THE ESSENCE OF THE BUDDHA’S TEACHINGS - Buddhism, Philosophy, and Khmer Literature


Buddhism, Philosophy, and Khmer Literature

The teachings of the Buddha are aimed solely at liberating sentient beings from suffering. The Basic Teachings of Buddha which are core to Buddhism are: The Three Universal Truths; The Four Noble Truths; and The Noble Eightfold Path.

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Monday, June 10, 2019


Namo tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammāsambuddhassa.
(Tranquility Meditation)


In his first sermon known as Dhammacakkapavattana, meaning ‘turning the wheel of Dhamma’ the Buddha described the Four Noble Truths, which forms the heart and nucleus of all his later teachings. They also represent the essence of his teachings for those who understand these Noble Truths penetratively and vividly will become noble persons (Ariyas). Since only noble person can understand these profound truths penetratively and vividly, they are known as Noble Truths (Ariya Saccas).

Thus has it been said by the Buddha, the fully Enlightened One:
“It is through not understanding, not realizing four things, that I, Bhikkhus, as well as you had to wander so long through this round of rebirths. And what are these four things? They are:

“The Noble Truth of Suffering;
The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering;
The Noble Truth of the Extinction of Suffering;
The Noble Truth of the Path that leads to the Extinction of Suffering”
(Di. N. 18)
(a)   Four Noble Truths: (Ariya Saccas)
The Noble Truth of Suffering: (Dukkha Ariya Sacca)
What now is the Noble Truth of Suffering?
Birth is suffering; decay or aging is suffering; sickness is suffering; death is suffering; sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair are suffering; association with the undesirable and unloved ones is suffering; separation from the desirable and beloved ones is suffering; not get what one desires is suffering; in short: the five Groups of existence are suffering.
(Di. N. 22)
All living beings are subject to birth (jāti), and consequently to decay (jarā), disease (vyādhi), and finally death (maraṇa). No one is exempt from these four inevitable types of suffering.
Impeded wish is also suffering. We do not wish to we associated with things or persons we hate, nor do we wish to be separated from things or persons we love. However, our cherished desires are not always gratified. What we least expect or what we least desire is often thrust upon us. At times, such unexpected unpleasant circumstances become so intolerable and painful that what that weak ignorant folk like heart-broken lovers are compelled to commit suicide as if such an act would solve problem.
Some may argue that enjoying sensual pleasures is not suffering but happiness. Ordinarily the enjoyment of sensual pleasures is the highest and only happiness to an average person. There is no doubt a momentary happiness in anticipation, gratification, and recollection of such fleeting material pleasures, but they are illusory and temporary. Why?
If we examine sensual pleasures analytically, we shall find that they are made up of the pleasant sensations, which arise when sense-doors (eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body) are in contact with the corresponding sense-objects and the joy, which associate with greed-rooted consciousnesses that enjoy sensual pleasures. All these pleasant things dissolve soon after they have arisen. So we have to exert constant effort in order to enjoy the sensual pleasures again and again, and when we cannot enjoy it any more, we are frustrated and disappointed. Disappointment is of course suffering.
It is notable that in Sutta Pātheyya (Pāḷi 181, com. 174)the Buddha described three types of suffering:
(i)   Dukkha-dukkha =  The obvious type of suffering comprising bodily pain and mental pain
(ii)   Saṅkhāra-dukkha = The type of suffering associated with constant effort to relieve discomfort, pain, sickness, thirst, hunger, and to gratify sense-desires, etc.
(iii) Viparināma-dukkha = The type of suffering associated with changes in conditions due to unforeseen circumstances or due to the intrinsic nature of material entities and mental entities (nāma-rūpa)
Thus sensual pleasures, family happiness, social enjoyment, etc., are not real happiness for they belong to saṅkhāra-dukkha and viparināma-dukkha. This is also the reason why the Buddha said: “In short, the Five Groups of Existence are suffering.”
Now the five groups of existence are corporeality group, the feeling group, the perception group, the group of mental formations and the consciousness group. In other words, they represent all the material entities and the mental entities that constitute the body and mind of all beings.
If we can observe these entities penetratively with the mind-eye, that is, the mind associated with the right concentration, one shall observe that they are arising and dissolving very rapidly and incessantly. Therefore, they are impermanent and unsatisfactory, and what is impermanent and unsatisfactory must be regarded as suffering.
So remember that pleasure is but gilded pain and that all social unions end in separation and all sensual pleasures are preludes to suffering. All condition things are subject to decay and dissolution, and death is the only certainly.

