Archive for February, 2010

2500 years lie between us and Buddha Gotama, but even though the historical and cultural gap seems so unbridgeable to our intellect, it is moments like the following that remind us of the eternal presence of the Dhamma – not as a religious doctrine – but a simple yet profound description of reality:

‘‘Atha kho, bhikkhave, tassa purisassa evamassa – ‘ahaṃ kho amussā itthiyā sāratto paṭibaddhacitto tibbacchando tibbāpekkho. Tassa me amuṃ itthiṃ disvā aññena purisena saddhiṃ santiṭṭhantiṃ sallapantiṃ sañjagghantiṃ saṃhasantiṃ uppajjanti sokaparidevadukkhadomanassūpāyāsā. Yaṃnūnāhaṃ yo me amussā itthiyā chandarāgo taṃ pajaheyyan’ti.

So yo amussā itthiyā chandarāgo taṃ pajaheyya. So taṃ itthiṃ passeyya aparena samayena aññena purisena saddhiṃ santiṭṭhantiṃ sallapantiṃ sañjagghantiṃ saṃhasantiṃ. Taṃ kiṃ maññatha, bhikkhave, api nu tassa purisassa amuṃ itthiṃ disvā aññena purisena saddhiṃ santiṭṭhantiṃ sallapantiṃ sañjagghantiṃ saṃhasantiṃ uppajjeyyuṃ sokaparidevadukkhadomanassūpāyāsā’’ti?

‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’. ‘‘Taṃ kissa hetu’’? ‘‘Amu hi, bhante, puriso amussā itthiyā virāgo. Tasmā taṃ itthiṃ disvā aññena purisena saddhiṃ santiṭṭhantiṃ sallapantiṃ sañjagghantiṃ saṃhasantiṃ na uppajjeyyuṃ sokaparidevadukkhadomanassūpāyāsā’’ti.

Suppose that a man is in love with a woman, his mind ensnared with fierce desire, fierce passion. He sees her standing with another man, chatting, joking, & laughing. What do you think, monks: As he sees her standing with another man, chatting, joking, & laughing, would sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair arise in him?”

“Yes, lord. Why is that? Because he is in love with her, his mind ensnared with fierce desire, fierce passion…”

“Now suppose the thought were to occur to him, ‘I am in love with this woman, my mind ensnared with fierce desire, fierce passion. When I see her standing with another man, chatting, joking, & laughing, then sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair arise within me. Why don’t I abandon my desire & passion for that woman?’ So he abandons his desire & passion for that woman, and afterwards sees her standing with another man, chatting, joking, & laughing. What do you think, monks: As he sees her standing with another man, chatting, joking, & laughing, would sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair arise in him?”

“No, lord. Why is that? He is dispassionate toward that woman…”

MN [en] [pi]

Many, many years ago, when I read through the Majjhima Nikaya the first time (in this life  🙂 ) I remember that I was struck by the simplicity yet profound implications of this particular passage. Obviously, there is probably no one on this planet who cannot relate to the context or simile which the Buddha turns into a tool for insight.

The simile of the “love lost” tries to explain that something very very similar is at the heart of all our suffering – at the very heart of the mystery of life.

For one it is very easy to translate this passage into any contemporary language. The situation is so universal that it is quite easy to transfer it into our own modern world – or any future. At the same time there are at least three fundamental terms which the Buddha uses in this simile, concepts which the Buddha also applies to much more profound parts of his teaching. So in a certain sense, we are looking at (one) Rosetta stone of the Buddha’s Dhamma – allowing us to breath the same air (so to speak) as Indian people 2500 years ago sitting in front of the Buddha. This in itself is remarkable. We know possess a “can opener” to unravel some of the deeper implications of his Dhamma by embracing the spirit of this simile and applying it to other passages where we see the Buddha use the exact same vocabulary to describe phenomena which usually escape us or – which we cannot experientally understand and therefore tend to view as philosophical expression or metaphysical descriptions.

So, let’s have a closer look at this. What happens in us / with us, when we are successful in loosing interest in a girl/man of the opposite sex? What do we have to do in order to achieve such a dispassion about that person? What takes place when we do see the other person and now react in a different way?

