Archive for December, 2009

The monk elder Tissa, the hillman, we are told, was born in the land Rohana* in a hunting family and grew up in the vicinity of the Abbey Gamendavala. After he had reached a certain age and started a family, he made his living as a hunter.

He dug countless traps, lay hidden snares and rammed piles into the underwood, always with the thought that he had to support his wife and children during which time he committed many terrible atrocities.

One day he took fire and a little salt, and went away from home in the woods. There a beautiful deer was caught in one of his snares. He killed the animal and satisfied himself on its flesh, which he previously cooked over the embers. After the meal he was overcome by a cruel thirst and entered the abbey Gamendavala on his way back home in search of water. At the Abbey’s well he drank ten buckets of water, and began to shout and accuse the monks because he was not able to quench his thirst which still tormented him:
“What are these people here good for, if they cannot provide a visitor who wants to quench his thirst, with something simple as enough water to drink.”
When the monk elder Culapindapatika heard his shouting and screaming he went to the well and saw the ten empty water buckets and he thought:
“This hunter became already in this very lifetime a thirsty languishing demon.”
And Culapindapatika told the hunter:
“Friend lay disciple, if you are thirsty, so drink!”
The elder took a pitcher and poured slowly into the other’s hands. This time the hunter had to drink the water sip by sip, and his fire was controlled until it gradually dried up completely.
When he had finished the whole vessel his thirst had disappeared. Then the elder said to him:
“Since your youth, friend lay disciple, you have already accumulated so much bad deeds that you are verily a living demon thirsting for water, what will the consequences and fruits of your actions yield in the future?”

The words of the monk met the hunter with deep emotion. He honored the monk elder, threw his weapon away and, in a hurry he got home. He then took care of his wife and children, broke all his other murder weapons, dismissed gazelles, deer and birds he had caught in the woods and returned to the monk, begging for admission into the Order.
“It is very hard,” said Culapindapatika, “our renunciation of the world, brother. Why do you want to renounce the world?” – “Venerable Sir, after witnessing such a clear indication of my future how can I not renounce the world?”

And so it happened that the elder turned Tissa the hunter’s attention to the fivefold contemplation on the impurities of the body and ordained him as a monk. After he had familiarized himself with the monastic duties, he began to learn the word of the Awakened One, the Buddha. Then, one day, he heard in the sermon of the messenger gods [Note: Devaduta, MN 130], “Then, o monks, the warders of Hell put him back to the Great Hell.” When he had listened that particular passage, he said, turning to his teacher: “If this being such, my dear teacher, that a being having already suffered so much was thrown right away back into the Great Hell, how terrible must that Great Hell be.”
“Yes, brother, it is terrible.” –  “Is it possible, Venerable Sir, that one can see it?” – “Is not it possible to see it. But to show you something similar, I’ll give you a hint.” The teacher took Tissa the novice  with him and made him pile up a heap of stones** in several layers in between wet wood.  Then Culapindapatika produced by his spiritual power from his seat a lightening fire, which compared to the Great Hell was like a little spark and burned down that woodpile right next to where Tissa the novice stood. The pile was burned down in one moment and all that was left was a heap of ashes.

As he saw that, the novice asked his teacher: “Venerable Sir, what obligations are there in this teachings of the Buddha?” – “Brother, there is an obligation for learning from books (ganthadura) and there is also an the obligation of insight meditation (vipassanadura).” – “Venerable Sir, the books should be the burden of those capable, but my confidence grew because of suffering. I will fulfill the obligation of insight. Please give me a subject of exercise,” said the novice Tissa, revered his teacher and sat down.

Then the elder Culapindapatika thought: “This monk is diligent in the daily duties of a monk” and so he explained to Tissa the meditative practice of insight.

When he had received the training instruction he practiced the work of insight and performed his daily duties. One day he went to the Abbey of the Cittala mountain (Sithulpawwa)***, another day he practiced at Gamendavala and still another at Gocaragama.
Whenever tiredness or lethargy arose he would put some wet straw on his head and place his feet in cold water before he sat down again for meditation – out of fear that he might neglect his duties and fall asleep.

One day, when he had ardently practiced meditation already for two watches of the night in the great monastery of on the Cittala mountain and the early morning hours threatened to overwhelm him with sleep, he sat down again after he had covered his head with a bit of damp straw.
Suddenly Tissa heard a  novice who chanted the Arunavatiya-Sutta on the west side of the mountain and heard him reciting aloud:

“Arise, arise, bestir your hearts
And strive to know the Buddha’s word
As tuskers crush a shed of rushes
Deal Mara’s hordes the final blow
Since he that will in diligence
Live out this Law and discipline
Shall leave the roundabout of rebirths
And make an end of suffering” [Nyanamoli trsl. ]

At this point, he thought to himself: “The perfectly Awakened Buddha had spoken these words with respect to such monks who, like me, fulfill his doctrine with all their energy.”
Thinking thus a thought arose in him creating heavenly bliss in his heart. This bliss created a profound mental serenity and calmness. From this concentration he first obtained the fruit of the non-return (Anagami), and based on that gradually progressing further he attained full awakening, Nibbana. Together with all analytical knowledge Tissa, the hillman, the former hunter, had acquired the saintly status of an Arhant.

