An Anthology from the Pali Canon
The Buddha’s teachings, like the principles they describe, are interrelated in complex ways. It is difficult to point out any one teaching that underlies everything else, as all the teachings are mutually dependent. Nevertheless, there are a number of possible entry points into their pattern, and one of those points is the Buddha’s observation that it is possible to master a skill.
Unlike many of his contemporaries-and many thinkers before and since-the Buddha did not try to reason from abstract principles down to direct experience. As we noted in the Introduction, the Buddha’s contemporaries were influenced by the premier science of their time-astronomy-in the way they viewed experience, and it is easy to see prejudices derived from astronomy at work in their thought: that the universe is composed of discrete bodies acting in line with regular, linear causes; and that human knowledge of these processes has no impact on the way they behave. These prejudices, when applied to human experience, resulted in what the Buddha called theories of being, or what we today would call theories of order: that the processes of the universe can be totally explained in terms of physical principles that follow linear causal patterns unaffected by human intervention. The various conclusions that developed out of this approach differed primarily in how one’s soul-viewed in various ways either as a discrete thing or as a more abstract principle-was to look for release from this vast cosmic machine. Some insisted that action was illusory; others, that action was real but totally determined by fixed rules, serving only to bind one to the impersonal cycle.
In reaction to the theories of being, the Lokayatans proposed a theory of non-being or absolute chaos that, like all reactionary ideologies, was defined largely by what it denied. Although it admitted the primacy of the physical universe, it denied that any causal laws operated on the observable, human level. Everything, the Lokayatans said, was totally spontaneous, random, and chaotic. No personal souls were observable, and thus human identity was composed only of the temporary conjunction of elements that made up the body, terminating when those elements separated at death.
In a manner typical of his approach to problems, the Buddha avoided both sides of this argument by focusing directly on the level of immediate experience and exploring the implications of truths that both sides overlooked. Instead of fixing on the content of the views expressed, he considered the actions of those who were expressing the views. The logic either of total determinism or of total chaos must end in the conclusion that purposeful action is pointless, and yet adherents of both schools continued to act in purposeful ways. The fact that each side advanced an interpretation of reality implied that both agreed that there were skillful and unskillful ways of approaching the truth, for each insisted that the other used unskillful forms of observation and argumentation to advance its views.
Thus the Buddha looked directly at skillful action in and of itself, worked out its implications in viewing knowledge itself as a skill-rather than a body of facts-and found that those implications carried him all the way to release.
We have already touched on how implications drawn from the fact of skillful action shaped the major outlines of the Buddha’s teachings. It will be useful to review those implications here. To begin with, the fact that skills can be developed implies that action is not illusory, that it actually gives results. Otherwise, there would be no such thing as skill, for no actions would be more effective than others. The fact of skillfulness also implies that some results are preferable to others, for otherwise there would be no point in trying to develop skills. In addition, the fact that it is possible to learn from mistakes in the course of developing a skill, so that one’s future actions may be more skillful, implies that the cycle of action, result, and reaction is not entirely deterministic, and that acts of perception, attention, and intention can actually provide new input as the cycle goes through successive turns.
The important element in this input is attention. Anyone who has mastered a skill will realize that the process of attaining mastery requires attention to three things: (1) to pre-existing conditions, (2) to what one is doing in relation to those conditions, and (3) to the results that come from one’s actions. This threefold focus enables one to monitor one’s actions and adjust them accordingly. In this way, one’s attention to conditions, actions, and effects allows the results of an action to feed back into future action, thus allowing for refinement in one’s skill. By working out the implications of these requirements, the Buddha arrived at the principle of this/that conditionality, in which multiple feedback loops-sensitive to pre-existing conditions, to present input, and to their combined outcome-account for the incredible complexity of the world of experience in a way similar to that of modern theories of “deterministic chaos.” In this sense, even though this/that conditionality may seem somewhat alien when viewed in the abstract, it is actually a very familiar but overlooked assumption that underlies all conscious, purposeful action. The Buddha simply explored the implications of this assumption much further than anyone else, all the way to the disbanding of space, time, and the present, together with their inherent stress.
