The Way of Nibbana - By Venerable U Thitilla - Part 1/2
Monday 14 September 2009
THE WAY TO NIBBANA
By Venerable U Thitilla
Lecture to the High Court Buddhist Association, Rangoon
The title of our talk this afternoon is ’The Way to Nibbana the way to the highest happiness’.
To sum up all the teachings of the Buddha. we have a stanza:
To refrain from all evilTo do what is good.To purify the mindThis is the teaching of (all) Buddhas.
(Dhammapada 183; - Khuddakanikaya Dhammapadatthakatha. 14 Buddhavagga. 4-Anandatherapanha vatthu; Verse 183.)
- Venerable U Thitilla
It is a very short stanza; yet it covers all the teachings of the Buddha. It embodies three stages on the Highway to the Highest Happiness Nibbana. I think most of you know that stanza in Pali and therefore I need not repeat it. There are three stages of developing ourselves towards this Highest Happiness. The order of development of ourselves in accordance with the Noble Eightfold Path (Attha Magganga-Majjhima Patipada) is classified into three groups, namely. Sila (Morality), Samadhi (Concentration) and Panna (Wisdom). The first two steps of the Noble Eightfold Path, Right Understanding. i.e. understanding of the nature of self, and the nature of the universe, and Right Thought are grouped under Panna Wisdom; the next three, Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood are grouped under Sila. Morality. Right Effort. Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration are grouped under Samadhi (Concentration).
You may ask, as it has frequently been asked - Why three stages - why not one stage only as a basis? The reason is, we have three stages of defilements - Kilesas, (impurities) such as Lobha, Dosa and Moha, etc. Each of the 10 Kilesas (defilements) has three stages. For instance, greed or anger has three stages. The first stage, the root, is called in Pali, Anusaya. At this stage the defilements such as craving, anger, etc. are lying latent in each of us. They do not become manifest up to the level of thoughts. feelings and emotions, yet they lie latent in each of us. We can prove it. The fact that we can be made excited and angry shows that we have certain tendencies like anger, hatred - though for ordinary purposes we may be called ’good’ people. We are good only when other people are good; otherwise we can be made angry and emotional. This proves that we have certain tendencies.
If one’s actions are according to the law of Morality, then that is Right Action. When your action not only is harmless but also helpful - of great service to you as well as to others, then you can say your action is right. There are many things which we think to be good but they are only good to us, good only from our own standpoint.
In order to do right your mind must be free from selfishness, ill-will, hatred, jealousy. etc. When your mind is pure you can see and know things as they really are. Take for instance the case of a pot which is filled with water. It is filled in three stages - the bottom, the middle and the topmost parts. Anusaya is the first or the root stage where the evil tendencies are lying latent. The fact that you can provoke a person into anger clearly shows that there is anger, or the root of anger, lying latent within him. This first stage is very quiet - so quiet that we seem to be sacrosant.
Even at the second stage - Pariyutthana. we are still in the realm of thoughts. feelings. The English saying ’Silence is Golden’ is not always right. We may say that mere silence is sometimes far more dangerous than a big noise.
Then in the final stage we become fierce, dreadful. uncontroll able both in words as well as in actions. (Vitikkama). That is the top part of our defilements. So Anusava. Pariyutthana and Vitikkama - these are the three stages of defilements.
Buddhism teaches a method of how to control, how to overcome these evil tendencies lying latent in us. To exercise this control we need three stages of training towards development - Sila, Samadhi, and Panna - Morality. Concentration, Insight.
First comes Sila. Morality, the observance of precepts. The observance of precepts would enable one to overcome only the last stage - the outward, visible stage of defilements and not the other two stages. It is like cutting a tree by the branches at the top. Morality can control only your words and actions, not your mind. It can only make us good ladies and gentlemen in the worldly’ wise sense and not make us righteous people - don’t you say’ some times, when you are in the process of observing the Eight Precepts, ’When I am out of this observance, you will know what I am’? It is necessary for us to have three stages and the first is Morality to dispel the outward or visible stage of defilements that is in us.
But as there remain two stages undispelled by morality, the defilements that we have got rid of will grow up again, and that very soon. Therefore, we need the second stage of training - Samadhi (Concentration or meditation) in order to enable us to dispel the second stage of defilements left undispelled by the practice of Samadhi - Morality. Concentration is mind-control and mental culture. It is like cutting a tree by the trunk, but as there remains the first or root stage undispelled the defilements will rise up again. But Concentration can clear away’ the defilements for a considerable time so that they will not rise again so soon. Clearing away of defilements by Morality - Sila is called Tadanga Pahana in Pali (temporary suppression of defilements). Just like the temporary cutting away of the topmost branches of a tree. Putting away of defilements by means of Samadhi (concentration) is called Vikkhambhana Pahana. Concentration represents a more power ful and a higher mental culture, so it is far more effective than Sila.
Coming to the third stage of development. Panna (Wisdom):
By means of developing one’s insight, Wisdom, one is able to dispel the first stage - the Anusaya stage. It is like cutting a tree by the root so that it will never grow again. If defilements are cut by means of Wisdom, such defilements will never rise again. This is called Samuccheda Panna.
As these three stages are interdependent and interrelated. Sila, Samadhi and Panna should be practised at the same time and not separately. Only to put them in order in the Dhamma we put down three stages separately, but in practice we must practise them simultaneously. While trying to practise Concentration it is easier for you to live rightly’ and understand things rightly. In the same way, practice of right understanding or insight enables one to live rightly and concentrate rightly. This applies not only during periods of meditation but in one’s daily life as well.
