6. Chariot to Nibbāna
Once, when the Buddha was staying in the Jeta Grove near the ancient city of Sāvatthī in India, he was visited in the wee hours of the night by a deva, come down from the heaven realms with a retinue of a thousand companions.
Although the deva’s radiance filled the entire grove, he was nonetheless visibly distraught. He paid respects to the Buddha and then launched into the following lament: “O Lord Buddha,” he cried, “devaland is so noisy! It’s full of racket from all these devas. They look like petas (unhappy ghosts) to me, frolicking in their own land. Confusing it is to be in such a place. Please show me a way out!”
This was an odd speech for a deva to make. The heaven realms are characterized by delight. Their residents, elegant and musically inclined, hardly resemble petas who live in extreme misery and suffering some petas are said to have gigantic bellies and pinhole mouths, so that they feel a constant, terrible hunger which they cannot satisfy.
Using his psychic powers, the Buddha investigated the deva’s past. He learned that only recently this deva had been a human being, a practitioner of the Dhamma. As a young man he had had such faith in the Buddha’s doctrine that he left home to become a bhikkhu. After the required five years under a teacher, he had mastered the rules of conduct and community life and had become self-sufficient in his meditation practice. Then he retired to a forest alone. Because of his tremendous wish to become an arahant, the bhikkhu’s practice was extremely strenuous. So as to devote as much time as possible to meditation, he slept not at all and hardly ate. Alas, he damaged his health. Gas accumulated in his belly, causing bloating and knife-like pains. Nonetheless the bhikkhu practiced on single-mindedly, without adjusting his habits. The pains grew worse and worse, until one day, in the middle of walking meditation, they cut off his life.
The bhikkhu was instantly reborn in the Heaven of the Thirty-three Gods, one of several deva realms. Suddenly, as if from a dream, he awoke dressed in golden finery and standing at the gates of a glittering mansion. Inside that celestial palace were a thousand devas, dressed up and waiting for him to arrive. He was to be their master. They were delighted to see him appear at the gate! Shouting in glee, they brought out their instruments to entertain him.
Amidst all this, our poor hero had no chance to notice that he had died and been reborn. Thinking that all these celestial beings were no more than lay devotees come to pay him respects, the new deva lowered his eyes to the ground, and modestly pulled up a corner of his golden outfit to cover his shoulder. From these gestures, the devas guessed his situation and cried, “You’re in deva-land now. This isn’t the time to meditate. It’s time to have fun and frolic. Come on, let’s dance!”
Our hero barely heard them, for he was practicing sense restraint. Finally some of the devas went into the mansion and brought out a full-length mirror. Aghast, the new deva saw that he was a monk no more. There was no place in the entire heaven realm quiet enough to practice. He was trapped.
In dismay he thought, “ When I left my home and took robes, I wanted only the highest bliss, arahantship. I’m like the boxer who enters a competition hoping for a gold medal and is given a cabbage instead!”
The ex-bhikkhu was afraid even to set food inside the gate of his mansion. He knew his strength of mind would not last against these pleasures, far more intense than those of our human world. Suddenly he realized that as a deva he had the power to visit the human realm where the Buddha was teaching. This realization cheered him up.
“I can get celestial riches any time,” he thought, “but the opportunity to meet a Buddha is truly rare.” Without a second thought he flew off, followed by his thousand companions.
Finding the Buddha in the Jeta Grove, the deva approached him and asked for help. The Buddha, impressed by his commitment to practice, gave the following instructions:
“O deva, straight is the path you have trodden. It will lead you to that safe haven, free from fear, which is your goal. You shall ride in chariot that is perfectly silent. Its two wheels are mental and physical effort. Conscience is its backrest. Mindfulness is the armor that surrounds this chariot, and right view is the charioteer. Anyone, woman or man, possessing such a chariot and driving it well, shall have no doubt of reaching nibbāna.”
This story of the bhikkhu-deva is outlined in the collection of Pāli suttas known as the Saṃyutta Nikāya. It illustrates many things about meditation practice. We will examine it step by step. But perhaps the first question you will ask is, “Why would anyone complain about rebirth in a heaven realm?” After all, deva-land is a continuous party, where everyone has a gorgeous long-lasting body and is surrounded by sensual pleasures.
It may be unnecessary to die and be reborn to understand the deva’s reaction. There are heaven realms right on this planet. Is true and permanent happiness to be found in any of them? The United States, for example, is a very advanced country materially. There, a vast array of sense pleasures is available. You can see people intoxicated, drowning in luxury and pleasure. Ask yourself whether such people think about looking deeper, of making an effort to seek the truth about existence? Are they truly happy?
When he had been a human being, our deva had had utter faith in the Buddha’s teaching that the highest bliss is the freedom that comes through Dhamma practice. In search of this happiness beyond the senses, he renounced worldly enjoyments and devoted himself to the life of a bhikkhu. He strove ardently to become an arahant. In fact, he strove too ardently and brought on his own premature death. Suddenly, he found himself back at square one — surrounded by the sensual pleasures he had tried to leave behind. Can you understand his feeling of disappointment?
Actually death is nothing very novel. It is just a shift of consciousness. There is no intervening consciousness between the awareness of death and rebirth-consciousness. Unlike humans, moreover, birth for devas is spontaneous and painless.
Therefore, the yogi lost no momentum in his practice between one life and the other. Here again, it is not surprising that he would complain about the noise in deva-land. If you have ever practiced deeply, you know how disruptive and painful sound can be at times, either in a sudden burst or as a sustained barrage. Imagine you have just reached a place of quiet and calm in your sitting, and the telephone rings. Instantly your whole hour of samādhi can go to pieces. If this experience has ever happened to you, you might understand this yogi’s outburst comparing devas to the unhappy ghosts. When that phone rings, I wonder what sort of curse arises in you, even if a friend is calling!
In the original Pāli, this sutta contains a play on words. The deva had found himself in a heavenly pleasure grove called Nandana Vana, famous for its beauty. In his speech to the Buddha, he renamed it Mohana, from the word moha, delusion — a place that creates chaos and confusion in the mind.
From a yogi’s point of view, surely you can also appreciate the distracting quality of intense pleasure. Perhaps your goal is not arahantship, as this yogi’s was — or perhaps it is. Whatever results you expect from your meditation practice, surely you value the concentration and tranquility that meditation brings. To achieve these goals, a certain amount of renunciation is necessary. Each time we sit down to meditate, even for one hour, we renounce the possibility of seeking out an hour’s worth of pleasure and distraction. But we find some measure of relief from distraction itself, the suffering of the mind which chases after pleasant feelings. If we go to a longer retreat, we leave behind our home, our loved ones and our pastimes. Yet many of us find these sacrifices worthwhile.
Though he complained of the heavenly conditions, the bhikkhu-deva was not really looking down on the devas’ way of life. Much more, he was disappointed in himself for not achieving his goal. It is as if you took a job in hopes of earning $1,000. You work hard, industriously and meticulously, but at the end of the day your task remains unfinished, and you are paid only $50. This would be a letdown. Not that you would despise the $50, but you feel disappointed at not meeting the goal you set for yourself. So, too, this yogi was angry with himself and compared himself to the boxer who had won a cabbage instead of a gold medal. His deva companions understood and were not insulted in the least. In fact, they were intrigued enough to follow him to the earthly realm, where they, too, benefited from the Buddha’s instructions.
If you are well established in Dhamma, your interest in meditation will follow you wherever you go, even into devaland. If not, you will shortly become entangled in the pleasures offered by whatever environment you may inhabit, and that will be the end of your career as a Dhamma pilgrim.
Let us investigate how this yogi became established in his practice. Before going alone into the forest, he was dependent on a teacher for five years and lived in community with other bhikkhus. He served the teacher in large and small ways, received meditation instruction, and perfected the Vinaya rules of morality. Each year he sat a three-month Rains retreat and afterwards participated in the traditional ceremony where monks discuss each other’s faults in a spirit of lovingkindness and compassion, so that each can correct his own shortcomings.
This man’s background is significant for all of us as yogis. Like him, all yogis should strive to fully understand the mechanics of observing the precepts, until purity of conduct is a full and natural part of our lives. We must also be aware of our responsibilities to each other as we live together in this world. We must learn to communicate in ways that are helpful and loving. As for meditation, until we have a high degree of skill, completing the whole series of vipassanā insights, it is also necessary for us to depend on a reliable and competent teacher.
This bhikkhu had a great virtue: total commitment to the Dhamma, to realizing the truth. For him all else was secondary. Extremely careful to distinguish the essential from the superfluous, he avoided external activities and spent as much time as possible trying to be mindful.
It is good for all of us to limit our responsibilities so that we have more hours for meditation. When at times this is impossible, we can remember the tale of Mother Cow. As you know, cattle are forever busy munching grass; they eat all day. Now, Mother Cow has a pretty young calf who is also quite frisky and mischievous. If she grazes on without a thought for her calf, the calf will surely run off and get into trouble. But if she neglects her own needs and only watches the calf, she will have to graze all night. So, Mother Cow keeps an eye on the calf and grazes at the same time. A yogi who has a job or a task to do should imitate her. Do your work but keep an eye on the Dhamma. Make sure that your mind does not wander off too far!