This is an invitation, obviously, for deep introspection…

For this simile to have any effect on you, you have to visualize the process the Buddha is talking about. Put yourself in the place of that person. First, when overcome with affection, later when he decided to not care anymore, how does his mind-set changes when he sees her again?

I recommend you do this a couple of times and then, from one moment to the other, now you look at the six senses in exactly the same way…try to apply the simile and see what you feel or what happens…

If we can unravel this, then, and this is the crucial point, then why not apply the same to something which until now we have embraced with even stronger ties of love: all forms, all feelings, all perceptions, all mental activities, all (re)cognition. To all sights, sounds, smell, taste, touch and thoughts?

At this point, I would like to move your attention to a second very powerful and by no means new simile with which the Buddha used to express a very similar thought/reflection. Maybe we can connect the dots…

‘‘Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, yaṃ imasmiṃ jetavane tiṇakaṭṭhasākhāpalāsaṃ taṃ jano hareyya vā ḍaheyya vā yathāpaccayaṃ vā kareyya.

Api nu tumhākaṃ evamassa – ‘amhe jano harati vā ḍahati vā yathāpaccayaṃ vā karotī’’’ti?

‘‘No hetaṃ, bhante’’. ‘‘Taṃ kissa hetu’’? ‘‘Na hi no etaṃ, bhante, attā vā attaniyaṃ vā’’ti. ‘‘Evameva kho, bhikkhave, rūpaṃ na tumhākaṃ, taṃ pajahatha.

Taṃ vo pahīnaṃ hitāya sukhāya bhavissati.

were to gather or burn or do as he likes with the grass, twigs, branches, & leaves here in ‘s Grove. Would the thought occur to you, ‘It’s us that this person is gathering, burning, or doing with as he likes’?”

“No, lord. Why is that? Because those things are not our self nor are they like our self.”

“In the same way, monks, the forms are not yours: let go of it. Your letting go of it will be for your long-term happiness & benefit… The sounds… The smell… The taste… The touch… The thoughts are not yours: let go of them. Your letting go of it will be for your long-term happiness & benefit…

SN. 35. 101. [en]

Please do not just read over this simile. I would suggest that you visualize this particular scenario. Just give it a few minutes and think it through. Make yourself believe to be the firewood, being carried away, without control over yourself. How silly that thought might be. Just picture it. Someone comes and picks you up. They break you in half, they take you to a fire, they throw you into the fire, there is nothing you can do.

Oh, yes, we forgot: Of course we would never identify ourselves with branches and twigs lying around in the forest. Especially not if we see someone else take them up and carry around. But yet, that is exactly what we do (or rather: what is taking place) with regard to forms, feelings, perceptions, mental activities and cognition. One six-sense-impression moment after the other.

Now, at least theoretically knowing what needs to be done, we “only” have to turn this advise of the Buddha into reality. Luckily, the Buddha does have quite a lot to say about how this can be done – practically –  and in many instances using similarly powerful similes thus mapping out the entire path for us. What a beautiful simple yet clear path through the forest of experiences. Let’s go 🙂 …

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You have done all that before

That plan of yours which you carry within you, those goals and ideals, dreams and motives: You have had them before. If you accept rebirth then logic dictates, that maybe at a different time and different place you may have well moved in similar tracks. In other words:

If it is beneficial to you and others? We know, you can do it! Don’t give up! If it is unwholesome to you, others and both? Than resist the tendency to repeat it. Slow done or reverse the slippery slope of old pathways!

Moving in similar tracks: If people really understood how their minds operate, would they continue to consume sense impressions (movies, TV, places, situations and other) in the way they normally do?

All those impressions although evaporating into thin air once watched or heard or experienced are nevertheless very likely to turn into triggers and conditions. They will set in motion chains of events. They pull on former tracks, they deepen them, they set the stage, drop by drop, for new tracks. Can you see how these tracks grow, after viewing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, pondering? First just the flashes of feeling, then the fire of thoughts and at a later stage followed by an impetus to act?

When the senses register and the cloud of feeling, of sensation sourrounds us, thoughts are born. Have enough thoughts go in one direction and a decision is made. What is a decision? Thought tracks deep enough that the simple registration of a sense gives rise to enough self=identification so that we move or talk. The impetus towards identification (i.e. moha) becomes so overwhelming, that we become the tracks, melting into one, “becoming” what is. That is why, with the cessation of ignorance of exactly this process, we find release, nissaranainstantaneously.

