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« Forum: Formless Meditation | Main | The Art of Being Present »
Monday
Mar012004

This Is the Origin, This Is the Cessation

Although most of the Pali Canon has been translated into English, and many of the translations are quite good, there has long been a need for translations available free of charge. After all, the Buddha never charged for his teachings. He taught freely, both as an expression of his own generosity and as a sign of his respect for the priceless value of the dhamma.

In early 1996, John Bullitt asked me to provide a few translations from the canon for his fledgling website, Access to Insight (www.accesstoinsight.org). What began as a casual project quickly grew to a major production as the positive response to the initial translations showed a widespread interest in the Pali discourses. In 2001, the Sati Center for Buddhist Studies offered to print these discourses for free distribution, and so the four-volume set, Handful of Leaves, was born.

I learned my philosophy of translation from my first teacher, Ajaan Fuang Jotiko, who had me translate into English the writings of his teacher, Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo, as a way of supplementing my meditation practice. When I asked him whether the translations should aim at literal accuracy or essential meaning, he replied, “Both.” And in the process of trying to meet both aims, my understanding of the dhamma was forced to stretch and grow.

The canon presents a challenge to any translator. Apart from relying on personal meditation experience, there are two approaches to understanding the more difficult terms and passages it contains. One is to check the commentaries that grew up around the canon; the other is to see how different passages in the canon throw light on one another. Although I have taken both approaches, I have favored the latter, for I feel the canon is the best authority on how it should be interpreted.

Some of my research has led me to adopt unusual translation equivalents in an attempt to convey the meaning of terms in their original context. For instance, I have rendered dukkha not as “suffering” but as “stress,” because the term is used to cover not only out-and-out pain but also the more subtle levels of burdensomeness experienced even in deep levels of jhana, or meditative absorption. Another example is Nibbana (Nirvana), which in everyday language refers to the extinguishing of a fire. The discourses show that people in the Buddha’s time felt that fire, in going out, did not go out of existence but was simply freed from its agitation and attachment to its fuel. Thus to convey these connotations along with the etymology of the term, I have rendered Nibbana as “Unbinding.” I have found these renderings useful in my own practice, and hope other people find them useful in theirs.

The following passages, drawn from Handful of Leaves, use a variety of genres and devices—poetry, similes, parables, philosophical dialogues and autobiographical accounts—to explore facets of the Four Noble Truths, which the Buddha identified as his essential handful of teachings.

~Thanissaro Bhikku

Once the Blessed One was staying at Kosambi in the Simsapa forest. Then, picking up a few Simsapa leaves with his hand, he asked the monks, “What do you think, monks: Which are more numerous, the few Simsapa leaves in my hand or those overhead in the Simsapa forest?”

“The leaves in the hand of the Blessed One are few in number, Lord. Those overhead in the forest are far more numerous.”

“In the same way, monks, those things that I have known with direct knowledge but have not taught are far more numerous [than what I have taught]. And why haven’t I taught them? Because they are not connected with the goal, do not relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and do not lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. That is why I have not taught them.

“And what have I taught? ‘This is stress ... This is the origination of stress ... This is the cessation of stress ... This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress’: This is what I have taught. And why have I taught these things? Because they are connected with the goal, relate to the rudiments of the holy life, and lead to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to calm, to direct knowledge, to self-awakening, to Unbinding. This is why I have taught them.

“Therefore your duty is the contemplation, ‘This is stress ... This is the origination of stress ... This is the cessation of stress.’ Your duty is the contemplation, ‘This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.’”

—The Simsapa Leaves, Samyutta Nikaya LVI.31

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying at Vesali, in the Peaked Roof Hall in the Great Forest.

Then Mahapajapati Gotami went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, stood to one side. As she was standing there she said to him: “It would be good, venerable sir, if the Blessed One would teach me the Dhamma in brief such that, having heard the Dhamma from the Blessed One, I might dwell alone, secluded, heedful, ardent and resolute.”

“Gotami, the qualities of which you may know, ‘These qualities lead to passion, not to dispassion; to being fettered, not to being unfettered; to accumulating, not to shedding; to self-aggrandizement, not to modesty; to discontent, not to contentment; to entanglement, not to seclusion; to laziness, not to aroused persistence; to being burdensome, not to being unburdensome’: You may definitely hold, ‘This is not the Dhamma, this is not the Vinaya, this is not the Teacher’s instruction.’

“As for the qualities of which you may know, ‘These qualities lead to dispassion, not to passion; to being unfettered, not to being fettered; to shedding, not to accumulating; to modesty, not to self-aggrandizement; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to entanglement; to aroused persistence, not to laziness; to being unburdensome, not to being burdensome’: You may definitely hold, ‘This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher’s instruction.’”