We know that this bhikkhu was an industrious and ardent yogi. During his waking hours he tried his best to be mindful, as all of us know should be done. The Buddha allowed monks to sleep four hours, through the middle watch of the night. But this bhikkhu’s sense of urgency was such that he put his bed aside and did not even think of sleeping. Furthermore, he ate almost nothing, content with his exercise in persistent energy.
I do not suggest that you should stop eating and sleeping. I would like you simply to appreciate his level of commitment. During an intensive meditation retreat it is advisable to sleep as the Buddha instructed, four hours, if one can manage this. More is necessary in daily life, but still it is not good to dull oneself with too much lying in bed. As for food, you should eat to your satisfaction, so that you have sufficient strength for your daily activities and for meditation practice, but not so much that you feel bloated and sleepy. The story of this bhikkhu points out the need to eat for health, at least a sufficiency of food.
A person who dies in the process of meditation, or while giving a discourse on the Dhamma, can be regarded as a hero or heroine fallen in battle. Our bhikkhu was doing his walking meditation when he was struck down by the sharp knife of wind in his system. He woke up in devaland. And so might you, if you die while meditating, even if you are not enlightened.
Even from a fortunate rebirth, you may wish for an escape route, a way to perfect freedom and safety. During his visit to the heaven realm, the bhikkhu-deva was frightened by his own capacity for desire. If he so much as set foot in the gate of his palace, he realized that his moral precepts might begin to erode. Enlightenment was still his first priority, and for this he needed to keep his virtue intact. He fled to Jeta Grove and blurted out his question.
The Buddha’s response was unusually succinct. Generally, he instructed people step by step, beginning with morality, progressing through the right view of kamma and concentration, before he began with insight practice. To illustrate this order of teaching, he once gave the example of an art master. Approached by a neophyte who wants to paint, the master does not just hand out a brush. The first lesson is stretching a canvas. Just as an artist cannot paint in empty air, so it is futile to begin vipassanā practice without a basis in morality and understanding of the law of kamma. Without these two things, there will be no surface, as it were, to receive concentration and wisdom. In some meditation centers, morality and kamma are ignored. Not much can result from meditation under these circumstances.
The Buddha also tailored his instructions to his listeners’ backgrounds or propensities. He saw that this unusual deva had been a mature bhikkhu and meditation practitioner, and that he had not broken his moral precepts during that abbreviated stop in the Heaven of the Thirty-three Gods.
There is a Pāli word, kāraka, meaning a dutiful and industrious person. Our bhikkhu had been one of these. He was not a yogi by name only; not a philosopher or a dreamer, lost in ideas and fantasies; nor a sluggard, gazing blankly at whatever objects arose. On the contrary, he was ardent and sincere. The bhikkhu walked the path with total commitment. His profound faith and confidence in the practice supported a capacity for sustained effort. Moment to moment, he tried to put into practice the instructions he had received. One might regard him as a veteran.
The Buddha gave this committed one a veteran’s instructions. “Straight is the path you have trodden,” he said. “It will lead you to that safe haven, free from fear, that is your goal.” The path in question, of course, was the Noble Eightfold Path. This deva had already begun walking on it, and the Buddha was giving him the go-ahead to continue. Aware, moreover, that the deva wanted to be an arahant in this very life, the Buddha was offering he straight path, straight vipassanā.
The Noble Eightfold Path is very straight indeed. It has no sidetracks. It neither curves, nor bends, nor wriggles. It just leads straight on toward nibbāna.
We can better understand this virtue of straightness by examining its opposite. It is said that there are ten types of unwholesome, or crooked, behavior. A person untamed with respect to these ten actions of body, speech and mind, is sees as crooked in the eyes of the wise. He or she is not honest, not straight, lacks moral integrity.
Crooked bodily behavior is of three kinds. The first is connected with feelings of hatred and aggression. If one lacks mettā and karuṇā, love and compassion, one can easily succumb to such feelings and translate them into actions on a physical level. One might kill, harm or otherwise oppress other beings. Crooked behavior can also stem from greed, which, uncontrolled, leads to stealing or deceitful acquisition of another’s property. Sex is the third area of bodily crookedness. A person attacked by lust, interest only in his or her own gratification, may commit sexual misconduct without consideration for another’s feelings.
There are four kinds of crooked speech. First, one can lie. Second, one can speak words that cause disharmony, instigating the breakup of friendships or communities. Third, one can speak hurtfully, coarsely and crudely, obscenely. Frivolous chatter is the fourth kind of crooked speech.
On the level of the mind, three types of crookedness are listed. One might think about harming other people. One might covet their property. Or, one can have a wrong view of the law of kamma. Not accepting the law of kamma, can lead to acting irresponsibly, creating the conditions for one’s own suffering and that of others.
There are other kinds of mental behavior that are unwholesome though not included in this list, such as sloth and torpor, restlessness, and all the myriad subtle permutations of the kilesas. A person subject to these forces is considered to possess a crooked mind.
One who is not free from these inner and outer forms of unwholesome behavior is said to walk a crooked path. He or she cannot expect to arrive at any safe place. He or she is constantly exposed to many kinds of danger.
There is the danger of self-judgment, remorse and regret. One may find a justification for a particular unwholesome action, word or thought, or one might be unaware at first that it is unskillful. Later reflection brings a flood of remorse. One berates oneself, “That was really a stupid thing to do.” Remorse is painful, and it is not a feeling anyone else imposes on you. By walking the crooked path, you brought its suffering on yourself. Such an eventuality is fearsome anytime, but it is truly dreadful one one’s deathbed. Just prior to death, an uncontrollable stream of consciousness arises, a recollection of one’s life and actions. If you have many virtuous and generous actions to remember, your heart will be filled with warmth and clam, and you can die in peace. If you have not been careful in your morality, remorse and regret will overwhelm you. You will think, “Life is so short, and I misused my time. I failed to make full use of the chance to live up to the highest standard of humanity.” By then it will be too late to mend your ways. Your death will be a painful one. Some people suffer so greatly at this time that they weep and cry out as they die.
Self-judgment is not the only danger for a person choosing the crooked path. He or she must also contend with the blame and censure of the wise. Goodhearted people do not offer their friendship to the untrustworthy or the violent, nor hold them in high esteem. Unwholesome people end up as misfits, unable to live in society.
Somewhere along the crooked path, you may find yourself crossing swords with the law. If you break the law, the law gets even with you. The police nab you and you will be forced to pay for your misdeeds, with a fine, or a jail sentence, or perhaps even capital punishment, depending on the crime. The world at this present age is filled with violence. Many, many people break the law out of greed, out of hatred, and out of delusion. They do so not just once, but over and over again. There is no limit to the depth to which a person can sink. We read about rampages of killing. When the law finally catches up with such criminals, they may have to pay with their lives. Thus, it is said that one who walks on the crooked path is in danger of punishment.
Of course, if you are intelligent you might get away with a crime and even commit it by legal means. one may indeed avoid punishment at the hands of external authorities, but there is no escape from the self-punishment discussed above. The honest knowledge that you have done wrong is very painful. You are always your own best witness; you can never hide from yourself. Nor is there escape from miserable rebirths, as an animal, in hell realms, as a hungry ghost. Once an act has been committed, kamma has the potential to bear fruit. If the fruit does not ripen in this life, it will follow you until some time in the future. The crooked path leads to all these kinds of danger.
No crookedness exists in the Noble Eightfold Path. With its three divisions — morality, concentration, and wisdom — it brings integration, straightness, to every aspect of a human life.
The Morality Group of the Noble Eightfold Path
Sammāvācā or right speech — literally, thorough or perfect speech, according to the meaning of the prefix sammā — is the first member of what is known as the morality group of the Noble Eightfold Path. This means truthful words, of course. Yet there are further criteria to be met. One’s speech should lead to harmony among beings. It should be kind rather than hurtful, pleasant, sweet to the ear and beneficial, not frivolous. Practicing right speech, we are freed from the four types of unwholesome behavior through speech, which were discussed above.
Right action, called sammākammanta in Pāli, is the second factor of the morality group. Right actions involves restraint. We must refrain from the three types of immoral behavior manifested through the body: taking life, stealing, and sexual misconduct. The last member of the morality group, sammā-ājīva, is right livelihood. One’s livelihood should be decent, legal and free from any sort of blemish. One should not practice a crooked occupation.
Eliminating crookedness in these three areas, one can easily keep at bay the grossest forms of the kilesas. Kilesas are our enemies. They should be considered and recognized as such. Free from enemies, one is free from danger.
The Concentration Group of the Noble Eightfold Path
The concentration or samādhi group is the next division of the Noble Eightfold Path. It contains three factors: right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.
This segment should be familiar to you if you have followed the meditation instructions. When you try to focus attention on the abdomen, this is right effort. It has the power to push aside the kilesas. When right effort is put forth, mindfulness is efficiently activated and will be able to observe the object. Mindfulness, too, acts as a protector. Effort moves the kilesas out of the way, and mindfulness closes the door on them. Now the mind can become focused. Moment to moment it remains with the object: collected, unscattered, calm. This is right concentration.
With these three factors present, we say the samādhi group is well developed. At this time, mental defilement, mental crookedness, is kept at a distance. This samādhi group is directly opposed to crookedness of mind.
