This is my understanding from study and practice of the Buddha's teaching. If you have followed the study method the Buddha gave for his teaching and you see Wrong View here, please let me know, out of compassion. It is easy to claim one is teaching the Buddha’s Teaching, but to do so with minor, or little reference to what he actually said, is a very foolish and dangerous situation to be in. I am not providing references to all the quotes of the Buddha I refer to below, as I have done that in my book.
So far we have looked at Ethics and Meditation. These were taught even before the Buddha came along. The religious teachers of his time taught deep, trance-like states of meditation [formless state of consciousness] were total liberation. This would have been because they were so blissful and seemed so liberating. In the first formless state of consciousness, one loses the distinction between oneself and others. Hinduism teaches it is ideas of self that are the problem, that separate us from God/Soul/Atmaa or true happiness. That is a metaphysical teaching and it has a superficial attraction, but the Buddha's teaching is much more subtle than that. In psychology the distinction between oneself and others is considered a necessary part of mental development and necessary for proper functioning in the world. The Buddha's teaching does not contradict modern science. Ideas of self and other are in the first level of everyday experience that these formless states of consciousness suppress. In deeper states, ideas /concepts /labels /words /names themselves stop. Words are also seen as a necessary part of everyday life. In even deeper states, experience itself stops. It is a type of self-induced coma. Where all possible bodily and mental functions have stopped, but one still remains alive. In the Books of the Discipline the Buddha taught that he only teaches to stop unwholesome practices [activities], not all practices [activities].
Even wisdom was around before the Buddha taught. The Buddha acknowledged his former unenlightened teachers had wisdom. He said they would have understood his teaching quickly. They may have understood to some degree: impermanence, stress/suffering and "non-soul" or "non-Self", but the Buddha said their wisdom was incomplete. Hindus and Christians know that the body is impermanent, stressful and not Self or not soul. Hindu yogis still cling to impermanent [though very blissful] formless states of consciousness as the permanent and ultimate truth.
The Buddha often talks of Wisdom. Now either such talks are about the same thing and fit in together, or they are secret doctrine that needs to be interpreted for the reader by a third party. By applying the Buddha’s study method for his teaching, we can let him interpret his teaching for us. He can be the teacher of his teaching. From doing this study, the message I get from the Buddha is: Wisdom is understanding cause and effect in the sphere of personal experience, specifically the experience of suffering, or stress.
These are the main teachings on Wisdom, or Insight, by the Buddha that I can call to mind: Dependent Origination, the Four Noble Truths and the 12 Insights in the First Discourse [that is the 4 Noble Truths x 3 phases of: definition - seeing what it is properly, ought to be…, has been…]. Now either these are about the same thing or not. Yet another teaching on Wisdom is the 3 Characteristics, which are called “the path to purity”. The Noble Eightfold Path is also called the path to purity. Now, either the 3 Characteristics and the Noble Eightfold Path just mentioned, represent different paths and cannot be THE path, or they represent the same path. Another two very interesting ones are the ones called “The Only Way to Purification” - taught to Raahula and the “The Only Way” - taught in the Discourse on Mindfulness. Now, either these two also represent different paths and cannot be the ONLY way, or they represent the same path. Lastly the Three Knowledges the Buddha developed on the night of his enlightenment need to be examined. They are mentioned in other discourses in the place accorded to Wisdom, that is, after Meditation.
If we thought any one presentation IS or IS NOT the path, then we would be clinging to the letter, or a particular form of a teaching from the Buddha. The Buddha would have us see both the letter AND the spirit, or essence of what he taught. That is why he gave us the study method. Without seeing the spirit or essence, we cannot see if a particular form or presentation of a teaching is authentic, and we cannot see the spirit of a teaching, without the letter. It’s like the body and mind. They are inter-related and “bound up with each other."
When we compare the teachings on Insight or Wisdom, we can see that they are inter-related; that they are saying the same thing in different ways. If we don't understand the meaning of wisdom in one discourse, we can compare other discourses that talk about it. The table below is an example of this. The understanding developed from this type of study will help us move on to the question of, “HOW do we develop wisdom?” Progress on the path is dependent on Right Understanding.
Experience is analysed by the Buddha as made up of five components: form, sensation, concept, formation and consciousness. These five components are listed from the most blatant to the subtlest. It is unenlightened experience if these five are infected with clinging and vice versa. See the discourse below.
