The Noble Eightfold Path
and its Factors Explained



The Venerable Ledi Sayādaw

Translated into English by

U Saw Tun Teik

Revised edition by

Bhikkhu Khantipālo

Buddhist Publication Society
Kandy • Sri Lanka

The Wheel Publication No. 245–247

Copyright © Kandy, Buddhist Publication Society, (1977)
BPS Online Edition © (2008)
Digital Transcription Source: BPS.

First edition: 1977
Reprinted: 1985, 1998

For free distribution. This work may be republished, reformatted, reprinted and redistributed in any medium. However, any such republication and redistribution is to be made available to the public on a free and unrestricted basis and translations and other derivative works are to be clearly marked as such and the Buddhist Publication Society is to be acknowledged as the original publisher.



The Noble Eightfold Path and its Factors Explained


I. Right View

II. Right Thought

III. Right Speech

IV. Right Action

V. Right Livelihood

VI. Right Effort

VII. Right Mindfulness

VIII. Right Concentration

Practising the Path

The Three Rounds and the Four Kinds of Wandering-On

Path-Factors and Rounds

The First, Second, and Third Levels of Views

Forming the Path into Three Groups

How to Establish the Morality Group

How to Establish the Concentration Group

How to Establish the Wisdom Group

How to Establish the Noble Eightfold Path


If a Buddhist is asked, “What did the Buddha teach?” he would rightly reply, “The Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.” If he is then questioned further as to what they consisted of, he should be able to define them accurately, without uncertainty, ambiguity, or recourse to his own ideas.

This is very important—that the supremely clear words of the Buddha are not distorted, either through ignorance or because of one’s own speculations. The Buddha has often praised deep learning, just as he has pointed out the dangers in holding opinions and views which are the result only of one’s personal feelings and preferences, or of misinterpreted experience. There is little to excuse such things since the Buddha himself has carefully defined what is meant by the truth of dukkha (suffering), or what constitutes right view, just to take two examples.

The Buddha’s definitions are unconfusing while convincing since they arise from his Unsurpassed Perfect Awakening. But one’s own ideas, or the speculations of those who depart from his words, cannot be so without some bias towards what is more comforting to believe, what, in other words, one’s undisciplined emotions draw one to believe (see note 41). Such “tangles of views” are endless in this world and produce much conflict as well. No good comes of holding views.

Those who do so usually do not like to practise the Dhamma; they prefer to think about it and talk about it. But one does not become a Buddhist by mere thinking and talking, only by practise, and this Noble Eightfold Path containing within it the Four Noble Truths is the pre-eminent path of practise—of wisdom, moral conduct, and meditation.

So here is a booklet where the Buddha’s own definitions of the Four Noble Truths and the Path are quoted and explained by the venerable author who, as a senior member of the Sangha (Order) in Burma, was both deeply learned and well practised in meditation. This handbook of the Noble Eightfold Path contains all the path-factors clearly described according to the most ancient Buddhist tradition, which has come down to us from the enlightened disciples of the Buddha to the great teachers of the present day in the Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia.

Now it only remains to thoroughly learn the definitions of the path-factors and, of course, to practise them. Then one will be competent to answer questions convincingly since one’s own conduct does not depart from Dhamma.

This work was written by the Venerable Mahāthera Ledi Sayādaw in Burmese and was later translated into English by U Saw Tun Teik, an advocate in Rangoon. The Union Buddha Sāsana Council issued this book after revision by their English Editorial Board in 1961, but due to later events in Burma it has long been hard to find.

In making it available once again this opportunity has been taken to rewrite it in a form more easily read by Western people, omitting most of the Pali words which are found in the first edition. Venerable Nyānaponika Mahāthera encouraged me to take up this work, gave every helpful advice, and sent me his copy of the first edition to work on. Also, some sections from the venerable author’s Sammādiṭṭhi-dīpanī (The Manual of Right View) have been included in the revised edition. In places where the venerable author’s explanations are too brief some expansions of his statements have been added by the editor. The footnotes are also mine unless stated otherwise.

Finally, if any error has been made by me during revision, may the translators pardon me, and the venerable author show me his compassion.

May the Dhamma of the Exalted One lighten the darkness of the world!

Bhikkhu Khantipālo
Forest Hermitage
Vassāna BE 2520/CE 1976

The Noble Eightfold Path and its Factors Explained


In compliance with the requests of the Englishmen who have entered the Buddhist Order of Monks for elucidation of the Noble Eightfold Path, the Venerable Ledi Sayādaw made use of his relative respite while journeying by rail or steamer from town to town, to write this treatise. [*]

Namo tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammā-sambuddhassa

Homage to the Exalted One, the Holy One,
the Perfectly Enlightened One

This is the Noble Eightfold Path:

I.  Right view Sammā-diṭṭhi
II.  Right thought Sammā-saṅkappa
III.  Right speech Sammā-vācā
IV.  Right action Sammā-kammanta
V.  Right livelihood Sammā-ājīva
VI.  Right effort Sammā-vāyāma
VII.  Right mindfulness Sammā-sati
VIII.  Right concentration Sammā-samādhi.

I. Right View

Three kinds of right view have been distinguished:

That one is the owner of the kamma [1] one makes.

That one has right view in respect of ten subjects concerned with kamma, its fruits, this world, other worlds, and the superknowledge revealing them.

That one has right view regarding the Four Noble Truths.

First we shall examine:

A. Right View on the ownership of one’s kamma

About this the Buddha has said:

“All beings are the owners of their kamma, heirs to their kamma, born of their kamma, related to their kamma, abide supported by their kamma; whatever kamma they shall do, whether good or evil, of that they will be the heirs.”

Now to take this passage section by section for a fuller understanding.

1. All beings are the owners of their kamma.

This is the correct understanding that only two things, the wholesome and the unwholesome deeds done by beings, really belong to them and always accompany them on their wanderings in the wheel of birth and death.

Though people call gold, silver, wealth, and jewels their own since they have acquired them lawfully or otherwise, really they are owners only for the brief span of this life and sometimes not for as long as that. For the things that are “owned” by us must be shared with other forces and beings such as water, fire, rulers, thieves, and enemies which, if sentient, may also regard those things as their own. [2] So such things are as though borrowed for this life, just for use now but to be given up at death. And however little or much one may own of things here, all have to be relinquished at the time of death and cannot be taken with one. When this is taken into account, we may understand how we hardly own such things at all, while by contrast the good and evil done by us is truly owned and such kamma may accompany us through a continuity of lives extending through hundreds of thousands of world-cycles in the future. Kamma cannot be taken from the doer or destroyed in any way, for it is imprinted on our minds and will bear fruit when conditions permit. Hence the Buddha has said, “All beings are the owners of their kamma.”

One should therefore love and esteem good conduct more than one’s own life and preserve it well, while one should dread evil conduct more than the danger of death and so refrain from evil deeds.

The kamma which is one’s own consists in the mental, verbal, and physical intentional actions that one has done. Kamma by way of the body means intentional movements of such parts of the body as hands or legs. Verbal kamma includes expressions made with the mouth, tongue, and throat. Mental kamma covers all intentional functions of the mind. In the Buddha’s teaching these three are called kamma. [3]

All beings make these three kinds of kamma while they are awake, and whatever work they do, of great significance or little, is all done in these three ways. But when a person is asleep these three kinds of kamma are not made, for at that time states of mind are not volitional. In the case of one who is dead none of the three kinds of kamma are made by that body.

These three may be analysed as to whether they are: (1) good or wholesome, or (2) evil and unwholesome; further as to whether (1) they have results ripening in this life, or (2) have them ripening in a future life.

Kamma is determined to be good or evil according to whether it leads to the cultivation and growth of one’s own mind and the benefit of others, or to the deterioration and defilement of one’s own mind and the harm of others. Thus by doing the following ten types of deeds one makes evil or unwholesome kamma which will bear the fruits of suffering, but by abstaining from these ten and cultivating their opposites one makes good kamma which will bear the fruits of happiness. These ten are as follows:

  1. Injuring and killing living beings
  2. Stealing
  3. Wrong conduct in sexual pleasures
} Evil kamma  
by body [4]
  4. False speech
  5. Tale-bearing
  6. Harsh talk
  7. Useless chatter
} Evil kamma  
by speech [5]
  8. Covetousness
  9. Ill will
10. Wrong view
} Evil kamma  
by mind

All kinds of actions done through the “three doors” of body, speech, and mind, that are free of these ten ways of making unwholesome kamma, whether in connection with livelihood, the acquisition of wealth, and the search for knowledge, are good kamma made in the present existence and coming to fruition now. But those actions by way of the three doors which are involved with the above ten, in whatsoever connection they are done, are evil kamma which bears its fruit in the present life.

In a similar way kammas made in this life and due to ripen in the future will also be of two kinds, either wholesome or unwholesome. Whether the wholesome kamma is made by the body, speech, or mind in connection with such actions as almsgiving, Uposatha-day observance, moral conduct (of the Five Precepts), practising meditation, going for refuge to and paying respects to the Triple Gem, etc., they will ripen in the future, giving rise to a favourable birth. [6]

Unwholesome kammas made in this life but ripening in the future will result in birth in the lower planes of existence (as ghost, animal, or hell-wraith).

In this way one should differentiate between good and evil kamma as well as contemplate the three kinds of kamma which are made everywhere—on land, in water, and in the sky. When we have seen with our own eyes how all beings, wherever they are, have been making the three kinds of kamma in all their past existences through endless world-cycles, we can comprehend that they will make them in the future too. And just as in this world system, so there are in all directions an infinite number of other world systems where such beings, living on land, in water, and in the sky, also make the three kinds of kamma.

When one has thought about this, it becomes clear that all these beings are living by the three kinds of kamma which they make individually for themselves. By making wholesome kamma in these ways they enjoy the fruits of happiness, while by making evil kamma in these three ways they encounter various kinds of misery and suffering.

So the three kinds of kamma made by body, speech, and mind are truly the property owned by beings, for kamma can never be destroyed by fire, water, thieves, and so on. Though a person may own nothing, not even a single coin, yet he can achieve happiness if he has made mental kamma connected with knowledge and wisdom.

Hence the Buddha declared: “All beings are the owners of their kamma.”

Now let us take an example which illustrates the results of kamma made in the present life. People who wish for worldly gain, such as wealth, government position, or honour in this life, can fulfil their desires if they make an effort to acquire education and knowledge. If such wishes were merely a matter of worship of some God without any effort being needed, then there would be no need for the worshippers of God to engage in trading, farming, or learning arts or sciences. It would be enough just to worship God. But in fact that is not the case, for like Buddhists, Christians and Muslims also make the three kinds of kamma and caused by it they acquire worldly gain. It is not God but the three kinds of kamma which have given them these things.

Similarly, we can understand how past kamma bears fruit in the present life. For while worldly gains in this life are kamma-produced and not due to any supernatural favour, so the benefits of being reborn in a wealthy family or in a heavenly world are not God-given either, but depend on the power of kamma, such as almsgiving and purity of the moral precepts practised in former lives. One who is reborn into a wealthy family becomes the owner of the riches there, so that all his possessions are due to his past kamma.

Here there is an analogy with vegetative growth. It is usually said that the growth and form of plants depends on the seed. But according to the Abhidhamma, the element of kinetic energy (tejo), classified as material change (utu), is the cause. The seed is just this element, and it is this which can be called the real seed. In the same way all beings have kamma as their seeds of becoming (or existence): wholesome kamma such as almsgiving, moral conduct, and the like, and unwholesome kamma such as destroying living beings, and so on.

The process of becoming variously men or animals is due to the kamma made in past existences. Having made wholesome kamma, beings are reborn as men or as gods (deva), while it is because of making unwholesome kamma that they obtain birth in the four lower worlds: hell (niraya), animals, ghosts (peta), and titans (asura).

From the seeds produced by old plants, a new generation of plants grows so that seeds from a tree and trees from seeds appear successively: a cycle of seeds and trees. Similarly, beings have planted kamma-seeds in their past existences and from these seeds new existences spring up. Thus beings make kamma which in turn gives rise successively to new states of existence.

But here we have to notice a difference between the example in this simile and the case of living beings. A tree is only a stream of material events (without a mental stream or consciousness) [7] and from one tree many fruits may be produced, from which in turn many trees may grow. In the case of beings, however, there are both mental and material streams of events of which the mental ones are chief. Though during life (as with trees) many progeny may be produced, one body giving rise to many others, the stream of mental factors continues with one mental factor giving rise to one other.