Awakening – the arrival at a stage where we effortlessly know and see all that is going on. The strongest tracks of all, however, the asavas, which feel like we become overpowered and almost instantly married and possessed by a train of thoughts – are those tracks really gone?

We cannot stop the “wispering” of the sense-wind but we can eliminate its programming. Even though accumulation and habits may have formed in the past, the activity of this machinery happens anew in each moment. That is where the Awakened One’s Awakening truly transforms his mind, speech and body. This is where his freedom from ignorance replaced by knowing works wonders. Could such a state be called utter freedom? At the very least it could be called “seeing and knowing”, janato passato.

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Awakening while awakening

“‘‘Yathāvādī kho, āvuso, sadevake loke samārake sabrahmake sassamaṇabrāhmaṇiyā pajāya sadevamanussāya na kenaci loke viggayha tiṭṭhati, yathā ca pana kāmehi visaṃyuttaṃ viharantaṃ taṃ brāhmaṇaṃ akathaṃkathiṃ chinnakukkuccaṃ bhavābhave vītataṇhaṃ saññā nānusenti – evaṃvādī kho ahaṃ, āvuso, evamakkhāyī’’ti.”

According to whatever doctrine, friend, one does not quarrel with anyone in this world with its divine and evil beings, with its highest gods and groups of ascetics and brahmins, simply because he dwells disconnected from the senses, for such a holy one, who is past a state of looking for answers, who cut through incertitude, who has no thirst left neither for being nor for not-being, whom perceptions do not haunt- such is my teaching, friend, such do I proclaim.


Feeling is like rain, a continuous stream of drops. Sometimes it is lovely warm like mild summer rain, at other times cold chilly and piercingly painful as a heavy shower of rain in the midst of autumn.

To us the world hardly ever stops there. When a spell of rain turns in either direction – too attractive or too painful – it is the chain of thoughts with which we identify immediately, defining ourself. Justifications, longing, rejection, sorrow, lamentation…

But what if we get disconnected – continuously – at the level where we can watch the rain drop on our six sense spheres?

We would witness that if a certain amount of either pleasant or unpleasant feelings persist, that they then in turn will give rise to thoughts. They in turn make us “take up the matter”. First in thoughts, then in words and eventually bodily movements. It is not, that they “make us” take up the matter: If you happen to watch it, real close while it happens, you can see of course how the thoughts are “born”. They are literally being born – and, due to the condition they are born under they will carry a positive or negative spin.

Intention when unseen is the final acknowledgement that we completely identify with and embrace our feelings. At that low level of mental processing the external and internal is yet so close, it almost “appears” here as one. Like the world appears to us, when we just woke up from a very lively dream…it takes some time to “get back”, i.e get our mental machine going again which nests us into this world so cozily. Usually though, our event horizon is right on top of the products of our sensual and mental abstraction (the names) of the world, which surrounds us (the forms).

What if we just were to watch the rain?

…‘‘Yatonidānaṃ, bhikkhu, purisaṃ papañcasaññāsaṅkhā samudācaranti. Ettha ce n’atthi abhinanditabbaṃ abhivaditabbaṃ ajjhositabbaṃ. Es’ev’anto rāgānusayānaṃ, esevanto paṭighānusayānaṃ, esevanto diṭṭhānusayānaṃ, esevanto vicikicchānusayānaṃ, esevanto mānānusayānaṃ, esevanto bhavarāgānusayānaṃ, esevanto avijjānusayānaṃ, esevanto daṇḍādāna-satthādāna-kalaha-viggaha-vivāda-tuvaṃtuvaṃ-pesuñña-musāvādānaṃ. Etthete pāpakā akusalā dhammā aparisesā nirujjhantī’ti. Idamavoca bhagavā.

From whatever source, o monks, a man is confronted by those chains of proliferating perceptions – if HERE there is nothing for him to be delighted in, to go along with them, to enter into them – then that in itself is the end of following passion, this in itself is the end of following aversion, this in itself is the end of views, this in itself is the end of doubt, this in itself is the end of measuring ourself, this in itself is the end of passion for being, this in itself is the end of not-knowing, this in itself is the end of taking rods and weapons, quarrels, disputes, accusations, slander and false speech. Here then all these bad unwholesome things are completely dissolved. This said the Blessed One.


