Dhamma and Non-Duality - 11
In this sequel
to the previous essay, I intend to discuss three major areas of difference
between the Buddha's Teaching, which we may refer to here as "the Ariyan
Dhamma," and the philosophies of non-duality. These areas correspond to
the three divisions of the Buddhist path-virtue, concentration, and wisdom.
In regard to virtue,
the distinction between the two teachings is not immediately evident, as both
generally affirm the importance of virtuous conduct at the start of training.
The essential difference between them emerges, not at the outset, but only
later, in the way they evaluate the role of morality in the advanced stages of
the path. For the non-dual systems, all dualities are finally transcended in
the realization of the non-dual reality, the Absolute or fundamental ground. As
the Absolute encompasses and transcends all diversity, for one who has
realized it the distinctions between good and evil, virtue and non-virtue, lose
their ultimate validity. Such distinctions, it is said, are valid only at the
conventional level, not at the level of final realization; they are binding on
the trainee, not on the adept. Thus we find that in their historical forms
(particularly in Hindu and Buddhist Tantra), philosophies of non-duality hold
that the conduct of the enlightened sage cannot be circumscribed by moral
rules. The sage has transcended all conventional distinctions of good and evil.
He acts spontaneously from his intuition of the Ultimate and therefore is no
longer bound by the rules of morality valid for those still struggling towards
the light. His behaviour is an elusive, incomprehensible outflow of what has
been called "crazy wisdom."
For the Ariyan
Dhamma, the distinction between the two types of conduct, moral and immoral, is
sharp and clear, and this distinction persists all the way through to the
consummation of the path: "Bodily conduct is twofold, I say, to be
cultivated and not to be cultivated, and such conduct is either the one or the
other" (MN 114). The conduct of the ideal Buddhist sage, the Arahant,
necessarily embodies the highest standards of moral rectitude both in the
spirit and in the letter, and for him conformity to the letter is spontaneous
and natural. The Buddha says that the liberated one lives restrained by the
rules of the Vinaya, seeing danger in the slightest faults. He cannot
intentionally commit any breach of the moral precepts, nor would he ever pursue
any course of action motivated by desire, hatred, delusion, or fear.
In the sphere of
meditation practice, or concentration, we again find a striking difference in
outlook between the non-dual systems and the Ariyan Dhamma. Since, for the
non-dual systems, distinctions are ultimately unreal, meditation practice is
not explicitly oriented towards the removal of mental defilements and the
cultivation of virtuous states of mind. In these systems, it is often said that
defilements are mere appearances devoid of intrinsic reality, even
manifestations of the Absolute. Hence to engage in a programme of practice to
overcome them is an exercise in futility, like fleeing from an apparitional
demon: to seek to eliminate defilements is to reinforce the illusion of
duality. The meditative themes that ripple through the non-dual currents of
thought declare: "no defilement and no purity"; "the
defilements are in essence the same as transcendent wisdom"; "it is
by passion that passion is removed."
In the Ariyan Dhamma,
the practice of meditation unfolds from start to finish as a process of mental
purification. The process begins with the recognition of the dangers in
unwholesome states: they are real pollutants of our being that need to be
restrained and eliminated. The consummation is reached in the complete destruction
of the defilements through the cultivation of their wholesome antidotes. The
entire course of practice demands a recognition of the differences between the
dark and bright qualities of the mind, and devolves on effort and diligence:
"One does not tolerate an arisen unwholesome thought, one abandons it,
dispels it, abolishes it, nullifies it" (MN 2). The hindrances are
"causes of blindness, causes of ignorance, destructive to wisdom, not
conducive to Nibbana" (SN 46:40). The practice of meditation purges the
mind of its corruptions, preparing the way for the destruction of the cankers
Finally, in the
domain of wisdom, the Ariyan Dhamma and the non-dual systems once again move in
contrary directions. In the non-dual systems the task of wisdom is to break
through the diversified appearances (or the appearance of diversity) in order
to discover the unifying reality that underlies them. Concrete phenomena, in
their distinctions and their plurality, are mere appearance, while true
reality is the One: either a substantial Absolute (the Atman, Brahman, the
Godhead, etc.), or a metaphysical zero (Sunyata, the Void Nature of Mind,
etc.). For such systems, liberation comes with the arrival at the fundamental
unity in which opposites merge and distinctions evaporate like dew.
