What, now, is Right Understanding?
Understanding The Four Truths
1. To understand suffering; 2. to
understand the origin of suffering; 3. to understand the extinction of suffering; 4. to
understand the path that leads to the extinction of suffering. This is called Right
Understanding Merit And Demerit
Again, when the noble disciple
understands what is karmically wholesome, and the root of wholesome karma, what is
karmically unwholesome, and the root of unwholesome karma, then he has Right
What, now is 'karmically
|| Destruction of living beings is
|| Stealing is karmically unwholesome
|| Unlawful sexual intercourse is
|| Lying is karmically unwholesome
|| Tale-bearing is karmically
|| Harsh language is karmically
|| Frivolous talk is karmically
|| Covetousness is karmically
|| Ill-will is karmically unwholesome
|| Wrong views are karmically
These ten are called 'Evil Courses of Action'
And what are the roots of
unwholesome karma? Greed (lobha) is a root of unwholesome karma; Hatred (dosa) is a root
of unwholesome karma; Delusion (moha) is a root of unwholesome karma.
Therefore, I say, these
demeritorious actions are of three kinds: either due to greed, or due to hatred, or due to
As 'karmically unwholesome' (a-kusala) is considered
every volitional act of body, speech, or mind, which is rooted in greed, hatred, or
delusion. It is regarded as akusala, i.e. unwholesome or unskillful, as it produces evil
and painful results in this or some future existence. The state of will or volition is
really that which counts as action (kamma). It may manifest itself as action of the body,
or speech; if it does not manifest itself outwardly, it is counted as mental action.
The state of greed (lobha), as also that of hatred
(dosa), is always accompanied by ignorance (or delusion; moha), this latter being the
primary root of all evil. Greed and hatred, however, cannot co-exist in one and the same
moment of consciousness.
What, now, is 'karmically
|| To abstain from killing is
|| Bodily Action
|| To abstain from stealing is
|| To abstain from unlawful sexual
intercourse is karmically wholesome
|| To abstain from lying is
|| Verbal Action
|| To abstain from tale-bearing is
|| To abstain from harsh language is
|| To abstain from frivolous talk is
|| Absence of covetousness is
|| Mental Action
|| Absence of ill-will is karmically
|| Right understanding is karmically
These ten are called 'Good Courses of Action'
And what are the roots of wholesome
karma? Absence of greed (a-lobha = unselfishness) is a root of wholesome karma; absence of
hatred (a-dosa = kindness) is a root of wholesome karma; absence of delusion (a-moha =
wisdom) is a root of wholesome karma.
Understanding The Three Characteristics
SS. XXII. 51
Again, when one understands that
corporeality, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness are transient
(subject to suffering, and without a self), also in that case one possesses Right
Should any one say that he does not
wish to lead the holy life under the Blessed One, unless the Blessed One first tells him
whether the world is eternal or temporal, finite or infinite: whether the life-principle
is identical with the body, or something different; whether the Perfect One continues
after death, etc.-such a one would die ere the Perfect One could tell him all this.
It is as if a man were pierced by a
poisoned arrow and his friends, companions or near relations should send for a surgeon;
but that man should say: 'I will not have this arrow pulled out, until I know, who the man
is that has wounded me: whether he is a noble man, a priest, a tradesman, or a servant';
or: 'what his name is, and to what family he belongs'; or: 'whether he is tall, or short,
or of medium height'. Truly, such a man would die ere he could adequately learn all this.
Therefore, the man who seeks his
own welfare, should pull out this arrow-this arrow of lamentation, pain, and sorrow.
For, whether the theory exists, or
whether it does not exist, that the world is eternal, or temporal, or finite or
infinite-yet certainly, there exists birth, there exists decay, there exist death, sorrow,
lamentation, pain, grief, and despair, the extinction of which, attainable even in this
present life, I make known unto you.
