|Monday, 1 March 2004|
Just as one would look upon a bubble, just as one would look upon a mirage, if a person thus looks upon the world, the king of death sees him not.
Loka Vagga - The Dhammapada
The Buddha's Concept of Dukkha
by Kingsley Heendeniya
The Buddha did not discover dukkha. Everyone before and in his time knew there is dukkha in existence. What he discovered was the structure of the arising and cessation of dukkha.
He realized that whenever a 'thing' is dependent on some 'other thing' and when this 'other thing' is impermanent, the 'thing' upon which the 'other thing' depends too is impermanent; and whatever is impermanent is dukkha. This is the fundamental structure of dependent origination of existence or being, of birth, decay, death and dukkha.
'When this is this is. When this arises this arises. When this is not this is not. When this ceases this ceases'. So, upon what precisely is this 'thing' dukkha dependent? The Teaching of the Buddha for 45 years is the answer to this question.
In Dhamma, dukkha is defined in a variety of ways. The conventional and easily understood definition is that dukkha is sorrow and lamentation, pain, grief and despair, separation from loved ones, from associating with those you do not like and from not getting what you want.
After describing this worldly concept of dukkha, the Buddha made a quantum leap and declared, 'In short, the five aggregates of form, feeling, perception, determinations and consciousness affected by holding are dukkha.'
No one before the Buddha, in this epoch, had made the stunning statement that this body in fact is dukkha. Since dukkha is feeling, and since there must be a person that feels, it follows that so long as there is a person who thinks 'this body is mine or it belongs to me', there shall always be dukkha.
In other words, dukkha depends on the persistence of the primordial ignorance that this body is not 'mine'.
The word 'dukkha' cannot be expressed in any other one word to capture the full spectrum of its meaning as taught by the Buddha. In addition to sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, despair, it describes dissatisfaction, discontent, frustration, disappointment, un-fulfillment, suffering. It refers to conflicts that arise within ourselves and with others from adherence to feelings, perceptions, intentions, conceit, ideas, views and opinions of ourselves and of the world around us.
It refers to problems, disputes and all unprofitable things that originate from in-born tendencies to like and dislike, from inclinations to cling, want and appropriate. It refers to the danger of attaching ourselves to sensual desires that change, fade and do not last.
'I do not see a single form, Ananda, from the change and alteration of which there shall not arise dukkha in one who desires and lust for it' says the Buddha.
Dhamma is about the nature of this body and its interaction with the world around it - and with nothing else. It is wrong to extrapolate it to things such as politics, psychology, science, evolution and so on.
The Buddha thus frequently tells his disciples, 'Both formerly and now, what I teach and describe is dukkha and the cessation of dukkha...Virtue, learning, discussion, serenity and insight lead to right view and penetration of the Dhamma...Meditate. Do not delay or you will regret later.'
Finally, a few minutes before he passed away he repeated what he had also said on many occasions, 'It is the nature of determinations to disappear. Strive with diligence.' [Vayadhamma sankhara, appamadena sampadetha.]
We can now take a look at dukkha in the precise unique way of the Buddha. The key word is 'determinations' or sankhara in Pali. That is why he chose it to phrase his last words. Determinations are one of the five aggregates affected by holding [upadana]. The five aggregates [khanda] themselves are not dukkha. There is dukkha only when they are affected by holding. The result is dukkha. The feeling of dukkha arises only when we are attached to them and delight in the khanda. Why is that? Why is delight and holding to this body dukkha? The answer is far from obvious. In fact it seems preposterous that delight or pleasure or desire is dukkha. The secret of the Dhamma is in this riddle. Its core understanding is to unravel it. In a periodic statement the Buddha says, 'All things have desire for their root, attention provides their being, contact their origin, feeling their meeting place, concentration confrontation with them, understanding is the highest of them and deliverance is their core.'
Let us now understand sankhara, one of the five khanda, conjoined in consciousness with feeling and perception. Determinations are things upon which other things depend. Thus, feelings depend on contact.
Contact depends on the five senses. The five senses depend on consciousness. Birth depends on holding to desire for being. Aging and death depends on birth. In this fundamental structure of dependent arising [and cessation], for example, 'contact' as we have seen is the determination or necessary condition for what it determines, namely feeling. In other words, determinations determine the determined - and determinations are themselves determined by other determinations.
Determinations are bound with what they determine. They are not what they determine. As the Buddha says, 'Determinations determine the determined. That is why they are called determinations.'