In the Ariyan Dhamma
wisdom aims at seeing and knowing things as they really are
(yathabhutanunadassana). Hence, to know things as they are, wisdom must respect
phenomena in their precise particularity. Wisdom leaves diversity and
plurality untouched. It instead seeks to uncover the characteristics of
phenomena, to gain insight into their qualities and structures. It moves, not
in the direction of an all-embracing identification with the All, but towards
disengagement and detachment, release from the All. The cultivation of wisdom
in no way "undermines" concrete phenomena by reducing them to
appearances, nor does it treat them as windows opening to some fundamental
ground. Instead it investigates and discerns, in order to understand things as
they are: "And what does one understand as it really is? One understands:
Such is form, such its arising and passing away. Such is feeling ... perception
... formations ... consciousness, such its arising and passing away."
"When one sees, `All formations are impermanent, all are suffering,
everything is not self,' one turns away from suffering: this is the path to
Spiritual systems are
coloured as much by their favourite similes as by their formulated tenets. For
the non-dual systems, two similes stand out as predominant. One is space, which
simultaneously encompasses all and permeates all yet is nothing concrete in
itself; the other is the ocean, which remains self-identical beneath the changing
multitude of its waves. The similes used within the Ariyan Dhamma are highly
diverse, but one theme that unites many of them is acuity of vision—vision
which discerns the panorama of visible forms clearly and precisely, each in
its own individuality: "It is just as if there were a lake in a mountain
recess, clear, limpid, undisturbed, so that a man with good sight standing on
the bank could see shells, gravel, and pebbles, and also shoals of fish
swimming about and resting. He might think: `There is this lake, clear, limpid,
undisturbed, and there are these shells, gravel, and pebbles, and also these
shoals of fish swimming about and resting.' So too a monk understands as it
actually is: `This is suffering, this is the origin of suffering, this is the
cessation of suffering, this is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.'
When he knows and sees thus his mind is liberated from the cankers, and with
the mind's liberation he knows that he is liberated" (MN 39).
Length Discourses of the Buddha: A New Translation of the Majjhima Nikaya.
Original translation by Bhikkhu Nanamoli; revised and edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi.
This book offers a complete translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, a collection of
152 "middle length" discourses of the Buddha. Many of these are among
the most profound and inspiring in the Pali Canon. Produced as a high-quality
hardback, 3 volumes in one, with notes, glossary, indexes. For sale in Asia
only. (Outside Asia available from Wisdom Publications, Boston.) Books are due
by late May.
160 mm x 235 mm
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Farewell Tribute. Edited by Bhikkhu Bodhi. A commemoration volume in honour of
our late Founding-President, Ven. Nyanaponika Mahathera. Includes a
biographical sketch, bibliography, appreciations, excerpts from his writings,
documents, and photographs.
Softback: 80 pages
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Order No. BP 6115
Literature of Ceylon. G.P.
Malalasekera. Reprint of an old classic by the doyen of Sri Lanka's
Oriental scholars. In a little more than 300 pages, the author admirably
surveys Sri Lanka's rich legacy of Pali Buddhist literature, from the earliest
period to the present century. This is a gracefully written history of Sri
Lankan Buddhism as reflected in its Pali literary heritage.
Softback: 350 pages
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Back in Print
The Path of
Freedom: The Vimuttimagga. Translated from the Chinese by N.R.M. Ehara, Soma
Thera, Kheminda Thera. Written in Pali in Sri Lanka during the first century
A.C., the Vimuttimagga survived only in a Chinese translation, from which the
present rendering has been made. Ascribed to the Arahant Upatissa, the work is
a meditation manual similar in structure to the Visuddhimagga, but less
analytical and more practical in its treatment of meditation.
Softback: 424 pages
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The Progress of
Insight. Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw. In this booklet the great Burmese meditation
master charts the entire "way of mindfulness" up to its culmination,
with emphasis on the advanced stages of the path.
Softback: 64 pages
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Eightfold Path: Way to the End of Suffering. Bhikkhu Bodhi. Explains each path
factor from the angle of both theory and practice, with a final chapter showing
how the eight factors function in unison to bring realization of the Buddhist
Softback: 144 pages
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Discourse on Causation: The Mahanidana Suttanta & Its Commentaries.
Translated from the Pali by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Reprint; planned for July 1995.