Translated from the Paali
[SN 22.48 = PTS: S iii 47]
By Joe Smith
At Saavatthi. There the Fortunate One said:
"Mendicants, I will teach you the five components & the five clinging-components. Listen & pay close attention. I will speak."
"Yes sir," the mendicants responded.
The Fortunate One said:
Now what, mendicants, are the five components?
Whatever form is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: that is called the component of form.
Whatever sensation is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: that is called the component of sensation.
Whatever concept is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: that is called the component of concept.
Whatever formation is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: those are called the component of formation.
Whatever consciousness is past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near: that is called the component of consciousness.
These are called the five components.
And what are the five clinging-components?
Whatever form — past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near — is clingable, offers sustenance for suffering, and is accompanied with mental fermentation: that is called form as a clinging-component.
Whatever sensation — past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near — is clingable, offers sustenance for suffering, and is accompanied with mental fermentation: that is called sensation as a clinging-component.
Whatever concept — past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near — is clingable, offers sustenance for suffering, and is accompanied with mental fermentation: that is called concept as a clinging-component.
Whatever formation — past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near — is clingable, offers sustenance for suffering, and is accompanied with mental fermentation: that is called formation as a clinging-component.
Whatever consciousness — past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near — is clingable, offers sustenance for suffering, and is accompanied with mental fermentation: that is called consciousness as a clinging-component.
These are called the five clinging-components.
|The Five Clinging Components||The Five Components|
|Extracts from the Pali texts, usually used in Thailand during the Morning Chanting, highlight the two different groups of components and their relation to the 3 Characteristics. For a long time I noticed the discrepancy, but thought it was an error in transmission.|
|Mayan-tam dhammam sutvaa evam jaanaama,
Having heard the Dhamma, we know this:
Jaatipi dukkhaa jaraapi dukkhaa maranampi dukkham,
Birth is stress, aging is stress, death is stress,
Soka-parideva dukkhaa, domanass(a)-upaayaasaapi dukkhaa,
Sorrow & grief are stress, distress & despair are stress,
Appiyehi sampayogo dukkho piyehi vippayogo dukkhaa, yampiccham na labhati tampi dukkham,
Union with the disliked is stress, separation from the liked is stress, not getting what one wants is stress,
Sankhittena panyc(a)-upaadaana(k)-khandhaa dukkhaa,
In short, the five clinging-components are stress,
Form as a clinging-component,
Sensation as a clinging-component,
Idea as a clinging-component,
Mental process as a clinging-component,
Consciousness as a clinging-component
Yesam parinynyaaya, dharamaano so bhagavaa, evam bahulam saavake vineti,
So that they might fully understand this, the Fortunate One, while still alive, often instructed his listeners in this way;
Evam bhaagaa ca panassa bhagavato saavakesu anusaasanii. Bahulam pavattati:
Many times did he emphasize this part of his admonition:
Form is inconstant,
Sensation is inconstant,
Idea is inconstant,
Emotion is inconstant,
Consciousness is inconstant,
Form is not-soul,
Sensation is not-soul,
Idea is not-soul,
Emotion is not-soul,
Consciousness is not-soul.
|These have uupaadaana - clinging, therefore are suffering [as well as impermanent and not-soul].||The five components, when seen rightly, as they truly are, do not have uupaadaana - clinging, therefore are not suffering, but are still impermanent and not-soul.|
|These could be seen as the definition of "suffering experience" or "life with suffering", the everyday experience of someone who is not fully enlightened.||These could be seen as the definition of "experience without suffering" or "a truly happy/satisfying life".|
|This is the summary definition the Buddha gave for the First Noble Truth. To have suffering, we must have "clinging".||These could be seen as the definition of "experience without suffering" or "a truly happy/satisfying life". This would be the experience of the Buddha from the time of his realisation under the Bodhi tree - and the experience of Arahant [fully enlightened] disciples. The Buddha said from that time he was "liberated without remainder", that is the age of 35.
Later [commentarial] interpretations of the Buddha's teaching, which ascribe suffering to the body in some way, like other religions, maintain that the Buddha was not "liberated without remainder" [totally free from suffering] till he attained "Parinibbaana" at the end of his life, age 80.