The question can now be asked, 'Are there determinations that do not determine anything'? The answer is that there cannot be because determinations must determine something. Furthermore, determinations are negative. They deny the existence of the positive as when the determination 'altruism' denies the existence of 'selfishness'. But while a determination is negative, it immediately asserts the existence of and essence of the positive. Altruism implies selfishness. When we know what 'altruism' means, we shall know what 'selfishness' means.
When we come to understand dukkha, we shall arrive at experiencing bliss. Since feelings are bound to this body and this body and feelings are impermanent, we shall experience why what is impermanent is dukkha.
The Buddha says, 'This world is unstable.' When we understand why what is dependent on some other thing is unstable, we shall understand why what is unstable is dukkha.
When we understand that this body is unstable and impermanent, we shall understand that it is foolish to be attached to the body from regarding it as belonging to me. All our vicissitudes, our likes and dislikes, our natural ingrained habit of making inferences from this body, arise from determinations or intentions of one sort or another.
Thus, the Buddha says, what is volitional is dukkha. It is the gist of the insight of dukkha. This the unique description of dukkha by the Buddha: 'All determinations are impermanent. All determinations are dukkha'.
International Conclave on Buddhism
Buddhism: A spiritual journey
by J. B. Disanayaka
'A quiet corner lies hidden somewhere amidst the cacophony of the world. A still moment survives an agonising restlessness. Knowledge fights of the bullying ways of ignorance. Buddhism leads one to that quiet corner.
Takes an individual within himself for the ambrosia of peace and enlightenment. What better way can there be, to cope with a fretting universe. And what better place to begin this search for eternal truth, than the country where it was born.'
India, where Buddhism was born, hosted an International Conclave on Buddhism, the first of its kind at New Delhi on the 17th and 18th February this year, under the title 'Buddhism: A Spiritual Journey'.
It was perhaps one of the largest gatherings of Buddhists in recent times representing twenty five countries including Sri Lanka. It was organised by the Indian Ministry of Tourism and Culture.
The distinguished invitees who met at Vigyan Bhavan, one of the newest conference halls in New Delhi, covered a colourful spectrum of the Buddhist world: monks and nuns of both the Theravada and Mahayana schools, lay dignitaries representing Buddhist organisations and, eminent Buddhist teachers and scholars.
It was, in deed, a wonderfully unique experience to see the Sangharajas of Bangladesh and Mongolia intermingle and interact with the Maha Nayaka of the Asgiriya Chapter, the Diyawadana Nilame, the lay custodian of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth and distinguished Buddhist scholars like Ven. OIlande Ananda (from Holland) and our own Ven. Prof. Dhammavihari.
India should be complimented for bringing together more than five hundred delegates from Buddhist countries across the world - of various colours and hues - to discuss all the wonderful aspects of Buddhism that highlight its spiritual path.
The discussions covered not only the philosophical aspects of Buddhism that transformed the life of millions over the last twenty five centuries but also its artistic heritage, architectural splendour and literary treasures.
To revisit the Buddhist heritage
The Conclave was an invitation by the Government of India to revisit the Buddhist heritage in the land of its birth. On restoring Ajanta caves, one of the most awe-inspiring and spectacular centres of Buddhist art, Mr. Jagmohan, Minister for Tourism and Culture says:
"On the hundred walls and pillars of these rock-carved temples a vast drama moves before our eyes, a drama played by princess, sages and heroes, by men and women of every condition, against a marvellously varied scene, among forests and gardens, in courts and cities, on wide plains and in deep jungles while above the messengers of heaven move swiftly across the sky. And woven into this fabric of material beauty we see the ordered pattern of the spiritual realities of the universe."
The invitation was not only to revisit these sites but also to seek the advice of these eminent men and women on issues relating to Buddhist pilgrim centres.
It is claimed that the Buddha had visited 45 places particularly in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, Kapilavastu, the home town of the Buddha, is now located in two places - the one part of it belonging to India and the other part belonging to Nepal. Can anything be done to help the pilgrim to cross the border without barriers?
The inaugural session of the Conclave was a memorable experience. As Subhadra Desai, a well-known musician, played the sitar singing the Maha Mangala Sutta, the Conclave was inaugurated by the Honourable President of India, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam. The President, though a non-Buddhist, began delivering his keynote address mesmerizing the Buddhist audience by saying in Pali - Buddham Saranam gacchchami.
Massage and role of Buddhism
Dr. Kalam, who was sworn in as the eleventh President of India, was until then the Professor of Technology and Societal Transformation at Anna University in Chennai. Though a scientist by profession, he has poetry in his heart and mind.
