Ageing and death – urgently practice the Dhamma

There have been a few disasters happening recently. I have been feeling a bit low on energy for spiritual practice while being distracted by worldly matters. I noticed some friends were also struggling. It is timely to develop a sense of urgency for Dhamma practice.  


SN3.25 The Simile of the Mountain in the Kosalasa.myutta


The whole sutta translated by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu may be read here:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn03/sn03.025.than.html 

I have pasted just the verses from the end of the sutta which convey the message very clearly.

Like massive boulders,
mountains pressing against the sky,
moving in from all sides,
crushing the four directions,
so aging and death
come rolling over living beings:
noble warriors, priests, merchants,
workers, outcastes, & scavengers.
They spare nothing.
They trample everything.


Here elephant troops can hold no ground,
nor can chariots or infantry,
nor can a battle of wits
or wealth win out.


So a wise person,
seeing his own good,
steadfast, secures confidence
in the Buddha, Dhamma, & Sangha.


One who practices the Dhamma
in thought, word, & deed,
receives praise here on earth
and after death rejoices in heaven.

The sutta outlines a conversation between Lord Buddha and King Pasenadi of Kosala and uses a metaphor of massive mountains rolling in from the four cardinal directions, crushing and killing all living beings in their path as they roll towards you.  The idea is that death is inevitable to everyone regardless of their background – rich and poor.   King Pasenadi is a confident Buddhist and understands that even though he is a powerful king, he may not resort to his usual remedies such as military forces, his diplomats or bribes. Just like four rolling mountains, death and ageing are relentlessly powerful and cannot be defeated by material resources.

The solution to this dilemma is to establish confidence in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and then to practice the Dhamma in thought, word and deed.  This much will achieve a happy rebirth in a heavenly realm though death and ageing are still not defeated.

Although this sutta doesn’t go as far as explaining the way to defeat death and ageing – the Noble Eightfold Path, the sutta is very good for stimulating spiritual urgency and reminding Buddhists to waste no time in practicing the Dhamma in thought, word and deed.

Although a heavenly rebirth may be pleasant and relatively long-lived, it is also temporary. Eventually, even the devas must die and take rebirth in any of the various realms (hells, ghost, animal, human, heavens, and brahma realms) depending on their kamma. Without the Noble Eightfold Path, the cycle of rebirths will continue, on and on – Sa.msaara.

This reminds me of the story of Lord Buddha’s younger brother, Prince Nanda. This is a well known story about the young prince about to be married to a beautiful woman.  Lord Buddha took Prince Nanda on a quick tour of one of the heavenly realms. Nanda agreed that the deva ladies were many times more beautiful than his human bride to be. Lord Buddha then motivated Nanda to ordain as a bhikkhu and initially aspire to a heavenly rebirth so Nanda could be with the lovely deva ladies.  Nanda then abandoned his fiancee and ordained.  He later realised that this aspiration for a heavenly rebirth was too low and gave up his desire for deva ladies and any further rebirth in heaven or elsewhere by attaining Nibbaana.  You may read the Nanda Sutta translated by Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu for the full story.

For those of us who come to Buddhism in this human realm and struggle to practice the Dhamma to the extent of attaining Nibbanna, we may be consoled by the thought of a heavenly rebirth.  It appears that unlike most humans, devas are usually able to remember a few past lives and will probably associate with Buddhist devas who will encourage the newly arrived deva to practice the Dhamma.  There are likely to be a great number of Buddhist devas who can teach the Dhamma.  Readers interested in this topic may enjoy reading an early blog posting “If you pentetratively study the Dhamma but die confused“.

May all beings develop the Noble Eightfold Path and realise Nibbaana.

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Upgrading Your Uposatha Observance: five then eight and beyond

The Dhamma is internally consistent and truthful. It is amazingly complete and flawless.  It is possible to take almost any aspect of the Dhamma and see relations with most other aspects of the Dhamma.
Some people misunderstand precepts and think that more is better. Thus someone practicing ten precepts might be considered more virtuous than an eight preceptor and even more superior than a five preceptor. According to this incorrect understanding, bhikkhus and bhikkhunis would be inherently more virtuous than lay people because they are obliged to practice over 200 or over 300 rules respectively.  Think about it though: are bhikkhunis more virtuous than bhikkhus because they have more rules?  The first five bhikkhus (pancasaavakaa) and maybe even the first few hundred thousand bhikkhus did not have any rules. Vinaaya rules were created over time to guide worldling-putthujana monastics. Many of these lacked mindfulness and may have been motivated to join the Sangha for because the Buddhasangha was popular, well supported by lay benefactors and rapidly growing in size and influence.  So the number of precepts or rules is not a measure of virtue. 

Virtue-siila, concentration-samaadhi and wisdom-pa~n~naa are all related and integrated parts of the eightfold noble path.   Virtue and other aspects of the path are qualities rather than quantities.  Greater virtue necessarily implies deeper concentration and profounder wisdom. The three go together simultaneously developed and improved as qualities. 

We need to focus on the practice and the results, the cause and effect of actions – kamma.  Wholesome/skilful – kusala actions such as observing Uposatha precepts will lead to pleasant results and visa-versa.   The precepts are guides to daily life that help us reduce the chances of unwholesome/unskilful akusala actions that lead to harmful results.   Monastics who are supposed to be free from the usual distractions of sensuality, earning a living and supporting families are able to use the observance of so many rules to develop deep concentration – samaadhi and with that concentration are able to gain insight into the Dhamma and find liberation from suffering.  Lay people can do this as well. The principles are the same though the lifestyle may be different.    