Thus at death the last moment of consciousness gives rise to the rebirth-linking consciousness of the next life. Therefore, although a being has planted many seeds of both wholesome and unwholesome kamma in one existence, one moment of volition (cetanā = kamma) alone produces one other resultant moment in the next existence. [8] As there is only the production of one mental factor (the first moment of consciousness at conception or spontaneous birth) so at the time of death the continuity or stream of the past material body gives rise to only one new body-stream, not more than this.

Just as earth, water, sun, moon, and stars, come into existence from the seeds of kinetic energy included in material change and were not created by a God, so such beings as men and animals come to successive existences because of the seeds of their past kamma made in previous lives, even in previous world cycles. A view such as this is known as right view (sammā-diṭṭhi).

But to hold that a God creates beings is a wrong view, and it is the wrong view of those who, not knowing fully the operative power of kamma and material change, imagine that they were created by a God. Hence the Buddha, whose purpose was to make people abandon wrong view and to rely instead upon kamma, knowledge, and wisdom, said: “All beings are the owners of their kamma.”

Further as exposition of “ownership of kamma” the following objection and reply is appropriate. [9]

Question: “Well, friend, if it is true that the Supreme Buddha had properly refuted the view ’all that is experienced is rooted in past kamma,’ [10] why and for what reason did he declare the following in the Subha Sutta (or Cūḷakammavibhaṅga Sutta, Majjhima Nikāya No. 135): “Beings are the owners of their kamma, young man, heirs to their kamma, born of their kamma, related to their kamma, abide supported by their kamma. Beings are divided by kamma, that is to say, among low or excellent existences’?”

Reply: This may be answered in three ways.

(1) Those who hold the view “all that is experienced is rooted in past kamma” (pubbekatahetu-diṭṭhi) maintain that all pleasures and sufferings experienced by beings in the present life are conditioned and caused only by the volitional actions (kamma) done by them in their past existences. They reject all present causes such as energy and wisdom. As this view rejects all present causes it is known as the “one-sided base opinion’ (ekapakkhahīna-vāda), “one-sided” because it ignores present kamma.

(2) Those who hold the “creation rooted in God view” (issaranimmāna-hetu-diṭṭhi) maintain that all pleasures and sufferings experienced by beings in the present life are created by a Supreme Brahma or God. They reject all past and present kamma made by beings; so their view is called the “both-sided base opinion” (ubhayapakkhahīnavāda), “both-sided” because it ignores both past and present kamma.

(3) Those who hold the “no cause no condition view” (ahetu-appaccaya-diṭṭhi) maintain that all pleasures and sufferings experienced by beings in the present life come into existence by themselves, without causes and conditions. As this view rejects all causality it is known as the “completely base opinion” (sabbahīna-vāda).

But the Buddha, on this occasion speaking to a young brahmin, desired to refute the creation rooted in God view and the no cause no condition view; so he declared, “Beings are the owners of their kamma, young man, the heirs to their kammas….”

He declared this in a general way. He did not say: “Beings are the owners of their past kamma, the heirs to their past kamma.” In a passage addressed to the young brahmin, Subha, the words “owners of their kamma” and “heirs to their kamma” refer to both past life and present-life kamma. So one should understand this passage in this way: “Beings are the owners of their past and present kammas.”

2. The heirs to their kamma

Only the wholesome and unwholesome deeds done by all beings are their inherited properties that always accompany them wherever they may wander in many lives and world cycles. Those who inherit from their parents are called their heirs, but they are not so in the true sense of this word. Why is this? Because things like gold, silver, jewels, and wealth only last temporarily, and those who inherit such temporary things cannot be called true and real heirs. Such legacies are our property only until death and when we die we have to leave it all behind. Certainly it does not accompany us into the future life. Also, legacies like this are subject to destruction by fire, water, thieves, and so on, before our death takes place, or they may be used up by us during our lives.

When we consider the three kinds of kamma, however, they belong to the beings who made them, even through future lives. They can never be destroyed by other persons or exterior forces, and for this reason kamma is said to be the only property inherited by beings. Beings are sure to reap the results of their own kamma in succeeding existences. Even feeding animals such as pigs, dogs, and birds can result in many births full of happiness, while the wholesome kamma made by offering food to virtuous bhikkhus (monks) can give rise to countless numbers of happy lives as man or deva. From the gift of almsfood worth half a crown in this life may come beneficial results worth thousands of pounds in future existences. [11] And if a person kills an animal, such as a fish, fowl, or pig, he may in turn have to suffer being killed in more than a thousand future lives.

This may be illustrated by the banyan tree, for if one of its tiny seeds is planted, a great tree will grow out of it, bearing innumerable fruits during a thousand years or more. The same will be true of mango or jak seeds from which will grow large trees yielding thousands of fruits in the course of many, many years.

Just as a small seed is able to yield thousands of fruits, leaves, branches, and twigs, so a seed of wholesome kamma such as a almsgiving, moral conduct, and meditation can bear in future lives good results many thousands of times over. Likewise, an unwholesome kamma-seed, such as destroying a living being, can yield evil and painful results in numerous future existences.

From just one kamma made by some person the results will follow him in many lives as pleasure or pain, when conditions are opportune. He can never be rid of that past kamma (until its force is exhausted, its fruits ripened completely), but has to enjoy or suffer its results. For this reason the Buddha has declared: “All beings are the heirs to their kammas.”

Look at it another way: [12] A being has two groups (khandhas)—the body-group and the mind-group (rūpakkhandha, nāmakkhandha). The first means the body with head, hands, legs, and so on, while the mind-group refers to thoughts and consciousness.

Of these two, the body-group comes to dissolution once in each existence, in each life having different shape and colour (according to kamma, parental appearance, etc.). But the mind has no break in its continuity, and mental states arise and pass away successively through innumerable existences. Wholesome kamma, such as giving and moral conduct, causes the subsequent arising in happy existences. And wherever the mind-group arises there a new and appropriate body-group is formed. In the same way, unwholesome kamma brings about the arising of mind in the lower states of existence, such as among dogs, pigs, fowl, and birds, where a body will be formed according to that arising. So a person is also “heir to kamma” with regard to these two groups.

3. Born of their kamma

Only the wholesome and unwholesome deeds done by beings are the origin of their wanderings in so many life cycles. To illustrate this, let us take the example of the banyan tree again. For its growth there are several causes: the banyan seed is the primary cause; the earth and water are secondary causes.

Wholesome past deeds such as almsgiving moral conduct, etc., which cause one to be reborn as a human being, and the past unwholesome deeds such as destroying life, etc., causing one to be reborn as an animal, are the primary causes, comparable to the banyan seed. One’s parents are the secondary causes, just as earth and water are secondary causes for the growth of the banyan tree.

To take another example: working as a labourer for wages, the present kamma is the primary cause, while the place of work, spade, basket, and the employers who pay the wages are the secondary cause. In the same way, one’s own kamma made in the present existence with wisdom or without it is the primary cause; present results, pleasant and painful, are the wages for these actions.

So we can see that both past kamma and the kamma made in this life are primary causes of the results experienced, and one’s parents are not primary causes. Nor has it anything to do with a God. And so the Buddha declares: “All beings are born of their kamma.”

4. Related to their kamma

Only the wholesome and unwholesome kammas made by beings are their relatives and true friends (or false friends in the case of unwholesome kammas!), always accompanying them wherever they may wander through many lives and world cycles.

By way of explanation we can say that although there are parents, brothers, children, relatives, teachers, and friends whom we love and rely upon, we can only do this for a short time—until our death. But one’s own physical, verbal, and mental deeds are constant companions who accompany one and give happiness and prosperity (or misery) in one’s future lives. So wholesome deeds alone are one’s true relatives and friends who should be esteemed and relied upon. Therefore the Buddha declares: “All beings are related to their kamma.”

5. Abide supported by their kamma [13]

Only the wholesome and unwholesome deeds done by beings are their real support wherever they may wander through many lives and world cycles.

To explain this: the word “support” means what can be relied upon, or what one can take shelter in, what can save or give protection against troubles and dangers. Those who wish to enjoy long life in the world have to rely upon food and drink as the protection against the danger of starvation. Similarly, doctors and medicine are needed for protection against bodily troubles and diseases, while weapons are protection against enemies. (And all kinds of support or refuge in the world may be considered in the same way.) So this word ’saraṇa’ does not refer only to the Going for Refuge at a shrine or in the presence of a bhikkhu, it means also reliance upon and taking shelter, as was explained already.

Now how is kamma one’s support? In this life an ordinary man with no possessions soon comes to distress. Fearing to experience this we are supported by the work (or kamma) which we do and so acquire money and possessions.

Again, as a lack of wholesome kamma leads to rebirth in the lower worlds where there is grievous suffering, so fearful of this, some people make wholesome kamma leading them to rebirth as human beings or as devas.

Just as the present kamma made by work using knowledge and wisdom can protect us from dangers in this life, in the same way wholesome kamma such as almsgiving and moral conduct protects us from the dangers of future lives in the lower worlds. As we must rely on our work in this life, so we must also rely on wholesome kamma for the future. It is for this reason that the Buddha declares: “All beings are supported by their kamma.”

This subject of support or refuge should be analysed as follows.

In the Buddhist religion there are four refuges for the future: (1) the Buddha, (2) the Dhamma, (3) the Sangha, and (4) one’s own wholesome kamma.

This can be compared to the four kinds of refuge or support for sick people. First is the chief physician, second the suitable medicine, third the assistant doctors, and fourth, the actions of the patient following their directions confidently. In this simile, the chief physician and the assistant doctors are accounted as supports (or refuges) for the patient because they are capable of prescribing suitable medicines for this particular ailment, while the medicine is his support in that it can actually cure him. The sensible actions of the patient in following the doctor’s directions are also his support, for without such actions on his part the other three supports would be ineffective and he could not be cured. All four can be clearly seen to be real supports or refuges for sick people.

Now persons who make evil kamma and indulge in sensual pleasures are like those sick people. The Buddha is like the chief physician, an expert in curing afflictions. The assistant doctors represent the Order of Bhikkhus, while the Dhamma is pictured as the medicine. The bodily, verbal, and mental wholesome deeds are like those sensible actions of the ailing man in which he follows the doctor’s instructions.

In this way we can reckon that there are four refuges (or supports) in the Buddha’s Teaching, and of these four, three—the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha—are not found outside (in other teachings). The fourth refuge or support, making wholesome kamma, exists both within and outside Buddhism. While we are commoners (puthujjana) we shall never be free of making kamma and experiencing results of kamma, for kamma and its fruits are in operation for all beings in the world system—so it is wise to make only wholesome kamma.

So we see that the subject of “All beings are owners of their kamma” applies to all beings in all world systems, whether Buddhism exists there or not. It is for this reason that the support (or refuge) in kamma has been dealt with here but not the Three Refuges of Buddhists. Together these form four refuges or supports that can be relied upon both for good and wise conduct in this life and for rebirth in the happy existences.

We have noted already that saraṇa, usually translated “refuge,” means that which can save, give support or protection, so that food and drink are the support for long life, medicines and diet are the support for the sick, kings and rulers are protection against bandits and thieves, buildings are protection against the elements and for comfortable living, boats are a support for those who travel on water. Similarly, the earth is a support, and so are water, fire, and air for their respective purposes. So there are numerous supports or refuges in this existence. This concludes the exposition about the different kinds of refuges in Buddhism.

Refuge in other religions

Religions apart from Buddhism have only one refuge—that is, refuge in God. Whatever comes into existence and whatever is destroyed is therefore attributed to God.

I shall clarify this point. In religions such as Christianity and Islaṃ [14] the bare meaning of refuge—in making good kamma—is not understood so that followers regard God as their only refuge. They assume that the appearance and disappearance of the world and of the beings on it is due to the power of God. So they believe that God saves those who have faith in him by means of his supernormal power. And by means of this power he can wash away all the sins and evils done by beings, giving them eternal happiness and eternal life after death. Thus the good and bad things experienced by beings depend on the will of God.