These implications of the fact of skillfulness account for the main framework of the Buddha’s doctrine as expressed in the teachings on the four noble truths, dependent co-arising, and this/that conditionality. Other facets of skillful action also account for more detailed points within this framework. For instance, the Buddha’s exploration of stress and its origination, in the light of skillful action, provided the analysis of mental and physical events (“name-and-form,” nama-rupa) that plays a central role in the second noble truth as expressed in terms of dependent co-arising. The first lesson of skillfulness is that the essence of an action lies in the intention motivating it: an act motivated by the intention for greater skillfulness will give results different from those of an act motivated by greed, aversion, or delusion. Intention, in turn, is influenced by the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the act of attention to one’s circumstances. The less an act of attention is clouded by delusion, the more clearly it will see things in appropriate terms. The combination of attention and intention in turn determines the quality of the feeling and the physical events that result from the act. The more skilled the action, the more refined the feelings and physical events that result. Perceptions arise with regard to those results, some more appropriate than others. The act of attention selects which ones to focus on, thus feeding back into another round in the cycle of action, with all its inherent instabilities and uncertainties. Underlying the entire cycle is the fact that all its factors are in contact with consciousness. This constellation of factors came to form the central causal connection in one of the Buddha’s most basic formulations of dependent co-arising, in which the mutual dependence of “name” (attention, intention, feeling, perception, and contact) and “form” (physical events) on the one hand, and consciousness on the other, accounts for the arising of all stress [§§218, 228].
The interplay of name, form, and consciousness also plays a role in the formulation of the third and fourth noble truths, providing an answer to the quandary of how the stress and suffering inherent in the cycle of action can be ended. If one tried simply to stop the cycle through a direct intention, the intention itself would count as a factor to keep the cycle going. This double bind can be dissolved, however, if one can watch as the contact between consciousness and the cycle naturally falls away. This possibility requires, not an attempt at inaction, but even greater skillfulness in all the factors of action. Convinced that the only way to true happiness would be to find a way out of the cycle, that there had to be such a way, and that this was it, the Bodhisatta developed each of the factors of skillful action to an even higher degree of skill. The most skillful form of attention, he discovered, was to view all of experience in terms of the four noble truths: stress, its origination, its cessation, and the path of practice leading to its cessation. These truths not only formed his most basic teaching [§188], but also played a role in the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress, as the factor of right view. The most skillful form of intention was to engage in the directed thought and evaluation that would lead the mind to the stillness of mental absorption. These factors played a role both as aspects of the path factor of right concentration and as the highest form of the path factor of right resolve [§106]. The most refined forms of feeling and perception were the feelings of pleasure and equanimity and their accompanying levels of perception in the highest states of mental absorption [D.9; §164], later included in the path factor of right concentration as well [§102].
The Wings to Awakening-as alternate expressions of the path to the cessation of stress-are also shaped by the implications of the fact of skillfulness. These implications account directly for the main factors in the Wings-the qualities of equanimity, concentration, and discernment that are needed to develop skillfulness-and indirectly for all the other qualities on which these qualities depend. As expressed in the non-linear pattern of this/that conditionality, these implications also account for the way in which the factors in the Wings must act as supports for one another in a pattern of mutual feedback. And, in the most general terms, the fact that skillfulness leads ultimately to a dimension where skillfulness is transcended, accounts for a paradoxical dynamic common to all seven sets that form the Wings: the meditator must intentionally make use of qualities from which he/she wants to escape, gaining familiarity with them in the course of mastering them to the point where they are naturally stilled. There the transcendent paths and their fruitions take over. This is the sense in which even the path of right practice must eventually be abandoned, but only after it has been brought to the culmination of its development. Many people have misunderstood this point, believing that the Buddha’s teachings on non-attachment require that one relinquish one’s attachment to the path of practice as quickly as possible. Actually, to make a show of abandoning the path before it is fully developed is to abort the entire practice. As one teacher has put it, a person climbing up to a roof by means of a ladder can let go of the ladder only when safely on the roof. In terms of the famous raft simile [§§113-114], one abandons the raft only after crossing the ocean. If one were to abandon it in mid-ocean, to make a show of going spontaneously with the flow of the ocean’s many currents, one could drown.