The Wisdom Group of the Noble Eightfold Path
Moment to moment, your mind can become pure and peaceful through your own effort. In one minute you can have sixty moments of a mind free from crookedness. In two minutes you can have one hundred and twenty moments. Think how many moments of peach you could activate during an hour, or even an entire day. Every second counts!
In each such moment, you will see that the mind falls directly onto its target, the object of meditation. This is right aim, a factor of the Noble Eightfold Path’s wisdom group. When the mind is accurately aimed, it sees the object clearly: wisdom will arise. Wisdom’s clear seeing, or knowing of phenomena as they really are, constitutes another Noble Eightfold Path factor, right view.
If the mind falls precisely on the target, wisdom will arise perceiving the mechanism of conditionality, the cause-and-effect relationship which links mental to physical phenomena. If the mind falls on impermanence, the mind will clearly perceive and know impermanence for what it is. Thus, right aim and right view are linked.
This right view, resulting from right aim, has the power to uproot the seed of the crooked mind. The seed of the crooked mind refers to extremely subtle, latent defilements, which can only be uprooted bin wisdom’s presence. This is very special. It can only happen in the moment, in a way that is real and practical, not by one’s imagination.
Perhaps now you can better appreciate why the Buddha said the path was straight. Crookedness of body, speech and mind are overcome by this threefold training of sīla, samādhi and paññā found in the Noble Eightfold Path. Walking straight along this path, one transcends crookedness and is free from many dangers.
The Buddha further promised the bhikkhu-deva that this straight path leads to a safe haven. The word “haven” is discussed at length in the commentary on this sutta. It actually means nibbāna, where not a single danger, nothing fearful, remains. Old age and death are conquered; the burden of suffering falls. A person who reaches nibbāna is completely protected and can therefore be called “The Fearless,” the one without danger.
In order to reach this safe haven of nibbāna we must walk the mundane portion of the Noble Eightfold path — mundane in the sense that it is not beyond this world. You cannot reach nibbāna except by this route; nibbāna is its culmination.
We talked about the three sections of the path itself: sīla, samādhi and paññā. When one is pure in sīla or conduct, one is free from remorse and from censure by the wise, from punishment by the law, from rebirth in states of woe. If the second group is accomplished, one can be free from the danger of obsessive defilements, those negative tendencies which arise in our hearts and oppress us inwardly. Insight knowledge, arising in the wake of mindfulness and concentration, has the power to overcome latent or subtle kilesas. So even before arriving at the perfect safety of nibbāna, one is protected from fearful things while walking the Noble Eightfold Path. Therefore, this path itself is a haven.
Kilesas are responsible for the perils of the world. Ignorance, craving and clinging are kilesas. Based on ignorance, dominated by craving, one makes kamma and then must live with the results. Due to our past kammic activities in a sensate realm, we were reborn on this planet, in the body and mind we now possess. That is to say, our present life is the effect of a previous cause. This body and mind, in turn, become the objects of craving and clinging. Craving and clinging create kamma, the conditions to be reborn again — again to crave and cling to bodies and minds. Kilesas, kamma and results are the three elements of a vicious cycle. It is the cycle of saṃsāra, beginningless. Without meditation practice it could be endless also.
If not for avijjā, ignorance, the cycle could not exist. We suffer first from the ignorance of simply not knowing, not seeing clearly. On top of that is the ignorance of delusion. If we have not practiced deeply, we don’t perceive the true characteristics of reality: impermanence, suffering and absence of self. Obscured is the fleeting nature of body and mind, mere phenomena arising and vanishing moment to moment. Disguised is the tremendous suffering we undergo, oppressed by arising and passing away. We do not see that no one controls this process, that no one is behind it, no one at home. If we deeply understood these three characteristics of mind and body, we would neither crave nor cling.
Then, because of delusion, we add illusory elements to reality. We falsely perceive mind and matter as permanent and unchanging. We find joy in possessing this body and mind. And we assume that a permanent self or “I” is in charge of the mind-body process.
These two types of ignorance cause the arising of craving and clinging. Clinging, upādāna, is just a solidified form of taṇhā, or craving. Desiring pleasant sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch sensations and thoughts, we crave new objects to come to us. If we get what we want, we cling to it and refuse to let go. This creates the kamma that keeps us bound on the wheel of rebirths.
Of course, there are various sorts of kamma. Unwholesome kamma brings about unwholesome results, and it perpetuates our existence in saṃsāra. While walking on the preliminary part of the Noble Eightfold Path, one need not worry about the negative repercussions of one’s actions, since one is avoiding unwholesome deeds. Sīla protects the yogi from suffering in the future. Wholesome kamma brings about happy results even as it, too, propels us through renewed rounds of existence. But during meditation, perpetuating kamma is no longer being created. Simply watching things come and go is wholesome, and more: it does not bring about continual existence in saṃsāra. in its purest sense, meditation does not produce resultants, called vipāka in Pāli. When awareness is precise enough, it prevents the arising of craving, and therefore also the arising of successive links to existence, kamma, birth, old age, and death.
Moment by moment, vipassanā practice breaks through the vicious three-part cycle of of kilesas, kamma and results. When effort, mindfulness and stable concentration are activated, precise aim allows consciousness to penetrate into the true nature of existence. One sees things as they are. The light of wisdom dispels the darkness of ignorance. In the absence of ignorance, how will craving arise? If we see clearly the impermanence, suffering, and insubstantiality of things, craving will not arise, and clinging cannot follow. Thus, it is said that not knowing, one clings; but knowing, one is free from clinging. Free from clinging, one creates no kamma, and therefore no results.
Ignorance leads to craving and to clinging both to existence and to the wrong view of the self. Walking the Noble Eightfold Path, you kill the causes of ignorance. If these are absent, even for a moment, there is freedom. The vicious cycle has been shattered. This is the haven of which the Buddha spoke. Free from ignorance, from the dangers of the kilesas, from fearsome kammic activities that may cause suffering in the future, you can enjoy safety and security as long as you are mindful.
Perhaps you feel that this body and mind are so dreadful that you want to get rid of them. Well, you would not be doing yourself any favors by committing suicide. if you really want to be free, you must behave intelligently. It is said that only if the effects are observed can the causes be destroyed. This is not destruction in an active sense. Rather, it is an absence of perpetuating force. Mindfulness destroys the causes that result in a similar mind and body in the future. When the mind is focused with right mindfulness, concentration and aim — watching each object that arises, at its moment of occurrence, at each of the six sense doors — at that moment the kilesas cannot infiltrate. They are quite unable to arise. Since the kilesas are the cause of kamma and rebirth, you sever a link in saṃsāric existence. There can be no effect in the future if there is no cause now.
Following this Noble Eightfold Path, going through the various stages of vipassanā insight, one eventually arrives at the haven of nibbāna, free from all dangers. There are four stages of nibbānic attainment. In each one, particular kilesas are uprooted forever. The ultimate haven is reached at the final stage of enlightenment, arahantship, when the mind is completely purified.
At the first experience of nibbāna, the moment of attaining the sotāpatti magga, the path consciousness of the stream winner, the three cycles which are connected to states of misery are shattered. One can never again be reborn as an animal, a hungry ghost, or in hell. The kilesas which cause these rebirths are uprooted. One never again performs the kinds of kammic activities that cause rebirth in such states, and past kamma that might have led to such rebirth is rendered ineffective.
At the higher levels of enlightenment, more and more kilesas are uprooted. In the end, at the attainment of the path consciousness of an arahant, there is a total obliteration of kilesas, kamma and resultant. An arahant will never be plagued by these again, and at death will enter the haven of parinibbāna, a nibbāna from which one never re-enters saṃsāra.
You may be encouraged to know that even with the lowest level of enlightenment, you will be free from following a wrong spiritual practice or a crooked path of any kind. This it says in the Visuddhi Magga, Buddhaghosa’s great work from the fifth century CE, known in English as The Path of Purification. As a corollary, you will also be free from self-blame, from censure by the wise; from danger of punishment and of falling into states of misery.
A worldling who has not yet attained the state of a stream entrant is likened to a traveler undertaking a perilous journey. Many dangers await one who wishes to cross the desert, jungle or forest. He or she must be well equipped. Among the essentials for such a journey is a good and reliable vehicle. The Buddha offered the deva a magnificent option. “You shall ride,” he said, “in a chariot that is perfectly silent.”
One can imagine that the deva would have found a quiet ride attractive after his recent experiences among the heavenly musicians. But there is additional meaning here.
Most vehicles are noisy. The primitive carts and carriages used in the Buddha’s time creaked noisily, especially if they were poorly greased, or were badly made, or carried a heavy load of passengers. Modern cars and trucks still make quite a racket. The chariot the Buddha offered, however was no ordinary vehicle. It is so well made that it moves without a sound, no matter how many thousands or millions or billions of beings ride upon it. This chariot can carry all of them safely across the ocean, the desert, through the jungle of saṃsāra. It is the chariot of vipassanā practice, of the Noble Eightfold Path.
When the Buddha was alive, millions of being became enlightened by simply listening to his discourses. A thousand, or a hundred thousand, or a million beings might be listening to a single discourse. All these beings would cross together at once on the chariot.