People like this disbelieve in kamma and do not think that it can be the cause of results. It is really very surprising that people who are making kamma all the time, in this way disregard their own actions. [15] Kamma, as we have already said, means all intentional physical, verbal, and mental actions. Now all of these actions are done by people, whether Buddhist or otherwise, and some will be done by non-Buddhists in the worship of their religions, whatever forms it takes. So they make kamma by practising and undertaking such things as baptism, worship of God with body, speech and mind, obedience to his commandments, prostrations and offerings; all these things, as they are intentional, are kamma. Though these outsiders believe that God saves those who have faith in him and perform such actions (and does not save those who do not know of him or believe in him and who therefore do not do these things), really there is just the kamma made by those people who in time will receive its fruits, from their own hearts, not from God.

In these God-worshipping religions, as in Buddhism, one can also discern four refuges (supports), even though only one is usually spoken of. They are:

  1. God;
  2. the commandments and teachings of God;
  3. prophets such as Mohammed or saviours such as Christ, and the saints and priesthood; and
  4. the kamma made in the performance of religious rites and duties.

The priests and missionaries of those religions do not realise that even in their own teachings there are several kinds of refuge. They do not analyse but treat God as their only refuge, disregarding kamma. Thus they believe in something which is in some senses “outside” and different from themselves, rather than kamma which is “inside” (one’s own mind, speech, and body) and certainly part of oneself. Consequently they believe that the good and evil, prosperity and poverty, happiness and suffering of all beings, are created only by God and not due to other causes. They do not know that there are various and different causes for these events.

Is it simply by worship, by praying to God, that poor people who deserve wealth can obtain it? Would they not get it rather by their present kamma while diligently working as a labourer, farmer, or trader? (Note that “kamma” can mean labour or work as well as morally productive action.)

The answer to these questions which accords with cause and effect is that wealth is not usually obtained by prayer to God, whereas acquisition of property is clearly evident as a result of present kamma. As such is the case, it is believable that wealth in this life is got by making kamma now, and has nothing to do with God.

God has no power to give things to people, but present kamma can do so. [16] If God had such power then his followers would have no need to work (= to make present kamma), for they would all enjoy riches given by him. Also those who do not believe in him would not get anything even though they worked (= made kamma) diligently. But this is not so. Devout followers of a God have to work and make kamma in order to obtain wealth, while those who are not his followers can also become rich by making the appropriate kamma. We do not find only wealthy God-believers; on the contrary there are many poor people among them. Therefore, consideration of these reasons shows that acquisition of wealth in this life is the result of present kamma. It is not a gift of God.

In the same way, if one desires education and knowledge, it can be obtained by the present kamma of studying and learning. But it cannot be got by the worship of God.

Again, if one wishes to become a government officer, it is necessary to study the requirements for particular posts. Government jobs cannot be obtained by praying to God.

So we can see for ourselves that all worldly gains are obtainable only by the power of present kamma, not by the supposed power of God.

Let us examine another side to this matter. God-believers have faith that by humbly worshipping God they are freed from their sins and evils, including sickness. However, generally the sick are not cured only by taking the refuge and support of God; for a cure most of them must treat their bodies with medicines and diets. It is the present kamma made by regulating the body in this way that is the cause of their cure. Everyone has seen this for themselves, for Buddhists who are not believers in God and the God-believers all can be cured if the right conditions are present.

How surprising it is that God-believers think that they can be freed in the next life from the results of their sins in this one just by worshipping God sincerely, when even a disease such as ringworm in this life cannot be cured in this way!

It is surprising, too, that as even trifling wealth cannot be got in this life by praying to God, they believe the wealth of everlasting life and happiness in heaven can be acquired in this way!

Now since we have seen for ourselves that wealth and happiness not yet attained in this life are got by virtue of the different ways of making good kamma, not by the favour of God, we can fully believe that there is no other refuge apart from present kamma to get these things.

In the same way, we can believe that attainments of some higher plane of existence, a heaven world (devaloka), after death, is also due to present kamma. This has nothing to do with God, for a person who has made no wholesome kamma cannot be reborn in a higher plane by the fiat of God, while those who do not believe in him or worship him but have made wholesome kamma can certainly attain to higher states of existence. [17]

As to what is called “eternal salvation,” those who believe in God, take refuge in him, and revere him throughout their lives believe that only such persons as themselves, believing as they do, can be saved by him when they die, while non-believers will not be saved. But it is quite clear that such believers are not saved by God at all but by their own kamma of “believing in God,” “taking refuge in God,” and “revering God.” God is thus a concept, a conditioned phenomenon, in the minds of such believers.

The various beneficial results in a future life of present wholesome kamma cover such possibilities as rebirth into a ruling family or one that is prosperous, and rebirth in the deva-worlds or the Brahma-worlds as a deva or Brahmā. [18]

Knowing the power of kamma the Buddha has declared: “All beings abide supported by their kammas.”

6. “Whatever kamma they shall do, whether good or evil, of that they will be the heirs”

When bodily, verbal, and mental kammas have been made, whether wholesome or unwholesome, the beings who have individually made them will receive their fruits even after many lives or aeons.

(The first five phrases of the quotation which have been used as headings above refer to past kamma which bears fruit in the present life, but this sixth phrase concerns present kamma which will bear fruit in the future.)

The explanation of the right view on the ownership of one’s kamma is finished.

B. Right View regarding the Ten Subjects

This means having right view of the following ten matters. The Buddha has said:

“There is (moral significance in) giving alms. There is (moral significance in) large offerings. There is (moral significance in) small gifts. There is the result and fruit of good and bad deeds. There is (moral significance in what is done to) one’s mother. There is (moral significance in what is done to) one’s father. There are beings of instantaneous rebirth. There is this world, there is another world. There are in the world ascetics and brahmins of right attainment, of right practise who, having realised by their own super-knowledge (the truth regarding) this world and other worlds, make it known to others.”

By way of explanation we can say:

1. “There is (moral significance in) almsgiving” [[9]

This is the right view that almsgiving—such as giving food to animals, to lay people, to bhikkhus, and so on—if done with benevolence, leads to beneficial results, that kamma in a previous existence sometimes bears fruit in subsequent existences.

2. “There is (moral significance in) large offerings”

The right view that generosity, performed with faith and respect for the virtuous qualities of the recipient, yields beneficial results in the future.

3. “There is (moral significance in) small gifts”

The right view that gifts, even those given on a small scale, if given with loving kindness, bring benefit to the doer in the future.

4. “There is the result and fruit of good and bad deeds”

The right view that cruel actions done in previous lives yield painful results in future lives, while refraining from such evil deeds and cultivating wholesome deeds subsequently bears the fruit of happiness.

5–6. “There is (moral significance in what is done to) one’s mother and to one’s father” [[0]

The right view that good and evil deeds done towards one’s mother or father bear pleasant and painful fruits respectively, possibly in future lives.

7. “There are beings of instantaneous rebirth”

The right view that there really are beings born instantaneously who are (generally) invisible to human eyes. Instantaneous rebirth refers to those beings who do not take conception in a womb. Due to the force of their previous kamma they are born complete with limbs and other organs of the body which need no development further but remain as they are.

Mahābrahmā, the being of greatest power in this world system, has his abode in the three lowest planes of the Brahma-world. He is regarded as God in other religions in which the existence of still higher planes is usually unknown. [21]

Even when men are close to such beings, they are generally unable to see them with human eyes. Only when those beings cause their forms to become visible can they be seen by people here. Normally they are invisible to human beings [22] just like God, the angels, and devils of other religions.

The understanding that there really are such beings born instantaneously is also called right view.

8. “There is this world”

The right view of this world as the human world (one of several planes in the level of sensuality and lowest among the planes of good rebirth).

9. “There is another world” [[3]

The right view that “another world” (= states of existence differing from this one) consisting of the four planes of lower birth—hells, animals, ghosts, and titans, collectively known as the planes of deprivation—together with the devā and the Brahma-planes, really do exist.

In other religions, apart from the human and animal planes, these worlds are not known properly. (The heaven-worlds of the devas and the hell-worlds may be thought of as permanent when they are really impermanent states of long existence; the ghosts and titans may be ignored except in exorcism rites, while even the animals are not understood properly as beings also in the round of birth and death.) [24]

Another explanation is possible of the last two phrases: that this world system with its human world, the four lower worlds, the heavenly deva and Brahma-worlds, are termed “this world,” while in all directions from this world system there are an infinite number of other world systems which are called “the other world(s).” These world systems are generally not recognised in other religions. [25]

10. “There are in the world ascetics and brahmins of right attainment, of right practise, who having realised by their own super-knowledge (the truth regarding) this world and other worlds, make it known to others”

There are such possibilities for spiritual development as the super-knowledges (abhiññā[26] and the all-knowing knowledge (sabbaññuta-ñaṇa[27] Ascetics and brahmins who exert themselves diligently in performing the perfections (pāramī) and practising the meditations through calm and insight in this very world can attain such knowledges. Such people are born into this world from time to time who, because of their efforts and practise in past lives, are possessed of these knowledges.

But some people, due to their limited pāramī or perfections, are only able to gain the super-knowledges, and then they can see the four lower worlds, the six deva-worlds and some of the Brahma-worlds, just as if they looked at them with their usual human eyes. Other people are capable of both the super-knowledges and the all-knowledge so that they see clearly all the countless beings, the infinite worlds and world systems. People who have both these knowledges are called “Buddhas.”

These two kinds of people appear in the human world from time to time and impart their knowledge of this world and other worlds to others who often become their followers. But it is only a Buddha who can explain the round of rebirth in terms of cause and effect and clarify the arising and passing away even of the world systems.

In regard to this there are three kinds of understanding: (1) that beings with super-knowledges and the all-knowing knowledge do appear in this world from time to time; (2) that their teaching if based on the six super-knowledges is thoroughly reliable, and if on five of them at least partly so; (3) that other worlds do exist. All this constitutes right view.

Those who have this right view do not doubt that a Buddha arises only in the human world, not in the heavenly worlds. But in religions where such right view is not understood they imagine that the all-knowers and all-seers, those having the all-knowing knowledge, appear only in the highest heavens and not in the human world. Only in the human world can one strive towards the all-knowing knowledge. Why is this so? The devas and Brahmās are too comfortable—they see no suffering, their lives are too long so they do not see impermanence. But the beings in the planes of deprivation have so much suffering that they cannot practise Dhamma. Only human beings have rather short lives and so are pricked by impermanence, only they have a mixture of pleasure and pain. Diligent effort is needed if one would attain the all-knowing knowledge and those who are able to make this effort are human beings. And it is the rare human being who attains Buddhahood here in this human world. This is the marvel and the wonder of a Buddha, that he is a human being, not a deva or Brahmā. If he were such a heavenly inhabitant then there would be nothing very remarkable about his knowledge and wisdom. But as he is born normally of human parents and has a body essentially the same as that of all other people, he is wonderful and marvellous for showing what a human being can attain to if he makes the effort.

It is only in the Buddha’s Dhamma that profound, sublime, and wonderful teachings are found, for they are revealed by the Buddha’s all-knowing knowledge. They all belong to the sphere of super-knowledge, hard to find outside Buddhism.

One should know that there are two spheres of power: the power of knowledge and the power of kamma. In the latter, the most effective is the power of jhāna (intense concentration) which is a “heavy” kamma. It can cause one to arise in the form or formless planes as a Brahmā with an immensely long span of life. But the power of kamma cannot cause one to become a Perfectly Enlightened One. Even though one has made the merits to be reborn as Mahābrahmā himself, still one has no super-knowledge to know and see all.

To strive in this life to become a wealthy person is one path, while to strive for insight knowledge and so become a teacher for other beings is another. Striving to become a Mahābrahmā is similar to the effort to attain wealth, while to strive as a bhikkhu or lay hermit for insight knowledge is actually the way of the Buddha and the arahats.

Here is another example: Birds such as parrots, crows, and vultures have wings with which to fly but they do not possess knowledge and wisdom like men. Human beings have varying degrees of knowledge and wisdom but having no wings they are unable by themselves to fly.

The wholesome kammas which the Mahābrahmās have made by developing jhāna, and the wholesome kammas of the devas residing both here on earth and in the various deva-worlds, resemble the wings of birds. But the super-knowledges and the all-knowing knowledge of lay hermits and bhikkhus are like the wisdom of the man in the above example.

It is due to the power of their wholesome kamma made by developing jhāna that the Mahābrahmās live in the higher planes of existence, long-lived and powerful. But they do not possess the two kinds of super-knowledge and so do not penetrate the deep truths of impermanence, suffering, non-self, and voidness. Their knowledge is confined to just what they experience personally.