The Buddha says that it is possible to detach ourselves from what everyone believes to be “them”. In fact he makes a very convincing case for knowing and seeing samsaric nature not just out there, around us, but on exactly the same level, internally – it is all equally to be seen and right there left alone. Vision, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking are equal in their fundamental characteristics. How long or rather: how much would it take to awaken to that level of understanding and all-observation, as mentioned in the above paragraph? One thing is for certain: That level of observation, once reached – it in itself is the end of the noble eightfold path.

So h’āvuso, Bhagavā jānaṃ jānāti, passaṃ passati, cakkhubhūto ñāṇabhūto dhammabhūto brahmabhūto, vattā pavattā, atthassa ninnetā, amatassa dātā, dhammassāmī tathāgato.

He verily, friends, the Blessed One, knowing he knows, seeing he sees. He has become Vision, he has become Knowledge, he has become the Law, he has become brahmic – the Speaker, the Proclaimer, the Guide to Meaning, the Giver of Deathlessness, the Lord of the Law, is the One who arrived (at being) Thus.

James’ story: “One afternoon when I was sleepy but still awake I heard noises. Unable to move or speak up I was caught watching what happened. Vipassana set in and observed the events. Each time a sound would register it would trigger an unpleasant feeling. Just a drop. But as the noises kept coming those drops turned into a stronger and stronger shower of rain. As if they set the stage, thoughts started to arise. Out of nowhere. Like bubbles on the water, caused by the raindrops. Following the unpleasant sensations the thoughts themselves were negative, themselves triggering mental unpleasant feelings, helping the rain to grow even stronger. It would not need much more and I could see myself embrace/identify with and “become” those feelings, thoughts, intentions. Get out of my fragile mode of observation which I was balancing in, caught between a sleep and a wake state of mind.

I could see how this fire of sensations would flare up and burn me, turn me into a burning log. Burning by aversion or passion or just not seeing what is going on at other times. I could also see, that if I were to stay here, and have learnt such a level of detachment, it would just be the ocean of feelings that come and go, but nothing more. The thoughts, which would arise would not turn into chains of perceptions coming back to haunt me. They, just as all the other sensations would come and – not being taken up – disintegrate without the fire ever-growing strong enough to “take me over”.

‘‘Cakkhuñcāvuso, paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ, tiṇṇaṃ saṅgati phasso, phassapaccayā vedanā, yaṃ vedeti taṃ sañjānāti, yaṃ sañjānāti taṃ vitakketi, yaṃ vitakketi taṃ papañceti, yaṃ papañceti tatonidānaṃ purisaṃ papañcasaññāsaṅkhā samudācaranti atītānāgatapaccuppannesu cakkhuviññeyyesu rūpesu.

Dependent on the sight, o friends, and the forms arises sight-recognition. The alignment of those three is “contact”. Dependent on contact is feeling. What one feels that one perceives. What one perceives that one thinks about. What one thinks about that one proliferates. What one proliferates based on that a man is assailed by chains of proliferated perceptions, with regard to past, present and future forms recognisable through sight.

Venerable Mahakaccayana’s response is superb. Venerable Nyanananda in his “Nibbana Sermon, 11” discusses it indetail:

The formula begins on an impersonal note, cakkhunc’àvuso paticca rupe ca uppajjati cakkhu vinnànam. The word paticca is reminiscent of the law of dependent arising. Tinnam sangati phasso, “the concurrence of the three is contact”.  Phassa paccayà vedanà, “conditioned by contact is feeling”. From here onwards the formula takes a different turn. Yam vedeti tam sanjànàti, yam sanjànàti tam vitakketi, yam vitakketi tam papanceti, “what one feels, one perceives; what one perceives, one reasons about; what one reasons about, one turns into papanca“.

In this way, we can distinguish three phases in this description of the process of sense perception in Venerable Mahà Kaccàna’s exposition. It begins with an impersonal note, but at the point of feeling it takes on a personal ending, suggestive of de liberate activity. Yam vedeti tam sanjànàti, yam sanjànàti tam vitakketi, yam vitakketi tam papanceti, “what one feels, one perceives; what one perceives, one reasons about; what one rea sons about, one turns into papanca (mental proliferation)“.