The chariot may never creak, but its passengers often make a lot of noise, especially those who reach the farther shore, the safe haven of nibbāna. They cry out in praise and exaltation: “How wonderful is this chariot! I’ve used it and it works! It brought me to enlightenment.”
These are the noble ones, the stream entrants, the once returners, the nonreturners and arahants — those who have attained the four degrees of enlightenment. They sing the chariot’s praises in various ways. “My mind has changed completely. It’s filled with faith and crystal clarity and spaciousness. Much wisdom can unfold within me. My heart is strong and stable, it faces the vicissitudes of life with resilience.”
The noble ones who have been able to enter the jhānas will also sing the praises of this vehicle, as will once returners and arahants who enter into the absorption of cessation. They can experience cessation of mind, mental factors, and all mind-borne phenomena. Arising from such states, they are full of joy and praise for the vehicle.
Normally when a person dies, people grieve and cry out in deep sorrow. There is lamenting, wailing, sadness to see a being leave this world. For an arahant who has uprooted all the imaginable kilesas, however, death is something to look forward to. “At last this mass of suffering can be discarded. This is my last life. I’ll have no more confrontation with suffering but only bliss in the haven of nibbāna,” he or she can say.
The preciousness of an arahant may be beyond your ability to conceive. But you can know for yourself how an arahant might feel. Look at your own practice. You may have been able to overcome the basic hindrances — craving, aversion, sloth and torpor, restlessness, and doubt — and can see clearly the nature of the object. You may have seen the distinction between mind and matter, or the momentary arising and passing of phenomena. The stage of seeing arising and passing is one of freedom and exhilaration. This joy, this clarity of mind, is the fruit of the practice.
The Buddha said, “For one who has retired to a retreat, for one who has attained the jhānas, there is a joy which arises in him or her which far surpasses the happiness that can be experienced through sensual pleasures either of this human world, or of the world of the devas.”
The jhānas here can equally refer either to fixed concentration, or to very deep levels of moment-to-moment concentration developed during the course of insight practice. As we discussed earlier, the latter are called the vipassanā jhānas.
A yogi who can maintain continuous mindfulness will experience deep joy in the practice. There is a flavor of the Dhamma you may not have tasted before. it is incomparable. The first time you taste it you will be filled with wonder. “How wonderful the Dhamma is. It’s fantastic. I can’t believe how much calm, rapture and joy arise in me.” You are filled with faith and confidence, with satisfaction and fulfillment. Your mind starts to think of sharing this experience with others. You may even get ambitious and plan your evangelical campaign. This is the noise in your mind, your song of praise for the ride on the silent chariot.
Another noise is somewhat less enthusiastic. It is the screeching of yogis who ride the chariot without grace or pleasure. They may manage to hang on, but just barely. These are the yogis who do not practice diligently. In vipassanā practice, a puny effort bring measly results. Slack yogis will never get to taste the flavor of the Dhamma. They may hear of others’ success. They may see others sitting still and straight, presumably enjoying deep concentration and insight, but they themselves will be swamped by distractions and hindrances. Doubts will creep into their minds: doubts about the teacher the method, and the chariot itself. “This is a lousy chariot. It won’t get me anywhere. The ride is bumpy, and it makes a lot of noise.”
Sometimes one might even hear a desperate wail coming from the chariot’s direction. This is the cry of yogis who have faith in the practice and are trying hard, but who for one reason or another cannot make as much progress as they wish. They begin to lose confidence. They doubt whether they can reach their goal.
In Burma there is a saying to encourage these people. “The more the anagārika loses his way, the more rice he or she gets.” An anagārika is a kind of renunciate that exists in Buddhist countries. Such a person takes eight or ten precepts, puts on a white coat and shaves his or her head. Having renounced the world, anagārikas live in monasteries, maintaining the compound and aiding the monks in various ways. One of their duties is to go into town every few days and ask for donations. In Burma, donations often come in the form of uncooked rice. The anagārika goes through streets shouldering a bamboo pole that has a basket hanging from each end.
Perhaps he or she is unfamiliar with the village byways and, when it is time to go home, cannot find the way back to the monastery. The poor renunciate bumps into this dead end, turns around in an alley, gets stuck in that back lane. And all the while people think this is part of the rounds and keep making donations. By the time the anagārika finds the way home, he or she has a big pile of loot.
Those of you who get lost and sidetracked now and then can reflect that you will end up with a really big bag of Dhamma.
As the Buddha described it, this noble chariot has two wheels. In those days that was the way carts were made, so this metaphor was accessible to listeners of his time. He explained that one wheel was physical effort and the other was mental effort.
In meditation as in any other pursuit, effort is crucial. We must be hardworking and industrious in order to succeed. If our effort is persevering, we can become a hero or heroine, a courageous person. Courageous effort is precisely what is needed in meditation.
Physical effort is the effort to maintain the body in its postures: to sit, to stand, to walk, to lie down. Mental effort is that without which meditation would not exist. It is the energy one puts forth to be mindful and to concentrate, making sure that the kilesas are kept at a remote distance.
The two wheels of effort together carry the vehicle of practice. In walking meditation, you must lift your leg, push it forward and then place your foot on the ground. Doing this again and again constitutes the act of walking. When you walk meditatively, physical effort creates the movement, while mental effort evokes a continuous and unbroken mindfulness of the movement. Physical exertion, in regulated quantities, contributes to wakefulness and energy of mind.
One cannot fail to notice that effort is basic to the Buddha’s vehicle design. Just as it is necessary for a worldly chariot’s two wheels to be firmly affixed, so too mental and physical effort must always be engaged to move this chariot of the Noble Eightfold Path. We will not get anywhere if we do not actually make the physical effort sit in meditation; nor if we fail, while sitting, to keep the mind penetrative, continuous and accurate in noting. If the twin wheels of effort are kept moving, however, the vehicle will roll on straight ahead.
A significant effort is required simply to maintain the physical postures. If you are sitting, you must exert yourself not to fall over. If you are walking, you must move your legs. We try to balance the four major postures, to balance energy and create conditions for good health. In a retreat situation especially, we must have sufficient hours of sitting, walking and, secondarily, standing and lying down. Sleeping hours should be limited.
If postures are not rightly maintained, laziness results. In sitting, you may seek out something to lean again. You might decide that walking is too tiring, or that some relaxing hobby might be preferable to meditation. As you might guess, none of these ideas is recommended.
Similarly with mental effort. It is not good to slacken. One must assume from the very beginning that it will be necessary to put forth a persistent and continuous mental effort. Tell yourself that you are not going to entertain any gaps in mindfulness, you are just going to be as continuous as possible. Such an attitude is very useful. It opens your mind to the possibility of actually realizing your goal.
Some yogis have a peculiar distaste for walking meditation. Considering it a tiring waste of time, they only do it because the teacher tells them to. On the contrary, due to the strong dual effort it requires, walking meditation is essential to keep the wheels of effort rolling. With proper attention to walking, you can arrive at your destination in ease and comfort.
When mental effort is present from moment to moment, it bars the kilesas from entering. They are kept at bay, they are put aside, they are rejected by the mind.
Some yogis are sporadic in their application of effort. They do it in spurts. This approach can be very disorienting. The energy built up in one burst of mindfulness is all in vain, for in the next few moments of mindlessness the kilesas have a field day. Then, when such yogis start being mindful again, they have to start back at square one. Trying and resting, trying and resting, they do not build a momentum — they do not progress.
Maybe you should do some soul-searching. Be honest. Are you truly being mindful? Are you truly and sincerely activating that persevering, persistent effort to be mindful from moment to moment throughout your waking hours?
One who keeps the wheel of mental effort turning continuously is said to possess ardent energy. The Buddha praised such a person, saying, “One who possesses ardent energy lives in comfort.” Why so? Ardent effort keeps the kilesas at bay. This creates a cool and calm, enjoyable mental atmosphere, free from greedy, cruel, destructive thoughts, all of which are painful.
There is no end to the virtues of ardent effort. The Buddha said, “Better to live one day with ardent effort than a hundred years without it.” I hope that you gain sufficient inspiration from this discussion to set your wheels turning.
The next part of the chariot described by the Buddha was its backrest, which was conscience. In those days chariots had backrests for support. Without one, a driver or passenger might fall of the chariot as it suddenly stopped or jerked forward. A backrest could also be a luxury item. One could lean back as comfortably as in a favorite armchair and proceed to one’s destination. In our case, the destination is the noble goal of nibbāna.
In order to understand the function of the “backrest” of the vipassanā chariot, we must delve into what is meant by conscience. The Buddha used a Pāli word, hiri; the quality of ottappa is its close companion. Since ottappa is implied, we shall discuss it at the same time even though the sutta does not specifically mention it. These two words are often translated as “shame” and “fear” respectively. Unfortunately, these two words are negative, and thus become inaccurate. There are no good words in English to convey these meanings. The best expedient is to say “moral conscience” and then, if there is time, to try to explain the meaning of the Pāli words.
Remember that hiri and ottappa are not at all associated with anger or aversion, as are conventional shame and fear. They make one ashamed and afraid in only a very specific way, ashamed and afraid of unwholesome activities. Together they create a clear moral conscience, self-integrity. A man or woman of integrity actually has nothing to be ashamed of, and is fearless in virtue.