When the factors of the path are mutually brought to a state of consummation, however, there occurs a point of equipoise called “non-fashioning” (atammayata) [§179], in which their contact with consciousness-still fully conscious-naturally becomes disengaged. One modern teacher has compared this disengagement to that of a fruit naturally falling, when fully ripened, from the tree. This is how the cycle of action is brought to an end. And, as the Buddha discovered, this is how all experience of stress, suffering, and the entire cosmos conditioned by time and the present can be brought to an end as well, leaving the limitless freedom of “consciousness without feature” [§235], the endpoint of all human striving.
Thus we can say that the Dhamma-in terms of doctrine, practice, and attainment-derives from the fully explored implications of one observation: that it is possible to master a skill. This point is reflected not only in the content of the Buddha’s teachings, but also in the way they are expressed. The Buddha used many metaphors, explicit and implicit, citing the skills of craftsmen, artists, and athletes to illustrate his points. The texts abound with explicit similes referring to acrobats, archers, bathmen, butchers, carpenters, farmers, fletchers, herdsmen, musicians, painters, etc., pointing out how their skills correspond either to the way the mind fashions stress and suffering for itself, or to the skills a meditator needs to develop in order to master the path to release. On the implicit level, the passages dealing with meditation are filled with terms derived from music theory. In his younger days as a prince, the Bodhisatta-like other young aristocrats of his time-was undoubtedly a connoisseur of the musical arts, and so was naturally familiar with the theory that lay behind them. Because the terminology of this theory is so pervasive in the teachings he formulated as a Buddha, it will be useful to discuss it here briefly.
Unfortunately, we do not have a full treatise on the theory of musical performance as practiced during the Buddha’s time, but there are enough references to music scattered through the texts for us to sketch the outlines of that theory. The first step in performance was to tune one’s instrument, “establishing” one’s tonic note (literally, “base,” thana) to make it on-pitch (“even,” or sama), then to fine-tune or attune (“ferret out” or “penetrate”) the remaining notes (again, “bases”) of the scale in relation to the tonic. This required a great deal of skill, sensitivity, and some mathematical knowledge, as the well-tempered scale had not yet been developed, and many different ways of calculating the scale were in use, each appropriate to a different emotion. The musician then picked up the theme (nimitta) of the composition. The theme functioned in several ways, and thus the word “theme” carried several meanings. On the one hand it was the essential message of the piece, the image or impression that the performer wanted to leave in the listener’s mind. On the other hand, it was the governing principle that determined what ornamentation or variations would be suitable to the piece.
These musical terms recur throughout the Buddha’s discussion of meditation [§§66, 74, 86, 150, 161, etc.]. For instance, in one context the Buddha says that one should establish one’s persistence to the right pitch, attune the remaining faculties to that pitch, and then pick up one’s theme. In other contexts, he says that one should become attuned to a particular theme, or that one should develop meditation in tune with a particular object. Impossibilities are said to be “non-base,” analogous to tones that cannot function as musical notes. There are enough passages to show that the Buddha used this terminology conscious of its musical connotations, and that he wanted to make the point that the practice of meditation was similar to the art of musical performance. We should thus try to be sensitive to these terms and their implications, for the comparison between music and meditation is a useful one.
In the most general sense, this comparison underlines the fact that the knowledge needed for release from suffering is the same sort as that involved in mastering a skill-a continued focus on the present, a sensitivity to one’s context, one’s own actions, and their combined consequences, rather than a command of an abstract body of facts. To develop the path is to become more and more sensitive to the present-in particular, more sensitive to one’s own sensitivity and its consequences. This is similar to the way in which a musician must learn to listen to his/her own performance, a process that ultimately involves listening to the quality of one’s listening itself. The greater one’s sensitivity in listening, the more profound one’s performances become. In the same way, the greater one’s sensitivity to one’s own mind in the development of skillful qualities, the more one abandons the causes of suffering and realizes its cessation.