That is what the Blessed One said. Gratified, Mahapajapati Gotami delighted in his words.

—To Gotami, Anguttara Nikaya VIII.53

“Monks, I lived in refinement, utmost refinement, total refinement. My father even had lotus ponds made in our palace: one where red lotuses bloomed, one where white lotuses bloomed, one where blue lotuses bloomed, all for my sake. I used no sandalwood that was not from Varanasi. My turban was from Varanasi, as were my tunic, my lower garments, and my outer cloak. A white sunshade was held over me day and night to protect me from cold, heat, dust, dirt and dew.

“I had three palaces: one for the cold season, one for the hot season, one for the rainy season. During the four months of the rainy season I was entertained in the rainy-season palace by minstrels without a single man among them, and I did not once come down from the palace. Whereas the servants, workers and retainers in other people’s homes are fed meals of lentil soup and broken rice, in my father’s home the servants, workers and retainers were fed wheat, rice and meat.

“Even though I was endowed with such fortune, such total refinement, the thought occurred to me: ‘When an untaught, run-of-the-mill person, himself subject to aging, not beyond aging, sees another who is aged, he is horrified, humiliated and disgusted, oblivious to himself that he too is subject to aging, not beyond aging. If I—who am subject to aging, not beyond aging—were to be horrified, humiliated and disgusted on seeing another person who is aged, that would not be fitting for me.’ As I noticed this, the [typical] young person’s intoxication with youth entirely dropped away.

“Even though I was endowed with such fortune, such total refinement, the thought occurred to me: ‘When an untaught, run-of-the-mill person, himself subject to illness, not beyond illness, sees another who is ill, he is horrified, humiliated and disgusted, oblivious to himself that he too is subject to illness, not beyond illness. And if I—who am subject to illness, not beyond illness—were to be horrified, humiliated and disgusted on seeing another person who is ill, that would not be fitting for me.’ As I noticed this, the healthy person’s intoxication with health entirely dropped away.

“Even though I was endowed with such fortune, such total refinement, the thought occurred to me: ‘When an untaught, run-of-the-mill person, himself subject to death, not beyond death, sees another who is dead, he is horrified, humiliated and disgusted, oblivious to himself that he too is subject to death, not beyond death. And if I—who am subject to death, not beyond death—were to be horrified, humiliated and disgusted on seeing another person who is dead, that would not be fitting for me.’ As I noticed this, the living person’s intoxication with life entirely dropped away.

—From Refinement, Anguttara Nikaya III.39

When embraced,
the rod of violence
breeds danger and fear:
Look at people quarreling.
I will tell of how
I experienced
dismay.
Seeing people floundering
like fish in small puddles,
competing with one another—
as I saw this,
fear came into me.
The world was entirely
without substance.
All the directions
were knocked out of line.
Wanting a haven for myself,
I saw nothing that wasn’t laid claim to.
Seeing nothing in the end
but competition,
I felt discontent.
And then I saw
an arrow here,
so very hard to see,
embedded in the heart.
Overcome by this arrow
you run in all directions.
But simply on pulling it out
you don’t run,
you don’t sink.

—From The Rod Embraced, Sutta Nipata IV.15

Staying at Savatthi ... Venerable Kaccayana Gotta approached the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down, sat to one side. As he was sitting there he said to the Blessed One: “Lord, ‘Right view, right view,’ it is said. To what extent is there right view?”

“By and large, Kaccayana, this world is supported by [takes as its object] a polarity, that of existence and nonexistence. But when one sees the origination of the world as it actually is with right discernment, ‘nonexistence’ with reference to the world does not occur to one. When one sees the cessation of the world as it actually is with right discernment, ‘existence’ with reference to the world does not occur to one.

“By and large, Kaccayana, this world is in bondage to attachments, clingings and biases. But one such as this does not get involved with or cling to these attachments, clingings, fixations of awareness, biases, or obsessions; nor is he resolved on ‘my self.’ He has no uncertainty or doubt that when there is arising, only stress is arising, and that when there is passing away, only stress is passing away. In this, one’s knowledge is independent of others. It is to this extent, Kaccayana, that there is right view.

“‘Everything exists’—that is one extreme. ‘Everything doesn’t exist’—that is a second extreme. Avoiding these two extremes, the Tathagata teaches the Dhamma via the middle:

From ignorance as a requisite condition come fabrications.
From fabrications as a requisite condition comes consciousness.
From consciousness as a requisite condition comes name-and-form.
From name-and-form as a requisite condition come the six sense media.
From the six sense media as a requisite condition comes contact.
From contact as a requisite condition comes feeling.
From feeling as a requisite condition comes craving.
From craving as a requisite condition comes clinging/sustenance.
From clinging/sustenance as a requisite condition comes becoming.
From becoming as a requisite condition comes birth.
From birth as a requisite condition, then aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress and despair come into play. Such is the origination of this entire mass of stress and suffering.