First five precepts. By not taking life, we are compassionate and loving toward all beings that fear death and prefer to live. We also give the gift of life. By not taking what is not given, we reduce the fear that other beings have for losing their belongings.  We also give material things to others. By refraining from sexual misconduct or indeed any sexual conduct, we reduce opportunities for our minds and the minds of our lovers to be flooded with extreme emotions which reduce mindfulness and create conditions for suffering.  We also give social harmony to our communities.  By refraining from lies, abusive speech other wrong speech acts, we avoid harming other’s reputations, we avoid inflaming their anger and confusing them with ignorance.  By refraining from intoxicating drinks and other substances, we keep our minds relatively clear and sharp so we can remember the Dhamma and act wisely in all situations.   Intoxicated people are more likely to break the other precepts due to their degraded senses. 

The perpetrators and victims of acts of violence, theft, molestation, slander and so on are at least temporarily mentally disturbed and restless. Without a perspective of the Dhamma and some degree of Right View (sammaadi.t.thi) the victims may seek revenge and due to their confusion, harm others.  By doing so, they perpetuate the cycle of suffering and rebirth.  Only by love is hate quenched. Only by renunciation is lust abated. Only by wisdom is ignorance destroyed.  

Other beings will feel less fear in our presence due to our practice of virtue-siila.  This wholesome behaviour will immediately increase environmental peace and safety.  Our good example may inspire others to practice .  Imagine how peaceful our lives would be if we did not have to worry about murder, theft, molestation of self and family, verbal abuse and so forth. Thus with quieter and safer environmental conditions, people will be better able to see clearly what is happening in mind and body. There will naturally be more opportunities for developing the higher mind and possibly achieving a breakthrough in the Dhamma

The last three Uposatha precepts. Most lay people temporarily observe the last three Uposatha precepts either on meditation retreats or on Uposatha days.  Not observing these last three precepts doesn’t obviously lead to harm for ourselves and others so why observe them?  We observe the other three precepts in order to simplify our lives and avoid indulgence in sensual pleasure.  Sensual pleasure is the practice of the lay person in daily life, not the practice of a someone intensifying their progress on the eightfold noble path.  In itself, sensual pleasure is not wrong so don’t get all guilty about having fun.  However, sensual pleasure is distracting, reduces concentration and reduces the opportunities for wisdom to arise.  In other words sensual pleasures slow you down your progress on the spiritual path.  The suttas have many references to sensual pleasures being inherently disappointing and unsatisfactory with only the most fleeting sense of gratification.  Thus by observing the eight Uposatha precepts we can create more conditions for environmental peace and concentration (samaadhi). 

The last three precepts are like an upgrade on the first five. The reduced indulgence in sensuality will help us to maintain a clear peaceful mind in which samaadhi and the other controlling faculties (panc’indriya) can develop.   The difference between an enlightened being and an ordinary worldling is the development of the controlling faculties.

The benefits arising from observing the last three Uposatha precepts is highly dependent on successfully observing the first five precepts. The first five precepts are the basic foundation and the last three are the more advanced practice with more profound results.   

Upgrading Uposatha.  
Some Buddhists may not have convenient living conditions to formally observe Uposatha precepts in all respects. For example, they may feel obliged to wear cosmetics and jewellery to work and may have to eat an evening meal with non-Buddhist family.  Perhaps a non-Buddhist lover may seduce us or demand services on Uposatha day.

Some Buddhists may observe Uposatha precepts regularly but feel they are not making much progress or struggle to see how it is beneficial.  It is inconvenient and maybe they feel dissatisfied.  So how do we upgrade or revive our spiritual life in these two sets of circumstances?   

I suggest below a few ways to give some focus to your observance of Uposatha whether you can practice eight precepts or not. This should give you some ideas which you can adapt for your particular lifestyle and background.

Loving-kindness/friendliness – mettaa and compassion – karunaa. It is helpful to deliberately observe five precepts and Uposatha precepts with mettaa and karunaa in mind. Restraining ourselves from harming others is loving and compassionate. We wish other beings were happy and well. We wish other beings were free from harm and suffering.  It would be odd to attempt mettaa and karunaa practice while not keeping at least the first five precepts because in breaking any of these precepts, we would be directly harming others or intoxicating the mind so that it is unable to concentrate. Beware the near-enemies of mettaa and karunaa.  Beginners in the practice or those who are intoxicated may confuse mettaa with lust or karunaa with pity. 
Observing the five precepts or the Uposatha precepts is practicing love and compassion towards ourselves because we don’t create unwholesome/unskilful kamma that will result in our suffering.  Lord Buddha said that sincerely observing the five precepts will result in a heavenly rebirth, how much more beneficial would be the results of observing Uposatha precepts.  Note that aiming for a heavenly rebirth would be a ‘wrong aim’.  It is better to aim for liberation from the cycle of rebirths altogether.

Sympathetic joy – muditaa. When we go onto Facebook or attend the temple, we may come to know about other Buddhists who practice the five precepts or the eight Uposatha precepts. We can deliberately practice muditaa for these fellow Buddhists, recollecting that they are excellent, practicing in the good way, the true way, the straight way and the proper way.  By recollecting that these fellow Buddhists will be happier and will benefit greatly from this practice we also share in their merits. We say “saadhu, saadhu, saadhu…” congratulations, well done!  Beware the near enemy of muditaa is pride in the achievements of others. Pride in the achievements of others includes attachment.  Muditaa is similar to mettaa and karunaa because it has no aspect of attachment.