Suppose for instance, that there is
an unlearned worldling, void of regard for holy men, ignorant of the teaching of holy men,
untrained in the noble doctrine. And his heart is possessed and overcome by Self-illusion,
by Scepticism, by Attachment to mere Rule and Ritual, by Sensual Lust, and by Ill-will;
and how to free himself from these things, he does not in reality know.
Self-Illusion (sakkaaya-di.t.thi) may reveal itself
1. 'Eternalism': bhava- or sassata-di.t.thi, lit.
'Eternity-Belief', i.e. the belief that one's Ego, Self or Soul exists independently of
the material body, and continues even after the dissolution of the latter.
2. 'Annihilationism': vibhava- or ucchcda-di.t.thi,
lit. 'Annihilation-Belief', i.e. the materialistic belief that this present life
constitutes the Ego, and hence that it is annihilated at the death of the material body.
For the ten 'Fetters' (samyojana), see "The Ten Fetters" .
Not knowing what is worthy of
consideration, and what is unworthy of consideration, he considers the unworthy, and not
And unwisely he considers thus:
'Have I been in the past? Or, have I not been in the past? What have I been in the past?
How have I been in the past? From what state into what state did I change in the past?
Shall I be in the future? Or, shall
I not be in the future? What shall I be in the future? How shall I be in the future? From
what state into what state shall I change in the future?'
And the present also fills him with
doubt; 'Am I? Or, am I not? What am I? How am I? This being, whence has it come? Whither
will it go?'
The Six Views About The Self
And with such unwise
considerations, he adopts one or other of the six views, and it becomes his conviction and
firm belief: 'I have a Self', or: 'I have no Self', or: 'With the Self I perceive the
Self', or: 'With that which is no Self, I perceive the Self'; or: 'With the Self I
perceive that which is no Self'. Or, he adopts the following view: 'This my Self, which
can think and feel, and which, now here, now there, experiences the fruit of good and evil
deeds: this my Self is permanent, stable, eternal, not subject to change, and will thus
eternally remain the same'.
If there really existed the Self,
there would also exist something which belonged to the Self. As, however, in truth and
reality neither the Self, nor anything belonging to the Self, can be found, is it not
therefore really an utter fools' doctrine to say: 'This is the world, this am I; after
death I shall be permanent, persisting, and eternal'?
These are called mere views, a
thicket of views, a puppet-show of views, a toil of views, a snare of views; and ensnared
in the fetter of views the ignorant worldling will not be freed from rebirth, from decay,
and from death, from sorrow, pain, grief and despair; he will not be freed, I say, from
The learned and noble disciple,
however, who has regard for holy men, knows the teaching of holy men, is well trained in
the noble doctrine; he understands what is worthy of consideration, and what is unworthy.
And knowing this, he considers the worthy, and not the unworthy. What suffering is, he
wisely considers; what the origin of suffering is, he wisely considers; what the
extinction of suffering is, he wisely considers; what the path is that leads to the
extinction of suffering, he wisely considers.
The Sotapanna or 'Stream-Enterer'
And by thus considering, three
fetters vanish, namely; Self-illusion, Scepticism, and Attachment to
mere Rule and Ritual.
But those disciples, in whom these
three fetters have vanished, they all have 'entered the Stream' (sotaapanna).
- More than any earthly power,
- More than all the joys of heaven,
- More than rule o'er all the world,
- Is the Entrance to the Stream.
The Ten Fetters
There are ten 'Fetters'-samyojana-by which beings are
bound to the wheel of existence. They are:
- Self-Illusion (sakkaaya-di.t.thi)
- Scepticism (vicikicchaa)
- Attachment to mere Rule and Ritual (siilabbata-paraamaasa)
- Sensual Lust (kaamaraaga)
- Ill-Will (vyaapaada)
- Craving for Fine-Material Existence (ruupa-raaga)
- Craving for Immaterial Existence (aruupa-raaga)
- Conceit (maana)
- Restlessness (uddhacca)
- Ignorance (avijjaa).