You can decided which teaching is more inspiring, that of the commentators or the Buddha himself. Those that have "unshakable faith in the Buddha", proclaim him as "the supreme teacher" [anuttaro purisadammasaarathi]. Why would they then look to others to understand the Buddha's teaching, as if the Buddha needed help to teach?
|Therefore an accurate paraphrase of the Frist Noble Truth would be, "Clinging life is suffering" not, "life is suffering".||The Five Components = life without suffering, a happy life.|
Each of the five components, whether it is unenlightened or enlightened experience are said to be conditioned and therefore impermanent and therefore cannot be relied on as a permanent base or essence, a permanent Self, spirit or soul. The difference between unenlightened or enlightened experience is: relating to them from a position of understanding how they really are, or not, clinging to them or not. Each of the five components is said in the discourse above and elsewhere, to cover a board range of types: “past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near”.
I will call "the five components”, "[the analysis of] self” for short and the “five clinging components” as "[the analysis of] ego” for short. The reason for the latter is, it matches the general use of “ego” as a thing that causes problems, as in “he is egotistic”. Whereas, regarding the former, having a good sense of self is understood in modern psychology as a healthy thing. The Buddha's teaching incorporates the wisdom of the day [worldly wisdom] and goes beyond it. The Buddha's teaching does not contradict worldly wisdom. That is why the Dalai Lama says "I discourage my followers from practising anything that is against science."
“Self” understood as “impermanent” is not in conflict with the Buddha’s teaching. If “self” is used intentionally [with a capital “s”], to indicate something more, which is permanent, then that “Self” is in conflict with the Buddha’s teaching and would just be another word for “soul”. Soul and Self, are in conflict with the Buddha’s teaching because his analysis of self is / the five components mentioned are, impermanent and conditioned. Therefore they cannot be a Self or soul, which are defined to be permanent and unconditioned.
The dogma that "the Buddha taught 'impermanence, suffering and [there is] no self/soul.' comes from the full sentences of the 3 Characteristics in the first table above. It is the last idea here that is the most misinformed. If you read the WHOLE sentence of the third characteristic, you see it says "all formations [or "dhammas" in Paali] are NOT soul". It does not say the dogma "there is no soul", which you will not find the Buddha saying ANYWHERE in the first four [the earliest] collections of his teaching. He also does NOT say "there IS a soul", as that is the other extreme dogmatic belief. This kind of misquoting texts, or taking them out of context, is common in a religious, dogmatic mind-set.
We must be VERY careful here, that we don’t get into dogmatic stances like “there is no Self” or “there is no soul” or the opposite. The Buddha didn’t teach dogma and those that take those dogmatic stances have missed the PRACTICE of seeing things as they are with wise reflection, as the Buddha taught, and instead they have gotten caught up in views. You will not find anywhere the Buddha saying “there is…” or “there isn’t…” as dogmatic stances, like “there is [or is not] a Self or soul". He taught “there is/this exists” [“atthi”] and “there isn’t/this doesn’t exist” [“n’atthi”] are two extreme and dogmatic views, which his teaching avoids, as with all extremes. [SN 12:15; ii 16-17]
If there is no self at all, that is, not even an impermanent self, then there is no use talking about a path out of suffering, for there is no one that suffers. There is also no owner of action and its consequence. Therefore the Buddha's teaching is useless. On the other hand, if there is an impermanent self that suffers, then the Buddha's teaching is useful and if it is true, we can liberate that impermanent self, from that impermanent suffering, if we know how. Equanimity, passively watching the suffering come and go, is seen by Hindu practitioners as liberation, but not in the Buddha's teaching. Equanimity is seen as a quality that is needed and that is used to develop Wisdom, that is, understanding the causes for that impermanent suffering. So that we can end the causes and develop the causes of happiness, in the end the ultimate happiness, total freedom from greed, hatred and delusion, that is, Nibbaana/Nirvaarna. This development of wisdom is an active process and training. It is not simply watching things come and go with equanimity ["indifference" when clung to in the abovementioned way].
I think, if you investigate, you will see that common everyday experience has only these five things and nothing more. For example, from my meditation practice I see thought to be usually made up of both an audio and visual aspect, that is "concept" [item 3 below] and "form" [item 1 below]. Wandering mind is like watching a movie [with images and sounds], which originates from the sub-conscious.