The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering: (Dukkhasamudaya Ariya Sacca)
What now is the Noble Truths of the Origin of Suffering?
It is craving (taṇhā) which gives rise to fresh rebirths, and bound up with pleasure and lust, now here, now there, finds ever-fresh delight.
This craving is of three kinds:
(i)     Craving for sensual pleasures (kāma-taṇhā)
(ii)   Craving for existence or becoming (bhava-taṇhā)
(iii) Craving for non-existence or self-annihilation (vibhava-taṇhā)
(Di. N 22)
Craving for sensual pleasures is the desire for the enjoyment of the five sense objects.
Craving for existence is the desire for continued existence or eternal life, referring in particular to life in those higher worlds called fine-material and immaterial existences (rūpa and arūpa-bhava). It is closely connected with the so-called ‘eternity-belief’ (sassata-diṭṭhi).
Craving for non-existence is the outcome of the belief in annihilation’ (uccheda-diṭṭhi). This is the delusive materialistic notion of a more or less real Ego, which is annihilated at death.
Craving actually stands for ‘lobha’, a mental factor that associates with greed-rooted consciousness. ‘Lobha’ has two characteristics: craving or attachment. It will never give up these characteristics. It will always crave for sensuous objects or jhāna happiness. It will never give up this intrinsic nature of craving however much one may get. Even the whole wealth on earth cannot satisfy the desire of lobha. It is always on the lookout for something new. So one can never be happy by trying to gratify one’s desires. It is like looking for water in the mirage or looking for gold at the bottom of the rainbow.
Material happiness is merely the gratification of strong desires. No sooner is the desires thing gained than it begins to be scorned. Insatiate (never satisfied) are all desires.
Now it is suffering to work hard to get money and to exert effort to gratify one’s desires . And when one’s desires are not gratified, one gets the things one gets disappointed. This is again suffering. When one gets the things one desired for, one is attached to these things and plagued with worry for their safety. So one has to go through many troubles to guard them, and when they are lost, one feels very sad. The greater the attachment to the things or beloved ones, the greater the grief or despair when one loses them. Therefore, craving or attachment is truly the cause of suffering.
Now lobha is called taṇhā in the sense of desire or attachment, and rāga in the sense of craving or taint or defilement. The Buddha said:

“Nathi rāga samo aggi
There is no fire as hot as rāga.”

The Dhammapada, verse 216, states:
“From craving springs grief,
From craving springs fear,
For him who is wholly free from craving,
There is no grief, much less fear.”

Again, lobha is defilement (kilesā) and it works in unison with other defilements such as ignorance (moha), wrong view (diṭṭhi), conceit (māna), moral shamelessness (ahirika), moral fearlessness (anottappa) and restlessness (uddhacca). Therefore, the Buddha also referred to all defilements (kilesās) as the causes of suffering.
Again, when one perceives a visible object, a sound, odour, taste, bodily impression or a mind-object, one experiences pleasant feeling if the sense-object is desirable and unpleasant feeling if the sense-object is not desirable. Whatever kind of fee ling (vedanā) one experiences, if one approves of it, cherishes it and attaches to it, lust or taṇhā springs up. When taṇhā gains in strength, it becomes strong clinging (upādāna). Because of this strong clinging, one performs new action to enjoy the cherished fee ling again. Thus new kamma (kamma-bhava) arises, and when this kamma bears result in the next existence with the support of ignorance, craving and clinging (avijjā, taṇhā, upadāna), birth (jāti) arises. Dependent on birth, aging, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair arise. Thus arises the whole mass of suffering.
(Majjhimanikāya, 38)
The Formula of the Dependent Origination (Paṭiccasamuppāda) of which only some of the twelve links have been mentioned above may be regarded as the detailed explanation of the second Noble Truth. In other words, all the causes that are involved in Dependent Origination can be taken as the causes of suffering.