Contemplations of Insight. Ven. Matara Sri IVaniirama Mahathera. This is a
profound examination of the "seven contemplations" of classical
Buddhism and of the actual way they are experienced in the course of
meditation. By one of Sri Lanka's foremost meditation masters of recent times.
Planned for late 1995 or early 1996.
Great Disciples of
the Buddha. Ven. Nyanaponika Thera & Hellmuth Hecker. This volume will
combine all past issues of our Wheel titles in the "Lives of the
Disciples" series. Planned for late 1995.
Notes and News
Commemorated. On the 21st January the BPS held an almsgiving at the Society's
headquarters to commemorate the third month death anniversary of our revered
Founding-President, Ven. Nyanaponika Mahathera. On the following weekend, the
BPS management and staff brought the Mahathera's bodily remains to Island
Hermitage, Dodanduwa, for interment. We broke journey in Colombo, and on
Saturday evening, 28th January, held a Bodhi Puja at the Sambodhi Vihara in
honour of Ven. Nyanaponika. This ceremony, which gave many Colombo friends of
the BPS the opportunity to pay final respects, was splendidly arranged by Ven.
Kusaladhamma Thera of the Vihara, with the assistance of the German Cultural
Institute. Early the next day we left for Island Hermitage. On arrival a short
ceremony was held at the monks' cemetery, followed by an alms offering and
talks in the alms hall. Ven. Nyanaponika's grave lies a few meters from that of
his teacher, Ven. Nyanatiloka, founder of the Island Hermitage. His tombstone
bears as its inscription the short text from the Satipatthana Samyutta that he
had explained so beautifully in his essay, "Protection through
Satipatthana": Attanam rakkhanto pararn rakkhati; paratri rakkhanto
attanam rakkhati, "One who protects himself protects others; one who
protects others protects himself." Thus even in death, the Mahathera
continues to proclaim the Buddha's message of Satipatthana.
Majjhima Nikaya Project.
We wish to thank our Asian members and friends who so generously responded to
our brochure on the Majjhima Nikaya with donations and advance orders for the
book. Over half the edition was sold before the books even came from the press.
We thank especially Mudita Dhamma Book Centre in Penang for launching a
promotion campaign among Malaysian Buddhists on our behalf. Though the books
were expected in February, owing to press delays they will arrive only in May.
of German will be pleased to learn that Karl Eugen Neumann's classic German
translation of the Majjhima Nikaya, Mittlere Sammlung, long out of print, has
recently been republished. Neumann's translation, still the only complete translation
of the Majjhima into German, is regarded as a literary masterpiece. The book is
reissued in a high quality edition, 3 volumes in one, appx. 1200 pages, priced
at DM 98. For orders or information, contact the publisher (not BPS): BeyerleinSteinschulte
Verlag, Herrnschrot, D-95236 Stammbach, Germany; Tel. 09256/460. Also available
in German is Amadeo Sold-Leris's Tranquillity and Insight (BPS, 1992),
published under the title Die Meditation die der Buddha selber lehrte
(Herder/Spektrum). A Pali Primer. Students of the Dhamma who have always wanted
to learn Pali but could not figure out where to start now have a guide to
rescue them from their dilemma. The guide is Lily de Silva's Pali Primer—an
elementary grammar with exercises that is simple, practical, and well planned.
The book is meant for beginners and serves as a stepping stone towards A.K.
Warder's (somewhat mistitled) Introduction to Pali. Pali Primer is published
by Vipassana Research Institute, Dhammagiri, Igatpuri 422403 Maharashtra,
India. It is priced at Ind. Rs. 70. Copies will be available at the BPS, though
we are still awaiting their arrival. Bank Cheques. If you have received back
any cheques originally made out to the BPS, with indications that they were
encashed by any individual or organization other than the Buddhist Publication
Society, we would appreciate it if you would kindly let us know. Please write
to Mr. T.B. Talwatte, Executive Director of BPS, enclosing a photocopy of the
cheques (front and back faces). We suggest that the letter be registered for
New Catalogue. A new
international catalogue is currently in the press, and an update supplement to
the Sri Lankan catalogue is available for local members. If you wish to receive
an update sheet, write to the Administrative Secretary, enclosing a self-addressed
Meditation: The Practice of Freedom. Joseph Goldstein. Boston & London:
Shambala, 1993. Hardback, 194 pp. U.S. $18, £13.99.
earlier book, The Experience of Insight, was subtitled "A Simple and
Direct Guide to Buddhist Meditation." Let me say at once that his new
book, too, is another excellent example of the eminently Buddhist qualities of
simplicity and directness. Goldstein is, of course, one of the most experienced
and active teachers of Vipassana meditation in the West. Co-founder of the
Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, he has travelled
extensively for years to conduct retreats in many countries.