Suffering is the ego-developing process of clinging to any one of these five components as "I" "me" or "myself". This involves a self-identification or self-image statement in the form of "I am..." or "I am not..." This changes the component to a "clinging" component and suffering. The tendency to do this is called the "I am conceit" and is the fundamental suffering in the Buddha's teaching. [re "I" "me" and "mine"]
On the path the Buddha taught, Right View is to understand all five components of clinging as they truly are, impermanent, suffering and not soul or not Self. The first time one applies the theory to a personal experience of suffering [clinging to one of the five components, the more blatant to the subtler] and thereby releases oneself from suffering, one has attained right view which is not associated with the taints. It is the first taste of Wisdom. One has at that time become a "Stream Enterer" with "unshakable faith in the Triple Gem and with Noble unbroken Ethics". One then has to start transforming one's thought, word and deed to this new view. To do so, one has to perfect one's Concentration and Wisdom in everyday life, in any of the four wholesome lifestyles: layperson [5 precepts], non family-oriented layperson [8 precepts], novice mendicant [10 precepts] or full mendicant [200+ precepts]. From the time of attaining Right View one is said to be "bound for full enlightenment" and no longer capable of taking birth in a lower realm". Not being able to take birth in a lower realm, is due to the fact that one has Noble unbroken Ethics.
Recalling the discussion on Ethics, this means that one still may have "bad habits". So those that do not understand the definition of Ethics can easily misjudge a Noble Person. Noble People do not judge others, but they do judge behaviour as wholesome or unwholesome. This is in accordance with the teaching on Non-Conflict [MN 139; iii 230-237]
A general example of applying wisdom to a stressful experience, or experience of suffering is as follows. Let's say someone called me "a false monk" and did not give detail. Now the Buddha taught that when someone offers criticism, we should not react, but investigate their claim for any truth. This criticism is a personal attack. No detail is given. There would be some THING I said or did, that they consider is "false", but they were caught in Wrong View and judged me as a false person, simply based on that ONE behaviour [part of the first of the five components - form], or possibly a few behaviours, or possible a consistent habit of mine. In their blind anger, they could not keep it as a criticism of that behaviour, but made it a personal attack. If I have a chance to talk to them reasonably, I might find out the specific behaviour. If I do, then I can investigate myself to see if it is there, or not and then what my motivation was at the time I did it. If the motivation was pure, then they have inferred a negative motivation onto me and if they are open to it, I could let them know. If the motivation was impure, then I thank them for their feedback, which I have used to see myself more clearly. Then I could apologise to whomever I acted wrongly against, either the person who gave the feedback, or a third party.
A personal example of this seeing identity view is: I formerly called myself "gay". This was a self-identification or a self-image statement/belief/concept that was focussed on an aspect of the fourth component of experience, "formation". Sexuality is a mental formation. [Gender is also a mental formation. "Sex", as in "male", "female" or "hermaphrodite", is a bodily formation.] I associated sexual pleasure with the male form at an early stage. In my case, it was partly due to being molested [not raped] as a child. So there was input/conditioning from another too. With conditioning, this is usually the case.
When I thought "I am gay", I was identifying with my sexuality. Sexuality is an important part of a layperson's life, as are any of the other components, but clinging blows the important part out of proportion and makes us form an "[ego] identity" based on it. The identity or self-image formed is bound and limited by the definition we have of the thing we cling to, usually having both positive and negative aspects; in this case what I understood "[being] gay" to mean, which included not being sexually attracted to women. When I gave up the identity/self-image and just recognised the formation as it really is, that is, changed my thinking from "I am gay" to "my sexuality is gay", I freed myself from the bounds and limits of the identity/being and I started to have wet dreams about women. That is one example of how the Buddha's teaching liberates and it is limited to the lifestyle of a layman.
Of course, now I have taken on the lifestyle of a monk again [common speak "I AM a monk again"]. This involves committing to chastity. So any sexual thoughts are now discarded. I feel happy to say that in the 4 months since ordination till now, I have not even had a wet dream. I have had dreams that were leading to sex, but when I had to decide to have sex, I said "I can't have sex, I'm a monk!" and the dream stopped.
The above example regarding my identification with former sexuality, also shows how a "being" is a mental formation, which we experience here and now, in this very life and we can stop that kind of conditioned and limited experience, if we know how. As the Buddha said: "the world is found within this fathom long body with its consciousness and it's perceptions." This is why he would not entertain speculation as to whether the world, or anything in it existed or not. If one has such consuming doubts, whether the "world" [internal or external] exists or not, one cannot progress on the path. We have to take the existence of the world as a given, otherwise we have nothing to work on. All we know is through our senses. So we should just endeavour to know that information, as it really is, because without doing that, we are not in a position to know anything else, as it really is.