“Now from the remainderless fading and cessation of that very ignorance comes the cessation of fabrications. From the cessation of fabrications comes the cessation of consciousness. From the cessation of consciousness comes the cessation of name-and-form. From the cessation of name-and-form comes the cessation of the six sense media. From the cessation of the six sense media comes the cessation of contact. From the cessation of contact comes the cessation of feeling. From the cessation of feeling comes the cessation of craving. From the cessation of craving comes the cessation of clinging/sustenance. From the cessation of clinging/sustenance comes the cessation of becoming. From the cessation of becoming comes the cessation of birth. From the cessation of birth, then aging and death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress and despair all cease. Such is the cessation of this entire mass of stress and suffering.”

—To Kaccayagotta, Samyutta Nikaya XII.15

Upasiva:
He who has reached the end:
Does he not exist,
or is he for eternity
free from dis-ease?
Please, sage, declare this to me
as this phenomenon has been known by you.

The Buddha:
One who has reached the end
has no criterion
by which anyone would say that—
for him it doesn’t exist.
When all phenomena are done away with,
all means of speaking
are done away with as well.

—From Upasiva’s Questions, Sutta Nipata V.6

“There are in the Himalayas, the king of mountains, difficult, uneven areas where neither monkeys nor human beings wander. There are difficult, uneven areas where monkeys wander, but not human beings. There are level stretches of land, delightful, where both monkeys and human beings wander. In such spots hunters set a tar trap in the monkeys’ tracks, in order to catch some monkeys. Those monkeys, who are not foolish or careless by nature, will keep their distance when they see the tar trap. But any monkey who is foolish and careless by nature comes up to the tar trap and grabs it with its paw, which then gets stuck there. Thinking, ‘I’ll free my paw,’ he grabs it with his other paw. That too gets stuck. Thinking, ‘I’ll free both of my paws,’ he grabs it with his foot. That too gets stuck. Thinking, ‘I’ll free both of my paws and my foot,’ he grabs it with his other foot. That too gets stuck. Thinking, ‘I’ll free both of my paws and my feet as well,’ he grabs it with his mouth. That too gets stuck. So the monkey, snared in five ways, lies there whimpering, having fallen on misfortune, fallen on ruin, a prey to whatever the hunter wants to do with him. Then the hunter, without releasing the monkey, skewers him right there, picks him up, and goes off as he likes.

“This is what happens to anyone who wanders into what is not his proper range and is the territory of others.

“For this reason, you should not wander into what is not your proper range and is the territory of others. In one who wanders into what is not his proper range and is the territory of others, Mara gains an opening; Mara gains a foothold. And what, for a monk, is not his proper range and is the territory of others? The five strings of sensuality. Which five? Forms cognizable by the eye—agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing. Sounds cognizable by the ear ... Aromas cognizable by the nose ... Flavors cognizable by the tongue ... Tactile sensations cognizable by the body—agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing. These, for a monk, are not his proper range and are the territory of others.

“Wander, monks, in what is your proper range, your own ancestral territory. In one who wanders in what is his proper range, his own ancestral territory, Mara gains no opening; Mara gains no foothold. And what, for a monk, is his proper range, his own ancestral territory? The four frames of reference. Which four? There is the case where a monk remains focused on the body in and of itself—ardent, alert and mindful—putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings in and of themselves ... mind in and of itself ... mental qualities in and of themselves—ardent, alert and mindful—putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world. This, for a monk, is his proper range, his own ancestral territory.”

—The Monkey, Samyutta Nikaya XLVII.7

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying at Anathapindika’s monastery at Savatthi, in Jeta’s Grove. There he addressed the monks, “Monks, I will teach you the five-factored noble right concentration. Listen, and pay close attention. I will speak.”

“As you say, Lord,” the monks replied.

The Blessed One said: “Now what, monks, is five-factored noble right concentration? There is the case where a monk—quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities—enters and remains in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal.

“Just as if a skilled bath man or bath man’s apprentice would pour bath powder into a brass basin and knead it together, sprinkling it again and again with water, so that his ball of bath powder—saturated, moisture-laden, permeated within and without—would nevertheless not drip; even so, the monk permeates, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born of withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal. This is the first development of the five-factored noble right concentration.