Equanimity – upekkhaa. In daily life we will meet many people who do not consciously practice the Uposatha precepts or any precepts. As a result these people wander about in ignorance and suffering. It is not easy for anyone to lead another person to follow the right path. There may be small chances here and there to influence others. Usually, we wait until others ask questions. So we practice equanimity for the sufferings of others.  Remembering that everyone will get the results of their actions. Note that equanimity is not the same as indifference which is allied with ignorance. Equanimity is allied with wisdom and insight.  Equanimity is an underlying component in the other three divine abodes and present in all wholesome mental states. 
It is possible to develop mental aborptions – jhaana with any of the four divine abodes above though traditionally mettaa, karunaa and muditaa can be used for 1st-3rd jhaana while upekkhaa can be used only for 4th jhaana. This is a technical topic for another post. You can read more in the Vimuttimagga and Visuddhimagga and other meditation manuals. However, there is a lot of benefit from just reflecting on the four divine abodes during the day. As we refrain from taking life, or stealing etc. we can say to our selves “may all beings be happy and well, may all beings be free from harm and suffering…” I find this useful on the bus crowded with noisy people when commuting to work.  When I find a cockroach or spider in the home I capture it and recite “may all beings be happy and well….” as I gently take the insect outside. 
It is also useful to just recite “may all beings be happy and well” at free times during the day. It is relaxing and wholesome. This practice helps keep unwholesome objects from taking over.  
Dhamma study. Choose one Dhamma topic, read a bit, write some brief notes and then reflect on it throughout the day. For example, read about the one of the seven sets in the 37 seven aids to enlightenment – Bodhipakkhiyadhamma. Maybe start with the seven factors for enlightenment – Bojjhanga. Try to remember the Paali words for the factors and memorise the correct sequence of factors. On another day, read about what the commentaries say for ways to cultivate and improve the seven enlightenment factors.  On another day read some more suttas that might refer to the seven factors and may refer to some of the benefits (such as improving health and length of life) in recollecting the seven factors.

As you contemplate the Dhamma in this way you will be practicing dhammanusati which is one of the six recollections recommended by the Blessed One for purifying the mind.  This works because the mind is focussed on a wholesome/skilful object and not distracted with lust, anger or delusion. 


Siilanusati – recollection of virtue.  As someone who is keeping precepts you may be feel confident enough to reflect on your accumulating virtue.  If you have been able to keep five precepts and eight precepts then you have good grounds for reflecting on the merits of your practice. Without necessarily getting  big-headed about it, you objectively realise that this practice is beneficial, it is purifying, creating conditions for happiness and leading you to more wholesome mental states.  Someone who is able to keep precepts is also someone who has enough mindfulness and Right View to control impulsive cravings and has learned to live peacefully to some extent. This is the foundation of training for higher mental development.  On occasions when there are breaks in the precepts (hopefully minor) then one immediately determines to sincerely refrain from breaking the precepts again. It is possible to recover a mind free from remorse, a mind settled and peaceful once again.  Do not underestimate the power of keeping precepts even for a short time such as one minute.  If one is sincere, there are great benefits here and now including greater self-esteem, courage and confidence.

Caaganusati – recollection of generosity. In being generous, by giving and sharing, you have been reducing attachment and clinging.  This wholesome conduct will benefit others and oneself and lead to more wholesome states. This is faultless behaviour. 


32 parts of the body. For those of us who are living a celibate life, I recommend memorising the 32 parts of the body in forward and reverse order as outlined in the Visuddhimagga.  I found this practice is very effective in temporarily overcoming lustful states of mind.  Remembering this famous list is a useful way to concentrate the mind and give it temporary relief from worry and strife. Note there are intensive ways of practicing the 32 parts of the body which can lead to first mental absorption – jhaana though that need not be the goal of the practice.  There are many benefits without necessarily attaining jhaana. Again I refer keen readers to the various meditation manuals for more details.  
Devanusati.  On Uposatha day and other days deliberately recollect that the devas attained their fortunate rebirth and powers on account of previously virtuous conduct such as practising the five precepts and the eight Uposatha precepts. Now you and other sincere Buddhists are practicing in this same way and likely to attain a fortunate rebirth in a heavenly realm. As you practice in this way, you may sometimes  recite “may the devas be happy and well…”.  Remember that many devas are Buddhists and have attained various paths and fruits in the Buddha’s dispensation.  You may recollect these noble devas as part of the ariyasangha
In times when you feel afraid that someone maybe going to hurt you, recollect the devas and maybe you can overcome your fears. But don’t just rely on the devas to protect you. Use common sense and find safety.  Note that overcoming fears in this way is possible with other wholesome objects such as recollecting any or all of the three refuges (Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha)
Death – maranaanusati. On Uposatha day and other days, deliberately recollect the certain fact that you will die and so will all the people you know. Recollecting death is a way to put our lives in perspective and determine what is really important.  In Australian culture, recollecting death is considered a negative and gloomy occupation. Actually it is a wholesome and sensible activity.  Some people may find it difficult at first to overcome previous preconceptions and biases. If you persevere you may develop some equanimity and a completely different set of priorities will emerge. I found that recollecting the inevitable nature of death gave me a greater sense of spiritual urgency – sa.mvega. This really motivates and intensifies the practice.  You may find it much easier to practice the five precepts and eight Uposatha precepts after you have deepened your maranaanutsati.
Summary. By simplifying our lives and deepening our practice of the 4 divine abodes and other methods outlined above we will definitely be upgrading our Uposatha observance.   The basic peace in life created by the first five precepts can be deepened by the 8 Uposatha precepts. This results in greater peace and concentration – samaadhi. The deliberate practice of the 4 divine abodes and other methods is further deepening of the practice that will bring enormous benefits to ourselves and all others in the environment.
May you dear reader feel inspired to go deeper into the Dhamma. May you be free from harm and suffering.