In addition to this general observation, the comparison between music and meditation highlights a number of practical points in the development of meditative skill. First, it underscores the need for flexibility and ingenuity in the practice, tempered by an awareness of the limits of how far that flexibility can go. A skilled musician in the Buddha’s time had to master not one but many tuning systems so as to handle a full range of musical themes, while simultaneously knowing which ways of tuning were unworkable. In the same way, a skilled meditator should know of many valid ways of tuning the mind to the theme of its meditation-and should have a command of them all so as to deal with various contingencies as they arise-but at the same time must be aware that some varieties of meditation simply do not lead to Awakening. In this light, the seven sets of the Wings to Awakening can be viewed as the Buddha’s complete list of workable systems for tuning the mind. (There is evidence suggesting that seven is the number of musical tuning systems (gramaraga) recognized in the Buddha’s time.) The implication here is that any path of practice deviating from these systems would be like an instrument tuned to a discordant scale, and would not be in harmony with the way of the contemplative (samana) who aims at a life in tune (sama) with the Dhamma.
A second point is that the musical analogy makes vivid the need for balance in meditative practice, a lesson that appears repeatedly in the texts [§§66, 86, 97, 161]. Just as a musical instrument should neither be too sharp nor too flat, the mind on the path has to find a balance between excessive energy and excessive stillness. At the same time, it must constantly watch out for the tendency for its energy to slacken in the same way that stringed instruments tend to go flat. The “rightness” of right view and other factors of the path thus carries the connotation not only of being correct, but also of being “just right.”
A third point is that this analogy helps clarify passages in the texts that speak of attaining the goal without effort [§62]. Taken out of context, these passages seem to contradict or totally negate the many other passages that focus on the need for effort in the practice. Viewed in context of the music analogy, however, they make perfect sense. Like a musical virtuoso, one develops skill to the point where it becomes effortless, but the perfection of the skill does not negate the fact that it took a great deal of effort to reach that level of mastery.
In fact, the Buddha’s path is a meta-skill-the full art or science of skillfulness, in and of itself-in which one focuses on the mind as the source of what is skillful and unskillful, learns to deal skillfully with unskillful states of mind, then to deal more skillfully even with skillful states to the point of focusing not on the skill, but on the skill of acquiring a skill, so that one ultimately sees what lies both in the skillfulness and beyond [§61].
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The passages included in this first section cover three themes: (1) how the distinction between what is skillful and not is fundamental to the practice; (2) how to determine what is skillful and not; and (3) how to become skillful in developing skillful states of mind. Because these issues are so basic, the passages are fairly self-explanatory. However, they have a few facets that are easy to overlook.
First, it is important to note that the definition of skillful states of mind as free of greed, aversion, and delusion, provides a convenient rule of thumb for distinguishing between intentions that are merely good and those that are actually skillful. Sometimes good intentions are colored by ignorance, as when one tries to help another person without knowing the true source of that person’s problem. This would qualify as a good but not a skillful intention. As we have noticed, the processes of causality are sensitive and complex. Thus there is no getting by on well-meaning intentions alone. One must monitor one’s actions continually to make sure that they are in fact appropriate to the present situation and are not based on ignorance. Delusion, even well-meaning delusion, is a source for unskillful acts. For this reason, one needs to be constantly observant of one’s actions and their effects [§6] so that one’s good intentions can truly become skillful, and one’s actions can actually do justice to the specific conditions in the here and now produced by the process of this/that conditionality.
Second, the distinction between skillful and unskillful provides an insightful explanation for the causes for good and evil behavior. This distinction is not limited to the values of any particular society, and it avoids the issue of whether beings are inherently good or bad. When people act in evil ways, it is because they lack skill in the way they think; when they think in skillful ways, they naturally will do good. Because skill is something that can be acquired, the way to goodness is open for all people who want to be good, no matter how badly they have behaved in the past. The Canon tells of people who had committed misdeeds and, upon realizing their mistakes, confessed them to the Buddha. The most striking instance was King Ajatasattu [D.2], who had killed his father in order to secure his position on the throne. In spite of the gross nature of the deed, the Buddha approved of the king’s confession, and-instead of playing on any feelings of guilt the king might have had-encouraged him in his determination to mend his ways, adding that it is a cause for progress in the noble way if one realizes one’s mistakes as such and resolves not to repeat them. Thus it is always possible to make a fresh start in life, aware of one’s past bad kamma and resolving to mend one’s ways, unburdened with any feelings that one might be inherently unworthy or bad.