The Noble Truth of the Extinction of Suffering (Dukkhanirodha Ariya Sacca)
What now is the Noble Truth of the Extinction of Suffering?
It is the complete fading away and extinction of craving, its forsaking and abandonment, liberation and detachment from it. It is Nibbāna – the eternal peace and supreme bliss.
(Di. N 22)

When the cause of suffering, taṇhā, is totally uprooted and eradicated, all other defilements are also totally eradicated. Therefore, the mind is completely pure, free from all taints, defilements, inflictions and agitations. Consequently, total peace and supreme bliss exist in the mental stream. This is the matchless Nibbānic bliss, which an Arahant, perfect noble person, can experience in this very life. The eternal peace and supreme bliss f Nibbāna will last forever after the Arahant’s attainment of parinibbāna.
In Saṃyuttanikāya (XII, 43) the dependent extinction of all phenomena is described thus: "Through the total fading away and extinction of craving (taṇhā), clinging (upādāna) is extinguished. Through the extinction of clinging, the kammic process of becoming (kamma-bhava) is extinguished. Through the extinction of the kammic process of becoming rebirth (jāti) is extinguished; and through the extinction of rebirth, ageing and death (jarā, maraṇa), sorrow, lamentation, suffering, grief and despair are extinguished. Thus comes about the extinction of this whole mass of suffering.”

The Noble Truth of the Path that leads to the Extinction of Suffering
(Dukkhanirodhagāmini Paṭipadā Ariya Sacca)
What now is the Noble Truth of the Path that leads to the extinction of Suffering?
It is the Noble Eightfold Path consisting of right understanding, right thought; right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
It is also called the Middle Path, because it avoids the two extremes of

(i)  Giving oneself up to indulgence in sensual pleasure, the base, common, vulgar, unholy, unprofitable, and
(ii) Giving oneself up to self-mortification, the painful, unholy and unprofitable.

Having avoided these two extremes, the Perfect One has found out the Middle Path, which makes one both to see and to know, which leads to peace, to discernment, to enlightenment, to Nibbāna.
If one walks along the Middle Path ardently and steadfastly, one shall develop morality, mental concentration and insight knowledge into the psychophysical phenomena stage by stage until finally one attains the Path-wisdom (magga-ñāṇa) when one can understand the Four Noble Truths with direct knowledge. One then becomes a noble person called Ariyā.
{Ref: Khuddaka-Nikāya, Patisambhidā-magga, Dhammacakkapavattana sutta}

The Noble Eightfold Path is also called the Noble Threefold Training – the training of morality, the training of concentration, the training of wisdom. The eight factors of the Noble Eightfold Path can be classified as the Noble Threefold training as follows:

1.      Right Understanding
2.      Right Thought
III. Training of Wisdom
3.      Right Speech
4.      Right Action
5.      Right Livelihood
I. Training of Morality
6.      Right Effort
7.      Right Mindfulness
8.      Right Concentration
II. Training of Concentration

An initial minimum of Right Understanding is required at the very start, because some grasp of the facts of suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the path that leads to the cessation of suffering is necessary to provide convincing reasons, and an incentive, for a diligent practice of the Path. A measure of Right Understanding is also required for helping the other Path factors to fulfill intelligently and efficiently their individual functions in the common task of liberation. For that reasons, and to emphasize the importance of that factor, Right Understanding has been given the first place in the Noble Eightfold Path.
This initial understanding of the Dhamma, however, has to be gradually developed with the help of the other Path factors. In practice, the training or Morality is undertaken first, then the Training of Concentration, and finally the training of Wisdom, until the Right Understanding reaches the highest clarity of insight (Vipassanā), which is the immediate condition for entering the four Stages of Holiness and for attaining Nibbāna.
Right Understanding is therefore the beginning
As well as the culmination of the Noble Eightfold Path.
Free from pain and torture is this path,
Free from groaning and suffering; it is the perfect path.
(Majjhimanikāya, 139)

Truly like this path there in no other path to the purity of insight.
If you follow this path, you will put an end to suffering.
(Dhammapada 274+275)

But each one has to struggle for himself,
The Perfect Ones have only pointed out the way.
(Dhammapada 276)

The only Path that leads to the attainment of purity, to the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, to the end of pain and grief, to the entering of the right Path, and to the realization of Nibbāna is the Noble Eightfold Path.
(Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta)


1.      What is the Right Understanding(sammā-diṭṭhi)?
a)      To understand suffering;
b)     To understand the origin of suffering;
c)      To understand the extinction of suffering;
d)     To understand the Path leading to the extinction of suffering.
This is called the Right Understanding. (Dīghanikāya 24)

However, we should develop “Right Understanding” in four stages as described below.
a) Kammassakata sammādiṭṭhi = Understanding Kamma and its result;
b) Jhāna sammādiṭṭhi               = Understanding mental absorptions by direct experience;
c) Vipassanā sammādiṭṭhi       = Understanding the psychophysical phenomena by insight;
d) Catusacca sammādiṭṭhi       = Understanding the Four Noble Truths.