The Noble Ones
One who is freed from the first three Fetters is
called a 'Stream - Enterer' (in Pali: Sotaapanna) i.e. one who has entered the stream
leading to Nibbaana. He has unshakable faith in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, and is
incapable of breaking the five Moral Precepts. He will be reborn seven times, at the
utmost, and not in a state lower than the human world.
One who has overcome the fourth and the fifth Fetters
in their grosser form, is called a Sakadaagaami, lit. 'Once-Returner' i.e. he will be
reborn only once more in the Sensuous Sphere (kaama-loka), and thereafter reach Holiness.
An Anaagaami, lit. 'Non-Returner', is wholly freed
from the first five Fetters which bind one to rebirth in the Sensuous Sphere; after death,
while living in the Fine-Material Sphere (ruupa-loka), he will reach the goal.
An Arahat, i.e. the perfectly 'Holy One', is freed
from all the ten Fetters.
Each of the aforementioned four stages of Holiness
consists of the 'Path' (magga) and the 'Fruition', e.g. 'Path of Stream Entry'
(sotaapatti-magga) and 'Fruition of Stream Entry' (sotaapatti-phala). Accordingly there
are eight types, or four pairs, of 'Noble Individuals' (ariya-puggala).
The 'Path' consists of the single moment of entering
the respective attainment. By 'Fruition' are meant those moments of consciousness which
follow immediately thereafter as the result of the 'Path', and which under certain
circumstances, may repeat innumerable times during life-time.
For further details, see B. Dict.: ariya-puggala,
Mundane And Supermundane Understanding
Therefore, I say, Right
Understanding is of two kinds:
1. The view that alms and offerings
are not useless; that there is fruit and result, both of good and bad actions; that there
are such things as this life, and the next life; that father and mother, as also
spontaneously born beings (in the heavenly worlds), are no mere words; that there are in
the world monks and priests, who are spotless and perfect, who can explain this life and
the next life, which they themselves have understood: this is called the 'Mundane Right
Understanding' (lokiya-sammaa-di.t.thi), which yields worldly fruits and brings good
2. But whatsoever there is of
wisdom, of penetration, of right understanding conjoined with the 'Path' (of the
Sotaapanna, Sakadaagaami, Anaagaami, or Arahat)-the mind being turned away from the world
and conjoined with the path, the holy path being pursued: this is called the 'Supermundane
Right Understanding' (lokuttara-sammaa-di.t.thi), which is not of the world, but is
supermundane and conjoined with the path.
Thus, there are two kinds of the Eightfold Path:
1. The 'mundane' (lokiya), practised by the
'Worldling' (puthujjana), i.e. by all those who have not yet reached the first stage of
Holiness; 2. The 'supermundane' (lokuttara) practised by the 'Noble Ones' (ariya-puggala).
Conjoined With Other Steps
Now, in understanding wrong
understanding as wrong and right understanding as right, one practises 'Right
Understanding' (1st factor); and in making efforts to overcome wrong understanding, and to
arouse right understanding, one practises 'Right Effort' (6th factor); and in overcoming
wrong understanding with attentive mind, and dwelling with attentive mind in the
possession of right understanding one practises 'Right Mindfulness' (7th factor). Hence,
there are three things that accompany and follow upon right understanding, namely: Right
Understanding, Right Effort, and Right Mindfulness.
Free from All Theories
Now, if any one should put the
question, whether I admit any theory at all, he should be answered thus: The Perfect One
is free from any theory, for the Perfect One has understood what corporeality is, and how
it arises and passes away. He has understood what feeling is, and how it arises and passes
away. He has understood what perception is, and how it arises and passes away. He has
understood what the mental formations are, and how they arise and pass away. He has
understood what consciousness is, and how it arises and passes away. Therefore I say, the
Perfect One has won complete deliverance through the extinction, fading-away,
disappearance, rejection, and getting rid of all opinions and conjectures, of all
inclination to the vain-glory of 'I' and 'mine'.