The Buddha often says that "liberation from the formations" is the goal of his teaching. [SN 15:1,2; ii 178,179 etc] I have found it is the mental formations that are the hardest to not cling to. It is for these two reasons that I think the Tibetan and Chinese readings of the Dhammapada verse about the Third Characteristic, are more accurate. The Pali version of the Third Characteristic says "all Dhammas are not soul/not Self" and "dhammas" is taken to mean "mental phenomena". "Mental phenomena" are subtle internal forms, therefore that meaning falls into the scope of the earlier definition of "ruupa/form". Coming to know more blatant forms are impermanent, stressful and not soul or not Self, is a relatively easy thing to do and even some outside the Buddha's teaching have done that. An eternalist [such as a Christian] believes the body is not the Soul, or not the Self. Coming to know, feelings, beliefs, formations and consciousness are not soul or Self, is harder. It is the negative mental formations, that is, emotions such as ill-will, rage, depression... that I see we can do without and what the Buddha would have eradicated. In the Discipline, the Buddha said he does not teach the eradication of wholesome states, but the development and increase of them. He teaches the eradication of unwholesome states.
By comparing what appears in the place of Wisdom in different discourses we can test our understanding of what the Buddha meant by Wisdom. We can see if it is practical, if it helps us to end suffering/stress IN THIS VERY LIFE, in our relationships with ourselves and others. The example of advice to Raahula above, helps me to see the practical application of Wisdom. It is not just a meditation practice to end suffering or stress that I can identify within myself in a limited way, but also to end suffering or stress that becomes apparent in my relationships with others [ego games], that my ego may not let me see in my private practice. This would be why the Buddha called "good friendship" as the WHOLE of the sublime life [brahma cariya]. Also, in the development of the Three Knowledges, which are part of Widsom, there is a place for the past [to learn from it], the present [to apply knowledge learnt from the past, in lived experience] and the future [to plan wholesome activities]. So the Buddha's teaching is not just about the here and now.
When we get a big picture of the Buddha's teaching, by using his study method, then the place different discourses have in his teaching becomes clearer. They are not just pieces of wisdom dispensed here and there, but are another piece of the path of practice to be applied at the appropriate time. In this regard, I see the discourse on Types of Thought linked to as Right Thought in the page about Ethics, is the necessary for the basic awareness practice of developing mental ethics [avoiding fundamental dysfunctional ideas, which prohibit progress on the path]. A deeper practice is seeing how we cling to any aspect of ourselves as our true self, essence, spirit or soul. In other words how we create ego, which causes us to be egotistic and harm ourselves and others. See the first reflection taught to Rahula in the first table above. Once our mind is settled through meditation practice and negative emotional states arise [suffering arises], we can take time out to calm down and examine what ego games we have fallen into and how they were cause. Was it through clinging to one of the five components of our experience listed above, as the Buddha taught it would be, or not?
Click here to go to the previous section - Meditation.
Back to: The Gift of the Buddha - A Happy Life.
Definition: Unlike many other spiritual teachers, the Buddha takes the first step of clearly defining the terms he uses. This noble practice is also followed in tertiary academic writing. Of course, those that don't read much of what the Buddha said, don't know many of his definitions and therefore continually misinterpret his teaching, due mainly to proliferations of meanings. Another noble practice maintained in tertiary academic writing is to acknowledge one's source. We see the Buddha doing this when he speaks of learning the formless meditative states [aruupa-jhaana] with the teachers he spent time with before his enlightenment.
Skilful Means: This philosophy is not compatible with the Buddha's teaching, which is based on cause and effect. A wholesome cause gives a wholesome effect and the same with an unwholesome cause. This philosophy basically is a revamp of "the end justifies the means" and is used to justify hypocrisy, where a teacher can do something that is opposed to what he says, or the Buddha's teaching, if it achieves a certain end.I me mine: I have found about equal number of texts translated as "I me mine" rather than "I me myself" when talking about the practice of developing wisdom, but I suggest "I me mine" misses the point. It is not pronouns, either nominative, accusative, or possessive that are the problem. This is an influence from the Hindu idea that ideas of "self" and "other" are the problem. The "I am" conceit is much more subtle than ideas of "self" and "other", or the use of pronouns of various kinds. It would be an influence of this Hindu idea of liberation that sparked the changes in the texts of the Buddha not referring to himself in the first person, but with third person epitaphs such as "The One-Thus-Come". There still are instances in the early text of the Buddha using "my", e.g. "my robe" and "my back is aching". In any case, it is called the ' "I am" conceit' and I have found no instance of the Buddha speaking of a "my/mine conceit".