2.      What is the Right Thought (sammā-saṅkappa)?
a) Nekkhamma-saṅkappa        =The thought free from lust;
b) Avyāpāda-saṅkappa            =The thought free from ill-will
c) Avihiṃsā-saṅkappa             =The thought free from cruelty
This is called the Right Thought. (Dīghanikāya22)

3.      What is the Right Speech (sammā-vācā)?
a) Musāvādā                              =To abstain from lying;
b) Pisuṇavācā                            =To abstain from slandering or tale-bearing;
c) Pharusāvācā                          =To abstain from harsh or abusive speech;         
d) Samphappalāpa                    =To abstain from vain talk or useless chatter.     
This is called the Right Speech. (A.X 176)

4.      What is the Right Action (sammā-kammanta)?
a) To abstain from killing any sentient being;
b) To abstain from stealing other’s properties;
c) To abstain from sensual misconduct or misuse of the sense.
This is called the Right Action. (A.X 176)

5.      What is the Right Livelihood(sammā-ājīva)?
a) To avoid a wrong way of living which involves wrong speech and wrong action;
b) To get one’s livelihood by a right way of living which involves right speech and right action.
This is called the Right Livelihood. (Dīghanikāya 22)
6.      What is the Right Effort(sammā-vāyāma)?
a) To prevent the arising of evil, unwholesome things that have not yet arisen;
b) To overcome the evil, unwholesome things that have already arisen;
c) To develop wholesome things that have not yet arisen;
d) To maintain the wholesome things that have already arisen, and to bring them to growth, to maturity and to the full perfection of development.
This is called the Right Effort. (A. IV 13, 14)

7.      What is the Right Mindfulness (sammā-sati)?
a) To dwell in contemplation of the corporeality-group;
b) To dwell in contemplation of the Feeling-group;
c) To dwell in contemplation of the consciousness-group;
d) To dwell in contemplation of the mind-objects; ardent, clearly comprehending them and mindful, after putting away worldly greed and grief.
This is called the Right Mindfulness. (Dīghanikāya 22)

8.      What is the Right Concentration (sammā-samādhi)?
Concentration is the state of mind that remains fixed to a single object (Citt’ekaggatā, lit. 'One-pointedness of mind’).
The Right Concentration, according to Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta, is the concentration associated with the four rūpavacara jhānas, that is, mental absorptions in the fine material sphere.
The Right Concentration, according to Visuddhimagga, can be extended from the neighborhood-concentration (upacāra-samādhi) to the concentration associated with any of the four rūpāvacara jhāna and the four arūpāvacara jhānas, that is, the mental absorption in the non-material sphere.
{Ref: Dīghanikāya, Mahāvagga, Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta}

1 Khuddaka Nikāya, Paṭisambhidāmagga, Dhammacakkapavattana Sutta
2 Dīgha-Nikāya, Mahāvagga, Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta
3 "The Noble Liberation and the Noble Truths " by Dr. Mehm Tin Mon

Review Questions
1    What is the essence of the Buddha's Teachings?
2    Explain the Noble Truth of Suffering.
3    What is the cause of suffering? How does it cause suffering to arise?
4    What is the Noble Truth of the Extinction of Suffer­ing? By what means can we bring about the extinc­tion of suffering?
5    Why are living beings wandering round and round in Saṃsāra?
6    Explain `sammādiṭṭhi' and 'sammāsaṅkappa'.
7    Explain the Path-factors that constitute the Training of Morality (sīla-sikkhā).
8    Explain the Path-factors that constitute the Training of Concentration (Samādhi-sikkhā).
9    How should we undertake the Training of Morality?
10 How should the Training of Concentration be under­taken?

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