The Three Characteristics
A. III. 134
Whether Perfect Ones (Buddhas)
appear in the world, or whether Perfect Ones do not appear in the world, it still remains
a firm condition, an immutable fact and fixed law: that all formations are impermanent
(anicca), that all formations are subject to suffering (dukkha); that everything is
without a Self (an-attaa).
In Pali: sabbe sankhaaraa aniccaa, sabbe sankhaaraa
dukkhaa, sabbe dhammaa anattaa.
The word 'sankhaaraa' (formations) comprises here all
things that are conditioned or 'formed' (sankhata-dhamma), i.e. all possible physical and
mental constituents of existence. The word 'dhamma', however, has a still wider
application and is all-embracing, as it comprises also the so-called Unconditioned
('unformed', asankhata), i.e. Nibbaana.
For this reason, it would be wrong to say that all
dhammas are impermanent and subject to change, for the Nibbaana-dhamma is permanent and
free from change. And for the same reason, it is correct to say that not only all the
sankhaaras (=sankhata-dhamma), but that all the dhammas (including the asankhata-dhamma)
lack an Ego (an-attaa).
S. XXII. 94
A corporeal phenomenon, a feeling,
a perception, a mental formation, a consciousness, which is permanent and persistent,
eternal and not subject to change, such a thing the wise men in this world do not
recognize; and I also say that there is no such thing.
A. I. 15
And it is impossible that a being
possessed of right understanding should regard anything as the Self.
Views and Discussions About the Ego
Now, if someone should say that
feeling is his Self, he should be answered thus: 'There are three kinds of feeling:
pleasurable, painful, and indifferent feeling. Which of these three feelings do you
consider as your Self?' Because, at the moment of experiencing one of these feelings, one
does not experience the other two. These three kinds of feeling are impermanent, of
dependent origin, are subject to decay and dissolution, to fading-away and extinction.
Whosoever, in experiencing one of these feelings, thinks that this is his Self, must after
the extinction of that feeling, admit that his Self has become dissolved. And thus he will
consider his Self already in this present life as impermanent, mixed up with pleasure and
pain, subject to arising and passing away.
If any one should say that feeling
is not his Ego, and that his Self is inaccessible to feeling, he should be asked thus:
'Now, where there is no feeling, is it then possible to say: "This am I?"
Or, another might say: 'Feeling,
indeed, is not my Self, but it also is untrue that my Self is inaccessible to feeling, for
it is my Self that feels, my Self that has the faculty of feeling'. Such a one should be
answered thus: 'Suppose that feeling should become altogether totally extinguished; now,
if after the extinction of feeling, no feeling whatever exists there, is it then possible
to say: "This am I'?"
To say that the mind, or the
mind-objects, or the mind-consciousness, constitute the Self, such an assertion is
unfounded. For an arising and a passing away is seen there; and seeing the arising and
passing away of these things, one would come to the conclusion that one's Self arises and
S. XII. 62
1t would be better for the
unlearned worldling to regard his body, built up of the four elements, as his Self, rather
than his mind. For it is evident that the body may last for a year, for two years, for
three, four, five, or ten years, or even for a hundred years and more; but that which is
called thought, or mind, or consciousness, arises continuously, during day and night, as
one thing, and passes away as another thing.
S. XXII. 59
Therefore, whatsoever there is of
corporeality, of feeling, of perception, of mental formations, of consciousness whether
past, present or future, one's own or external, gross or subtle, lofty or low, far or
near: of this one should understand according to reality and true wisdom: 'This does not
belong to me; this am I not; this is not my Self.'
To show the impersonality and utter emptiness of
existence, Visuddhi-Magga XVI quotes the following verse:
- Mere suffering exists, no sufferer is found,
- The deed is, but no doer of the deed is there.
- Nirvaana is, but not the man that enters it.
- The path is, but no traveller on it is seen'.
If now, any one should ask: 'Have
you been in the past, and is it untrue that you have not been? Will you be in the future,
and is it untrue that you will not be? Are you, and is it untrue that you are not?' - you
may reply that you have been in the past, and that it is untrue that you have not been;
that you will be in the future, and that it is untrue that you will not be; that you are,
and that it is untrue that you are not.