Like his previous
books, the present volume is clearly the distillation of many years' practical
experience in teaching the Dhamma to Westerners who come to it from a very
different culture and, in many cases, without any prior knowledge of the
Buddha's actual teachings. The emphasis throughout is on a simple, practical approach,
expressed in straightforward, modem Western parlance, with a lively awareness
of the specific problems involved in the meeting of cultures. So, for instance,
the chapter on how to handle parents who are upset because their children take
up that alien thing, "Buddhist" meditation.
teachings are kept to the irreducible minimum, and presented as part of a
non-specialized discourse, rather than in a systematic manner. There is a brief
introduction to the Four Noble Truths, and some discussion of the relations
between karma and non-self, but Goldstein's primary concern is to convey a bedrock
understanding of impermanence, suffering, and non-self, and of how to deal with
the deep roots of desire, aversion, and ignorance in ourselves. Never in a
theoretical manner, but always for the concrete purpose of achieving, through
the practice of meditation, the insight that shall set us free. There is
hardly any "technical" terminology, but what there is, is mostly in
Pali, reflecting the original tradition in which the author was trained by his
teachers such as Anagarika Munindra, Sri S.N. Gcenka, and Dipa Ma (Mrs. Nana
Bala Barua). It is worth noting that none of these teachers are monastics. We
are dealing here with the lay tradition of insight meditation, which is
becoming increasingly important in our times. While the author brings in some
references to Chinese, Zen, and Tibetan sources when they come in useful to
make a particular point, his presentation is clearly rooted in Theravada. Still,
he maintains throughout a refreshingly non-denominational stance. He never
becomes embroiled in the captious exercise of comparing or contrasting
traditions, but gets on with the business of conveying the essence of the
Buddha's message in the plainest possible terms. He rightly stresses the
importance of mindfulness of the body, not only in retreats, but also, and
espedially, in the context of our active everyday lives: "This mode of
awareness works so well that the Buddha devotes many teachings to it. He said
that mindfulness of the body leads to nirvana, to freedom, to the
unconditioned" (p.139). Insight Meditation is articulated in seven
chapters, whose titles clearly signpost the development of Goldstein's
presentation: 1. What is the Path?; 2. How to Practice; 3. Freeing the Mind; 4.
Psychology and Dharma (where he makes the very important distinction—all too
often blurred in the West—between psychology and meditation); 5. Selflessness;
6. Karma; and, in conclusion, 7. Practice in the World. He ends this last
chapter with valuable comments on the high relevance of insight (vipassana) and
loving kindness (metta) to the experience of death, both one's own and that of
others. This is a helpful book, which speaks to the reader in a warm and caring
tone, and can be well recommended to beginners and more particularly to
practitioners who, while still in the early stages, can derive much benefit
from Goldstein's lively yet gentle reminders.
however, I cannot refrain from raising two objections: one of substance, and
one of grammar. As regards substance, I am somewhat disturbed by the
pronouncement (which reappears, with minor variations, more than once) that
"what we call mind is the naturally pure knowing faculty—invisible, clear,
and lucid" (p.37). This, to me, sounds perilously close to the views of
certain Mahayana schools concerning some kind of absolute "pure
mind" (such as in the Dzogchen teaching of Tibetan Nyingma) or
"Buddha nature" inherent in all beings: a view which reintroduces, in
a thinly veiled form, the very notion of a universal ground of being or atman
that the Buddha considered irrelevant and unprofitable. As to the grammar: Why
do we find, on page after page of this otherwise well-written book, a construction
where the plural personal pronoun "we" is followed by a hybrid, but
clearly singular, reflexive "ourself'? (E.g. "Because we usually do
not observe phenomena closely, we satisfy ourself with a surface
impression," p. l 11, my italics.) Hopefully, this will be remedied in
Also received: Transforming the Mind, Healing the World. Joseph Goldstein.
Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1994. 54 pp., $3.95. The Wit Lectures at the
Harvard University Divinity School, on how to live a spiritual life in today's
world. Wise guidance, expressed clearly and succinctly, for this Age of
Guidelines to Sutta Study
Buddha's path unfolds as a "gradual training with gradual progress,"
the transition from virtue to concentration does not occur suddenly but is
bridged by a series of steps that help to internalize the process of mental
purification initiated by the training in virtue. In the Kandaraka Sutta (MN
51), which we have been examining in the present set of sutta guidelines, we
saw that the Buddha lays down three steps to facilitate the transition from the
one stage to the next: (i) contentment with the basic requisites of life; (ii)
restraint of the sense faculties; and (iii) the practice of mindfulness and
In the next section
of the sutta the Buddha gives direct instructions for the practice of
concentration. These instructions, which will culminate in the attainment of
the jhanas, begin with an injunction that recapitulates the
"requisites" of concentration and prescribes the suitable type of
place for practice:
aggregate of noble virtue, and this noble restraint of the sense faculties,
and possessing this noble mindfulness and full awareness, he resorts to a
secluded resting place: the forest, the root of a tree, a mountain, a ravine, a
hillside cave, a charnel ground, a jungle thicket, an open space, a heap of
It should be noted
that the Buddha here makes it plain that the practice leading to samadhi
presupposes that one has been fulfilling the proper preliminaries of the path.
Without these requisites—noble virtue, etc.—the effort to achieve right
concentration is likely to go astray. For the practice of concentration in the
Buddha's Teaching aims at purification of mind (cittavisuddhi), and unless
earnest effort is made to achieve the preparatory purification of virtue, the
attempt to arrive at the higher purification will lack the secure foundation
required to ensure success.
The direct training
in the higher mind, as explained in the Suttas, proceeds through confrontation
with five unwholesome mental states that the Buddha has collected under the
name "the five hindrances" (panca-nivarana): sensual desire, ill
will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and remorse, and doubt. The Sutta passage
on the overcoming of the hindrances is standardized and recurs in identical
words throughout the Canon:
covetousness for the world, he abides with a mind free from covetousness; he
purifies his mind from covetousness. Abandoning ill will and hatred, he abides
with a mind free from ill will, compassionate for the welfare of all living
beings; he purifies his mind from ill will and hatred. Abandoning sloth and
torpor, he abides free from sloth and torpor, percipient of light, mindful and
fully aware; he purifies his mind from sloth and torpor. Abandoning
restlessness and remorse, he abides unagitated, with a mind inwardly peaceful;
he purifies his mind from restlessness and remorse. Abandoning doubt, he abides
having gone beyond doubt, unperplexed about wholesome states; he purifies his
mind from doubt.
In this passage the
Buddha does not expressly show the specific methods for overcoming each of the
hindrances. This information has to be gathered from other suttas which devote
more attention to the actual dynamics of mental cultivation; the Commentaries
also supply useful details. A text that is particularly helpful for
understanding how to conquer the hindrances is Bojjhanga Samyutta No. 51
(included section by section in Nyanaponika Thera, The Five Mental Hindrances,
Wheel No. 26). In this sutta the Buddha explains the "nourishment"
(ahara) for each of the five hindrances, and its "denourishing"
(anahara) or antidote. These can be indicated only briefly here:
(i) In the case of sensual desire, unwise
attention to sensually attractive objects is the nourishment; meditation on a
foul object (asubhanimitta)--on the 32 parts of the body or on a decomposing
corpse—is the antidote.
(ii) The nourishment for ill will is giving
unwise attention to irritating objects; meditation on loving kindness is the
(iii) Giving unwise attention to listlessness,
lassitude, and sluggishness is the nourishment of sloth and torpor; the
arousing of energy is the antidote.
(iv) Giving unwise attention to things that
agitate the mind is the nourishment of restlessness and remorse; giving wise
attention to an object that induces mental quietude is the antidote.
(v) Giving unwise attention to things that
cause doubt is the nourishment of doubt; giving wise attention to phenomena and
examining their distinct qualities is the antidote.
In the Kandaraka
Sutta the Buddha does not include the similes for the five hindrances and their
abandonment. These similes can be found in other suttas (e.g. DN 2, MN 39). In
that passage the Buddha compares sensual desire to being in debt, ill will to a
disease, sloth and torpor to imprisonment, restlessness to slavery, and doubt
to a dangerous wilderness. When the disciple abandons the five hindrances,
"he considers himself as free from debt, as rid of illness, as emancipated
from prison, as a free man, and as one who has arrived at a place of
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