Third, it is important to note the two basic factors, internal and external, that enable one to tell what is skillful and unskillful. The main internal factor is “appropriate attention,” [§53] which is well illustrated in [§1]. One learns to view one’s thoughts objectively, without partiality, in terms of their actual consequences. As this factor develops from a sense of conviction in the principle of kamma [§§9-17], it turns into the ability to view all of experience in terms of the four noble truths [§51]. The main external factor is friendship with admirable people [§54], defined as those who live by the principle of kamma. From their teachings, one can learn the advisability of trying to develop skillfulness in the first place; in their behavior, one can see skillfulness in action. These internal and external factors reinforce one another, in that skillful attitudes lead one to seek out admirable people to begin with, and admirable people lead one by word and example to see the less obvious advantages of skillful attitudes.
Fortunately, every human being alive has some skillful qualities in his or her mind, as well as access to people who are admirable on at least some level. Thus no one consciously starting on the Buddhist path is starting from scratch. Rather, each person is advised to make the most of opportunities that have already been present and to search for further opportunities to develop the mind in a skillful direction.
The two prerequisites for skillfulness are amplified in [§2]. The discourse from which this passage comes-the Discourse to the Kalamas-is often referred to as the Buddha’s charter of free inquiry, because of the emphasis it lays on seeing the truth for oneself, without reliance on outside authority. This interpretation, however, misses one of the important clauses in the discourse, where the Buddha says that one must take note of what wise people censure and praise. In other words, one must check one’s own perceptions against those of people of upright character and solid experience, for until one gains Awakening, one’s perceptions are bound to be partial and biased. This is why the Buddha says [§115] that friendship with admirable people-which begins with the ability to recognize admirable people-is the whole of the life of practice.
The interaction between appropriate attention and friendship with admirable people in mastering skillful mental qualities is well-illustrated in[§6]. This passage, in which the Buddha shortly after his Awakening is instructing his seven-year-old son (who was born just before Prince Siddhartha left home), shows very explicitly how one develops appropriate attention by reflecting on the consequences of one’s actions before, while, and after acting. If one realizes, after acting, that what looked like a proper action before and while acting actually turned out to have unfavorable consequences, one should confess the mistake to one’s experienced friends on the path. This allows one to benefit from their counsel and also to make public one’s resolve not to make the same mistake again. In this way, although one is responsible for treading the path oneself, one can benefit from the wisdom and encouragement of those already familiar with the way.
§ 1. Before my self-awakening, when I was still just an unawakened Bodhisatta, the thought occurred to me: ‘Why don’t I keep dividing my thinking into two classes?’ So I made thinking imbued with sensuality, thinking imbued with ill will, and thinking imbued with harmfulness one class, and thinking imbued with renunciation, thinking imbued with non-ill will, and thinking imbued with harmlessness another class.
And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, and resolute, thinking imbued with sensuality arose. I discerned that ‘Thinking imbued with sensuality has arisen in me; and that leads to my own affliction or to the affliction of others or to the affliction of both. It obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, and does not lead to Unbinding.’
As I noticed that it leads to my own affliction, it subsided. As I noticed that it leads to the affliction of others…to the affliction of both…it obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, and does not lead to Unbinding, it subsided. Whenever thinking imbued with sensuality had arisen, I simply abandoned it, destroyed it, dispelled it, wiped it out of existence. (Similarly with thinking imbued with ill will and harmfulness.)
Whatever a monk keeps pursuing with his thinking and pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness. If a monk keeps pursuing thinking imbued with sensuality, abandoning thinking imbued with renunciation, his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with sensuality. (Similarly with thinking imbued with ill will and harmfulness.)