Hiri or “shame” is a feeling of disgust toward the kilesas. As you try to be mindful, you find there are gaps during which the kilesas pounce on you and make you their victim. Returning to your senses, so to speak, you feel a kind of abhorrence, or shame, at having been caught off guard. This attitude toward the kilesas is hiri.
Ottappa or “fear” is fear of the consequences of unwholesome activities. If you spend long intervals in unwholesome thoughts during your formal meditation practice, your progress will be slow. If you perform unwholesome actions at any time under the kilesas’ influence, you will suffer the consequences. Fearing that this will happen, you will be more attentive, alert against the kilesas which are always waiting to pounce. In sitting, you will be strongly committed to the primary object.
Hiri has a direct connection one’s own virtues and integrity, while ottappa is also linked to the virtues and good name of one’s parents, teachers, relatives and friends.
Hiri works in various ways. Say a person, a man or a woman, comes from a good upbringing. No matter what economic level they may have come from, their parents educated them in human values. Such a gentleman or lady would think twice before committing the unwholesome act of killing. They would think, “My parents taught me to be kind and loving. Will I jeopardize my self-respect by succumbing to such destructive thoughts and feelings? Should I kill another being in a weak moment when I am devoid of compassion and consideration? Am I willing to sacrifice my virtue?” If one can reflect in this way and decide to refrain from killing, hiri has done a good job.
The virtue of wisdom or learning can also cause one to refrain from unwholesome actions. If a person is learned and cultured in any meaningful sense, he or she has high moral standards. When tempted to commit an immoral act, a truly cultured person will consider it beneath him or her, and shrink from the temptation. Hiri can also arise on account of one’s age. At an advanced age one gains a sense of dignity. One says to oneself, “I’m a senior citizen and I know the difference between right and wrong. I will not do anything unbefitting because I have deep respect for my own dignity.”
Hiri also occurs because of courageous conviction. One can reflect that immoral actions are the province of timid, cowardly, unprincipled people. A person of courage and conviction will choose to stick to principles no matter what. This is heroic virtue, refusing to allow one’s integrity to be undermined.
Ottappa, the fear aspect of conscience, arises when one considers how one’s parents, friends and family members would be disgraced by immoral acts. It is also a wish not to betray the best that is in humanity.
Once committed, an immoral act can never be concealed. You yourself know you have done it. There are also beings who can read the minds of others, who can see and hear what happens to others. If you are aware of the presence of such a being, you may be hesitant to commit unwholesome behavior lest you be found out.
Hiri and ottappa play a great part in family life. It is because of these that father and mother, sisters and brothers, can live a life that is quite pure. If they have no sense of moral conscience, human family members relate without barriers of kinship, as dogs and cats do.
The world today is plagued by a lack of these qualities in people. In fact, these two aspects of conscience are called “The Guardians of the World.” Imagine a world where everyone possessed them in abundance!
Hiri and ottappa are also called sukka dhamma, pure dhamma, because they are so essential in maintaining purity of conduct among the beings on this planet. Sukka dhamma can also mean the color white as a symbol of purity. The opposites, shamelessness and fearlessness, are called kaṇha dhamma, or black dhamma. Black absorbs heat, and white reflects it. The black dhamma of shamelessness and audacity are excellent absorbers for the kilesas. When they are present you can be sure that the kilesas will be well-soaked into the mind; whereas if white dhamma are present, the kilesas will be reflected away.
The texts give the example of two iron balls. One is smeared with excrement and the other is red hot. A person offered these two iron balls refused the first because it is disgusting and rejects the second out of fear of being burned. Not taking the ball smeared with excrement is like the quality of hiri or shame in one’s mind. One finds immorality disgusting when one compares it with integrity. Not taking the hot ball is like ottappa, the fear of committing an unwholesome act out of fear of the kammic consequences. One knows that one might end up in hell or in states of misery. Thus one avoids the ten types of unwholesome behavior as if they were these two iron balls.
Some kinds of shame and fear are useless. I call them “imitation” shame and fear. One might be ashamed or embarrassed to observe the five precepts, listen to Dhamma talks or to pay respect to a person worthy of veneration. One might be ashamed to read aloud or give a talk in public. Fear of the bad opinion of others, if that bad opinion is not based on one’s immoral acts is imitation shame.
There are four things conducive to one’s personal benefit which human beings should not be ashamed to do. These are not listed in a Buddhist text — they are worldly and practical.
The first is not to be ashamed to do one’s business or to work for a living. One should not be ashamed to approach a teacher to learn a trade, a profession or subject. if one is ashamed to do this, how will one ever gain knowledge? One should not be ashamed of eating. If one cannot eat, one will starve to death. Lastly, one should not be ashamed to have intimate relations between husband and wife.
There is also imitation fear, such as the fear of meeting an important person when this is necessary in the course of life.
Villagers tend to experience imitation fear when traveling in a train, a bus, or ferry. I mean real villagers, people who have never taken public transport. These simple people might also be afraid to use the bathroom when they are traveling. This, too, is unhelpful. People may also be afraid of animals, dogs, snakes or insects, or of going to places they have never been before. Many fear members of the opposite sex, or are so much in awe of their parents and teachers that they can’t talk or walk in front of them. Some yogis are afraid of interviews with the teacher. They wait outside the door as if it were dentist’s office.
None of these are real hiri and ottappa, which are only connected with performing unwholesome actions. One should be terrified of bad kamma and of the kilesas, knowing that when they attack, there’s no telling to what extent they might manipulate one to commit unwholesome acts.
Reflecting on hiri and ottappa is a very good thing to do. The stronger these two qualities in a yogi, the more easily he or she will activate the effort to be mindful. A yogi who fears to break the continuity of practice will try hard to cultivate alertness.
Therefore the Buddha said to the deva, “This magnificent chariot of the Noble Eightfold Path has hiri as its backrest.” If you have this backrest of hiri and ottappa, you will have something to rely on, something to depend on, something on which you can sit comfortably as you ride toward nibbānic bliss. Just as one who rides a vehicle is open to the risk of accidents, so too a yogi on the chariot of the Noble Eightfold Path runs a risk in practice. If these qualities are weak, he or she risks losing mindfulness, and all the dangers that then ensue.
May your abundant hiri and ottappa cause you to activate ardent energy so as continuously to practice mindfulness. May you thus make smooth and rapid progress along the Noble Eightfold Path, until you eventually realize nibbāna.
To ensure that the Dhamma journey is carried out safely, the chariot must have a body. In the Buddha’s day, chariots were made of wood or some other hard material as a defense against spears and arrows. More recently, nations have devoted a lot of resources to develop armor plating for battlefield vehicles. Modern-day automobiles are also encased in metal for safety’s sake. Today you can ride about as if in a comfortable room, free from the wind, heat, cold and sun. If a car’s body keeps you well protected from the elements of nature, you travel in comfort whether it is raining and snowing outside or not. All these examples illustrate the function of mindfulness in keeping yogis free from the kilesas’ harsh attack. Sati, or mindfulness, is a kind of armor that keeps the mind safe, comfortable and cool: as long as mindfulness provides its protection, the kilesas cannot enter.
No one can travel safely in this vehicle of the Noble Eightfold Path without the protective covering of mindfulness. When the chariot goes into battle, armor is the decisive factor in protecting the occupants. Our vipassanā practice is a battle against the kilesas, which have dominated our existence since before we can remember. We need strong armor surrounding our chariot so we can be protected against their ruthless depredations.
It is good to understand how the kilesas arise in order to defeat them. Kilesas arise in connection with the six sense objects. Whenever there is no mindfulness at any of the six sense doors, you easily become a victim of desire, anger, delusion and the other kilesas.
When the seeing process, for example, occurs, visual objects come into contact with seeing consciousness. If the object is pleasant and you are not mindful, thoughts based on craving or desire will arise. If the object is disagreeable, aversion attacks you. If the object is insipid and neutral, you will be carried off on a tide of delusion. When mindfulness is present, however, kilesas cannot enter your stream of consciousness. Nothing the seeing process, sati gives the mind a chance to understand the true nature of what is happening.
The immediate benefits of mindfulness are purity of mind, clarity and happiness. They are experienced at the very moment that mindfulness is present. Absence of kilesas is purity. Because of purity come clarity and joy. A mind that is pure and clear can be put to good use.
In the unchecked course of things, unwholesome mental states are unfortunately more frequent than wholesome ones. As soon as greed, aversion and delusion enter the consciousness, we start to create unwholesome kamma, which will give results in this life as well as in the future. Rebirth is one result. With that, death becomes inevitable. Between birth and death, a being will create more kamma, both wholesome and unwholesome, to keep the cycle turning. Therefore, heedlessness is the path that leads to death. It is the cause of death in this world as well as in future life.
So mindfulness is also like fresh air, essential to life. All breathing beings need clean air. If only polluted air is available, they will shortly be afflicted by disease and may even die. Mindfulness is just this important. A mind deprived of the fresh air of mindfulness grows stale, breathes shallowly, and chokes upon defilements.