In the past only that past
existence was real, but unreal the future and present existence. In the future only the
future existence will be real, but unreal the past and the present existence. Now only the
present existence is real, but unreal, the past and future existence.
Verily, he who perceives the
'Dependent Origination' (pa.ticca-samuppaada), perceives the truth; and he who perceives
the truth, perceives the Dependent Origination.
For just as from the cow comes
milk, from milk curd, from curd butter, from butter ghee, from ghee the skim of ghee; and
when it is milk, it is not counted as curd, or butter, or ghee, or skim of ghee, but only
as milk; and when it is curd, it is only counted as curd: just so was my past existence at
that time real, but unreal the future and present existence; and my future existence will
be at that time real, but unreal the past and present existence; and my present existence
is now real, but unreal the past and future existence. All these are merely popular
designations and expressions, mere conventional terms of speaking, mere popular notions.
The Perfect One indeed makes use of these, without however clinging to them.
S. XLIV 4
Thus, he who does not understand
corporeality, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness according to
reality (i.e. as void of a personality, or Ego) nor understands their arising, their
extinction, and the way to their extinction, he is liable to believe, either that the
Perfect One continues after death, or that he does not continue after death, and so forth.
The Two Extremes (Annihilation and
Eternity Belief) and the Middle Doctrine
S. XII. 25
Truly, if one holds the view that
the vital principle (jiva; 'Soul') is identical with this body, in that case a holy life
is not possible; and if one holds the view that the vital principle is something quite
different from the body, in that case also a holy life is not possible. Both these two
extremes the Perfect One has avoided, and he has shown the Middle Doctrine, which says:
S. XII. 1
On Ignorance (avijjaa) depend the
On the Karma-formations depends
'Consciousness' (vi~n~naa.na; starting with rebirth-consciousness in the womb of the
On Consciousness depends the
'Mental and Physical Existence' (naama-ruupa).
On the mental and physical
existence depend the 'Six Sense-Organs' (sa.l-aayatana).
On the six sense-organs depends
'Sensorial Impression' (phassa).
On sensorial impression depends
On feeling depends 'Craving'
On craving depends 'Clinging'
On clinging depends the 'Process of
On the process of becoming (here:
kamma-bhava, or karma-process) depends 'Rebirth' (jaati).
On rebirth depend 'Decay and Death'
(jaraa-marana), sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair.
Thus arises this whole mass of
suffering. This is called the noble truth of the origin of suffering.
- "No god, no Brahma can be called
- The maker of this wheel of life:
- Empty phenomena roll on,
- Dependent on conditions all."
- (Quoted in Visuddhi-Magga XIX).
S. XII. 51
A disciple, however, in whom
Ignorance (avijjaa) has disappeared and wisdom arisen, such a disciple heaps up neither
meritorious, nor demeritorious, nor imperturbable Karma-formations.
The term sankhaaraa has been rendered here by 'Karma
Formations' because, in the context of the Dependent Origination, it refers to karmically
wholesome and unwholesome volition (cetanaa), or volitional activity, in short, Karma.
The threefold division of it, given in the preceding
passage, comprises karmic activity in all spheres of existence, or planes of
consciousness. The 'meritorious karma-formations' extend also to the Fine-Material Sphere
(ruupaavacara), while the 'imperturbable karma-formations' (ane~njaabhisankhaaraa) refer
only to the Immaterial Sphere (aruupaavacara).
S. XII. 1
Thus, through the entire fading
away and extinction of this 'Ignorance', the 'Karma-formations' are extinguished. Through
the extinction of Karma-formations, 'Consciousness' (rebirth) is extinguished. Through the
extinction of consciousness, the 'Mental and Physical Existence' is extinguished. Through
the extinction of the mental and physical existence, the 'Six Sense-Organs' are
extinguished. Through the extinction of the six sense-organs, 'Sensorial Impression' is
extinguished. Through the extinction of sensorial impression, 'Feeling' is extinguished.