Just as in the last month of the Rains, in the autumn season when the crops are ripening, a cowherd would look after his cows: He would tap and poke and check and curb them with a stick on this side and that. Why is that? Because he foresees flogging or imprisonment or a fine or public censure arising from that [if he let his cows wander into the crops]. In the same way I foresaw in unskillful qualities drawbacks, degradation, and defilement, and I foresaw in skillful qualities rewards related to renunciation and promoting cleansing.
And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, and resolute, thinking imbued with renunciation arose. I discerned that ‘Thinking imbued with renunciation has arisen in me; and that leads neither to my own affliction, nor to the affliction of others, nor to the affliction of both. It fosters discernment, promotes lack of vexation, and leads to Unbinding. If I were to think and ponder in line with that even for a night…even for a day…even for a day and night, I do not envision any danger that would come from it, except that thinking and pondering a long time would tire the body. When the body is tired, the mind is disturbed; and a disturbed mind is far from concentration.’ So I steadied my mind right within, settled, unified, and concentrated it. Why is that? So that my mind would not be disturbed. (Similarly with thinking imbued with non-ill will and harmlessness.)
Whatever a monk keeps pursuing with his thinking and pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness. If a monk keeps pursuing thinking imbued with renunciation, abandoning thinking imbued with sensuality, his mind is bent by that thinking imbued with renunciation. (Similarly with thinking imbued with non-ill will and harmlessness.)
Just as in the last month of the hot season, when all the crops have been gathered into the village, a cowherd would look after his cows: While resting under the shade of a tree or out in the open, he simply keeps himself mindful of ‘those cows.’ In the same way, I simply kept myself mindful of ‘those mental qualities.’
Unflagging persistence was aroused in me, and unmuddled mindfulness established. My body was calm and unaroused, my mind concentrated and single. Quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, I entered and remained in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. With the stilling of directed thought and evaluation, I entered and remained in the second jhana: rapture and pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought and evaluation-internal assurance. With the fading of rapture I remained in equanimity, mindful and alert, and physically sensitive of pleasure. I entered and remained in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous and mindful, he has a pleasurable abiding.’ With the abandoning of pleasure and pain-as with the earlier disappearance of elation and distress-I entered and remained in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity and mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain.
When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of recollecting my past lives. I recollected my manifold past lives, i.e., one birth, two…five, ten…fifty, a hundred, a thousand, a hundred thousand, many eons of cosmic contraction, many eons of cosmic expansion, many eons of cosmic contraction and expansion: ‘There I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose there. There too I had such a name, belonged to such a clan, had such an appearance. Such was my food, such my experience of pleasure and pain, such the end of my life. Passing away from that state, I re-arose here.’ Thus I remembered my manifold past lives in their modes and details.
This was the first knowledge I attained in the first watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed; knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed; light arose-as happens in one who is heedful, ardent, and resolute.
When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of the passing away and reappearance of beings. I saw-by means of the divine eye, purified and surpassing the human-beings passing away and re-appearing, and I discerned how they are inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate in accordance with their kamma: ‘These beings-who were endowed with bad conduct of body, speech and mind, who reviled the Noble Ones, held wrong views and undertook actions under the influence of wrong views-with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. But these beings-who were endowed with good conduct of body, speech, and mind, who did not revile the Noble Ones, who held right views and undertook actions under the influence of right views-with the break-up of the body, after death, have re-appeared in the good destinations, in the heavenly world.’ Thus-by means of the divine eye, purified and surpassing the human-I saw beings passing away and re-appearing, and I discerned how they are inferior and superior, beautiful and ugly, fortunate and unfortunate in accordance with their kamma.
This was the second knowledge I attained in the second watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed; knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed; light arose-as happens in one who is heedful, ardent, and resolute.
