(based on a talk to meditators on a retreat given by the Venerable Amatha Gavesi)
The law of cause and effect (hetu-phala), which the Lord Buddha explained at length in several of his discourses, as a doctrine intensely profound to be reflected upon , and understood by intelligent examination is a Universal Law that he disclosed to the world. It was not as a divine revelation, the knowledge of which was obtained through prayers and offerings, but percieved through mental development in which he understood the operation of the law of cause(hetu) and effect (phala).
The combination of mind (nama) and matter-the physical form (rupa) - conventionally recognised as a being , is not the work of an almighty creator. If there is someone who created the physical form (kaya or rupa) and infused life into it, or if it has been put together by oneself ( atma -a soul) within the e physical form, we can attribute the responsibility of the creation either to that ‘someone’, or to a “self” within. But it not being so , a being is the result of one of its own past actions consequent to a thought (cetana) or in other words a being is the result of its own past kamma.
Both, your physical form (rupa) and the mind are the result or the effecte of your kamma which is the cause. Therefore, we born with a body and a mind , as the result of a cause are conventionally accepted as beings. But the teaching of the Lord Buddha goes beyond the conventional reality. There is a form (rupa) and a mind(nama) but the form (rupa) by itself cannot do any thing, except breath- in, and breath- out. The form merely indicates whether it is that of an animal or a human being. It is the mind,(nama)that has the force to activate the body. How does this force in the mind activate the form ?
The mind(nama) is an intangible force, that gives rise to thoughts, that activates the body. The body cannot act without a thought preceding(cetana) it. The thought is therefore the cause (hetu), and the act, the effect- result (phala).
The thoughts arise depending on each sense faculty(ayatana), and is called by the name of the respective sense faculty. The thought that arises depending on the eye- is called the eye consciousness (cakkhu vinnana), and enables seeing. The thought that arises depending on the ear is called the ear consciousness(sota vinnana), and enables hearing. The thought that arises depending on the nose is called the nose consciousness (ghana vinnana), and enables smelling. The thought that arises depending on the tongue, is called the tongue consciousness(jivha vinnana), and enables tasting. The thought that arises depending on the body is called the body consciousness( kaya vinnana) and enables touch or feeling and activate different parts of the body, The thought that arises depending on the mind is called the mind consciousness (mano vinnana), and enables thinking.
There is nothing that a being – the “self”, can do on its own, without the interaction of the mind with the body. How does the mind that activates the six sense faculties, generate this force ? As much as an effect or a result (phala) , originates from a cause(hetu), a thought as well originates from a previous cause. Therefore, it follows that, where there is no cause, a thought does not arise.
Let us re-capitulate, the results that originate depending on the respective sense faculty. Depending on the sense faculty of eye there arises, the seeing. Depending on the sense faculty of ear arises, the hearing. Depending on the sense faculty of nose arises the smelling. Depending on the sense faculty of tongue arises, the tasting, depending on the sense faculty of body arises, the feelings, and depending on the sense faculty of mind arises the thinking. All these activities take place depending on thoughts which are the causes that give rise to them (results).
If none of these results occur depending on the six sense faculties consequent to a cause, what would happen ? Nothing. But the mind will remain calm an absolute force. Can we create this situation where the mind will remain calm as an absolute force ? Yes , we can. But the mind in that state has gone beyond “self”- the ego. The ‘self’ becomes non-existent. The mind is then absolutely silent. A silent mind may have insight into ultimate realities, beyond conventional realities of our day to day ewistence.
The body , the material form (rupa), as we have already seen is a result of an action , the karmic force of this action limits the time frame of the body. We must not forget, that the existence of the body within this limited time frame is its continuous interaction with the mind. During this limited existence, the six sense faculties take respective objects of their contact, giving rise to incessant thoughts. This, in fact , is what we do from the time we wake up in the morning, till we go to sleep in the night . But if one develops one’s mind to a higher level of concentration through meditation to allow the mind to be completely silent, unperturbed by thoughts we call that the attainment of Nibbana.
This attainment of the complete incomparable silence of the mind, is not easy. The reason is the inert desire, the thirst (tanha) , for the pursuit of worldly pleasure.