Advantages of hearing the Dhamma or thinking on the Dhamma even when suffering great pain

A6.56 Phagguna Sutta [Piya Tan’s translation as a PDF] paraphrased by MK from The Book of the Gradual Sayings (Anguttara Nikaaya) vol. 4, translated by F.L. Woodward [translation by Sister Upalavanna] [ผัคคุณสูตร]


Ven. Phagguna is very sick and is visited by the Blessed One and Ven. Aananda. The sutta says that Ven. Phagguna was already a stream enterer (sotapanna) or once returner (sakadagaami) and while the Blessed One talks with him, he attains anaagaami.  On dying he attains arahat.  It is significant that Ven. Phagguna who is in great physical pain throughout the conversation with the Blessed One and yet is able to focus on the Dhamma talk and attain anaagaami.  The sutta also doesn’t mention whether Ven. Phagguna had previously attained any jhaana (mental absorption). In the sutta he graphically describes his pains thus:

Violent winds are cutting through my head like a strong man cleaving it open with a sharp sword. I cannot bear it, venerable sir;
Violent pains are crushing my head as if a strong man were tightening a strong leather strap around my head as a headband. I cannot bear it, venerable sir;
Violent winds are rending my belly as if a skilled butcher or his apprentice were to carve up a cow’s belly with a sharp butcher’s knife. I cannot bear it, venerable sir;
Violent pains are burning up my body as if two strong men were to seize a weaker man by both arms, and burn and roast him over a pit of burning coal. I cannot bear it, venerable sir; 

I am unable to keep going, and my pains are not subsiding, but rising; their rising is evident, not their subsiding. 

These phrases are familiar and used in other suttas where sick people are describing their pains. I slightly modified Piya Tan’s translation in the above excerpt. We don’t know the precise nature of Ven. Phagguna’s illness, only that it is grave and shortly leads to his death.  Perhaps, if a person were in a modern hospital in Australia suffering in such a manner they would be given strong anesthesia such as morphine and perhaps encouraged to sleep until passing away (assuming the case was untreatable).

The sutta does not record precisely what the Blessed One said to Ven. Phagguna only that he taught him and then left.  Piya Tan’s excellent notes to his translation explain this well, I encourage you to read his entire translation and notes.

All this is background and provides an interesting context for the main teaching which are six general principles for timely hearing or thinking on the Dhamma that go way beyond Ven. Phagguna’s particular case. Four principles cover timely hearing of the Dhamma and two principles cover timely thinking on the Dhamma.

I have summarised these principles as follows:
A. sakadagaami attains anaagaami by:
1. hearing the Dhamma from the Tathaagata
2. hearing the Dhamma from a disciple of the Tathaagata
3. continues to reflect in mind on Dhamma s heard, as learned, ponders and investigates it.

B. anaagaami attains arahat by the same three methods.

These principles show that it is possible for Noble Disciples hearing the Dhamma to attain higher paths and fruitions (magga and phala) even when in great pain (as in Ven. Phagguna’s case) without necessarily requiring jhaana. If jhaana were a requirement, then it would be mentioned.

If Ven. Phaguna were able to enter jhaana while in pain, he may be able to experience exclusively mental pleasure or exclusively equanimity and not feel physical pain. Either he is incapable of entering jhaana or he prefers to investigate the dhammas arising and passing as they are. In other words he may prefer to use his last moments to do vipassana meditation.  Or, following the cases in the sutta itself, he prefers to listen to the Dhamma expounded by the Blessed One (so fortunate to have this opportunity) and then think over, ponder over and turn over in his mind the Dhamma as he has heard it…, thus attaining either another level of enlightenment or final Nibbaana.

Piya Tan’s translation of the A.3 case above he writes: “On account of his thinking over, pondering over, turning over in his mind, the Dhamma as he has heard it, as he has learned it, his mind is freed through the supreme destruction of acquisitions.”  It seems that not only by listening to the Dhamma can there be a breakthrough, but also by “thinking it over, pondering over, turning over in his mind…” This is significant because most meditation teachers these days discourage thinking.  I refer here to teachers of vipassana (insight) and samatha (calm) meditation and claim that only by meditation can there be enlightenment. I quite agree with those meditation teachers that vipassana and samatha meditation are beneficial and strongly encouraged by the Blessed One and that they both can lead to enlightenment. I also want to open readers minds to the possibility that “thinking it over, pondering over, turning over in his mind…”is also a valid way for attaining Nibbaana.

However, this sutta is a teaching for Noble Disciples (ariyasaavaka) and may not be so effective for those disciples who have not yet attained at least the path of stream-entry (sotapanna).  A stream-enterer is one who has “opened the Dhamma eye”, has right view, has confirmed confidence in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha, has unbroken ethical conduct and so on.The stream-enterer has also eliminated the three gross fetters (sa.myojana) that bind one to sa.msaara (the round of existence) for more than seven further existences or to a future unfortunate existence in hell, as a peta (ghost) or animal. These three fetters are (1) identity view, (2) doubt about the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, the laws of kamma or the efficacy of the Four Noble Truths, and (3) attachment to rites and rituals as a way to attain enlightenment. If you haven’t heard of these fetters, I recommend you study them.