Through the extinction of feeling, 'Craving' is extinguished. Through the extinction of
craving, 'Clinging' is extinguished. Through the extinction of clinging, the 'Process of
Becoming' is extinguished. Through the extinction of the process of becoming, 'Rebirth' is
extinguished. Through the extinction of rebirth, 'Decay and Death', sorrow, lamentation,
pain, grief and despair are extinguished. Thus takes place the extinction of this whole
mass of suffering. This is called the noble truth of the extinction of suffering.
Truly, because beings, obstructed
by ignorance (avijjaa) and ensnared by craving (tanhaa) seek ever fresh delight, now here,
now there, therefore fresh rebirth continually comes to be.
A. III. 33
And the action (kamma) that is done
out of greed, hatred and delusion (lobha, dosa, moha), that springs from them, has its
source and origin in them: this action ripens wherever one is reborn, and wherever this
action ripens there one experiences the fruits of this action, be it in this life, or the
next life, or in some future life.
Cessation of Karma
However, through the fading away of
ignorance, through the arising of wisdom, through the extinction of craving, no future
rebirth takes place again.
A. III. 33
For the actions which are not done
out of greed, hatred and delusion, which have not sprung from them, which have not their
source and origin in them: such actions, through the absence of greed, hatred and
delusion, are abandoned, rooted out, like a palm-tree torn out of the soil, destroyed, and
not able to spring up again.
A. VIII. 12
In this respect one may rightly say
of me: that I teach annihilation, that I propound my doctrine for the purpose of
annihilation, and that I herein train my disciples; for certainly I do teach
annihilation-the annihilation, namely, of greed, hatred and delusion, as well as of the
manifold evil and unwholesome things.
The Pa.ticca Samuppaada, lit, the Dependent
Origination, is the doctrine of the conditionality of all physical and mental phenomena, a
doctrine which, together with that of Impersonality (anattaa), forms the indispensable
condition for the real understanding and realization of the Buddha's teaching. It shows
that the various physical and mental life-processes, conventionally called personality,
man, animal, etc., are not a mere play of blind chance, but the outcome of causes and
conditions. Above all, the Pa.ticca-Samuppaada explains how the arising of rebirth and
suffering is dependent upon conditions; and, in its second part, it shows how, through the
removal of these conditions, all suffering must disappear. Hence, the Pa.ticca-Samuppaada
serves to elucidate the second and the third Noble Truths, by explaining them from their
very foundations upwards, and giving them a fixed philosophical form.
The following diagram shows at a glance how the twelve
links of the formula extend over three consecutive existences, past, present, and future:
|| 1. Ignorance (avijjaa)
Process (kamma-bhava) 5 causes: 1, 2, 8, 9, 10
| 2. Karma-Formations (sankhaaraa)
|| 3. Consciousness (vi~n~naa.na)
Rebirth-Process (upapatti-bhava) 5 results: 3-7
| 4. Mental and Physical Existence
| 5. 6 Sense Organs (sa.l-aayatana)
| 6. Sense-Impression (phassa)
| 7. Feeling (vedanaa)
| 8. Craving (ta.nha)
Process (kamma-bhava) 5 causes: 1, 2, 8, 9, 10
| 9. Clinging (upaadaana)
| 10. Process of Existence (bhava)
|| 11. Rebirth (jaati)
Rebirth-Process (upapatti-bhava) 5 results:
| 12. Decay and Death (jaraa-marana)
The links 1-2, together with 8-10, represent the
Karma-Process, containing the five karmic causes of rebirth.
The links 3-7, together with 11-12, represent the
Rebirth-Process, containing the five Karma-Results.
Accordingly it is said in the Patisambhidaa-Magga:
- Five causes were there in past,
- Five fruits we find in present life.
- Five causes do we now produce,
- Five fruits we reap in future life.
(Quoted in Vis. Magga XVII)
For a full explanation see Fund. III and B. Dict.