It is this desire or thirst (tanha) that motivates the eye to see, ear to hear and so on.. But once desire has been subdued , the thoughts of desire do not arise, and one sees only when one wants to see, otherwise the mind, bereft of thoughts arising through sense faculties of the body, remains calm and silenrt.
The difference between the one who has desire or thirst (tanha,) for worldly pleasures, and the one who has no such desire or thirst is, that the former, however much he may say, that he does not want to see, hear, taste, feel or think, will never-the-less, do so. Why? Because desire (tanha) which is beyond his control, will force him to see with his eyes, to hear with his ears, taste with his tongue, smell with his nose, feel with his body, and think with his mind. Whereas the latter, who has subdued desire will not react to what he sees, hears, smells, tastes, feels or thinks. How has this absence of reaction to the activities of the sense faculties come about ?
When the force of desire makes a person see with his eyes, put it in another way, when the external objects come in contact with a sense faculty it will activate the mind he may see, but will remain without reacting to what he sees. It is only, when his feelings (vedana) towards the external object are aroused that he will look. But there is no body to force him to do so except the thought process that is triggered of by that contact (passa) with the external object. If there is someone that claims ownership to the act of seeing, that one becomes completely inoperative if there is no reaction to the first contact with the external object. Is there some one to direct one to see ?
There is no person, that directs one to see, but it is simply the thoughts of attachment or aversion, both of which give rise to desire (tanha), which activates the eyesense (cakkhu vinnana) or the earsense (sota vinnana) (etc). The existence of a being that claims ownership to the eye (etc), is therefore a myth, they are simply the activities of the six sense faculties- seeing with the eye , hearing with the ears, tasting with the tongue, smelling with the nose, feeling with the body and thinking with the mind, as a result of a preceding cause. These are the activities, we have been continuing to do coming this long way from our birth. Because of the extreme rapidity of these activities we do not see them as an interaction between the mind and matter, but as activities performed by a person- a “self”, sometimes with great attachment or love, and sometime with hatred and dislike.
This mind without control, is led by thoughts of desire (tanha), to activate the sense faculties. This in itself is the existence. When you look at the past many years of your life, what remains to be seen other than what you have already seen, what you have already heard, what you have already tasted, what you have already felt or what you have already thought ? This long chain of unbroken activity has continued, with desire(tanha) as the principal cause, making it your lifestyle, whole of which can be broken down to the activities of seeing with the eyes, hearing with the ears, smelling with the nose, tasting with the tongue, feeling with the body and thinking with the mind.
There is nothing else, every thing that happens is determined according to the law of cause and effect, the sense faculties, had been activated as if taken over by this invisible force- the force of desire or thirst ( tanha). What is present is a mind and body combination( nama-rupa) – mentality and materiality, both resulting from a cause, and continue to exist depending on that cause, lead by the invisible force of desire, with a false view of a “ self ” doing these activities.
The activities resulting from different causes, which we carry on through the agency of our six sense faculties, create in us the impression that they are done by, ”me” “myself”. This false view is a self-delusion which is so strong, that one continues to exist believing that all sense door activities , are done by this person – “a self”, “I” or ‘me”.
What is actually going on is a series of causal activity. The mind which is a tremendous force in itself, has been accustomed to take sense objects incessantly from the time we get up in the morning, until we go to sleep in the night, lulling us into the belief that all the activities of the sense organs are done by ourselves. Even though, we cannot stop these activities all together we can nevertheless limit them. For instance we can limit the activity of the eye to the seeing, without reacting to what is seen, and stop all implications that follow the contact of the eye with the object . The sense faculty’s contact (passa) with an object gives rise to a series of thought-activity such as feeling (vedana), perception (sanna), consciousness(cetana) and mind factors (manasikara)
The sense faculties are the instruments for a chain reaction of mental activity.
It is not the eye that sees, but the mind. There are three elements involved in the act of seeing , the eye , the eye-consciousness (cakkhu vinnana), and the external object(arammana). Eye is ,therefore, only an instrument for the mind to see and so are all othersense faculties. If we shut off the eye, seeing becomes inoperative. It is not the ear that hears, if we shut off the ear, hearing becomes inoperative. It is not the nose that smells , if we can shut off the nose smelling becomes inoperative. It is not the tongue that tastes, if we shut off the tongue tasting becomes inoperative, similarly all sense doors could be shut off which makes the mind silent. By shutting off the sense faculties can we control the mind ? Perhaps we may be able, at least to a greater extent. But why cannot we do it now?