There is a special purpose in using the active voice in this context. It is in order to explain how a man is overwhelmed by papancasannàsankhà – whatever it may be – that Venerable Mahà Kaccàna has introduced this sequence of events in three phases. In fact, he is trying to fill in the gap in the rather elliptical statement of the Bud dha, beginning with yatonidànam, bhikkhu, purisam papancasannàsankhà samudàcaranti, “monk, from whatever source papanca sannà sankhà beset a man”. The initial phase is impersonal, but then comes the phase of active participation.

From feeling onwards, the person behind it takes over. What one feels, one perceives; what one perceives, one reasons about; what one reasons about, one turns into papanca. The grossest phase is the third. Venerable MahàKaccànas formula shows how the process of sense-perception gradually assumes a gross form. This third phase is implicit in the words yam papanceti tatonidànam purisam papancasannà­sankhà samudàcaranti, “what one turns into papanca, owing to that papanca sannà sankhà beset that man”. The word purisam is in the accusative case here, implying that the person who directed sense-perception is now beset with, or overwhelmed by, papancasannàsankhà, as a result of which all the evil unskilful mental states come to be. This itself is an index to the importance of the term papanca.

The course of events suggested by these three phases may be illustrated with the legend of the three magicians.

While journeying through a forest, three men, skilled in magic, came upon a scattered heap of bones of a tiger. To display their skill, one of them converted the bones into a complete skeleton, the second gave it flesh and blood, and the third gave it life. The resurrected tiger devoured all three of them. It is such a predicament hinted at by the peculiar syntax of the formula in question.” Ven. Nyanananda in: Nibbana Sermon, 11.

Venerable Kaccayana, the “Elaborator of brief Dhamma statements “, whose profound Dhamma teachings we are looking at here, was a very talented teacher. Attributed to him is also the Petakopadesa, a very old canonical book which may have entered the canon of Buddhist scriptures during the first few hundred years after the Buddha’s Parinibbana. Still, the Petakopadesa shows signs that at least parts of it were conceived during a time where the message of the Buddha was still very lively – not just in theory, but especially in practice. Let’s have a look at the following passage:

“Sacittapariyodāpanaṃ, etaṃ buddhāna sāsanan”ti gāthā cetasikā dhammā vuttā, citte rūpaṃ vuttaṃ. Idaṃ nāmarūpaṃ dukkhaṃ ariyasaccaṃ. Tato sacittapariyodāpanā yaṃ yaṃ odapeti, taṃ dukkhaṃ. Yena odapeti, so maggo. Yato odapanā, so nirodho. Cakkhuṃ ca paṭicca rūpe ca uppajjati cakkhuviññāṇaṃ, tattha sahajātā vedanā saññā cetanā phasso manasikāro ete te dhammā ekalakkhaṇā uppādalakkhaṇena. Yo ca rūpe nibbindati, vedanāya so nibbindati, saññāsaṅkhāraviññāṇesupi so nibbindati.

“…And to clear ones mind, this is the teaching of the Buddhas” [Dhp. v. 183] this verse was said in regard to mental things and to form in the mind. This name-and-form is the Noble Truth of suffering. Therefore the cleansing of ones mind is the cleaning of that which is suffering. Through which one is able to clean, that is the path. As far as the cleaning is concerned, that is cessation. Dependent on sight and forms arises sight-recognition. There, born at the same time, is feeling, perception, intention, contact, attention – these things are all of one characteristic – of the characteristic of arising. And who gets disenchanted from forms, he (also) gets disenchanted from feelings, he (also) gets disenchanted from perception, mental activities and cognition (consciousness).”

Petakopadesa, 5. [pi]

Extracting such a deep meditative (insight) meaning from a “simple” Dhammapada verse – which is intrinsically in line with the word of the Buddha but still in a language unlike the suttas tells us a little bit about the living Dhamma in ancient India after the time of the Buddha. It is quite beautiful to be able to see over the shoulder of those ancient meditation teachers and to be able to investigate their thoughts and insights over the centuries. When was the last time that you have seen (in modern days) such a great in-depth (but short and to the point) explanation of this famous and well quoted Dhammapada verse?


Some more papanca on this topic:




…way too much papanca here:


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