To summarise some important points of this section, we can note that the knowledge which makes clear (1) that a Buddha has the all-knowing knowledge and arises only in the human plane, not in the higher planes of existence; (2) that only ascetics of the human race complete in the super-knowledges and in the all-knowing knowledge can clearly teach the conditioned nature of aeons and world systems, how beings wander in the round of birth and death and how wholesome and unwholesome kamma operates; and (3) that the teachings of the monks compiled as the Sutta (Discourses), Vinaya (Discipline), and Abhidhamma are true, is called the right-view knowledge that there are (enlightened) ascetics and brahmins in the world.

On the other hand, wrong views should be rejected, such as the view that an Enlightened One with the all-knowing knowledge does not appear in the human plane but only in the highest heavenly abode. Also that the gods are not many but only one God, as well as the idea that this one God, being highest and noblest, must be eternal and free from decay, disease, and death.

The Buddha has rejected all such tangles of views.

C. Right View of the Four Noble Truths

This right view means:

  1. Knowledge of real suffering.
  2. Knowledge of the true causal arising of suffering.
  3. Knowledge of the cessation of suffering.
  4. Knowledge of that right path leading to the cessation of suffering. [28]
1. Right View of the Truth of Suffering
Attachment to sensuality and the troubles caused thereby

Because of this attachment, human beings, devas, and Brahmās are subject to great pains and sufferings which have existed in the past, continue in the present, and will be experienced, while attachment remains, in the future. The eye, ear, nose, tongue, body (touch), and mind are the six internal sense-spheres which operate, in the unenlightened person, in conjunction with defilements of greed, aversion, and delusion whenever they are stimulated by an external sense object. These six sense faculties are the suffering which, though not apparent to many people, is real, constant, and oppressive.

How does attachment to the senses oppress? It may be explained by this group of factors: kamma-formations, instability, and suffering. In another way there is oppression through kamma-formations, burning, and instability. Or it can be explained through birth, decay, and death. Again, there is oppression by way of stoking up the fires of greed, aversion, and delusion, conceit, wrong view, the mental defilements (kilesa) and the pollutions (āsava), by stimulating evil conduct such as destroying living creatures and so on, or by fuelling the fires of birth, decay, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair.

Now I shall explain some of these points.

Oppression by kamma-formations (saṅkhārā)

Possession of the sense faculties of a human being, deva, or Brahmā means that good kamma has been made in a past life, for if good kamma had not been made the senses of a hell-being, animal, ghost, or titan would have come into existence. So the senses of a higher being are oppressive to him because of the good kamma-formations which must be made continually to ensure the continuation of those faculties. And those same kamma-formations oppress him in the next existence also because he has still to protect and sustain his conduct so that he will not lose those sense faculties in the future. So there comes about a constant oppression. As the eye and other senses do not arise independently of the kamma-formations, it is said that kamma-formations always “oppress” the “owner” of those senses throughout the beginningless round of birth and death.

Oppression by instability (vipariṇāma)

This means “oppression by liability to immediate destruction, whenever cause exists for destruction.” From the time of conception onwards there is not a single moment, even for the winking of an eye or a flash of lightning, when there is no liability to destruction. Moreover, there is always the anxiety caused by impending destruction. And when destruction comes, then many sorts of suffering have to be experienced. This is what is meant by saying that the senses are oppressive because of their instability.

Oppression by the painfulness of suffering

This means both physical and mental suffering. The suffering experienced while the sense bases grow (in the womb) and the experience by way of them during birth needs no comment. The painfulness of suffering is also evident when the senses come into contact with an unpleasant object. Also, whenever one inflicts bodily pain upon others out of the unpleasant feelings which arise when seeing or hearing them—then this oppression is experienced. And when the eye or another sense organ contracts some disease, or whenever there is physical and mental trouble in the preservation and protection of the eye, etc., then oppression by suffering occurs. In this way all the senses beginning with the eye oppress beings with the suffering associated with them.

Oppression by burning (santāpa)

The senses are the source of so much suffering by means of the defilements which they awaken in the hearts of people. These defilements are like great fires which are continually refuelled and burn without dying down from the beginningless past to the endless future in the round of birth and death. These great fires are three in number: the fires of greed, aversion, and delusion, and when they are refuelled through the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind, they ensure that one’s future in saṃsāra will be long and miserable.

It is right-view knowledge that gives one understanding of the immense sea of sufferings born of attachment to sense pleasures, whether in the sensuality sphere, the fine-form sphere, or the formless sphere.

2. Right View of the Causal Arising of Suffering

In the round of birth and death, so long as there is attachment to the senses as “mine” or “myself,” so long continues oppressiveness and suffering. So it is craving, desire, and greed connected with the senses that is the true cause for the arising of suffering. [29]

It is right-view knowledge that gives one understanding of the causal arising of suffering by way of craving.

3. Right View of the Cessation of Suffering

In whatever life the craving and greed connected with the senses finally cease, the suffering and oppression finally cease as well. The senses do not arise again after the death of the person who has extinguished craving.

It is right-view knowledge that gives one understanding of the cessation of craving.

4. Right View of the Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering

When, as a result of practising Dhamma in general and developing the mind in meditation in particular, the true nature of the senses is seen and understood, craving connected with them ceases in this very life. It does not arise again and so sense oppression likewise does not arise.

It is right-view knowledge that gives one understanding of the true path leading to the cessation of craving. Among all the parts of the Noble Eightfold Path, this right view of the Four Noble Truths is most essential.

This concludes the brief exposition of right view of the Four Truths.

II. Right Thought [[0]

This is explained under three headings:

  1. Thoughts of renunciation ( = generosity).
  2. Thoughts of non-harming ( = loving kindness).
  3. Thoughts of non-violence ( = compassion). [31]
1. Thoughts of Renunciation

The mental state where there is absence of greed and ability therefore to renounce the five sense pleasures, that is pleasant sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. Or it is ability to renounce attachment to the five groups (khandha), or to mind and body. Thought arising out of such absence of greed is this mode of right thought. [32]

2. Thoughts of Non-Harming

Loving kindness (mettā) for all beings, visible such as men and animals, or invisible such as devas and ghosts; the mind or heart which wishes their good and welfare. [33]

3. Thoughts of Non-Violence

Compassion and sympathy for all beings, all of whom are subject to some suffering while most beings have much suffering to bear. Thoughts which, to use the Pali idiom, “tremble with” the sufferings of others are the practise of this aspect of right thought. [34]

This finishes the explanation of right thought.

III. Right Speech

There are four types of right speech:

  1. Restraint from false speech.
  2. Restraint from tale-bearing.
  3. Restraint from harsh talk.
  4. Restraint from useless chatter.

The first of these means abstinence from both speaking untruth in such a way that it appears to be truth and speaking truth as though it were untruth. [35]

The second is found where a person abstains from bearing tales which would cause two friends to lose confidence and regard for each other, and so create dissension and trouble.

The third abstinence is from words uttered in anger which are rough, harsh, and abusive, such as insinuations regarding race, family, personality, and occupation.

And the fourth, abstinence from useless chatter, refers to such plays and novels [36] as contain no worthy goals (attha), no rightful means thereto (dhamma), and no reference to good conduct (vinaya). Such matters do not inspire those who read or listen to them though they may have transient entertainment value.

Words which relate to goals (attha) describe such things as long life, health, and rightly acquired wealth enjoyed in this life, while in a future life they are such good results as being born a human being or a deva.

Words relating to the means (dhamma) make clear the ways in which the above goals can be realised.

Those words which deal with the rules of conduct (vinaya) for both laity and religious (the five, eight, ten, or 227 precepts) are the basis for the destruction of greed and aversion.

Now words about such goals, means, and good conduct are not found in the type of books and dramas referred to here, so narrating and acting works like this amounts to useless chatter.

Also included under this heading are the thirty-two types of vulgar talk [37] which are spiritually unbeneficial [and obstruct the noble fruits of stream-winning, etc., and also rebirth in the higher planes. They are as follows: talk about rulers, criminals, ministers of state, armies, dangers, battles, food, drink, clothing, dwellings, adornments, perfumes, relatives, vehicles, villages, towns, cities, provinces, women (or men), heroes, streets, baths, relations who have died, this and that, the origin of the world, the origin of the ocean, eternity views, annihilation views, worldly loss, worldly gain, self-indulgence, self-mortification]. [38]

Anyone who wants to develop wisdom regarding goals, means, and good conduct should not waste time indulging in these thirty-two kinds of talk. Further, a person who is developing the meditation practises leading to calm (samatha) or to insight (vipassanā) should know the limits even of speech dealing with goals, means, and good conduct.

This ends the description of the four types of right speech.

IV. Right Action

This is threefold:

  1. Restraint from killing living creatures.
  2. Restraint from taking what is not given.
  3. Restraint from wrong conduct in (sexual) [39] pleasures.

The first of these means the intentional killing or destroying of beings either by physical action or by verbal incitement ranging from killing the eggs of lice and bugs, or causing abortion, to the slaughter of living creatures including human beings. [40]

Restraint from taking what is not given means abstaining from taking, with intention to steal, living beings or non-living articles which have an owner, removing or appropriating them without the owner’s consent either by physical effort or by inciting another to do so.

Restraint from wrong conduct in sexual pleasures means abstention from sex which will cause pain and suffering to others. Examples will be adultery (for this causes the disruption of marriage), rape, intercourse with minors protected by parents, etc., and the perversion of others. Included here also are abstention from the five kinds of intoxicants and gambling with cards, dice, and so on. [41]

This ends the explanation of three sorts of right action.

V. Right Livelihood

  1. Restraint from livelihood based on wrong conduct.
  2. Restraint from livelihood based on improper means.
  3. Restraint from livelihood based on deception of others.
  4. Restraint from livelihood based on low worldly knowledges.

Wrong conduct means either the threefold unwholesome bodily action beginning with killing living creatures described under right action, or the fourfold unwholesome verbal action such as lying, described under right speech—any livelihood gained in this way will be wrong. So will be a living made by the sale of the five kinds of merchandise [42] which should not be sold. When one abstains from such wrong conduct in livelihood, right livelihood is practised.

The second heading, improper means, refers to ways of wrong livelihood not to be practised by the bhikkhus (Buddhist monks) and lay hermits (isi, the Pali form of the Sanskrit word rishi, represented by a class of lay followers in Burma). These wrong ways of getting a livelihood involve such matters as a bhikkhu giving flowers and fruit to families, or medical preparations, or flattering them in some way, or acting as their messenger. In such wrong ways, a bhikkhu may hope to increase his gains though actually he earns only contempt.

Under the third heading above, livelihood is gained by deceiving others and while much of this section applies to bhikkhus, it does have application to householders as well. Five sorts of deception are given, as follows. The first is all sorts of trickery so that people understand that one can work wonders or attain deep states of meditation or the noble paths and fruits, or feigning deportment so that they think one is an ariya (noble one), or again causing people to have a high opinion of oneself by pretending that one does not wish to receive alms and accepts only for the sake of the donors. The second is talk which pleases donors so that they make a gift, while the third is making all sorts of hints and gestures so that offerings are made. Fourth comes harassing a donor with words so that he is obliged to give in order to get rid of oneself, and fifth comes giving a small gift so as to get a bigger one. All this is trickery and deception.

The fourth heading, wrong livelihood based on low worldly knowledges, means that one gets a living by prognostication, by palmistry and interpreting other bodily marks, or by astrology and other such low arts which run contrary to the bhikkhu’s practise of Dhamma. When bhikkhus and lay hermits refrain from such things their livelihood is pure in this respect.

This brings to an end the exposition of right livelihood.

VI. Right Effort

This path-factor is analysed into four components. The first two deal with unwholesome volitional actions (kamma), divided into unwholesome mental states which have arisen and those which have not yet arisen. These two constantly cause anxiety, corruption, and debasement for living beings. The second two deal with wholesome kamma, either with those states which have arisen or those which have not. They always bring peace, purity, nobility, and progress for beings. Now to define these four in greater detail.

The ten paths of unwholesome kamma have already been mentioned (see p.8). Now, whatever of those kammas have already arisen in the past or arise in the present, they are all called “arisen unwholesomeness.” But if such kammas have not yet been made though one may be liable to make them in future, then this is called “unarisen unwholesomeness.”

To illustrate wholesome kamma, arisen and unarisen, let us take the seven stages of purity:

Now whatever purity has arisen in oneself in the past, or in the present, that is called “arisen wholesomeness.” But the purities which one has not experienced, though one may do so in the future (provided that the necessary effort is made), are called “unarisen wholesomeness.”