In the lifestyle that we lead a force has been introduced to the mind, which has taken control of it – this force is desire (tanha), resulting from attachment or aversion . The mind is now bound by desire. Bound to this force of desire, it clings(upadana) to the object to which it has developed an attachment(lobha) or aversion (dosa), like the fire holding on to dry wood. Because of this clinging (upadana) to an object, several things take place such as, sexual desire, accept false views, believe in the presence of a self or a soul. Clinging (upadana) is intense desire (tanha),that which activates desire – a force unleashed by desire. What is desire ? It is a state of mind, created by the mind itself, using the myth of “I”, “me” and “myself”. It is the mind that has made us slaves of desire (tanha).
If it is the mind caught in the grip of desire , that has made slaves of us, the mind itself has got caught in the trap it had laid to ensnare us. As we have become slaves of the mind , by becoming dependent on it, the Lord Buddha showed us a way to escape from this slavery by freeing the mind from the chains of slavery.
The mind’s natural propensity is only to see with the eyes, and that is all, to hear with the ears, and that is all, to taste with the tongue and that is all. Similarly with all sense organs . But any act beyond just seeing, hearing, tasting etc, is done for other purposes by an uncontrolled habit to which the mind has got accustomed. We see an object and either like it or dislike it, we have made a habit of doing this. And forming of habits is the error we have committed, and it is this error, that has made us slaves to desire, which keeps us entrenched in the samsara- the chain of birth, death and rebirth. Both likes and dislikes feed desire( tanha.)
We see an object and leave it at that as the natural activity of the eye, but when we react to the object we see , we either like it or dislike it. This additive- the reaction is the work of the thoughts (vedana, sanna,cetana and manasikara) that arise subsequent to the first natural act of seeing. So it is with the objects, that come in contact with the other sense faculties. This subsequent function of reacting to seeing is what gives rise to desire (tanha) . Isn’t it now clear that this reaction to what we see is going beyond the natural function of the eye which is just seeing ?
The desire arose only after the mind, which we did not control properly through mindful awareness, was tempted by the force of desire. This force is so strong that the sense faculties, ears, nose , tongue etc. take in objects mechanically. It sees and gives rise to a series of thoughts and, as it has been repeatedly said before, if what is seen is pleasant gets attached to it or if it is unpleasant develops an aversion to it. It is the attachment and aversion, that gives rise to desire (tanha).
We have let the mind cultivate habits , and through these habits allowed the desire to infiltrate into our existence. Let us try to understand what are habits. These are the acts which we have got accustomed to doing over and over again for a long period of time without reflection allowing them to become mechanical . You introduce a new habit and eventually the mind develops a longing for it and, this “longing” is the desire( tanha) created by the habit. Initially a habit may not have been a pleasant experience. If we think of one of your habits you will observe that it was not some thing that you had willingly accepted. Even though the mind may not have liked it at the begining, once introduced the mind demands the repeated indulgence in the habit, making you get used to it, which thereafter becomes a habit of which the mind will eventually as something normal . This is the result of your giving into the minds desire for the performance of the habit. Therefore to stop a habit you should go against it , by not giving into the desire to perform it.
An habit is therefore, not a normal activity of the mind, but one that has been introduced. As you continue to go on with a certain habit you had cultivated in respect of a particular object or activity, you desire the fulfilment of that habit each time the object comes in contact with the respective sense faculty. And when a habit extends to many spans of lives in the past, it becomes extremely difficult to change it. But if one day you will have the force to say “no” to go on with a habit, its strength will begin to diminish, little by little and eventually disappear. This change of mental attitude not to give into habits, results in the diminution of the accumulation of desire(tanha). This is the way to nibbana taught by the Buddha .
The four foundations of mindfulness teach that stopping a habit is something you have to do mindfully, leading a suitable way of life, averting attachment or aversion , respectively to desirable or undesirable feelings of your own body or towards , that of others. Or to thoughts arising in the mind , or the development of mental states. Living mindfully is therefore , living a way of life counter to habits.
Living according to habits is to live without forethoughts. The mind avcts on its own according to set pattern it had been performing regularly day in and day out , mechanically without reflection. On the other hand acting mindfully is to do any activity thoughtfully weighing the consequences of the activities.