A person breathing dirty air may become sick very suddenly, and suffer extreme pain before death actually comes. When we are not mindful, we breath in the poisoned air of the kilesas and we suffer. In the presence of a pleasant object, we are pierced by pangs of craving. If the object is unpleasant, we burn with aversion. If we find the object humiliating, we will be eaten up by conceit. The kilesas come in many forms, but when they attack us it is always the same: we suffer. Pure comfort of mind, peace and happiness only exist if we can keep the kilesas out of our minds.
Some pollutants cause breathing creatures to become dizzy and disoriented. Others kill. The same is true for the kilesas. Some attacks are minor, others fatal, One can be dizzied by sensual pleasures or die in an apoplectic fit of rage. A strong excess of lust can kill a person. Greed, indulged over many years, can lay the foundations for terminal disease. Extreme anger or fear is also deadly, especially if the victim suffers from heart disease. Kilesas are also responsible for neurosis and psychosis.
Kilesas are actually much more dangerous than the bad chemicals in air. If a person dies from breathing contaminated air, the poison will be left behind in his or her corpse. But the taints of the kilesas carry forward to the next life, not to mention their negative effect on other beings. Breathed in by the mind, the kilesas result in kamma that will ripen in the future.
When mindfulness is present from moment to moment, the mind is gradually cleansed, just as the lungs of a person who stops smoking gradually shed their coating of tar and nicotine. A pure mind easily becomes concentrated. Then wisdom has the opportunity to arise. This process of healing begins with mindfulness. Basing your practice on mindfulness and deepening concentration, you will pass through the various levels of insight, your wisdom growing by degrees. Eventually you may realize nibbāna, at which point kilesas are uprooted. There are no pollutants in nibbāna.
The value of mindfulness can only be appreciated by people who have experienced its benefits in their personal practice. When people take the trouble to breathe fresh air, good health proves to them the value of their effort. So too, a meditator who has experienced deep practice, even nibbāna, will truly know what mindfulness is worth.
No matter how marvelous the vehicle, without a driver it can go nowhere. Similarly, the Buddha explained, right view must provide the impetus as well as the direction for our spiritual journey. The scriptures list six types of right view or sammā-diṭṭhi. In this discourse, the Buddha was specifically referring to the right view that arises at the moment of the noble path consciousness. Noble path consciousness is one of the culminating insights of this practice. We will discuss it below.
The first kind of right view is kammassakatā sammā-diṭṭhi, right view of kamma as one’s property — kamma being, of course, all wholesome and unwholesome activities. Our concepts of ownership and control over material objects are basically illusory, for all matter is impermanent, subject to decay. Kamma is our only reliable possession in this world. We must understand that whatever good or evil we do will follow us through saṃsāra, giving rise to corresponding good or evil consequences. Kamma has an immediate effect upon the mind, causing joy or misery depending on whether it is wholesome or unwholesome. It also has long-term consequences. Unwholesome kamma results in birth in states of woe or misery. Wholesome kamma leads to rebirth in happy states. The highest wholesome kamma leads to relief from saṃsāra.
Seeing life in this way gives us the power to choose the conditions under which we want to live. Thus, kammassakatā sammā-diṭṭhi is called “The Light of the World,” for by it we can see and evaluate the nature of our choices. Right understanding of kamma is like a railroad junction where the train can choose its direction, or an international airport, linked to many destination. Since we, like all beings, want happiness, this understanding of kamma will generate in us a strong wish to develop more and more unwholesome habits. We will also want to avoid acting in ways that will bring us future misery.
Practicing charity, dāna, and morality, sīla, one chooses a direction toward rebirth in good circumstances. This meritorious kamma helps beings walk the path to nibbāna.
To go beyond kammassakatā sammā-diṭṭhi, one practices concentration. Concentration has immediate benefits, enabling the yogi to live in tranquility, absorbed in the object. This second type of right view is jhāna sammā-diṭṭhi, right view with regard to the jhānas and absorptions. It is the knowledge that arises in conjunction with each of the eight types of jhāna. The benefits of jhāna right view are three-fold. Upon death, if one is able to maintain strength in ability to gain absorption, one is reborn in the brahmā worlds and can live there for a very long time, many eons and world systems. Second, the jhānas are the basis for developing strong vipassanā. The jhānas can also become the basis for the development of abhiññās or psychic powers.
We devote the most time and effort developing the third type of right view within ourselves. It is vipassanā sammā-diṭṭhi, right view that occurs as a result of vipasanā insights. When effort, mindfulness and moral conscience are present, these insights naturally develop. It is important to remember that right view is something more than an opinion. It is a deep intuitive knowledge that comes from our seeing directly into the true nature of existence.
These days when heads of state leave their palaces, there is a great deal of preparation. Before the motorcade sets forth, teams of security agents make sure its route is clear and safe. Agents check for bombs, place barriers on the sidewalks for crowd control, assign police officers to their posts and remove any vehicles that might block the road. Only then will the President leave the official residence and climb into the chauffeured car.
In the same way, on this Noble Eightfold Path, vipassanā right view is like the secret service. Insight into impermanence, suffering and absence of self is what clears from the path all sorts of clinging — clinging to wrong views and pet theories, misconceptions and so forth. The clearing process takes place at sequential levels. Once the preliminary preparations are complete, then the noble path right view will make its appearance and uproot the kilesas.
On the way to noble path consciousness, each stage of insight eliminates a particular kind of wrong view or misconception about the nature of reality. The first vipassanā insight into the nature of mental and physical phenomena shows us that mind and matter are distinct from each other, and that life is nothing more than a ceaseless stream of these two kinds of phenomena. At this time, we do away with the extras, cleanse ourselves of the view which puts into reality something that is not really there, such as the notion of a permanent and substantial self.
The second insight, understanding cause and effect, eliminates any doubt as to whether things happen by chance — we know that they do not. Furthermore, we see clearly and directly that events are not caused by any external force.
Deepening meditation, we see the impermanence of objects and understand intuitively that everything experienced in the past, and to be experienced in the future, is similarly impermanent. Building on this knowledge of ephemerally and transience, we realize next that we have no refuge and can rely on nothing. Thus, we are rid of the false idea that peace and stability can be found in the objects of this world. To be oppressed by phenomena is indeed great suffering; and at this stage of insight, we feel this from the bottom of our hearts.
Related to, and following upon, this deep sense of fearsomeness and oppression is a realization that no one can prevent or control the way things come and go. it will dawn on our intuition that there is no self in things. These latter three insights are the beginnings of vipasanā right view, which relates specifically to impermanence, suffering and absence of self.
With the arising of vipassanā right view, the chariot is ready to go. It is shaking a bit and moving as it faces the right road that leads to nibbāna. Now you can really turn the wheels and get that vehicle rolling. The armor is in place, the backrest firm, and the driver well seated. You just need to give a bit of a push to those two wheels, and the chariot will really take off.
Once you have gained insight into impermanence, suffering and absence of self, you see things arising and passing away much quicker, much more clearly. Moment to moment arising and passing: it comes in microseconds, nanoseconds — the deeper you go the quicker you see it — and eventually you are not able to see the arising at all. Wherever you look, there is just a flash of quick dissolution. You will have a feeling as if someone is pulling the carpet out from under you. The disappearance is not an abstraction. It comprises your entire life at that time.
Deeper and deeper you go, driving closer and close to your destination. After all these stages of vipassanā insight have been completed, the right view of the path consciousness will take over and drive you home, to the safe haven of nibbāna.
Although in the presence of vipassanā insights the kilesas have no chance of arising, they are not yet uprooted. They may be kept at bay, but they are waiting for their chance to get back into power.
Only at the moment when the noble path right view occurs are the kilesas uprooted.
You may wonder what is meant by the notion of uprooting a kilesa. Kilesas which have already arisen can no longer be removed — they are past. Similarly, kilesas not yet arisen cannot be removed, since they are not here yet. And even in the present, kilesas arise and pass away, so how can they be uprooted? Latent or potential kilesas are what is removed. There are two types of kilesas, one connected with objects and the other with the continuity of existence. The first type occurs when the conditions are conducive, that is, in connection with a mental or physical object and in the absence of mindfulness. If an object becomes predominant, and there is no mindfulness to keep the contact between mind and object clear and pure, the kilesa which has been latent will come to life. It will become manifest. If one is mindful, however, the conditions are no longer appropriate and the kilesas are kept away.
The second type of kilesas are dormant and will remain buried in the stream of our consciousness all the way through saṃsāra. This kind can only be uprooted by path consciousness.
In the old days when patients suffered from malaria, they were treated with two kinds of medicine. Malaria patients undergo a repetitive cycle of temperature changes. Every two days or so, a very high fever comes, followed by sudden chills. The first course of treatment levels the extremes of temperature. It strengthens the patient and weakens the malaria germs. Finally, when the cycles of fever and chills abate somewhat, a dose of knockout medicine is prescribed. Now that the patient is stronger, and the bacteria are much weaker, the malaria can be totally eradicated.
The preliminary course of treatment is analogous to vipassanā insight, which weakens the kilesas. The knockout medicine is path consciousness, uprooting kilesas once and for all.
Another example is the process of getting a document legally certified through the process of bureaucratic red tape. It could take all day. First you go to the ground floor and talk to the receptionist. He or she sends you up to the second floor to get a document and have it signed. The Department of This sends you to the Department of That. You produce the document and are given a set of forms to fill out. Then you wait for the person in charge to sign it. All day you go through various channels, from one level to another, filling out forms and getting signatures. It takes a very long time to get all the parts complete. Finally you arrive at the top and it takes the official half a second to make the final signature. You document is now certified, but you have had to go through all that other red tape first.