If the Noble Eightfold Path is practised and developed in this life, then by virtue of its power the bad conduct already arisen will never arise again until one attains Nibbāna without remainder of grasping (when there is no possibility of its doing so). Also, by virtue of the Noble Eightfold Path the bad conduct which has not arisen in oneself during this life, but which could arise in future, will have no chance to arise at any time until Nibbāna without remainder of grasping is attained.

In the same way, when this path is practised and developed here and now, due to its power any one of the purities which has already arisen for oneself becomes indestructible and constant until the attainment of Nibbāna without remainder of grasping. Likewise, the purities which so far have not arisen in oneself, which have not been attained or reached, by virtue of the Noble Eightfold Path are reached and attained in this life.

(In explaining the terms “arisen” and “unarisen” people can easily understand unwholesomeness by way of the ten evil paths of making kamma while wholesomeness can best be illustrated by the seven kinds of purification.)

Bhikkhus and lay people who have encountered the Buddha’s teaching, being confident and faithful, should be convinced by these reasons that only right effort in the practise and development of the Noble Eightfold Path leads to their real welfare and prosperity. The things of this world should be carried out only in essential matters such as are unavoidable.

This is indeed the way of elucidating right effort which is a fundamental factor for Buddhist practise. The summary of this most important subject in relation to the Eightfold Path is as follows:

1. Regarding what is unwholesome

To practise the Eightfold Path with the intention to prevent bad conduct from arising at all in this life and the following existences, is the first kind of right effort.

2. Regarding what is unwholesome

To practise the Eightfold Path with the intention to prevent bad conduct which has not yet arisen for oneself in this life but which is liable to arise in the future, from arising at all until one attains the Nibbāna without remainder of grasping, is the second kind of right effort.

3. Regarding what is wholesome

To make effort in practising the Eightfold Path in such a way as to attain without fail the higher purities (visuddhi) which have not yet been attained in this life, is the third kind of right effort.

4. Regarding what is wholesome

To make effort in such a way as to keep unbroken one’s purity of moral conduct—the five precepts and the precepts with livelihood as the eighth (ājīvaṭṭhamaka-sīla, for this see p.54 below) which one observes in this life until one attains Nibbāna when they become permanent—this is the fourth kind of right effort.

These four are the right efforts which have been explained in this way for easy understanding. They are four in number only with reference to their four functions (namely: avoiding, overcoming, developing, maintaining). But really there is only one factor here—effort or viriya—for the reason that when one tries to attain to any of the purities, the effort so exercised covers these four functions automatically.

Here ends the exposition of the four kinds of right effort.

VII. Right Mindfulness

The minds of most beings are never steady but fly about here and there. They have no control over their minds and so cannot fix them steadily on a subject of meditation. As they cannot control their minds they resemble mad or mentally deranged persons and for such people society has no regard. So people who begin to meditate find that their uncontrolled minds resemble those of persons who are deranged. To eliminate the unsteady and flighty mind and to fix it continuously on the meditation subject one has to practise the four applications of mindfulness. They are:

1. The application of mindfulness to contemplate the body (kāyānupassanā-satipaṭṭhāna)

This means that one’s mind is firmly bound to the body-group by the rope of right mindfulness. What is meant here is that the mind is constantly looking at or concentrating upon bodily phenomena, such as breathing in and out and the other exercises listed in the discourse on the application of mindfulness. [43] When such practise has been continued for three or four months, the unsteadiness of the mind disappears and it is possible all the time to concentrate the mind upon the body group. This requires steady practise from day to day which may be from just an hour, or up to six hours daily, upon mindfulness of breathing in and out or one of the other subjects listed in the above discourse. At this point the meditator has control of his mind so that it can be fixed on any meditation subject.

2. The application of mindfulness to contemplate feeling (vedanānupassanā-satipaṭṭhāna)

This means that one’s mind is firmly bound by the rope of right mindfulness to the feeling group (= pleasant feeling, painful feeling, neither painful nor pleasant feeling), which occur all the time in the body varying according to conditions. Repeatedly fixing the mind on these feelings will put an end to restlessness of mind, and when this occurs then one has mental control so that the mind will be concentrated on any subject of meditation.

3. The application of mindfulness to contemplate mind (cittānupassanā-satipaṭṭhāna)

Here the meaning is that the mindful mind is firmly bound with the mindfulness-rope to the contemplation of the mind when it is associated with greed and aversion, which have been present in one’s mental continuum from time to time according to conditions. When this is often practised the restless mind disappears and the mind becomes workable so that it can be fixed on any meditation subject.

4. The application of mindfulness to contemplate dhammas (dhammānupassanā-satipaṭṭhāna[[4]

The rope of right mindfulness here binds the mind to the contemplation of such mental objects as sensual desire, ill will, mental and physical sloth, distraction and worry, and uncertainty (= the five hindrances) and other subjects given in the discourse which arise conditionally in one’s mind-continuum. When this has been repeated many times restlessness disappears and with this mind-control the mind can be directed to any subject of meditation.

So the applications of mindfulness really mean the meditative work of getting rid of the mad, deranged, hot and burning states of mind that have always formed part of one’s mental continuity from successive past lives, by binding the mind with the mindfulness-rope to four of the five groups comprising oneself. Thus body-contemplation is applied to the body, feeling-contemplation to the feelings, mind-contemplation to consciousness, and dhamma-contemplation to mental formations. This should be done diligently and regularly in daily practise so that the mind does not stray to external objects but is centred upon the four groups mentioned above.

VIII. Right Concentration

In the world, when one is learning how to read one has to begin with the letters of the alphabet and it is only when these have been mastered that higher education can be acquired. The same principle applies to the process of mental development where mindfulness must be practised first, for only when it is strong will the mad, deranged mind be got rid of and only then can the higher stages of meditation be practised with steadfastness.

So when the work of the applications of mindfulness is in order and one is able to concentrate the mind without disturbance for one or two hours or more daily upon one of the exercises in the contemplations of the body, feeling, etc., one should turn to the development of the pure mind (cittavisuddhi-bhāvanā), known also as the four levels of collectedness acquired by the practise of calm (samatha-jhāna-samādhi). This can be compared to the higher Buddhist studies on the Discourse on Blessings, the passages for paying respect (to the Triple Gem and to one’s teachers), the protection discourses, Pali grammar, and the Manual on the Meaning of Abhidhamma, [45] which are mastered after having learnt the alphabet first.

Among these four levels of collectedness, the first is called the first jhāna and is attained by intense practise of one of the meditation subjects listed below, after having passed through three successive stages of development (bhāvanā): the preparatory work on development (parikamma-bhāvanā), the access development (upacāra-bhāvanā), and the attainment development (appanā-bhāvanā). The twenty-five meditation subjects (kammaṭṭhāna) for attaining the first jhāna are:

ten kinds of kasiṇa devices (four colours, four elements, space, light)

ten kinds of unattractiveness (decaying corpses)

one exercise on the thirty-two parts of the body

one exercise on mindful breathing in and out

three kinds of divine abidings =

loving kindness (mettā)

compassion (karuṇā )

joy-with-others (muditā[46]

When a person takes up meditation and makes an effort with the exercise of mindfully breathing in and out, this “preparatory work on development,” which is just to get rid of the mad and deranged mind, is included in the first jhāna.

It should be noted that the practise of applying mindfulness to breathing in and out serves both purposes: the establishing of mindfulness and the attainment of the first jhāna. For a full explanation of the four jhānas The Path of Purification should be consulted.

Here ends the section on the four kinds of right concentration.

This concludes the full explanation of the Noble Eightfold Path.

Practising the Path

The Three Rounds and the Four Kinds of Wandering-On

In the present time, while the Buddhasāsana still exists, if people practise and develop the Noble Eightfold Path they can free themselves from the suffering of the rounds (vaṭṭa). I shall explain them to you.

There are three kinds of suffering produced by the rounds, and these are:

(1) the round of defilement (kilesa-vaṭṭa),

(2) the round of intentional action (kamma-vaṭṭa);

(3) the round of resultants (vipāka-vaṭṭa).

They are also classified in this way:

  1. the three rounds connected with the wandering-on in states of deprivation;
  2. the three rounds connected with the wandering-on in the good bourns of the sensual realm;
  3. the three rounds connected with the wandering-on in the realms of subtle form;
  4. the three rounds connected with the wandering-on in the realms of formlessness.

(a) In the case of the three rounds connected with the wandering-on in states of deprivation:

  1. the round of defilements refers to personality view and uncertainty;
  2. the round of intentional action refers to the ten evil paths of kamma (see table above).
  3. the round of resultants refer to the five resultant kamma-produced groups (khandha) of hell-beings, animals, ghosts, and demons.

(b) In the case of the three rounds connected with the wandering-on in the good bourns of the sensual realm:

  1. the round of defilements refers to desire for sensual pleasures, such as pleasant sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches;
  2. the round of intentional action refers to the three ways of making merit (good kamma), that is, by giving, moral conduct, and meditation;
  3. the round of resultants refers to the five resultant kamma-produced groups (khandha) of human beings and of devas in the six deva-planes.

(c) & (d) In the case of the three rounds connected with the wandering-on in subtle form, or those of formlessness:

  1. the round of defilements refers to attachment to subtle form or formlessness in the realm of subtle form, or the realm of formlessness, respectively;
  2. the round of intentional action refers to wholesome kamma leading to and practised in the form and formless realms;
  3. the round of resultants refers to the five resultant kamma-produced groups (khandha) of the Brahma-gods in the form realm, and to the four resultant mental groups of the Brahma-gods in the formless realm.

So one should understand that there are these three rounds in both form realm and formless realm.

This is the end of the exposition of the three rounds with the four divisions of each of them.

Path-Factors and Rounds

The Eightfold Path may also be divided as it pertains to the experience of stream-winners, once-retumers, non-retumers, and arahats.

The Eightfold Path, as it is experienced by a person who becomes a stream-winner (at the time when the mind turns away from continuance in the wandering-on towards Nibbāna), completely terminates the three rounds connected with rebirth in the states of deprivation (apāya). As regards the rounds connected with wandering-on in the sensual good bourns, it completely terminates all the three rounds that would otherwise arise after seven more existences. [47]

The once-returner’s Eightfold Path completely terminates two of the three rounds, the defilements-round and the resultants-round, connected with the realm of sensuality which would otherwise arise in the last five of the seven existences (spoken of above). In other words, the once-retumer completely terminates all the three rounds connected with good birth in the sensual realm in two more lives. [48]

The non-retumer’s Eightfold Path completely terminates the rounds connected with fortunate birth in the sensual realm and goes beyond the two existences of a once-returner, leaving only the rounds for existence in the form realm and the formless realm.

The path, as it is experienced by a person who attains arahatship, completely terminates the three rounds connected with wandering-on in the form and formless realms.

All defilements are forever extinguished.

This concludes the explanation of the inter-relation between path-factors and rounds.

The First, Second, and Third Levels of Views

The three rounds connected with the states of deprivation, among all the four kinds of wandering-on each with its three rounds, are of great urgency for Buddhists today. As Lord Buddha has said, it is a matter of the greatest urgency when one’s head is on fire to extinguish it immediately. No delay is possible even for a minute. Well, it is more urgent for followers of Buddhism to terminate completely the three rounds connected with the deprived states than for that man to put out the fire on his head. For this reason I have dealt with the Noble Eightfold Path as it is able to terminate those three rounds. [49] How does it do so?

Among these two defilements (cut off by the stream-winner)—personality view and uncertainty—personality view is the most important. When this view is no more, naturally there is no more uncertainty and the ten unwholesome paths of kamma can no longer be created so that the wandering-on in deprived states is extinguished.

Personality view is just another name for self view (atta-diṭṭhi) in which the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind are regarded as “I” and “mine.” This view is held tenaciously by all ordinary people (puthujjana). When we say that the sense organs are tenaciously viewed as “I” and “mine,” this means that whenever a visible object is seen, people firmly and tenaciously believe “I see it, I see it.” The same is true of the other senses and their objects (with mind as the sixth). This is how personality view is established on the foundation of the six internal bases.