Even so, there are two famous cases of Ven. Saariputta and Ven. Mahaamoggallana who both attained Sotapanna by hearing a short verse. Neither appears to have been in jhaana before realising this attainment. Later Ven. Saariputta attained arahat phala while listening to the Dighanaka Sutta. Ven. Mahaamoggallana seems to have attained arahat phala through meditation.  There are many other cases in the suttas where lay people and monastics attained sotapanna or sakadaagaami simply by listening attentively to a Dhamma discourse given by the Buddha or a disciple.

There are also instances in the Tipitaka where members of the audience hearing a Dhamma talk may not be able to realise path and fruitions.  A famous case in point is in the Sama~n~naphala Sutta [สามัญญผลสูตร] where King Ajatasattu, a paricide (killed his father), is unable to make a breakthrough to stream-entry on account of his previous crime. Killing either of one’s parents will form an insurmountable barrier to noble attainment in the existence in which the crime is committed though in future existences noble attainment becomes possible once again. This was despite King Ajatasattu having all other perfections ready for noble attainment. 
Here is a quote from the second last paragraph in Bhikkhu Thanissaro’s translation of the Sama~n~naphala Sutta. 

So King Ajatasattu, delighting and rejoicing in the Blessed One’s words, rose from his seat, bowed down to him, and — after circumambulating him — left. Not long after King Ajatasattu had left, the Blessed One addressed the monks: “The king is wounded, monks. The king is incapacitated. Had he not killed his father — that righteous man, that righteous king — the dustless, stainless Dhamma eye would have arisen to him as he sat in this very seat.” 

The “stainless Dhamma eye” is another way of saying “sotapanna”.   So what ever you do, take good care of your parents!

Theravada tradition holds that after spending a long time in the hell realm, Ajatasattu will return to the human realm and then attain Nibbaana as a Pacekkhabuddha.

(the Thai translation of this section below is from http://www.84000.org//) 

[๑๔๐] เมื่อพระผู้มีพระภาคตรัสอย่างนี้แล้ว ท้าวเธอได้กราบทูลลาว่า ข้าแต่พระองค์
ผู้เจริญ ถ้าเช่นนั้นหม่อมฉันขอทูลลาไปในบัดนี้ หม่อมฉันมีกิจมาก มีกรณียะมาก พระผู้มีพระภาค
ตรัสว่า ขอมหาบพิตรทรงสำคัญเวลา ณ บัดนี้เถิด. ครั้งนั้นแล พระเจ้าแผ่นดินมคธพระนามว่า
อชาตศัตรู เวเทหีบุตร ทรงเพลิดเพลินยินดีภาษิตของพระผู้มีพระภาคแล้ว เสด็จลุกจากอาสนะ
ถวายบังคมพระผู้มีพระภาค ทรงกระทำประทักษิณแล้วเสด็จไป. เมื่อท้าวเธอเสด็จไปไม่นาน
พระผู้มีพระภาคตรัสกะภิกษุทั้งหลายว่า ดูกรภิกษุทั้งหลาย พระราชาพระองค์นี้ถูกขุดเสียแล้ว
พระราชาพระองค์นี้ถูกขจัดเสียแล้ว หากท้าวเธอจักไม่ปลงพระชนมชีพพระบิดาผู้ดำรงธรรม เป็น
พระราชาโดยธรรมไซร้ ธรรมจักษุ ปราศจากธุลี ปราศจากมลทิน จักเกิดขึ้นแก่ท้าวเธอ ณ ที่
ประทับนี้ทีเดียว. พระผู้มีพระภาคได้ตรัสคำเป็นไวยากรณ์นี้แล้ว. ภิกษุเหล่านั้นชื่นชมยินดีภาษิต
ของพระผู้มีพระภาคแล้วแล.
[สามัญญผลสูตร]

If you pentetratively study the Dhamma but die confused….

[Sotaanugata sutta paraphrased from The from The Book of the Gradual Sayings (Anguttara Nikaaya) vol. 2 (Anguttara Nikaaya) vol. 2, translated by F.L. Woodward.  This is an old translation. I am looking forward to the forthcoming new translation by Bhikkhu Bodhi of the entire Anguttara Nikaaya. So many good suttas in the Anguttara Nikaaya!  The currently available English translations of this sutta are inadequate]  [Thai language version of this sutta – มหาวรรคที่ ๕] [alternative English translation by Sister Upalavanna]

A4.191 – Heard with the ear

There are four advantages from frequent verbal practice of teachings heard with the ear, from considering them in mind, from thoroughly penetrating them by view. Then when the body breaks up (dies) with confused mindfulness (not enlightened yet…) reappears in a certain group of devas.  [This English translation of the sutta appears to assume the hypothetical case of a human male who has recited and studied the Dhamma to a great extent and yet not realised Nibbaana before dying.  Women are similarly capable of progress and attainment (magga and phala)].

Four cases follow :

1. There the devas recite to him Dhamma verses. His memory is slow to arise, but that being very quickly realises excellence (attains Nibbaana).