When the mind was thus concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of defilement, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, I directed it to the knowledge of the ending of the mental effluents. I discerned, as it was actually present, that ‘This is stress…This is the origination of stress…This is the cessation of stress…This is the way leading to the cessation of stress…These are effluents…This is the origination of effluents…This is the cessation of effluents…This is the way leading to the cessation of effluents.’ My heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, was released from the effluent of sensuality, released from the effluent of becoming, released from the effluent of ignorance. With release, there was the knowledge, ‘Released.’ I discerned that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’
This was the third knowledge I attained in the third watch of the night. Ignorance was destroyed; knowledge arose; darkness was destroyed; light arose-as happens in one who is heedful, ardent, and resolute.
§ 2. As they were sitting to one side, the Kalamas of Kesaputta said to the Blessed One, ‘Venerable sir, there are some priests and contemplatives who come to Kesaputta. They expound and glorify their own doctrines, but as for the doctrines of others, they deprecate them, revile them, show contempt for them, and disparage them. And then other priests and contemplatives come to Kesaputta. They expound and glorify their own doctrines, but as for the doctrines of others, they deprecate them, revile them, show contempt for them, and disparage them. They leave us simply uncertain and doubtful: Which of these venerable priests and contemplatives are speaking the truth, and which ones are lying?’
‘Of course you are uncertain, Kalamas. Of course you are doubtful. When there are reasons for doubt, uncertainty is born. So in this case, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement with your views, by probability, or by the thought, “This contemplative is our teacher.” When you know for yourselves that, “These qualities are unskillful; these qualities are blameworthy; these qualities are criticized by the wise; these qualities, when undertaken and carried out, lead to harm and to suffering”-then you should abandon them…
‘How do you construe this, Kalamas? When greed arises in a person, does it arise for welfare or for harm?’
‘For harm, lord.’
‘And this greedy person, overcome by greed, his mind possessed by greed: Doesn’t he kill living beings, take what is not given, go after another person’s wife, tell lies, and induce others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term harm and suffering?’
(Similarly for aversion and delusion.)
So what do you think, Kalamas: Are these qualities skillful or unskillful?’
‘Blameworthy or blameless?’
‘Criticized by the wise or praised by the wise?’
‘Criticized by the wise, lord.’
‘When undertaken and carried out, do they lead to harm and to suffering, or not?’
‘When undertaken and carried out, they lead to harm and to suffering…’
‘…Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement with your views, by probability, or by the thought, “This contemplative is our teacher.” When you know for yourselves that, “These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when undertaken and carried out, lead to welfare and to happiness”-then you should enter and remain in them.
‘How do you construe this, Kalamas? When lack of greed arises in a person, does it arise for welfare or for harm?’
‘For welfare, lord.’
‘And this ungreedy person, not overcome by greed, his mind not possessed by greed: He doesn’t kill living beings, take what is not given, go after another person’s wife, tell lies, or induce others to do likewise, all of which is for long-term welfare and happiness-right?’
(Similarly for lack of aversion and lack of delusion.)
So what do you think, Kalamas: Are these qualities skillful or unskillful?’
‘Blameworthy or blameless?’
‘Criticized by the wise or praised by the wise?’
‘Praised by the wise, lord.’
‘When undertaken and carried out, do they lead to welfare and to happiness, or not?’
‘When undertaken and carried out, they lead to welfare and to happiness…’
§ 3. Now what is unskillful? Taking life is unskillful, taking what is not given…sexual misconduct…lying…abusive speech…divisive tale-bearing…idle chatter is unskillful. Covetousness…ill will…wrong views are unskillful. These things are termed unskillful.
And what are the roots of unskillful things? Greed is a root of unskillful things, aversion is a root of unskillful things, delusion is a root of unskillful things. These are termed the roots of unskillful things.
And what is skillful? Abstaining from taking life is skillful, abstaining from taking what is not given…from sexual misconduct…from lying…from abusive speech…from divisive tale-bearing…abstaining from idle chatter is skillful. Lack of covetousness…lack of ill will…right views are skillful. These things are termed skillful.
And what are the roots of skillful things? Lack of greed is a root of skillful things, lack of aversion is a root of skillful things, lack of delusion is a root of skillful things. These are termed the roots of skillful things.
§ 4. The Tathagata, the Worthy one, the Rightly Self-awakened One has two Dhamma discourses given in sequence. Which two? ‘See evil as evil.’ This is the first Dhamma discourse. ‘Having seen evil as evil, become disenchanted with it, dispassionate toward it, freed from it.’ This is the second Dhamma discourse….