It is the same in vipassanā. there is a lot of red tape. Path consciousness comes even faster than the time it takes for the top official to sign, but you have to work for it. When all is in order, the path of right view appears and certifies that all the kilesas have been uprooted.
The first part of vipassanā insight might be called “The Worker Path.” You have to work to complete it properly, without shirking. Noble path consciousness is like the boss, ordering work to be done. He or she cannot sign a blank piece of paper on which the preliminary processes have not been completed.
When vipassanā insights are completed, noble path consciousness will arise automatically, followed by fruition consciousness. In Pāli, these consciousnesses are called magga and phala. Noble path right view and noble fruition right view, elements of these two respective consciousnesses, are the fourth and fifth kinds of right view on the list of six.
When noble path consciousness arises, noble path right view uproots the groups of kilesas that causes rebirth in lower realms, states of woe and misery. This refers to hell realms, animal realms, peta and hungry ghost realms. Immediately after comes noble fruition consciousness, part of which is noble fruition right view. One might ask the function of this, since the dormant kilesas already have been uprooted. Fruition right view just cools the defilements. A fire may burn out but still leave embers and warm ashes. Noble fruition right view splashes water over the embers.
The sixth and last kind of right view is reviewing knowledge right view. Reviewing knowledge comes on the heels of fruition consciousness and the experience of nibbāna. It reviews five things: the occurrence of path consciousness and of fruition consciousness; nibbāna itself as an object of consciousness; the kilesas which have been uprooted and those which have yet to be uprooted. It serves no other important function.
The first kind of right view, kammassakatā sammā-diṭṭhi, is said to be perpetual. That is, it will never disappear from existence. This world system may shatter and be devastated, but there will always be beings, perhaps in other world systems, who have the right view of kamma as one’s own property.
People who do not even try to appreciate the difference between wholesome and unwholesome kamma are far from any light at all. They can be likened to a baby which is blind from birth: blind in the womb and blind when it comes out. If this baby grows up, still it will not be able to see well enough to guide itself. A person who is blind and guideless will get into a lot of accidents.
Jhāna right view will always be present as long as people practice and attain jhānas. The Buddha’s teaching may not be flourishing, but there will always be people practicing concentration and absorption.
However, the remaining types of right view can only be present while the Buddha’s teaching remains alive. From the time of Gotama Buddha until this present age, his teachings have flourished. They are known throughout the world at this moment. Even in countries that are not Buddhist, there are groups or institutions based on his teaching. A person satisfied with right view related to kamma or the jhānas has no access to the light of the Dhamma. He or she can be brightened by the light of the world, but not by that of the Buddha. The remaining four types of right view, from vipassanā right view through reviewing right view, contain the light of the Buddha’s teaching.
When yogis can distinguish mind and matter, they are free of the delusion of self, and the first veil of darkness is removed. We say that the light of Dhamma has dawned on the consciousness. But there are more layers to be removed. The second layer of ignorance is the opinion that things happen chaotically and at random. This veil is removed by the insight into cause and effect. When a yogi sees cause and effect, the light in his or her mind shines a bit brighter. He or she ought not to be satisfied at this point, for the mind still is darkened by ignorance of the characteristics of impermanence, suffering and absence of self. To remove this darkness the yogi must work harder, persistently watching things as they arise, sharpening mindfulness, deepening concentration. Then wisdom will arise naturally.
Now the yogi sees that there is no refuge to be sought in the impermanent phenomena. This brings on deep disappointment, but the light within is brighter still. He or she clearly realizes the suffering and nonselfness of phenomena. At this time only one last veil remains, covering the realization of nibbāna, and it can only be removed by the noble path consciousness. Now the light of the Buddha’s teachings really begins to shine!
If you develop all six types of right view, you will be radiant. You will never be separated from the light of wisdom, no matter where you go in future wanderings. On the contrary, wisdom will shine ever more brightly in you throughout the remainder of your wanderings in saṃsāra. At the last there will be a big firework when arahatta magga phala, the path and fruition consciousnesses of the final stage of enlightenment, come to you.
Anyone, woman or man, possessing such a chariot and driving it well,
It is said that when the bhikkhu-deva heard this discourse of the chariot he perceived the point the Buddha was making and immediately became a sotāpanna, or stream entrant. He took ownership of this magnificent chariot called the Noble Eightfold Path. Although the Buddha’s discourse was directed toward the ultimate goal of arahantship, this deva did not yet have the potential to gain final enlightenment. His predisposition carried him only as far as stream entry.
At this first stage of enlightenment, one is freed from the danger of falling into states of misery. The suttas say that three kilesas are uprooted: wrong view, doubt, and attachment to wrong practices. In the commentary, the kilesas of jealousy and miserliness are added to the list.
Safely assume that this deva had gained insight into the nature of mind and matter in his previous life as a bhikkhu. At the moment of gaining this insight, he was free from a false view that there is an internal abiding entity, or self. However, his abandoning of this wrong view was only temporary. Not until he glimpsed nibbāna for the first time was there a permanent change in his view. One who has experienced stream entry no longer believes in the illusion of an abiding entity.
The second type of defilement uprooted is closely connected to wrong view. When one has not correctly understood the nature of things, it is difficult to come to a firm conclusion about what is right and what is not. Like a person standing at a fork in the road, or someone who suddenly discovers that he or she has lost the way, there is doubt about which way to go. This dilemma can be quite debilitating and undermining.
When yogis see the mechanism of cause and effect, they temporarily abandon doubt. They see that the Dhamma is true, that mind and matter are conditioned, and that there is nothing in this world which is not conditioned. This lack of doubt only lasts as long as mindfulness and insight are sustained, however. Final, unshakable faith in the Dhamma’s efficacy and authenticity only comes when a person has walked as far as the Eightfold Path’s destination, nibbāna. A yogi who walks in the Buddha’s footsteps to the end of the path will also have faith in the Buddha and the other noble ones who have attained the same goal by the same route.
The third defilement uprooted by the sotāpanna, stream enterer, is belief in wrong practice. This understanding is fairly obvious in a general way, and can be understood more completely if examined from the point of view of the Four Noble Truths. When potential stream entrants first develop the Noble Eightfold Path within themselves, they learn to understand the first noble truth, that all things are unsatisfactory. Mind and matter are suffering. A yogi’s preliminary development consists of watching these suffering things. When the first noble truth is completely seen, then the remaining three are automatically achieved or realized. This means abandoning craving, the second noble truth; cessation of suffering, the third noble truth; and developing the Noble Eightfold Path, the fourth noble truth.
The preliminary or mundane part of the Noble Eightfold Path is being developed in every moment of mindfulness. At some point it ripens into supramundane knowledge. So, upon attaining nibbāna, this deva now knew that his practice was the only way to achieve this nibbāna. He knew that he had experienced a real cessation of suffering, the unconditioned, and that there is no nibbāna other than that. All yogis feel the same way at this moment.
The Noble Eightfold Path is the only one that leads to nibbāna. This understanding is very deep and can only be attained through practice. With this understanding, the stream entrant is free from attachment or belief in the efficacy of other methods of practice which are devoid of the elements of the Noble Eightfold Path.
In the commentaries two additional kilesas are said to be uprooted. These are issā or jealousy, the wish not to see others happy and successful, and macchariya or miserliness, which is the dislike of seeing others as happy as one is oneself, Personally I do not agree with these commentaries. These two mental states belong to the category of dosa, anger or aversion. According to the canon of suttas spoken by the Buddha, the stream entrant uproots only defilements which have no connection with dosa. However, since the potential for rebirth in lower states has been uprooted, the stream entrant’s attacks of issā and macchariya will not be sufficiently strong to cause this lower rebirth.
An interesting comment is found in the Visuddhi Magga, which is a noncanonical work but still held in high esteem. Based on canonical references, the Visuddhi Magga admits that a stream entrant can still be attacked by greed, hatred and delusion, and still is subject to conceit and pride. However, since the noble path consciousness has uprooted kilesas that lead to states of misery, one can safely conclude that the stream entrant is free from kilesas strong enough to lead to such rebirth.
The Visuddhi Magga also points out that a stream entrant has succeeded in drying up the vast ocean of saṃsāric existence. As long as a person has not attained the first stage of enlightenment, he or she must continually perpetuate existence in the beginningless rounds of saṃsāra. The scope of saṃsāra is vast — you just keep going on and on. But a stream entrant has only a maximum of seven more existences to live before he or she gains complete enlightenment as an arahant. What are seven existences compared to an eternity of innumerable lives? For all practical purposes we can say the ocean has dried up.
Unwholesome kamma can only occur under the influence of ignorance and craving. When a certain level of ignorance and craving disappears, so does the potential for certain unwholesome results, namely rebirth in states of misery. There is no limit to the evil people may do when still mercilessly assaulted by the kilesas of wrong view of the self and of doubt about the path and kamma. The atrocities they commit will lead to lower realms without a doubt. Lacking these kilesas, a stream entrant will not longer commit terrible deeds that may lead to such rebirth. Furthermore, his or her past kamma which might have led to such unfortunate rebirths is cut off at the moment of attaining the noble path consciousness. A stream entrant no longer need fear this intense suffering.