2. There the devas do not recite the Dhamma verses but a human monastic who has supernormal powers, one who has attained Nibbaana travels to the deva realm (heaven) is teaching Dhamma to a group of devas.  Then it occurs to that recently appeared being: “Hey, this is the Dhamma-vinaaya according to which I formally practiced the holy life.” His memory may be slow to arise, but that being very quickly reaches excellence (realises Nibbaana)…

3.  There the devas do not recite Dhamma verses to him, nor does a human monastic with supernormal powers teach devas; but maybe a certain deva (probably a sotapanna or sakadagaami – beings at the first or second levels of enlightenment) is teaching Dhamma to a group of devas.  Then it occurs to him: “Hey, this is the Dhamma-vinaaya according to which I formally practiced the holy life.” His memory may be slow to arise, but that being very quickly reaches excellence (realises Nibbaana)…

4.  There the [previous 3 cases don’t arise]… but maybe some being appearing there with a mind-made body (a deva probably from a brahma realm) is reviving the memory of another similar being.  “Do you remember good sir, how we formerly used to practice the holy life?”  Then other says: “I do indeed remember, good sir!…”   His memory may be slow to arise, but that being very quickly reaches excellence (realises Nibbaana)…

Then there is a simile of two old friends who meet and recollect times they spent together as youths.  “Say old man, do you remember the time when we recited, studied and practiced the Dhamma-vinaaya?”…

Michael’s comments

This sutta gives encouragement and motivation to those Buddhists who frequently listen to, read, study, deeply ponder the Dhamma.  It is important to straighten out one’s understanding of the Dhamma either by studying books, listening to discourses or conversing with wise people and most importantly through meditation – bhavanaa. This activity in itself is a high form of merit and in Paali is known as ditthijukamavasena.

It seems quite likely that if after death those who do make efforts to straighten out their understanding of the Dhamma and yet have not attained arahat will, after death and the break up of this body, appear in certain heaven realms, we can remember the Dhamma we have learned in this human life and continue our practice as Buddhists and realise Nibbaana.

Some say that heaven realms are very pleasant and distracting, full of sensual pleasures that take one away from Dhamma practice and further progress. This may be true for some beings. However, I would say that those humans who are not so obsessed by sensual pleasures in human life are likely to continue sense restraint in the heaven realms while those humans who are not so well disciplined as humans may be similarly lax in the heaven realms. There may also be many beings in the middle ground between these examples. It is a natural consequence of kamma (law of intentional actions and results).

So it is imperative that we remain diligent and strive ardently as humans so that we accumulate the momentum of kamma that will continue in the next existence, either as some kind of deity or as a human again. 

I’m sure that many devas are Buddhists and will teach other devas who are ready to accept the Dhamma or who have been Buddhists in previous lives either as humans or devas.  There will be many devas who are sotapanna and sakadagaami in the six sensual heaven realms and even in the brahma realms. Of course the fine material (brahma deity) pure abodes (suddhavasa) are where many anaagaami (third level of enlightenment) and some arahat (forth and final level of enlightenment) reside. Arahats in the pure abodes would have firstly appeared there as anaagaami and then later realised the higher attainment of arahat within the lifespan of their brahma body.  I write this from the perspective of someone who has no clear memories of talking with any devas or brahma deities. I write this after reading the suttas and drawing reasonable inferences.

To learn more about how to practice in accord with the Dhamma, please read the Saleyyaka Sutta. It describes ten kinds of conduct: 3 kinds of bodily conduct, 4 kinds of verbal conduct and 3 kinds of mental conduct.  Of all these forms of conduct, by far the most important is one kind of mental conduct: Sammaaditthi – Right View.  This leads the Eightfold Noble Path and is most beneficial in leading one to develop wholesome mental states and on to Nibbaana.



[I’ve written this on 27 March 2010 but scheduled it to appear on the blog on 10 April 2010.  I’m still on retreat until late June 2010.]

Sick and Dying

Samyuttanikaaya S22.88 Assaji (อัสสชิสูตร)

On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Raajagaha in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrel Sanctuary. Now on that occasion the Venerable Assaji was dwelling at Kassapaka’s Park, sick, afflicted, gravely ill. Then the Venerable Assaji addressed his attendants:

“Come, friends, approach the Blessed One, pay homage to him in my name with your head at his feet, and say: ‘It would be good, venerable sir, if the Blessed One would approach the Venerable Assaji out of compassion.'”

“Yes, friend,” those bhikkhus replied, and they approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him, sat down to one side, and delivered their message. The Blessed One consented by silence.

Then the Blessed One dressed and, taking bowl and robe, approached the Venerable Assaji. The Venerable Assaji saw the Blessed One coming in the distance and stirred on his bed. The Blessed One said to him: “Enough, Assaji, do not stir on your bed. There are seats ready, I will sit down there.”

The Blessed One then sat down on the appointed seat and said to the Venerable Assaji: “I hope you are bearing up, Assaji, I hope you are getting better. I hope that your painful feelings are subsiding and not increasing, and that their subsiding, not their increase, is to be discerned.”

“I hope then, Assaji, that you have nothing for which to reproach yourself in regard to virtue.”

“I have nothing, venerable sir, for which to reproach myself in regard to virtue.”

“Then if you have nothing for which to reproach yourself in regard to virtue, Assaji, why are you troubled by remorse and regret?”

“Formerly, venerable sir, when I was ill I kept on tranquillising the bodily formations, but [now] I do not obtain concentration. As I do not obtain concentration, it occurs to me: ‘Let me not fall away!”

“Those ascetics and brahmins, Assaji, who regard concentration as the essence and identify concentration with asceticism, failing to obtain concentration, might think, ‘Let us not fall away!’

“What do you think, Assaji, is form permanent or impermanent?” – “Impermanent, venerable sir.” … – “Therefore … Seeing thus … He understands: ‘ … there is no more for this state of being.’