Like a poet and philosopher, he discussed the massage and role of Buddhism, in particular, and other religions, in general, in the modern world that is characterised by turbulence and instability.
He paid his highest tribute to the monks and scholars of Buddhist Universities in India such as that at Nalanda for creating a vibrant tradition of intellectual scholarship. He stressed the need for a University of Bodh - university of universal understanding that will generate a unity of minds to bring about peace and tranquillity.
Highness the Dalai Lama
The Conclave was also addressed by His Highness the Dalai Lama. He began his speech in his mother tongue, Tibetan, but excused himself to talk in his 'broken English' to save time. His Highness, who is noted for his sense of humour, kept the audience spell-bound for a whole hour talking about the plight of Buddhism in the modern world.
Om Mani Padme Hum
Bachi Karkaria (Times News Network) writing to the Times of India the following day under the title 'Down to earth with Dalai' has captured his sense of humour well. "He's more passion than compassion. More laughter than bliss'. Dalai Lama was quoted to have said "A lot of young Tibetans finger the rosary and recite the mantra - Om Mani Padme Hum - without wanting to know anything more about the Buddha's message. So it becomes 'Om, Om, Om, Mani, Mani, money, money'. The fellow is not thinking of the ratna, but of rupees. Transformation doesn't mean repeating a mantra".
The inaugural session was also marked by the presentation of bodhi saplings from the bodhi tree at Bodhgaya to fifteen spiritual heads which included three Sri Lankan monks: Ven. Udugama Buddharakkhita, the Chief Prelate of the Asgiriya chapter, Ven. Weragoda Sarada, Head of the Singapore Buddhist Meditation Centre and Ven. Galayaye Piyadassi, Head of the Kingsbury Temple in London.
The other Buddhist countries that received a bodhi sapling were Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Japan, Korea (North), Korea (South), Laos, Mongolia, Mynmar, Nepal, Thailand and Vietnam.
Over the two days at Vigyan Bhavan, two major themes were taken up for discussion: first, on global issues and the second, on Indian issues. Global issues touched upon topics such as Buddhism in the 21st century, Buddhism and World Peace, Buddhism and Globalization. The idea that Buddhism is a philosophy that cuts through time and space was stressed in the first session. Indian issues touched upon Buddhist Heritage sites of India, Promoting the Indian Buddhist Circuit and Issues and Prospects of Buddhist Pilgrimage to India. Issues such as the control of the Bodhgaya temple, the need to demarcate it as a sacred area, the desirability of providing easy access to the two Kapilavastu segments, were among the issues discussed. Sessions also included multi-media presentations: 'What did the Buddha teach?' by Dr. Titus Leber, an American working in Thailand, showed how multi-media could be used to encode the Buddha's message in a most colourful and absorbing way. Benoy Behi's 'Art of Ajanta' was the product of many years of love and labour to capture the glory of these paintings in original form.
The Conclave was followed by the Dedication of the Mahabodhi Temple Complex as a World Heritage Site on 19th at Bodhgaya. This temple is considered 'the holiest of the holies' by the Buddhists because Prince Siddhartha attained Enlightenment at the foot of the bodhi tree here. The delegates were taken to Bodhgaya by a special train to attend this Ceremony.
The Dedication Ceremony
The Dedication Ceremony was held at the upper lawn of the Mahabodhi Temple complex overlooking the Muchalinda Pond. As the monks - both of the Theravada and Mahayana schools - chanted gathas in honour of the Buddha (namo tassa bhagavato), in praise of His virtues (itipiso bhagava) and showing blessings (sabbitiyo vivajjantu) Mr. Jagmohan, the Minister of Tourism and Culture unvailed the plaque dedicating the Temple as a World Heritage Site.
In his address, Mr. Jagmohan said that the Buddha was the greatest saint that ever lived - who carved a new path for the liberation of humanity. In the modern world where 80% of the people live in deprivation and poverty and 20% enjoy the wealth, Buddhism with its infinite compassion has a special role to play - to open up a spiritual path to justice and happiness.
India, though a secular state, is a land of many faiths and religions. It is the birth place of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. However it is Buddhism that spread over to countries beyond India to enlighten millions of people particularly in Asia. Today Buddhists from all parts of the globe come on pilgrimage to India to pay homage to the Buddha, the greatest son of India.
It is thus heartening to note that India where Hinduism is the dominant faith has decided to promote this spiritual journey through Buddhism. The Government of India deserves the gratitude of the Buddhist world for being so tolerant and generous. Let us hope that this Conclave on Buddhism create among the Buddhists a new image of India as a friend, philosopher and facilitator.
Produced by Lake House