The normal activities of our sense faculties are seeing with the eyes, hearing with the ears, smelling with the nose, tasting with the tongue, feeling with the body and thinking with the mind. If one were to do these six activities mindfully, limiting seeing to see, hearing to hear, smelling to smell, tasting to taste, feeling to feel and thinking to think, desire, attachment or aversion not being gratified may cease to exist.
This breaking away from habits is difficult for the simple reason that they have taken root in one’s mind. Therefore, the mind cannot just see and stop at that, just hear and stop at that, just smell and stop at that, just taste and stop at that, just feel and stop at that, just think and stop at that, a habit takes root having existed not only in this life but also through innumerable past lives in our existence through samsara.
Both habits and each life span, are impermanent entities. But the habits become part of the mental continuum identified with the character of the individual.. Thus having taken objects through the six sense faculties the mind gives into the samsaric habit of either attachment or aversion. Because of this compelling force of habit man continues his perilous journey from one existence to another. Thus the Lord Buddha told the wise Bahia, see with the eyes without letting the mind indulge in what is seen , and similarly with what ever is taken in from the rest of the sense faculties, let not the mind get beyond the primary activity of the sense faculties The wise Bahia followed the advise of the Lord Buddha, and attained Nibbana. This is the very advise , that the Lord Buddha gave to wise Bahia that we have to follow .
But we have not the strength to do what the wise Bahia did. This is because of the weakness of our minds. When we take in an object from any one of the six sense faculties by force of habit, we invariably give rise to a series of strong thoughts connected with the object in relation to ourselves, creating attachment or aversion. The wise Bahia had an already developed mind and understood the advise of the Buddha- seeing is bare seeing , hearing is bare hearing there is nothing more to it.
As it is difficult for us to resist desire, the Lord Buddha taught us to do something different when confronted with the thoughts that have taken root as habits. On seeing think immediately of what you have seen as impermanent (anicca), unsatisfactory(dukkha) and without a self (anatma) or just impermanent(anicca), and avoid attachment to the object, and so with the rest of the sense faculties. Immediately after hearing , think of what is heard as impermanent (anicca) stop at that and mindfully avoid conflicting thoughts from arising . That is all we have to do, stay mindful, for that is the path to Nibbana. To remain thoughtfully aware in Buddhist term is to remain mindful (sati).
Mindful of what ? Mindful of what you see, what ever the object, see it as impermanent, continuously changing, subject to flux and without substance, therefore, unsatisfactory and without a self. Do so with what you hear, smell, taste, feel and think. If you continue to contemplate on the impermanence of these objects and thoughts arising because of them , the mind will not get attached to any of the objects coming in contact with the six sense faculties, nor have conflicts nor aversion. The mind is therefore constantly under survey.
But sometimes by force of habit mind may escape to follow its habitual pattern. Therefore, Lord Buddha said
Kayé kayanupassana viharati,
Atapi sampaññano satima
Vineyya loke, abiñña domanassan°
When thoughts about one’s own body or that of another arise, see it mindfully with concentrated effort, with attention, wisely (not merely saying impermanent, unsatisfactory and without self), without allowing the mind to get entrapped in attachment or aversion .
Vedana vedana passi viharati
Atapi sampaññano satima,
Vineyya loké abippa domanassan°
Feelings arising from the eye , feelings arising from the ear, feelings arising from the nose, feelings arising from the body , and feelings arising from the mind, any such feeling arising , look at them with concentrated effort , wisely, mindfully, protecting the mind from falling into attachment or aversion to feelings.
Citté cittampassi viharati
Atapi sampaññano satima
Vineyya loké abippa domanassan°
In the case of a mind with thoughts of passion, a mind with desire and attachment , a mind with anger and ill-will, watch the arising of these emotions, carefully, wisely, mindfully. Understand that the thoughts have arisen taking an object which is impermanent. Why should it be desirable and passionate if it is impermanent. When from an object which is impermanent, anger or ill-will arises, look at the object wisely, mindfully and ask why should one generate anger or ill-will towards it ? Is that not impermanent, unsatisfactory and without self ? Thinking thus remove thoughts of anger. Continue to contemplate, understanding , wisely, mindfully that the five aggregates of clinging (panca upadanakkandha) are impermanent , unsatisfactory and without self.