Be dispassionate toward evil.
With a mind dispassionate toward evil
You will make an end of stress.
§ 5. Abandon what is unskillful, monks. It is possible to abandon what is unskillful. If it were not possible to abandon what is unskillful, I would not say to you, ‘Abandon what is unskillful.’ But because it is possible to abandon what is unskillful, I say to you, ‘Abandon what is unskillful.’ If this abandoning of what is unskillful were conducive to harm and pain, I would not say to you, ‘Abandon what is unskillful.’ But because this abandoning of what is unskillful is conducive to benefit and pleasure, I say to you, ‘Abandon what is unskillful.’
Develop what is skillful, monks. It is possible to develop what is skillful. If it were not possible to develop what is skillful, I would not say to you, ‘Develop what is skillful.’ But because it is possible to develop what is skillful, I say to you, ‘Develop what is skillful.’ If this development of what is skillful were conducive to harm and pain, I would not say to you, ‘Develop what is skillful.’ But because this development of what is skillful is conducive to benefit and pleasure, I say to you, ‘Develop what is skillful.’
§ 6. The Buddha: How do you construe this, Rahula: What is a mirror for?
Rahula: For reflection, sir.
The Buddha: In the same way, Rahula, bodily acts, verbal acts, and mental acts are to be done with repeated reflection.
Whenever you want to perform a bodily act, you should reflect on it: ‘This bodily act I want to perform-would it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful bodily act, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskillful bodily act with painful consequences, painful results, then any bodily act of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do. But if on reflection you know that it would not cause affliction…it would be a skillful bodily act with happy consequences, happy results, then any bodily act of that sort is fit for you to do.
(Similarly with verbal acts and mental acts.)
While you are performing a bodily act, you should reflect on it: ‘This bodily act I am doing-is it leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful bodily act, with painful consequences, painful results?’ If, on reflection, you know that it is leading to self-affliction, to affliction of others, or both…you should give it up. But if on reflection you know that it is not…you may continue with it.
(Similarly with verbal acts and mental acts.)
Having performed a bodily act, you should reflect on it….If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful bodily act with painful consequences, painful results, then you should confess it, reveal it, lay it open to the Teacher or to a knowledgeable companion in the holy life. Having confessed it…you should exercise restraint in the future. But if on reflection you know that it did not lead to affliction…it was a skillful bodily act with happy consequences, happy results, then you should stay mentally refreshed and joyful, training day and night in skillful mental qualities.
(Similarly with verbal acts.)
Having performed a mental act, you should reflect on it….If, on reflection, you know that it led to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it was an unskillful mental act with painful consequences, painful results, then you should feel horrified, humiliated, and disgusted with it. Feeling horrified… you should exercise restraint in the future. But if on reflection you know that it did not lead to affliction…it was a skillful mental act with happy consequences, happy results, then you should stay mentally refreshed and joyful, training day and night in skillful mental qualities.
Rahula, all the priests and contemplatives in the course of the past who purified their bodily acts, verbal acts, and mental acts, did it through repeated reflection on their bodily acts, verbal acts, and mental acts in just this way.
All the priests and contemplatives in the course of the future…All the priests and contemplatives at present who purify their bodily acts, verbal acts, and mental acts, do it through repeated reflection on their bodily acts, verbal acts, and mental acts in just this way.
Therefore, Rahula, you should train yourself: ‘I will purify my bodily acts through repeated reflection. I will purify my verbal acts through repeated reflection. I will purify my mental acts through repeated reflection.’ Thus you should train yourself.
That is what the Blessed One said. Pleased, Ven. Rahula delighted in the Blessed One’s words.
§ 7. The non-doing of any evil,
the performance of what’s skillful,
the cleansing of one’s own mind:
This is the Buddhas’ teaching.
Not disparaging, not injuring,
restraint in line with the Patimokkha,
moderation in food,
dwelling in seclusion,
commitment to the heightened mind:
This is the Buddhas’ teaching.