Later, at his death and before his own cessation, he looked back on that day and said these verses:

I took a heap of wetted straw,

And put it walking on my head all night;

Achieved since then the third stand is-

And now I’m free from all my doubts.
Source: Translated from the Manorathapurani, the Anguttara-Nikaya Commentary.

*Rohana (Sinhalese ’Ruhunu’) was the ancient name for Sri Lanka’s South. Mahagama, now called Magama, was the capital of Rohana.

** Reminds me a little bit of the story of Mapa making Milarepa realize and work out some of his bad karma before teaching him.

***Cittalapabbata was a monastery 20 kms east of Tissamaharama. It is frequently mentioned in the Visuddhimagga as an abode of arahats, and is the present-day historical site called Situlpava in the Yala National Park, 20 kms. east of Tissamaharama: “Sithulpawwa rock temple is historically significant and identified as one of the greatest 2nd century sites of Buddhist scholarship and meditation practice. With a history of over 2200 years, this is an ancient place of worship in the Hambantota district. The modern name Sithulpawwa is derived from the ancient ‘Cittalpabbata’, ‘The hill of the quiet mind’. It is said that in the 1st century AD as many as 12,000 Arahants lived here (monks that have achieved the highest mind level in Buddhism). Unlike the great monasteries in Anuradhapura and other towns, life at Sithulpawwa was hard and a monk or nun lived there only if they were interested in silence and solitude. Located opposite the Maha Sithulpawwa rock which is 400 feet (122M) in height is a cave temple. This cave temple, which is 67 feet high and 30 feet long, is part of the intricate cave-complex at Sithulpawwa.” [link]

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The first discourse

A beautiful and very convincing modern rendering of the first discourse given by the Buddha happened to cross my path this afternoon. If you thought you’d already read the famous “Dhammacakkapavattana” sutta before, think again.

Richard Blumberg’s translation is contemporary while actually staying very close to the spirit of the original Pāli text. While many translations miss the point and are hard to read, his version captures both -the overall “message” as well as the unique ‘voice’ of the source text. Really a nice job. Enough introduction, see for yourself:


A couple of remarks:

Rendering dukkha with “pain and distress” seems an acceptable choice. The pāli word dukkha is used for physical sensations of pain as well as for the opposite of sukha (happiness => ergo unhappiness). Thus dukkha covers the realm between the pain in the body and the pain in the mind, i.e. “pain and distress”.

I also like pathfinder… it has something of the special flair the word “Tathāgata” creates in Pāli.

Just one little caveat. Taṇhā IMHO goes deeper than just hanging on to pleasures or hoping that pain may end. Craving in fact goes so deep that it craves to just “be”. Unfortunately, this watering down of the meaning is such a common place now in modern Buddhist literature that most people would probably not even recognize it.(1)

Therefore a translation Richard’s

You crave sensual pleasures. You crave for pleasure to go on forever. You crave for discomfort to end right now.


In fact, every sensation, every perception, every emotion you feel, every belief you maintain, every thought that arises in you – hanging on to all that just produces more pain and distress.

while incredibly readable – simply just scratches the surface of the what the Buddha alluded to.

Bhavataṇhā and vibhavataṇhā really do mean what they mean: a thirsting for existence (or to be) and for some people even a thirsting to not exist exists ( 🙂 ) – it all is just thirst. Kāmataṇhā, bhavataṇhā and vibhavataṇhā can therefore be easily seen as an ever refining way of clinging or thirsting. So even if you overcame your craving for sensual pleasures tomorrow (kāmataṇhā) you are still NOT done. Then again, even if you overcome your thirst to be (bhavataṇhā) your are STILL not done. Even if, in the meditation battles of the Anagami, he finds himself longing for the non being – he still is trapped by longing (vibhavataṇhā) – see that?