Let us take the example of a being who in past lives has made many stupid mistakes so that in his successive lives all these old evil kammas bom of personality view are attached to and always accompany his life continuity. Proceeding in such a way, this being will in future existences also make foolish mistakes, thus making new evil kamma arising from personality view. So when personality view is extinguished, the results of past evil kamma leading to subhuman birth cannot arise, nor can more evil kamma be made. For this reason there is no longer any possibility of wandering-on in the deprived states; for such a person there are no more rebirths in the hells, the animal world, the ghost realm, and the demons—these are all extinguished. A person like this attains to his first experience of Nibbāna, called Nibbāna-with-the-grasped-at-groups-remaining (sa-upadisesa Nibbāna), meaning that for him the three rounds connected with the wandering-on in the states of deprivation are utterly extinct. He then becomes a noble one (ariya) in the noble supermundane plane, one to be reborn in successively higher planes of existence. [50]

Now we come to consider the three levels of views whereby personality view is established.

The first is called the latency level (anusaya-bhūmi), that is, the view of personality which always accompanies the life-continuity of a being in the beginningless round of rebirths and resides in the whole person [51] as the seed or potential for the three kinds of kamma, i.e. of body, speech, and mind, before they are made. When objects which can cause the doing of evil deeds come into contact with any of the six doors, such as the eye-door, unwholesome kamma stimulated by that latent view is made in the mind. This is the second level called obsessive level (pariyutthana-bhūmi), represented among the ten unwholesome paths of kamma by the threefold mental kamma (covetousness, ill will, and wrong view). Thus the stage of mental kamma has been reached. If no steps are taken for the control of the mind, then unwholesomeness spreads from the obsessive level to the third level called the transgressive level (vitikkama-bhūmi), the stage where unwholesome verbal or bodily kamma is made. These are, respectively, the fourfold verbal action (false speech, tale-bearing, harsh talk, and useless chatter), and the threefold bodily action (killing living creatures, taking what is not given, wrong conduct in sexual pleasures).

Suppose we take the example of a match. When the matchbox with its nitrous surface is available then the potential for fire lying in the match head can be activated. Flames result and with such a lighted match a heap of rubbish can be set alight. The matchbox’s striking surface represents the six sense objects—sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, and thoughts —and the potential for fire in the match head may be compared to the latency level. When these objects present themselves to the mind, like the striking of the match, then heat and fire result—the obsessive level. From that small fire a great one can be lighted, burning and scorching other beings with the bodily and verbal kamma of the transgressive level.

This concludes the explanation of the first, second, and third levels of views.

Forming the Path into Three Groups

The Noble Eightfold Path falls naturally into the following groups:

  1. Morality group: right speech, right action, and right livelihood.
  2. Concentration group: right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
  3. Wisdom group: right view and right thought.

If the three constituents of the morality group are considered in detail then they become the set of precepts with livelihood as the eighth, in this way:

I shall refrain from killing living creatures.
I shall refrain from taking what is not given.
I shall refrain from wrong conduct in sexual pleasures and from intoxicants—

these three comprise right action.

1 shall refrain from false speech.
I shall refrain from tale-bearing.
I shall refrain from harsh talk.
I shall refrain from useless chatter—

these four comprise right speech.

I undertake right livelihood, refraining from dishonesty, violence, and killing.

Permanent precepts, that is, those which are taken to be kept all the time, such as the lay person’s Five Precepts, the Ten Precepts observed by hermits and wanderers (perhaps non-Buddhist), and the Ten Precepts practised by Buddhist novices (sāmaṇeras), together with the bhikkhu’s 227 precepts contained in the Pātimokkha, are generally contained within the group of precepts with livelihood as the eighth. In the same way, the Eight Precepts are improvements on the Five Precepts and the above group of precepts with livelihood as the eighth.

Right speech, action, and livelihood, which are the constituents of the morality group, are the factors to use for the destruction of the third level of personality view, the transgressive level, when evil unwholesome kamma, fourfold of speech and threefold of bodily action, is committed.

Right effort, mindfulness, and concentration, the factors of the concentration group, are the factors to use for the destruction of the second level of personality view, the obsessive level, when the threefold evil unwholesome kamma of the mind is made.

Right view and right intention, comprising the wisdom group, are the factors to use for the destruction of the first level of personality view, the latency level, which has always existed in the life-continuities of beings in the beginningless round of rebirths.

Here ends the formation of the Eightfold Path into three groups.

How to Establish the Morality Group

To rid oneself of the three unwholesome verbal deeds bom of personality view, the three constituents of the morality group must be established in oneself, which is another way of saying that the set of precepts with livelihood as eighth should be accepted and practised.

One cannot guard against the three unwholesome mental deeds born of personality view in this way, so when one no longer wishes to make them, the three factors of the concentration group in the Noble Eightfold Path should be practised and established. Such firmness of mind only results when exercises such as mindfulness of in-and-out breathing, or the meditation on the unattractiveness of such things as bones, or the meditations on colours, elements, etc., called kasinas, are practised/or at least one hour a day.

The method whereby one may rid oneself of the transgressive level of personality view is by establishing oneself in purification of virtue as represented by the set of precepts with livelihood as the eighth, as mentioned above. One may either first recite the precepts, as given below, and then practise them, or just decide to observe them so that from this day forth, throughout one’s life, one does not kill living creatures, etc. It is not necessary to request these precepts from a bhikkhu; one has only to practise them accordingly. One may then either recite or determine, as follows:

  1. From today throughout my life, I shall refrain from killing any living creatures.
  2. From today throughout my life, I shall refrain from taking what is not given.
  3. From today throughout my life, I shall refrain from wrong conduct in sexual pleasures and from intoxicants.
  4. From today throughout my life, I shall refrain from false speech.
  5. From today throughout my life, I shall refrain from setting one person against another.
  6. From today throughout my life, I shall refrain from harsh and abusive words regarding any person’s status in society and beliefs.
  7. From today throughout my life, I shall refrain from speaking in ways not conducive to the welfare of beings in this present life, or of those in the wandering-on, or of those in the supermundane plane. [52]
  8. From today throughout my life, I shall refrain from wrong livelihood.

When this set of precepts has been taken, it remains in force until it is broken. Then only the precept which has been broken should be undertaken once again, though of course there is no harm in taking again those precepts which have not been broken. This is really unnecessary, but if an unbroken precept is taken again it will be strengthened in this way.

It is better, therefore, to undertake these precepts everyday. But these precepts are permanent, that is, they apply every day, like the Five Precepts. They are not like the Eight Precepts observed only on the Uposatha days. Bhikkhus who have 227 precepts and samaneras who observe ten precepts, as well as hermits and wanderers, need not take these precepts.

Now the constituent factors which are required for the breaking of the first seven of these precepts should be examined.

The five conditions for killing living creatures
  1. The being must be alive.
  2. There must be the knowledge that it is a living being.
  3. There must be an intention to cause its death.
  4. Action must be taken to cause its death.
  5. Death must result from such action.

If all these five conditions are fulfilled then the first precept has been broken and should be taken again.

The five conditions for taking what is not given
  1. The property must be the possession of another person.
  2. It must be known to oneself that it is the possession of another person.
  3. There must be an intention to steal.
  4. Action must be taken to steal.
  5. By that action the property must be taken.

If all these five conditions are fulfilled then the second precept has been broken and should be taken again.

The four conditions/or wrong conduct in sexual pleasures
  1. There must be a man or a woman, with whom it is improper to have sexual intercourse. [53]
  2. There must be intention to have sexual intercourse with such a person.
  3. Action must be taken to have such intercourse.
  4. There must be enjoyment from the contact of the sexual organs.

If all these four conditions are fulfilled then the third precept has been broken and should be taken again.

The four conditions for false speech
  1. The statement must be untrue.
  2. There must be an intention to deceive.
  3. There must be an effort made as a result of this intention.
  4. The other person must know the meaning of what has been said.

If all these four conditions are fulfilled then the fourth precept has been broken and should be taken again.

The four conditions for tale-bearing
  1. There must be persons to be disunited.
  2. There must be the intention to disunite these persons.
  3. There must be an effort made as a result of this intention.
  4. The other person(s) must know the meaning of what has been said.

If all these four conditions are fulfilled then the fifth precept has been broken and should be taken again.

The three conditions for harsh talk
  1. There must be a person to be abused.
  2. There must be anger.
  3. Harsh language must be directed towards that person.

If all these three conditions are fulfilled then the sixth precept has been broken and should be taken again.

The two conditions for useless chatter
  1. There must be intention to say things which bring forth no wholesome benefits.
  2. Such things must be said.

If these conditions are fulfilled then the seventh precept has been broken and should be taken again.

As regards “things which bring forth no wholesome benefits” this means plays and novels which do not lead to the growth of good qualities. Nowadays we have numerous plays and novels which satisfy all the conditions of useless chatter.

Fulfilment of the conditions given above for the first three precepts and for harsh speech, the sixth one, are sufficient not only to break these but also to make kamma which will be a “path of kamma” leading to rebirth in the states of deprivation. But in the case of the precepts dealing with false speech, tale-bearing, and useless chatter, the following have to be added if these actions are to be paths of kamma:

  1. In the case of false speech, another person suffers loss or damage.
  2. In the case of tale-bearing, disunion must be brought about.
  3. And in the case of useless chatter, others must think that the plays and novels are true accounts.

These are the conditions relating to the seven kinds of wrong-doing which should be known by those who daily keep the precepts with livelihood as the eighth.

And this concludes the brief explanation of the way to establish in oneself the three constituents of the path’s morality group.

How to Establish the Concentration Group

As we have explained already, the good practice of the three constituents of the morality group leads to the establishment in the purity of moral conduct, while wrong livelihood and the seven kinds of bad conduct, three with the body and four with speech—which are all born of personality view—are completely cut off.

Then, in order destroy the second level of wrong view supported by the three mental evil kammas, the factors of the concentration group in the Eightfold Path—right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration—must be established in oneself.

By this is meant practice of one of the forty subjects of meditation. Here the way of practice for “mindfulness of breathing in and out” will be described briefly. If Buddhist householders have no time during the day to do this practice, they should do it everyday without fail in the early morning after rising, say for an hour, and in the evening too, for one or two hours before going to bed.

The method to follow in this practice is as follows. According to the Buddha-word: “Mindfully he breathes in, mindfully he breathes out.” So during the whole period during which one has determined to sit, the mind is concentrated just on the breathing and is not allowed to stray here and there. To accomplish this one needs bodily effort and mental effort. Here, bodily effort means the effort made to practise for a fixed period each day, never letting a day go by without practice. Mental effort is the extreme care that one takes when breathing in and out that the mind may not stray elsewhere, as well as the intense application of the mind to the meditation subject so that sleepiness and sloth do not creep in.

As the breath touches the nostrils during exhalation one should be mindful just of the breathing out. Similarly, when inhaling be mindful just of the touch of air passing in. The mind should be fixed continuously upon the region of the nostrils. So right effort here means these two kinds of effort, bodily and mental, as mentioned above.

When one applies the mind in this way for a fortnight, a month, or even two months, one’s mindfulness becomes fixed upon breathing in and out. Such mindfulness is indeed called right mindfulness.

And once the three factors of the morality group in this path have been established, mental restlessness decreases day by day.

It is apparent to everyone who begins meditation practice that they have no control over the mind as far as meditation subjects are concerned. Now in this world madmen who have no control over their minds are useless in worldly affairs. In like manner it can be said of people thought sane by this world that, as regards the practice of meditation, they are really mad, for they have no control over the meditation subject. Such people are useless when judged by the standard needed for successful meditation practice. When viewed in this way, we can see the necessity for the establishment of the three factors of the concentration group so that restlessness of mind is cured. [54]

Even though the two aspects of concentration called acces concentration and attainment concentration (upacāra- and appaṇā-samādhi) have not yet been attained, if the mind can be fixed on the meditation subject for a period of an hour or two every day then it will become easy to concentrate the mind whenever one wishes and on whatever meditation subject one takes up.

For a person who has attained purity of mind after being successful in establishing the three factors of the concentration group in the Noble Eightfold Path, the three unwholesome mental kammas of covetousness, ill will, and wrong view bom of personality view become extinct. And the second level (obsessive) of views represented by the above three mental kammas is also extinguished. Again, the mental restlessness caused by the five hindrances also disappears.

This concludes the explanation of how to establish the three factors of the concentration group of the Eightfold Path.

From the time when the factors of the morality group become established in a person, so long as he does not violate them he is said to be complete in the purity of moral conduct. On the very day when the precepts are perfectly established, the concentration group—right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration—should be practised. Now, people who are reasonably diligent should not take more than five or ten days to rid themselves of mental restlessness. Having done so and attained a steadfast concentration of mind on breathing in and out, the three factors of the concentration group are established. From that day one is said to have established oneself in purity of mind. One should then go on to establish the wisdom group of the Eightfold Path in oneself.