In the course of bodily functions notice the activities of the sense faculties, seeing with the eyes, hearing with the ears , smelling with the nose, tasting with the tongue, feeling with the body and thinking with the mind, know that in them, there is nothing else other than a series of causal activity , without a “me” or “ I”. Contemplate on this mindfully, wisely and resolutely. When continuing to contemplate on this the seven mental factors (bhojjanga) will develop and the mind will attain the sublime state of Nibbana. The five aggregates of clinging (pancaupadanakkandh)are mind made. All thoughts that arise are also mental constructions, and they are also impermanent, unsatisfactory and without self.
Contemplating according to the four foundations of mindfulness and seeing wisely and mindfully, as impermanent, unsatisfactory and without self all objects coming in contact with the six sense doors, eye, ear, nose , tongue, body and mind ,desire and attachment will be seen as the root cause of unsatisfactoriness (dukkha)
Atapi samaññana satima
Veneyya loké abappa domanassan°
The mind should be protected from getting tied up with attachment or aversion. Every thing is in a continuous flux, constantly changing and thus impermanent, and without any intrinsic value. What happens, when seeing every thing as impermanent ?
There is no food for desire(tanha), which is the result of attachment(lobha) and aversion(dosa). Desire arises from the cultivation of habits. A habit continues to exist as long as it is allowed to follow a pattern of behavior. For example one smokes cigarettes because one has fallen into the habit of smoking. But if one were to stop smoking , the desire to smoke will ware off and the habit will cease to continue. Another example is that of taking alcohol. One takes alcohol because he has taken a great liking to it, and continues to drink making it a habit . The habit has taken hold of the mind and he continues to drink. But if he were to discontinue the habit and stops taking alcohol , the mind will release its grip on the habit of drinking, and he will gradually disassociate from the habit and eventually stop taking alcohol altogether.
Similarly, you can stop any habit, by going against it, as much as you can make one by giving into it. Once a habit has been formed, the mind will continually make demands to satisfy the habit. A mind that has been made to accept a habit will demand its satisfaction automatically. If deprived the mind will yearn to taste what it has been made to taste. It is the same with feelings(vedana), the mind will look for the satisfaction of the feelings it has been made a habit to feel. These incessant demands of the mind to indulge in habits will increase desire ( tanha)
But action contrary to habits according to which the mind acts, will weaken the desire for habits, which will eventually cease to exist.. This cessation of desire (tanha) is the attainment of Nibbana. It is the result of the progress along the eight fold path (sila, samadhi, pañña) the Lord Buddha has instructed us to follow. It is not a teaching, that can be developed just by sitting. We have a weak unstable mind, like an untamed wild horse. It has become a slave of the habits created by itself . To release the mind from this slavish state, it has to be coaxed and induced to free itself from the bondage of slavery. How can this be done ? It has to be done by bringing the mind to one pointed concentration through meditation and allowing it to attain Jhana absorptions.
Jhanas are the higher states of concentration the mind can attain through meditation. In one pointed concentration (Samadhi) the mind can attain four states of purity- first ,second, third and the fourth. A mind that has absorbed into the forth Jhana is serene, calm and clear.
A mind so concentrated has been released from the habits of the past. The force here is the force of concentration (Samadhi). It is through the force of a concentrated mind trained to insight meditation( vipassana) that one can actually see impermanence (anicca), unsatisfactoriness( dukkha), and no-self(anatma). The wisdom (pañña) of seeing the reality of all things cannot be attained through any other means. A “mind that is thinking” cannot see the three signata of impermanence (anittya), unsatisfactory state (dukkha), and no-self ( anatma). On the otherhand a mind that has been concentrated through meditation after the absorption of the first, second, third and the forth Jhana will attain a state of purity to enable it to see impermanence, unsatisfactoryness and no-self and attain the sublime state of Nibbana.
Having seen this reality one should cultivates this force to protect the mind from falling back into its old habits, when seeing with the eyes, hearing with the ears, smelling with the nose, tasting with the tongue, feeling with the body or thinking with the mind, allow it instead to see the impermanence of what is seen, what is heard, what is smelt, what is tasted , what is felt and what is thought. This will bar the revitalizing of old habits and eventual destruction of desire which gave rise to unsatisfactoriness (dukkha).