“Then, with the stilling of directed thought and evaluation, he enters and remains in the second jhana: rapture and pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought and evaluation—internal assurance. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born of composure. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born of composure.

“Just like a lake with spring water welling up from within, having no inflow from east, west, north or south, and with the skies periodically supplying abundant showers so that the cool fount of water welling up from within the lake would permeate and pervade, suffuse and fill it with cool waters, there being no part of the lake unpervaded by the cool waters; even so, the monk permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born of composure. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born of composure. This is the second development of the five-factored noble right concentration.

“Then, with the fading of rapture, he remains in equanimity, mindful and alert, and physically sensitive to pleasure. He enters and remains in the third jhana, and of him the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous and mindful, he has a pleasurable abiding.’ He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the pleasure divested of rapture, so that there is nothing of his entire body unpervaded with pleasure divested of rapture.

“Just as in a blue-, white- or red-lotus pond, there may be some of the blue, white or red lotuses which, born and growing in the water, stay immersed in the water and flourish without standing up out of the water, so that they are permeated and pervaded, suffused and filled with cool water from their roots to their tips, and nothing of those blue, white or red lotuses would be unpervaded with cool water; even so, the monk permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the pleasure divested of rapture. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded with pleasure divested of rapture. This is the third development of the five-factored noble right concentration.

“Then, with the abandoning of pleasure and stress—as with the earlier disappearance of elation and distress—he enters and remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity and mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. He sits, permeating the body with a pure, bright awareness, so that there is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by pure, bright awareness.

“Just as if a man were sitting wrapped from head to foot with a white cloth so that there would be no part of his body to which the white cloth did not extend; even so, the monk sits, permeating his body with a pure, bright awareness. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by pure, bright awareness. This is the fourth development of the five-factored noble right concentration.

“And furthermore, the monk has his theme of reflection well in hand, well attended to, well considered, well tuned [well penetrated] by means of discernment.

“Just as if one person were to reflect on another, or a standing person were to reflect on a sitting person, or a sitting person were to reflect on a person lying down; even so, monks, the monk has his theme of reflection well in hand, well attended to, well pondered, well tuned [well penetrated] by means of discernment. This is the fifth development of the five-factored noble right concentration.

—From The Factors of Concentration, Anguttara Nikaya V.28

“Just as if there were a pool of water in a mountain glen—clear, limpid and unsullied—where a man with good eyesight standing on the bank could see shells, gravel and pebbles, and also shoals of fish swimming about and resting, and it would occur to him, ‘This pool of water is clear, limpid and unsullied. Here are these shells, gravel and pebbles, and also these shoals of fish swimming about and resting.’ In the same way—with his mind thus concentrated, purified and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady and attained to imperturbability—the monk directs and inclines it to the knowledge of the ending of the mental fermentations. He discerns, as it is actually present, that ‘This is stress ... This is the origination of stress ... This is the cessation of stress ... This is the way leading to the cessation of stress ... These are mental fermentations ... This is the origination of fermentations ... This is the cessation of fermentations ... This is the way leading to the cessation of fermentations.’ His heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, is released from the fermentation of sensuality, the fermentation of becoming, the fermentation of ignorance. With release, there is the knowledge, ‘Released.’ He discerns that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.’ This, too, great king, is a fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now, more excellent than the previous ones and more sublime. And as for another visible fruit of the contemplative life, higher and more sublime than this, there is none.”

—From The Fruits of the Contemplative Life, Digha Nikaya 2

“One who is dependent has wavering. One who is independent has no wavering. There being no wavering, there is calm. There being calm, there is no desire. There being no desire, there is no coming or going. There being no coming or going, there is no passing away or arising. There being no passing away or arising, there is neither a here nor a there nor a between-the-two. This, just this, is the end of stress.”

—From Unbinding, Udana VIII.4

Washing my feet, I noticed
the
water.
And in watching it flow from high
to
low,
my heart was composed
like a fine thoroughbred steed.
Then taking a lamp, I entered the hut,
checked the bedding,
sat down on the bed.
And taking a pin, I pulled out the wick:
Like the flame’s unbinding
was the liberation
of awareness.

—From Sister Patacara, Therigatha V.10

Thanissaro Bhikkhu is an American-born Theravadin monk and abbot of the Metta Forest Monastery near San Diego. He has translated many books by masters of the Thai Forest tradition into English. His four-volume collection of sutta translations, Handful of Leaves, can be requested, free of charge, from The Sati Center for Buddhist Studies, P.O. Box 2021 Santa Cruz, CA 95063.

From "This Is the Origin, This Is the Cessation" selections from the Pali canon, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly, Spring 2004.

 

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