We should be rational beings. We should react to surroundings. circumstances and events of daily life reasonably and not instinc tively or emotionally.
What we need in this world is to be rational - to try to exercise our reasoning powers - but it is rather bad for the world that in most cases human beings judge according to their emotions or instincts.
The standard of mental development is very low because the method of public education is wrong, the method of upbringing of the children is also wrong. I can prove how wrong it is. Even the nursery rhymes taught to the infants portray stories full of cruelty and killings without an atom of love in them. Again, a group of moralists in the West went round the educational institutions in order to test the psychology of the children studying there. A child was asked to make a sentence comprising the words ’Mother’, ’Baby’ and ’Cat’. The child answered, ’The cat scratches the baby and the baby cries. Mummy gets angry and beats the cat’. The same question was asked in every school in the whole province and there was only one child who gave the following answer and was given a prize as it contained some love and affection that should exist between the different beings on earth. ’The cat plays with the baby. Mummy is so pleased with the cat that she gives some milk to the cat to drink’.
I myself witnessed a woman who bought a cane from a seller and gave it to her little boy to play with. The boy instead beat her with it. Many parents do not train their children to be good, tame and docile, but encourage them to be cruel, quarrelsome and aggressive by giving them toy revolvers, toy swords and air rifles. So the method of training children in the present, scientific world is very wrong. In cinemas most of the pictures shown are all wrong - they encourage shooting and the telling of lies.
What then is the Buddha’s method? First. morality. These rules of morality are firstly explained in the Panca-sila: Not to kill, not to steal, not to have sexual misconduct, not to tell lies and not to take any intoxicating liquors and drugs. In Burma most people think that all is well if you observe these five precepts only negatively. To merely abstain from killing is not good enough; so we should emphasize the positive aspect of the principle of non-killing - to have compassion on all beings including animals.
In the Discourse on Metta we said Adosa is the negative aspect of it. but having Adosa is not all. In the practice of Metta you have pity, compassion and loving-kindness towards all beings in the whole universe. So also in the case of practising the Five Precepts. Non-killing is understood by many as not taking life, but this term ’not to kill’ is broad enough to include all kind and loving acts.
The second precept - taking what is not given to you freely. The standard of mental development in the present world - even of adults- seems to be much lower than an intelligent child of twelve. It seems that modern man, because of his physical body, cannot be styled as an animal, but by actions many people nowadays behave worse than animals. The positive aspect of this second precept of Panca-sila is not only to refrain from stealing but to offer material help. Then we do not need to have a big police force or courts to try criminal cases or a Bureau of Special Investigation.
Then comes ’sexual misconduct’.
Then the next precept ’Musavada - to abstain from telling lies is very difficult to observe. Not to tell lies is the negative aspect. The positive aspect is not only to tell the truth but to use such words as are soothing, kindly and comforting to the people who hear them. As for telling lies, if the majority of our race do not tell lies, even these law courts might not be necessary.
As for the last of the five precepts - not to take intoxicating liquors and drugs - this has almost become an everyday habit taken at every meal in civilized society. Really, no drinking of any liquor is necessary to keep one healthy mentally, morally and spiritually. Once in England my audience argued that since I have not taken any liquor in my life, since I am complete teetotaller, I cannot know the benefits derived from drinking. Drinking makes you lose control of your mind at least temporarily, and those who drink to excess can be said to become quite mad. Taking liquor is against the law of nature and also the precept laid down by the Buddha. Drink causes distraction, dullness of mind. When done to excess you can become a stark lunatic. According to Buddhism, drink is the cause of all misery, all troubles. By taking drinks you become emotional and it is easy for any drunkard to tell lies or to commit murder, etc.
To conclude, I would like to ask the audience and the Sayadaws as well as the Upasakas and Upasikas to emphasize the positive aspects of these five precepts, the Panca-sila. I would like to mention also that the Buddha’s way of life is a system of cultivating ourselves - our higher consciousness. It is a way of a good, righteous and happy life. The Buddha says that when a good act is performed several times there is a definite tendency to repeat this act. So in time it becomes a habit. Men are creatures of habit. By habit they become slaves of drink, slaves of gambling, slaves of lust and scores of other vices. Also I would like to quote a Japanese proverb, ’Man takes drink first, then the drink takes a drink and finally drink takes the man’.
Any physical action, if repeated for sometime becomes a habit. In the same way, any thought which is allowed to rise up again and again gives rise to a definite tendency to reproduce that type of thought and therefore becomes a habit. The Buddha’s method is to use the reproductive power of the mind as well as the body for the development of ourselves. By cultivating good habits of mind and body we develop ourselves fully. It is called Parami in Pali. meaning fulfilment. In other words, to make counter habits whenever you have a tendency to be angry, and then you can develop mental states of loving-kindness and compassion so that these mental states will be repeated again and again. And in the end they will become habits so much so that you will never entertain thoughts of hatred, anger, jealousy and the like. These evil tendencies will disappear before the tendencies of loving- kindness, even as the darkness of the night fades away before the dawn of the rising sun. This is the method given by the Buddha. It is a practical system of changing and developing our inner selves.
Venerable U Thitilla
See the part Two : The Way to Nibbana - By Venerable U Thitilla - Part 2/2