And thus, while the translation of sankhara and viññāṇa as “every belief you maintain” and “every thought that arises in you” at least will make more sense to 90% of the people reading the sutta pointing them rightfully to their own experience of each moment (rather than into some abstract abhidhammic crossword puzzle), please consider this for a moment:

According to the Buddha viññāṇa does not merely occur with thoughts. It occurs with any of the six senses. This is subtler and important at the same time! The most straightforward and non-technical rendering could be “recognition”(2) (consciousness is more or less a meaningless term when all five groups of grasping are supposed to be seen in your meditation and not some empty names on a philosophical list. Can you be aware of the impermanence of your consciousness? Hardly. But could you become aware of the fact that your mind recognizes things. Sure!).

Therefore, this of course is a trap: Our thirst and craving is NOT just targeting the object (thought) itself which we experience, but we also thirst the experiencing of the experience. Gotcha!

That’s why waking up from the 6-D cinema (see last post) is so subtle a matter.


(1) Helpful in this regard is a reading in the Khandha- and Nidāna parts of the Saṃyutta Nikāya. Highly recommended.

(2) think: cakkhuviññeyyā rūpā … forms which are recognized by the eye. Also: vi+ñāṇa = apart-knowing, discriminative knowledge. It is that part of our moment to moment experience which distinguishes our experience into names and forms. Thus the triangle between nāma-rūpa and viññāṇa. more another time…

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I am sitting in a movie theater. But I don’t know.

I am lost in the story in front of my eyes, around my ears.

I am immersed, completely engulfed in the story of the movie. I don’t know where I am – I believe I am … in the movie, part of the movie, belong to the movie. This is me, right there, in the movie. I see nothing else, I hear nothing else.

Some character in the story talks to me. He says, remember this: Whatever you see is not you. Remember it! Concentrate and look closely! You will see it too. Don’t forget, remember to look.

This character is strange, his voice is almost as mesmerizing as the movie story, the never ending, tear provoking ever ongoing story. I watch him. He seems out-of-this world. Should I give it a try?

With fascination I want to see if he is right… Where am I really?

So, I remember to remember.

“This story-image is not me. It is not mine. It does not belong to me”.

“This story-sound is not me. It is not mine. It does not belong to me”.

“This story-thought is not me. It is not mine. It does not belong to me”.

“This sound is impermanent. That sound is impermanent. That movie color, that movie image, this movie noise”.

Oh, so strange.

Something strange starts to happen.

The spell – the mesmerizing spell and fascination for the movie starts to fade away. Why?

Well, I made myself not follow the story any longer as close as before. Fair enough, but why would that make things different?

I forgot to remember, again. I try to remember even more. Remember to focus on my experience of the movie instead of the storyline.

Instead of the racing car, the crashing plane, the sobbing wife, the frightened child, the dying friend … –

Now I see, I see… an image, oh no, this was an image. A frame!

“This is not me. This is not myself. This does not belong to me.”

And I start to see the framework of this movie. There is light and shadows. And colors and echoes.

I am sitting! In a chair! How weird!

It is dark around me, and a screen in front.

Now, aware of more of my reality, I feel a strange distance towards the pictures and sounds of the story. I still see everything, hear it all … but what is this… distance? Is it because I now know better what is really going on? I feel lighter, released of the pressure of the serious nature of the movie, not as much bound as before to the emotion provoking impact the story had over me.

How did I realize that I am just in a movie?

Yes, there was this one character in the story who told me that I should not focus on the story (including him, how strange) but on my experience of the movie instead. He told me to continuously remember and concentrate on the experience itself, not its content.

That was all. But it was so hard.

Now I am here, but I am not.

I am bound, but free too.

One day, could I be so released from the sway this story has over me that I could just get up and leave? – not having to watch another version of this movie anymore, which, somehow, are all variations of the same ingredients. In any case, it seems I cannot stop this process of awakening anymore. More and more pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

Yaṃ kiñci chinditabbaṃ, But whatever can be divided; sabbaṃ taṃ paññāya chindati, that can wisdom divide;  natthi dutiyaṃ and there is no other quality; paññāya chedana’’nti. which can divide wisdom.’


‘‘Kathaṃ ūhanalakkhaṇo manasikāro, ‘But how is comprehension the characteristic of direct attention;  kathaṃ chedanalakkhaṇā paññā, and cutting off of wisdom? opammaṃ karohī’’ti. Give me an illustration.’
‘‘Jānāsi, tvaṃ mahārāja, yavalāvake’’ti. ‘You remember the barley reapers?’
‘‘Āma, bhante, jānāmī’’ti.’ Yes, certainly.’
‘‘Kathaṃ, mahārāja, yavalāvakā yavaṃ lunantī’’ti? ‘How do they reap the barley?’
‘‘Vāmena, bhante, hatthena ‘With the left hand yavakalāpaṃ gahetvā they grasp the barley into a bunch,  dakkhiṇena hatthena dāttaṃ gahetvā and taking the sickle into the right hand, dāttena chindantī’’ti. they cut it off with that.’


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