How to Establish the Wisdom Group

Right View

Whoever has been successful in establishing purity of moral conduct and purity of mind should then try to establish the wisdom group of right view and right intention so as to destroy the latency level of personality view. To have established these two path factors means the establishment in due order of the five purities of wisdom, which are: purity of view, purity of overcoming doubt, purity by knowledge and vision of what is and what is not the path, purity by knowledge and vision of the practice-path, purity by supermundane knowledge and vision.

To bring this about, we should consider the four great primaries which are, literally, earth, water, fire, and air. Let us look at them in relation to the body. Hardness and softness make up the earth (extension) element; cohesion and liquidity comprise the water element; heat and cold compose the fire (kinetic energy) element; while support and motion are the characteristics of the air element. In the case of the head there are only these four elements present and the same applies to the rest of the body—legs, arms, head-hair, body-hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, lymph, fat, lungs, intestines, stomach, excrement, and brains. All are just collections of the four elements.

If we look at them we can see:

  1. hardness is the strong form of earth, softness the weak;
  2. cohesion is the weak form of water, liquidity the strong;
  3. heat is the strong form of fire, cold the weak;
  4. stillness is the weak form of air, motion the strong.

Now to consider these in pairs.

Let us take the example of sealing wax, in which the various changes can be observed. In its usual state, hardness, the strong form of earth, is conspicuous. But when it comes into contact with fire, the hard earth element disappears and soft earth is manifest. But when the fire is removed then the softness naturally disappears and hardness reappears.

In the case of cohesion or liquidity, in its usual state sealing wax shows a weak form of water so that cohesion is present. But with contact of fire the cohesive water element disappears and liquid water is manifest. Again, if the fire is taken away then liquidity disappears while cohesiveness becomes manifest again.

As regards heat and cold, in its usual state sealing wax has weak fire element while coldness is conspicuous. When there is contact with fire the cold fire element vanishes and is replaced by hot fire, but by its removal the process is naturally reversed.

Lastly, considering stillness and motion, sealing wax in its usual state shows a weak form of air, that is, stillness. But when it is heated a strong form of the air element is manifest: motion. With the removal of the fire, however, the strong form naturally disappears and the weak form returns.

This example has been given so that people are able to understand the meaning of arising and passing away (udayabbaya) in insight or vipassana. The word ’udaya’ means arising, increase, or appearance, while ’vaya’ has the meaning of passing away, decrease, or disappearance. ’Udayabbaya’ is the compound of the two words. These elements are evident in the sealing wax. Now we shall turn to their practical application.

Head, body, legs, and hands can all be analysed in the same way as the sealing wax so that the elements become clear. For instance, heat and cold, the two aspects of the fire element, arise and pass away alternately. Heat increases little by little in the body from sunrise until two in the afternoon, after which the body begins to cool, meaning that heat decreases and cold increases. This is everyone’s experience. We easily understand that the same is true of other bodily processes as well.

The increase in the body heat in the head and so forth is like the sealing wax coming into contact with the fire, while as coolness increases in the body it resembles the sealing wax from which the fire has been removed. This increase and decrease of the fire element in the body is the arising and passing away spoken of above.

So too with the other three elements; their pairs of modes also arise and pass away like the fire element. Earth element with its modes of softness and hardness, water element seen as liquidity and cohesion, and air element in its forms of motion and stillness—they increase or decrease in the same way.

These four elements in the body resemble the innumerable tiny bubbles quickly appearing and disappearing on the surface of a big pot of boiling water. The whole body, in fact, resembles a lump of foam. Vapour appears in each small bubble and it bursts to disappear as all the rest disappear.

It is the same with seeing, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and knowing. All these mental phenomena depend on the four elements and vanish when the elements vanish. So the six consciousnesses—of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind— together with the four elements are impermanent, transitory, and unstable. They are all anicca (impermanent) and therefore dukkha (unsatisfactory), too, since they are associated with unceasing arising and passing away; and such transient and unsatisfactory phenomena are therefore also anattā (not self or not soul) because they are without essence or substance.

Taking the head as an example, let us see how personality view arises on the basis of the four elements and how it should really be seen with right view. People who cannot discriminate the four elements in the head do not understand that the head’s solidity is only the earth element. They understand that it is head, and so on; they perceive a “head,” they conceive “my head,” they view it as “my permanent head,” taking it as an unchanging entity.

Understanding that it is head is a delusion of mind (citta). Perceiving “a head” is delusion of perception (saññā). Conceiving “my head” is delusion of conceit (māna).

Holding a view of it as “my permanent head” is a delusion of view (diṭṭhi). [55]

Understanding, perceiving, conceiving, and holding a view of the head, instead of directly seeing it as four elements, is viewing it as permanent and as attā or self. Thus to consider the four elements as the head is a fallacy based on taking what is impermanent as permanent, and what is not self as self.

These four elements, which naturally arise and pass away extremely rapidly, are truly impermanent and not self, thus illustrating the Buddha’s words: “Khayaṭṭhena aniccaṃ asārakaṭṭhena anattā” meaning, “Because it is destroyed it is impermanent, because it is essenceless it is not self.” The head of a man does not normally break up during his life, nor does it disintegrate when he dies; it remains looking much the same until the body reaches the burning ground. For these reasons it is regarded as permanent and taken to be self. When the four elements are not penetrated with insight, then the misconception “head” arises, taking what is changing as unchanging and what is not self as self.

Understanding, perceiving, conceiving, and viewing hair, teeth, skin, flesh, muscles, bones, brain, as the composite parts of the head, rather than penetrating them with insight as the four elements alone, is taking what is impermanent as permanent, not self as self. It is just personality view to see the elements, such as hardness, as head, hair, and so on. Such a view displays ignorance (avijjā).

Right view (acquired by insight) sees that hardness is the earth element, not a part of “my body” such as bones. In the same way cohesion is the water element, heat and cold the fire element, and stillness and motion the air element. They are not to be seen as my hair, my teeth, my flesh, my brain. In the ultimate analysis (made in deep meditation, not by intellectual effort), there is no such thing as the head or its parts. Such penetration is called right view. It is not necessary to emphasise that what has been said here about the head—the personality view which depends on wrong view, and the right view which arises when the view of a “person” is abandoned—applies to all the other parts of the body, too.

Right Thought

To consider ways and means for understanding these four elements is right thought. While right view may be compared to an arrow, right thought is the strength in the hand that aims the arrow at the target. In brief this is how right view and right thought, the two factors of the wisdom group in the Noble Eightfold Path, should be established in oneself. For detailed explanations, see the Vijjāmagga-dīpanī and the Bhāvanā-dīpanī written by me.

The Need for Effort

These two factors of the wisdom group are established by continual contemplation and deep meditation upon arising and passing away (udayabbaya). This means the incessant arisings and passings of the four elements in their combinations throughout the body in all its parts, beginning with head hair, and so forth. It applies also to the six kinds of sense consciousness—of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind—where arising and passing continue without any break. All this can be compared to the small bubbles in a pot of boiling water. Now when this insight has been established in oneself and when some insight has thereby been gained into the characteristics of impermanence and not self, one must make effort to continue in the direction of complete penetration throughout one’s life, so that stage by stage the paths and fruits are won.

To take an example of how this may be done: farmers in the course of their cultivation should practise contemplation on the arising and the passing of the psychophysical elements in all parts of the body.

So by repeated and persistent practice of this meditation, there is bom the (insight) knowledge of right view regarding the arising and passing of all physical and psychological phenomena. Such knowledge permeates the whole body, and at this time the first level of personality view regarding the body as “mine” disappears. In this way the latency level view of the body as a person, which has accompanied one’s life-continuity throughout the beginningless round of rebirths, is extinguished without remainder. The whole body is then transformed into the sphere of right view. Potential for making the ten unwholesome kammas is totally destroyed while the ten wholesome ways of making kamma are firmly established. The round of rebirth in the states of deprivation is destroyed for such a person and there remain for him only rebirths in the good bourns, such as among human beings, devas and Brahmas. The person has attained the level of a noble one, a stream-winner. [56]

So this brings to a close the exposition of personality view as illustrated by the head and concludes as well the full explanation of the practice of the Noble Eightfold Path with its three factors of the morality group, three in the concentration group, and two in the wisdom group.

How to Establish the Noble Eightfold Path

Complete and careful observance of the set of precepts with livelihood as the eighth is the practise of the morality group comprising right speech, right action, and right livelihood. The practice of the mindful breathing in and ,out is the concentration group of right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration put into action. Contemplation of arising and passing of the four elements as illustrated by the head, and of the six sense consciousnesses, makes up the wisdom group comprising right view and right thought.

According to the method followed by the dry-visioned person (sukkha-vipassaka puggala), the way of calm (samatha) through such exercises as mindfully breathing in and out is not practised separately. Such a person, having established in himself the three factors of the morality group in the Eightfold Path, then undertakes the practice of the wisdom group.

In this practice the three constituents of the concentration group accompany the two wisdom factors and are together known as the path with five factors (pañcaṅgikamagga). These five, in such practice, form one group and with the three remaining factors, the morality group, make up the Noble Eightfold Path. But insight-only as practised by these dry-visioned people can succeed only if one has great penetrative wisdom and makes strenuous effort. [57] Mental restlessness will then disappear as it does with the practice of calm.

After the knowledge of right view has become clear (through meditation) in respect of the whole body, whether such direct knowledge is attained in this life or the next, then whenever one contemplates within, there are no such entities as a person, individual, woman, man, oneself, another person, head, leg, or hair. When such knowledge arises, the personality view which takes hardness and so on to be the head (etc.) disappears forever. Whenever this contemplation is done, there arises the right view of the truth that “head” does not exist apart from a collection of elements. This principle applies to the other parts of the body.

When right view and right thought, the wisdom factors of the path, have been established in one’s personality, then the three rounds connected with wandering-on in the states of deprivation disappear forever. Whoever experiences this is from that moment on completely freed for all time from the suffering arising from these rounds, that is, from the pain and misery of being born in the four lower worlds. He or she has reached and is established in the first experience of Nibbāna with the grasped-at groups remaining and is a stream-winner. [58]

However, as such a person has yet to acquire the knowledge associated with the mark of unsatisfactoriness (dukkha-lakkhaṇa[59] there still remain in him craving (taṇhā) and conceit (māna) which cause him to delight in the pleasures of men, devas, and Brahmas. So he continues to enjoy these three kinds of pleasures while being reborn in successively higher planes. [60]

Here ends the brief explanation of the way to establish the Eightfold Path in oneself. It is also the conclusion of The Manual of the Path-Factors (Maggaṅga dīpanī).


*This Preface was translated from Burmese and sent to the reviser by Myanaung U Tin, who has also supplied valuable information on some difficult points from his own knowledge and from replies elicited from Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw. (–Editor)

1.Kamma (or in Sanskrit, karma) means intentional actions by body, speech, or mind, having an inherent tendency to bear fruit in accordance with the kind of action done.

2.Venerable Buddhaghosa in his Path of Purification, emphasises that even our own body must be shared with beings, i.e. with such parasites as worms or bacteria, which regard it as their own. “Ownership” of any material thing is very tenuous and insecure.

3.Note that kamma means action, not the fruit of action as when people say, “It’s my kamma.” This reduces the teaching of kamma to mere fatalism.

4.These will be explained under IV. RightAction.

5.These will be explained under III. Right Speech.

6.The Uposatha day, which falls on the days of the full moon and the new moon, is the Buddhist observance day. The Triple Gem is the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha.

7.Trees and plants have only the life faculty (jīvitindriya), which is material. They have no consciousness and so are not part of the cycle of rebirth. Some recent books (The Secret Life of Plants, for example) propound theories and offer evidence that plants can sense. In some cases this could be accounted for by the presence of a tree-spirit (rukkha-deva) or dryad.

8.It might be objected here that a little time spent making wholesome kamma (as in the cases of Anāthapiṇḍika and Visākhā) is still producing centuries of good results, or a short while producing unwholesome kamma (as with Devadatta) brings centuries of pain, but the author is pointing out the strict sequence of events at the time of death, when one kamma at the end of life produces only one resultant moment, the rebirth-linking consciousness.

9.This passage up to the end of this section is taken from Samma-diṭṭhi-dīpanī, The Manual of Right View.