“If he feels a pleasant feeling, he understands: ‘It is impermanent’; he understands: ‘It is not held to’; he understands: ‘It is not delighted in.’ If he feels a painful feeling, he understands: ‘It is impermanent’; he understands: ‘It is not held to’; he understands: ‘It is not delighted in.’ If he feels a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he understands: ‘It is impermanent’; he understands: ‘It is not held to’; he understands: ‘It is not delighted in.’ “If he feels a pleasant feeling, he feels it detached; if he feels a painful feeling, he feels it detached; if he feels a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he feels it detached.

“When he feels a feeling terminating with the body, he understands: ‘I feel a feeling terminating with the body, he understands: ‘I feel a feeling terminating with the body.’ When he feels a feeling terminating with life, he understands: ‘With the breakup of the body, following the exhaustion of life, all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool right here.’

“Just as, Assaji, an oil lamp burns in dependence on the oil and the wick, and with the exhaustion of the oil and the wick it is extinguished though lack of fuel, so too, Assaji, when a bhikkhu feels a feeling terminating with the body … terminating with life … He understands: ‘With the breakup of the body, following the exhaustion of life, all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool right here.'”

Samyuttanikaaya S 36.7 The Sick Ward 1 (เคลัญญสูตรที่ ๑)

On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Vesaali in the Great Wood in the Hall with the Peaked Roof. Then, in the evening, the Blessed One emerged from seclusion and went to the sick ward, where he sat down in the appointed seat and addressed the bhikkhus thus:

“Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu should await his time mindful and clearly comprehending. This is our instruction to you.

“And how, bhikkhus, is a bhikkhu mindful? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwells contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having put away covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. He dwells contemplating feelings in feelings … mind in mind … phenomena in phenomena, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having put away covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. It is in such a way that a bhikkhu is mindful.

“And how, bhikkhus, does a bhikkhu exercise clear comprehension? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhus is one who acts with clear comprehension when going forward and returning, when looking ahead and looking aside; when drawing in and extending the limbs; when wearing his robes and carrying his outer robe and bowl; when eating, drinking, chewing his food, and tasting; when defecating and urinating; when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, speaking, and keeping silent. It is in such a way that a bhikkhu exercises clear comprehension.

“A bhikkhu should await his time mindful and clearly comprehending. This is our instruction to you.

“Bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu dwells thus, mindful and clearly comprehending, diligent, ardent, and resolute, if there arises in him a pleasant feeling, he understands thus: ‘There has arisen in me a pleasant feeling. Now that is dependent, not independent. Dependent on what? Dependent on this very body. But this body is impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen, how could it be permanent?’ He dwells contemplating vanishing, contemplating fading away, contemplating cessation, contemplating relinquishment. As he dwells thus, the underlying tendency to lust in regard to the body and in regard to pleasant feeling is abandoned by him.

“Bhikkhus, while a bhikkhu dwells thus, mindful and clearly comprehending, diligent, ardent, and resolute, if there arises in him a painful feeling, he understand thus: ‘There has arisen in me a painful feeling. Now that is dependent, not independent. Dependent on what? Dependent on this very body. But this body is impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen, how could it be permanent?’ He dwells contemplating vanishing, contemplating fading away, contemplating cessation, contemplating relinquishment. As he dwells thus, the underlying tendency to aversion in regard to the body and in regard to painful feeling is abandoned by him.

“Bhikkhus, while a bhikkhu dwells thus, mindful and clearly comprehending, diligent, ardent, and resolute, if there arises in him a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he understand thus: ‘There has arisen in me a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling. Now that is dependent, not independent. Dependent on what? Dependent on this very body. But this body is impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen, how could it be permanent?’ He dwells contemplating vanishing, contemplating fading away, contemplating cessation, contemplating relinquishment. As he dwells thus, the underlying tendency to ignorance in regard to the body and in regard to neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling is abandoned by him.

“If he feels a pleasant feeling, he understands: ‘It is impermanent’; he understands: ‘It is not held to’; he understands: ‘It is not delighted in.’ If he feels a painful feeling, he understands: ‘It is impermanent’; he understands: ‘It is not held to’; he understands: ‘It is not delighted in. If he feels a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling feeling, he understands: ‘It is impermanent’; he understands: ‘It is not held to’; he understands: ‘It is not delighted in.’

“If he feels a pleasant feeling, he feels it detached; if he feels a painful feeling, he feels it detached; if he feels a neither-painful-nor-pleasant feeling, he feels it detached.

“When he feels a feeling terminating with the body, he understands: ‘I feel a feeling terminating with the body.’ When he feels a feeling terminating with life.’ He understands: ‘With the break-up of the body, following the exhaustion of life, all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool right here.’

“Just as, bhikkhus, an oil lamp burns in dependence on the oil and the wick, and with the exhaustion of the oil and the wick is extinguished though lack of fuel, so too, bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu feels a feeling terminating with the body … terminating with life … He understands: ‘With the break-up of the body, following the exhaustion of life, all that is felt, not being delighted in, will become cool right here.'”

Death as Process

By Anuruddha, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Bodhi, Nārada, Revatadhamma, U Sīlānanda
Published by Buddhist Publication Society, 1999
First BPS Pariyatti Edition, 2000

ISBN : 1928706029
EAN : 9781928706021
Cover : Paperback
Pages : 432
Size : 214 x 214mm

The advent of death is fourfold, namely: (i) through the expiration of the life-span; (ii) through the expiration of the (productive) kammic force; (iii) through the (simultaneous) expiration of both; and (iv) through (the intervention of) a destructive kamma.