Another benefit of stream entry is realization of the sevenfold property of noble ones. Noble ones are persons who are purified, noble of character, who have attained one of the four levels of enlightenment. Their properties are faith, morality, hiri, ottappa, learning, charity and wisdom.
Faith is a durable and unshakable confidence in the Buddha, Dhamma and the Saṅgha. It is unshakable because of direct experience and realization. A noble one can never be bribed or corrupted in any way to abandon the Buddha, Dhamma and Saṅgha. No matter what suave and cunning means, or frightening threats, a person might employ to this end, a noble one can never be convinced to abandon his or her knowledge.
Morality is purity of conduct with respect to the five precepts. It is said that a stream entrant is incapable of deliberately breaking them, incapable of any wrong thoughts or actions leading to rebirth in states of woe. He or she will be free from the threefold immoral behavior manifested through the body, will be largely free from wrong speech, will be free from wrong livelihood, and finally will be free from wrong effort in practicing a wrong spiritual path.
The third and fourth properties, hiri and ottappa, we explained earlier. A stream entrant has these two aspects of conscience very strongly developed, and so will be incapable of performing bad deeds.
The fifth property, learning, refers to the theory of meditation as well as a practical understanding of how to meditate. A stream entrant is indeed learned in the mechanics of walking this Noble Eightfold Path towards nibbāna.
Cāga, usually translated as charity, actually means relinquishment. A stream entrant generously relinquishes all kilesas that produce results in lower realms. Moreover, he or she will be liberal in dāna; his or her generosity will be continuous and very real.
The last property is wisdom. This refers to vipassanā insight and wisdom. A stream entrant’s practice will be free from wrong mindfulness and wrong concentration. He or she will also be free from very explosive kilesas which erupt within and manifest physically, vocally or mentally, and from fear of evil rebirth.
Personal peace is of utmost importance. It can be achieved in freedom from fear. If many people are capable of realizing such peace — if many people actually have that peace within — you can imagine how conducive it would be to world peace. World peace can only start from within.
Another benefit of stream entry is that one becomes a true child of the Buddha. Many are devoted. They may have great faith and make daily offerings to the triple gem of Buddha, Dhamma and Saṅgha, but due to changes in circumstances it is always possible for a person to give up faith. He or she may be reborn without it. You may be very holy and goodhearted in this life, but next time you could turn out a rascal. There is no insurance for you until you attain the first stage of enlightenment and become a true daughter or son of the Lord Buddha.
The Pāli term used in the Visuddhi Magga is orasa putta which means a real, full-fledged, redblooded child. Putta is often translated as son, but actually it is a general term for progeny, including daughters.
There are hundreds more benefits that can be obtained, the Visuddhi Magga says. In fact, the benefits of stream entry are beyond number. A stream entrant is totally committed to the Dhamma, intensely interested in listening to the true Dhamma; and can understand Dhamma that is profound and not easily grasped by otters. When a stream entrant hears a discourse that is well-delivered, he or she will be filled with joy and rapture.
And because a sotāpanna has stepped into the stream, his or her heart will always be with the Dhamma. In executing his or her duties in the world, the stream entrant will be like Mother Cow, who eats grass and still watches over her tender calf. The heart of the sotāpanna is inclined to Dhamma, but he or she will not shirk worldly responsibilities. Stream entrants gain concentration very easily if they put appropriate effort in meditation, wishing to walk further on the path.
The Buddha concluded by saying explicitly that meditative achievement is not differentiated on a basis of sex. Either a woman or a man, he said, could trust this chariot to carry him or her to nibbāna, The chariot was, and is, available to all.
In the modern age we have a myriad vehicles available. Ever new inventions appear in the field of transportation. Human beings can travel over land and sea or in the sky. An ordinary person can go around the world without much trouble. Men have walked on the moon. Spacecraft have gone to other planets and even beyond.
No matter how far vehicles go through space, however, it is unlikely they will be of any help bringing you to nibbāna. If indeed there is a vehicle that stops in nibbāna, I would like to have it. However, I have not yet heard advertisements or assurances of any such extraordinary vehicle that could carry a person to the safe haven of nibbāna.
No matter how advanced scientific technology may be, there is no guarantee that even the most sophisticated vehicle is accident free. Fatal accidents occur on land, on sea, in the air and in space. Many people have died in this way. I do not suggest that this renders the vehicles useless. It is just that there is no guaranteed safety in them. The only vehicle with one hundred per cent insurance coverage is the Noble Eightfold Path.
Modern cars have a high standard of performance and safety. If you are rich you can afford an extremely comfortable, fast, luxurious automobile and can have it conveniently at your disposal. If you are not rich you can get a loan, or rent a limousine or a sports car for a short time, or you can ride on public transportation. Even if you are poor you can always stand by the road and hitch a ride.
However, there is no guarantee that performance will be faultless even if the car is your own. You have to fill up your car with gas, maintain it in various ways, repair it when it breaks down — there are many chores involved. All the vehicles will be towed to the junkyard someday, and the more you use them, the closer they get to that final resting place.
It would be preferable to produce a nibbāna vehicle with the same sophistication and high standards, for this is a vehicle that never wears out. How good it would be if such a vehicle were easily accessible to common people! If anyone could own a vehicle to nibbāna, imagine what a peaceful world it would be. This vehicle leads to something priceless. Nibbāna cannot be bought, no matter how wealthy you may be, nor can it be rented. You have to work for it so that it belongs to you. It will only be useful if it becomes your own property.
In this world most vehicles are ready-made. They come from the factory. But this vehicle leading to nibbāna has to be self-made. It is a do-it-yourself kit. You must have faith at the start that nibbāna is in your reach, and faith in the path that will lead you to your destination. You must also have motivation, a sincere and committed desire to strive for that goal. But motivation alone will not get you far unless you act upon it. You must work, put in the effort to be mindful, persevering and enduring moment after moment so that concentration builds and wisdom begins to blossom and mature.
Would it not be wonderful if the Noble Eightfold Path were ready-made on an assembly line? Unfortunately, it is not, and that is why you poor souls have to do your own manufacturing. You arm yourself with faith and the strong desire to realize your goal. You intend to practice through thick and thin, undergoing difficulties, fatigue and tiredness and the strain of struggling to assemble your vehicle. You come to put forth energy to keep its wheels rolling. You try to keep the bodywork of mindfulness intact. You fix firmly your backrest of hiri and ottappa so that you can rely upon it. You train your driver to go straight. Finally, after passing through various stages of insight, you gain possession of the sotāpatti magga vehicle, stream entrant path consciousness. When this vehicle becomes your own possession, you will have very easy and convenient access to nibbāna.
Once this stream entrant vehicle is completed, it will never depreciate in value or run down. It is quite unlike vehicles presently available on this planet. You never need to oil or lubricate it, repair it or replace it. The more you use it, the stronger and more sophisticated it gets. It is totally accident free. When you travel on this vehicle, you have one-hundred-percent guaranteed safety.
As long as we live on this earth, we will be subjected to ups and downs and vicissitudes of life. At times things things go smoothly and well; at other times, disappointment and discouragement, suffering and sorrow are the rule. However, one who has gained possession of this stream entrant path vehicle glides smoothly through rough times, and does not fall over too sharply in good times. The gates to misery are closed and he or she always has free access to the safe haven of nibbāna.
It is impossible to sing all the praises of this great vehicle, but be assured that if you really complete it and own it, you will have access to the fulfillment of life.
Please do not entertain any thoughts of surrender, but rather put forth all the energy and effort you have. Strive to assemble this vehicle and have it safely in your possession.
The essential form of this chariot, this Dhamma vehicle, was first revealed to the world by the Buddha about 2,525 years ago or more, in the discourse called The Sutta on the Turning of the Wheel of the Law, the first discourse after his enlightenment.
Before the Buddha appeared, the world live in total darkness, in ignorance of the Noble Eightfold Path. Recluses and renunciates, sages and philosophers, all held their own views and opinions, speculations and pet theories about the truth.
Then as now, some people believed nibbāna was the happiness of sensate pleasure, and so they immersed themselves in pleasure. Others looked with disdain at this behavior and reacted against it, mortifying themselves. They deprived their bodies of sense comfort and delight, seeing this as a noble endeavor. In general, beings lived in delusion. They had no access to the truth, and so their beliefs and actions were arbitrary. Each person had a view or opinion and, based thereon, did a thousand and one different things
The Buddha accepted neither sense indulgence nor asceticism. His way is between the two, inclining to neither extreme. When he revealed the Noble Eightfold Path to beings, true faith grounded in the truth of existence could arise. Faith cold be be placed on that which was true, instead of on just an idea.
Faith has a great influence on one’s consciousness. That is why it is a controlling faculty. With faith there can be effort. Faith arouses motivation in practice and becomes the basis for all other dhammas, like concentration and wisdom. When the Buddha first revealed the Noble Eightfold Path, he set the controlling faculties in motion. This view of dhammas was set rolling in the hearts of beings, and thereby true freedom and happiness came within reach.
May your faith in the practice be sincere and profound. May this be the basis for your attainment of ultimate liberation.