incapable of becoming bound, enslaved, overpowered by anything whatsoever, including God in heaven, spirits, or celestial beings. No other religion is prepared to let the individual free himself completely, or be entirely self reliant We must be fully aware of this principle of self-reliance, which is a key feature of Buddhism.

As soon as we see that Buddhism has everything that any other religion has and also several things that none of them have, we realize that Buddhism is for everyone. Buddhism is the universal religion. It can be put into practice by everyone, in every age and era. People everywhere have the same problem: to free themselves from suffering-suffering which is inherent in birth, aging, pain and death, suffering which stems from desire, from grasping. Everyone without exception, celestial being, human being, or beast, has this same problem, and everyone has the same job to do, namely to eliminate completely the desire, the unskillful grasping which is the root cause of that suffering. Thus Buddhism is the universal religion.