10.For this view, see Aṅguttara Nikāya Anthology, Part I (BPS Wheel No. 155–158), pp.43–44.

11.The text is worded in terms of Burmese currency.

12.This passage forms an “Appendix” in the English booklet, but has been added here.

13.This phrase is kamma-paṭisaraṇa in Pali. Saraṇa has the meaning of refuge, as in the Three Refuges (tisaraṇa), but to use this as the original translator has done is awkward since it makes no sense to talk of past unwholesome kamma as a refuge, though it can be one’s support. There is some ambivalence of explanation of this factor.

14.The venerable author’s treatment of this point applies to Hinduism only in part since there is here generally a belief in kamma and in one or more gods who have some or all of the attributes of the Biblical God as Creator, Judge, Compassionate Father, etc. When kamma and such god-belief are brought together there is confusion, as it is not clear whether what one experiences is to be attributed to one’s kamma or to God.

15.For if one understands clearly the law of kamma and its fruits there is no room for the God-idea.

16.Many of the “prayers answered by God” and “miracle cures” are due to present kamma. Example: devotee enters a church, mosque, or temple and prays. The mind becomes calm—peace and happiness results—an answer is born in the calm mind which could not arise because of grief in the agitated mind. The prayer is “answered” or the “cure” effected by the intense faith of the sufferer. No God is needed.

17.This paragraph is from the Sammādiṭṭhi-dīpanī.

18.A deva is a being with a subtle body and superlative sense pleasures. He may be, at lowest, a local spirit of a tree, river, rock and so on, or at highest an inhabitant of the plane of “deities wielding power over others’ creations” (paranimmita-vasavatti deva). For such birth some purification of mind is needed but no great success in meditation. But for birth in the Brahma-worlds it is necessary to attain jhāna, intense inward concentration, as a result of which there is a partial purification of mind. The Brahma-worlds are more tranquil and less sensual than the deva-worlds.

19.The Pali has only the rather terse “There is almsgiving” but the Buddha’s intention in making such a statement was to refute those non-Buddhist teachers in his time who taught that neither good kamma nor bad kamma bear any results. See Makkhali Gosāla in Dictionary of Pali Proper Names.

20.Mother and father, especially in their old age, should be treated well by their children—out of gratitude and love for what they have done for oneself. The fruits of maltreatment of parents will be long and painful. Their hard work for their children can only be repaid by teaching them the Dhamma. (See Anguttara Nikāya I, pp.11–12.)

21.For this see the Discourse on the Invitation of Brahmā (Majjhima Nikāya 49), Middle Length Sayings I, pp.388ff. See also Buddhism and the God-Idea, Wheel No. 47.

22.Human eyes can perceive only a small range of the light radiations, similarly with human ears. A large range of waves cannot be perceived through human senses so that much of the world system remains unknown unless explored by way of the mind.

23.Those people who say “I am a Buddhist but I don’t believe in other states of rebirth”—please note!

24.See The Wheel of Birth and Death, Wheel No. 147/149.

25.Note in this respect recent Christian concern as to whether Christ’s message will save beings on other planets. Buddhism has always known of an infinity of inhabited worlds where the Four Noble Truths must always be true.

26.Super-knowledges are five or six in number as generally listed: the magical powers, the divine eye (clairvoyance—the venerable author refers to this super-knowledge below), the divine ear (clairaudience), knowledge of past lives, knowledge of kamma and its results. These five can be experienced by non-Buddhists also, but the sixth, the destruction of the pollutions (āsavakkhaya), is only won by those who develop path and fruit wisdom (magga-phala-ñāṇa), difficult to find outside Buddhism.

27.Note that the Buddha disclaimed that he was omniscient in the sense that he knew everything at the same time. But he said it was possible for him to know everything about a particular subject if he turned his mind to it.

28.The following explanation of the Four Noble Truths is brief. For a detailed explanation see the author’s Explanation of the Four Truths (Catusacca-dīpanī) translated in The Light of the Dhamma, Vol. V, No. 4 and Vol. VI, No. 1, 1958–59).

29.One should not understand craving as the one and only cause. Where craving (taṇhā) is found, there will be ignorance (of the Four Noble Truths) as well as other factors of dependent origination.

30.Saṅkappa, a word not easy to translate. The translation “thought” does not convey the emotional connotation of the three kinds of saṅkappa. “Intention” is sometimes used.

31.These three terms seem to have been chosen by the Buddha for their wide range of possible meanings. The negative terms for positive mental states (common usage in Pali) makes for a range of possible meanings which a positive term would not be able to express.

32.Here is a place where giving comes into the path; we have already seen it mentioned under right view. “Renunciation” does not necessarily imply cutting off one’s hair and leading a homeless life; here the emphasis is on interior renunciation. If one is able, to start with, to loosen one’s greed and attachment to things, it is possible then to become generous in giving to others. This is the first step, in one sense, along any spiritual path. For if material possessions cannot be given up for the benefit of other living beings, what hope is there of progressing further along that path where greater renunciation, as explained by the author, must be made? The renunciation spoken of here is not something forced, though one should make efforts to be more generous. It comes quite naturally with the practise of the other path factors. When right concentration is practised and some success in it attained then the things of this world become less interesting and can be given away or given up quite naturally and easily. Generous giving and giving up must be cultivated for successful practise of the Buddha’s Dhamma. Without it, though one may have much knowledge, all one’s Dhamma stays in the head, or comes out of the mouth—it is never expressed through the hands. No one can be a successful cultivator of the path unless they support liberally the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, and are generous to other people in general.

33.This is a very short notice of a most important subject! A person can claim to be a Buddhist and certainly have right view as defined in the previous section but still have enmity towards others or speak slander about them. All one’s book learning will not change harmfulness into loving kindness; only Dhamma practise, particularly the development of mettā through meditation, can do this. This means hard work on oneself which may be painful emotionally but then the result of accomplishing just a little here is that one becomes a “solid” Buddhist, not just one with a Buddhist facade. And, of course, one gains many good friends.

34.The meditative aspect of loving kindness and compassion has been emphasised in these two sections as they constitute right thought. This is implied by the practise of the first precept (see right action) and by the Buddha’s constant exhortation to gentleness in dealing with others. One is not truly a Buddhist unless one’s actions conform to Dhamma.

35.The first is common lying while the second refers to cunning ways of corrupting what is true so that it appears to be false.

36.“As Enaung and Ngwedaung” in the first English edition. Myanaung U Tin writes: “Enaung is a work of fiction written about 100 years ago during the reign of King Mindon. It is hardly known to the present generation. Ngwedaung is a legend relating to Kayah State on the borders of Thailand. It is still well known and often staged. Quite naturally, fiction, legend, and fairy tales are considered to be samphappalāpa.” The reference is obviously to literature and drama which is liable to lead to deterioration, not to growth in Dhamma.

37.“Vulgar (lit. animal-like) talk” is so called either because it is worthy only of animals—and if one sees the list of what is contained in it, most of it is what journalists call “news” (!)—or it is “animal talk” because it goes on all fours like animals and not in an upright way like human beings.

38.These brackets contain the material found in Appendix I in the first edition.

39.The pleasures (kāmā) mentioned under the third of the Five Precepts all relate to sex but here, as we shall see, other pleasures are included.

40.The kamma made in all these actions is unwholesome, but of course not all of the same strength. In dealing with the world wisdom has to be used to decide what should and should not be done.

41.These three headings are the equivalent of the first three of the Five Precepts, each of which is prefaced by the phrases: “I undertake the rule of training to refrain from …” Into the last of these three is incorporated the fifth precept on intoxicants, while the fourth has been explained already under right speech. Although the explanation of these precepts is brief, their importance cannot be too greatly emphasised. Unless they are practised diligently there is no hope of developing the mind in meditation, or of gaining insight or wisdom.

On the lighter side, though serious enough when distortions of the Buddha’s teachings are taught to others, is the following story. At a meeting of a Buddhist society, a lecturer was addressing people upon the Five Precepts. Coming to the last one, he commented that as the Buddha had taught the Middle Way, by this precept was meant neither drunkenness, which is one extreme, nor total abstention, the other extreme, but just drinking in moderation. The lecturer does not seem to have reflected that the same standards if applied to the other precepts will be astonishing indeed! Not wholesale murder, nor total abstention from killing, but just killing in moderation!

This is an illustration of how important it is to know the Buddha’s explanations of each path factor, not one’s own ideas however good they seem to be. It also illustrates how one’s own views are coloured by craving for pleasure, comfort, etc.

42.“Weapons, living beings, meat, intoxicants and poisons—these five kinds of merchandise should not be traded in” (Aṅguttara Nikāya, The Fives). This note is from the first edition. The words quoted are the Buddha’s.

43.See translations in The Heart of Buddhist Meditation, Nyanaponika Thera (Kandy, BPS); The Way of Mindfulness, Soma Thera (Kandy, BPS); The Foundations of Mindfulness, Nyanasatta Thera (BPS Wheel No. 19); Middle Length Sayings; Vol. I, Discourse 10, I.B. Horner (PTS London).

44.Here this means subjects which are discovered through close scrutiny of the mind. Such subjects as the five hindrances to meditation, the five groups or aggregates which compose what is called “self,” the six internal and external sense spheres (with mind and mind-objects as the sixth), the seven factors of enlightenment, and the Four Noble Truths. See the discourse for details.

45.The Pali in the first edition runs: Maṅgala Sutta, Namakkāra, Paritta, (Grammar and), Abhidhammattha-saṅgaha.

46.For all these subjects of meditation described in detail see The Path of Purification (Visuddhimagga), trans. Ñāṇamoli Thera (BPS)

47.A stream-winner may undergo a maximum of seven more lives, none of them below human level.

48.The once-returner will be reborn once again as a human being or a deva and in that life attain Nibbāna.

49.Venerable Nyanaponika Mahāthera writes: “The Noble Eightfold Path intended here seems to be noble (ariya) in the strict sense of the noble path of stream-winner, etc. And when on the latter, apāya-saṃsāra is actually cut off because sīla (moral conduct) is unbroken and unbreakable. I feel that it is just the absence of personality view and uncertainty (sakkāya-diṭṭhi, vicikicchā) that makes sīla finally unbreakable, not just normal restraint. The unwholesome kamma-paths are extreme forms of unwholesomeness, covetousness (abhijjhā) which is the greedy thought leading to robbery, or ill will (byāpāda) the hateful thought of killing or harming—which are absent in the stream-winner thought he has still the milder forms called sensual desire (kāmacchanda) and aversion (paṭigha) among the ten fetters. As he still has the fetters of sensual desire, attachment to subtle form and formlessness (rūparāga, arūparāga), rebirth in the good bourns (sugati) has not ceased for him. He, being on the path of seeing (dassana-magga), has abolished only the view-root of self-view (= personality view); its other two roots, craving and conceit, are abolished only on the three noble paths called the path of development (bhāvanā-magga). The complete cutting off of personality view is not however a purely intellectual process; it must be based on perfect sīla and the vipassanā experience.”

50.See the extensive notes on this subject in The Requisites of Enlightenment, Wheel No. 171/174.

51.Myanaung U Tin writes: “Actually anusaya (potentiality) does not reside in any part of the person. It arises only with the necessary conditions. For want of a better word “reside” has been used. Potentiality is there in the whole personality, that is all.” The seven latent tendencies or proclivities (anusaya) are: sensual desire, aversion, views, uncertainty, conceit, desire for existence, and ignorance.

52.Such as arahats living now.

53.Bhikkhus, bhikkhunīs, and other religious observing the holy life, or persons protected by marriage or by parents.

54.For more detailed information about right concentration see The Requisites of Enlightenment (Wheel No. 171–174) and Ānāpānadīpanī.

55.The first, second, and third items are the three perversions or distortions (vipallāsa), on which see The Manual of Insight (BPS Wheel No. 31–32, 2nd ed. 1975), p.5.

56.The original has a “bon-sin-san noble one.” See The Requisites of Enlightenment, p.47.

57.This warning is needed! It is possible to find teachers who stress that vipassanā (insight) only is required and that calm is not necessary. Their pupils, not possessing either great wisdom or strenuous effort, arrive only at weak and easily lost “insight,” if they attain anything at all. Such one-sided views produce no good results.

58.See the extensive note in The Requisites of Enlightenment, pp.47–48.

59.See note 49.

60.See The Requisites of Enlightenment, pp.47–48 note