Now in the case of those who are about to die, at the time of death one of the following presents itself, according to circumstances, through any of six (sense) doors by way of the power of kamma:
(i) a kamma that is to produce rebirth-linking in the next existence; or
(ii) a sign of kamma, that is, a form, etc., that had been apprehended previously at the time of performing the kamma or something that was instrumental in performing the kamma; or
(iii) a sign of destiny, that is, (a symbol of the state) to be obtained and experienced in the immediately following existence.

Thereafter, attending to that object thus presented, the stream of consciousness–in accordance with the kamma that is to be matured, whether pure or corrupted, and in conformity with the state into which one is to be reborn–continually flows, inclining mostly towards that state. Or that rebirth-producing kamma presents itself to a sense door in the way of renewing.

To one who is on the verge of death, either at the end of a cognitive process or at the dissolution of the life-continuum, the death consciousness, the consummation of the present life, arises and ceases in the way of death.

Immediately after that (death consciousness) has ceased, a rebirth-linking consciousness arises and is established in the subsequent existence, apprehending the object thus obtained, either supported by the heart-base or baseless, as is appropriate; it is generated by a volitional formation that is enveloped by latent ignorance and rooted in latent craving. That rebirth-linking consciousness, so called because it links together the two consecutive existences, is conjoined with its mental adjuncts, and acts as the forerunner to the nascent states as their locus (or foundation).


So, for those who have thus taken rebirth, from the moment immediately following the cessation of the rebirth-liking (consciousness), that same type of consciousness apprehending that same object flows on uninterruptedly like the stream of a river, and it does so until the arising of the death consciousness, so long as there is no occurrence of a cognitive process. Being an essential factor of existence (or life), this consciousness is called the life-continuum. At the end of life, having become the death consciousness on the occasion of passing away, it then ceases. Thereafter, the rebirth-linking consciousness and the others continue to occur, revolving in due sequence like the wheel of a cart.

Just as here, so again in the next existence, there arise rebirth-linking consciousness, life-continuum, cognitive processes, and death consciousness. Again, with rebirth and life-continuum, this stream of consciousness turns around.

The wise, disciplining themselves long, understand the impermanence (of life), realize the deathless state, and completely cutting off the fetters of attachment, attain peace.

Death – Understanding the Inevitable

Majjhima Nikaya MN.9.21-23 Sammaadi.t.thi Sutta: Right View (AGEING AND DEATH) [spoken by Mahaathera Saariputta] (สัมมาทิฏฐิสูตร)

21. “When, friends, a noble disciple understands ageing and death, the origin of ageing and death, the cessation of ageing and death, and the way leading to the cessation of ageing and death, in that way he is one of right view, whose view is straight, who has unwavering confidence in the Dhamma and has arrived at this true Dhamma.

22. “And what is ageing and death, what is the origin of ageing and death, what is the cessation of ageing and death, what is the way leading to the cessation of ageing and death? The ageing of beings in the various orders of beings their old age, brokenness of teeth, greyness of hair, wrinkling of skin, decline of life, weakness of faculties-this is called ageing. The passing of beings out of the various orders of beings, their passing away, dissolution, disappearance, dying, completion of time, dissolution of the aggregates, laying down of the body–this is called death. So this ageing and this death are what is called ageing and death. With the arising of birth there is the arising of ageing and death. The cessation of birth there is the cessation of ageing and death. The way leading to the cessation of ageing and death is just this Noble Eightfold Path; that is right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

23. “When a noble disciple has thus understood ageing and death, the origin of ageing and death, the cessation of ageing and death, and the way leading to the cessation of ageing and death, he here and now makes an end of suffering. In that way too a noble disciple is one of right view, whose view is straight, who has unwavering confidence in the Dhamma and has arrived at this true Dhamma.

Anguttaranikaaya AN.4.182: No Guarantee (โยธาชีววรรคที่ [๑๘๒])

Against four things, O Monks, there can be no guarantee, whether from an ascetic, a brahmin, a devaa or Maara or Brahmaa, or anyone else in the world.

What are these four things? That what is liable to decay should not decay; what is liable to illness should not fall ill; that what is liable to die should not die; and that no fruit should come forth from one’s own evil deeds, which are defiling, productive of re-becoming, fearful, having painful results, leading to future birth, decay and death.

Against these four things there can be no guarantee, whether from an ascetic, a brahmin, a deva or Maara or Brahmaa, or anyone else in the world.

Samyuttanikaaya SN.I.4.9: Maarasamyutta, Life Span (ปฐมอายุสูตรที่ ๙)

Thus I have heard. On one occasion the Blessed One was dwelling at Raajagaha in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrel Sanctuary.

There the Blessed One addressed the Bhikkhus thus: “Bhikkhus!” “Venerable Sir!” those bhikkhus replied. The Blessed One said this: “Bhikkhus, this life span of human beings is short. One has to go on to the future life. One should do what is wholesome and lead the holy life for one who has taken birth there is no avoiding death. One who lives long, bhikkhus, lives a hundred years or a little longer.”

Then Maara the Evil One approached the Blessed One and addressed him in verse:

“Long is the life span of human beings,
The good man should not disdain it.
One should live like a milk-sucking baby:
Death has not made its arrival.”

[The Blessed One:]

“Short is the life span of human beings,
The good man should disdain it.
One should live like one with head aflame:
There is no avoiding Death’s arrival.”

Then Maara the Evil One, realizing, “The Blessed One knows me, the Fortunate One knows me,” sad and disappointed, disappeared right there.