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Pali Canon - Dhammapada Chapters 14 and 20

by Sangharakshita

Seminar held at Vinehall - April 1981

The Dhammapada Chapters 14 and 20
Present: Johnny Baker, Brian Duff, Mark Bowden, Bob Jones, Cieron Saunders, Mike
Scherke, Murray Wright, Pete Shann, Andy Friends, Clive Pomfret.
S: In the course of these nine days we're going to do nine chapters from the Dhammapada, the
three miscellaneous chapters, chapters which I so far haven't translated. We're going to use
Buddhadatta's translation, but perhaps in the course of the nine days the rudiments of a
translation will emerge to be added to those chapters I've already done. The three chapters
have been deliberately chosen or purposefully chosen. We're going to do the Buddhavagga,
the Maggavagga and the Sukhavagga, that is to say the chapter on the Buddha, the chapter on
the Path and the chapter on Happiness and these will be dealing roughly and approximately
with the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. Because the Buddha is clearly the Buddha,
though there is other material in that chapter as we will discover. The Dharma is of course a
path and if we're not happy we can hardly be said to live in the Sangha at all. Sukhavagga
meaning the of Happiness or Chapter of Happiness. So these three chapters we can take as
concerning the Buddha, the Path and Happiness. We're really concerned with the Buddha the
Dharma and Sangha, so we'll be looking at them in that sort of light. We'll go through them
verse by verse, trying to understand each verse in turn, quite thoroughly and considering any
incidental or associated or even loosely connected questions that arise from time to time.
14 Buddhavagga. The enlightened One. v 179"Whose conquest is not to be undone, whom not even a bit of those conquered passions
follow, that Awakened One whose sphere is endless, by what path will you trace him, that
Pathless one?"
S: So we're concerned in this chapter with the Buddha and this particular verse makes various
statements about the Buddha. It says for instance, that "this conquest is not to be undone", it
says that "not even a bit of the conquered passion follows Him", it says that "his sphere is
endless" that "his path cannot be traced", that he is "A pathless one". so these various
statements made about the Buddha... so lets take them one by one in the order in which they
are made. "Whose conquest is not to be undone" Conquest of what? The verse itself tells you
in the next line, yes the translation says "passions". The word is assa. I looked it up in the
dictionary but unfortunately for some reason or other, the dictionary doesn't contain the word,
maybe because it is a very common word. But assa is the same as the Sanskrit asa, which
means hope, expectations and therefore desire. So ii is not quite desire in the straightforward
sense, it is a sort of looking forward to the next [2] thing because you're not satisfied with the
thing that you've actually got it is something more like that. Although assa is usually
translated as Hope it is much more like yearning and therefore in a sense craving. It comes
very close to tanha or trsna, thirst or craving. So the first line speaks of the Buddha as having
conquered yearning and therefore in a sense craving, thirst hope desire that is to say neurotic
desire and it makes the further statement that His conquest or that conquest is not to be
undone that is to say it is not to be reversed. So what does that tell you about the Buddha
more specifically? What does it tell you about the conquest of these hopes, these expectations
these cravings?
Mark: It's compete and utter.
S: It is complete and utter, but what is people's view and experience with regard to these
Mark: they recur.
S: they recur, for instance in connection with meditation, what do you usually find? You find
that-if the mind is disturbed by .a definite craving it is quite impossible for you to meditate..
but in the course of the meditation, in the course of the jhana experience, what do you find?
with regard to craving?
Murray: It is temporarily suspended.
S: It is temporarily-suspended. so you can have a quite blissful, quite ecstatic, quite
concentrated, quite calm experience of the dhyanas, but after the immersion in the jhana state
what usually happens?
v: Those states recur
S: Those cravings recur. So can you say that they've been really conquered? You can't for to
conquer them means that they've been destroyed at root. So the question arises, well several
questions arise.. one is how do you in fact destroy the cravings at the root so that they don't
recur, so that they don't re-emerge? and if they do re-emerge or recur after even the
experience of the dhyana states what is the purpose, what is the function of these dhyana
states? could one not even dispense with them? So first of all with regards to cutting at the
root of these cravings... what is it that cuts at the root and that conquers them finally?
v: When you see through them, see that they don't really conduce to happiness.
S: When you really see through them, not in any intellectual not in a theoretical way, well
what is the term?
v: Wisdom, Vipassana
S: Vipassana. So therefore the dhyana experience, the samatha experience is not enough.
There the cravings or the negative emotions of any kind are simply suspended, you're free
from them for the time being. But it's only by virtue of some genuine insight into the nature of
these states in themselves, of your own mind of yourself or can say of Reality that they are
finally and permanently transcended. But what then is the function of the dhyanas?
Murray: That is your mental state in the sense of the Hindrances.
S: Yes... but what's the function or purpose of the dhyana in relation to the insight
experience? why not just develop insight? I mean some people even say this they maintain
that there is no need to experience the dhyanas
v: Does it provide you with an incentive to develop that insight?
Brian: Is it not more that it actually integrates you makes you strong enough to contain the
S: Ah yes! Because there's a very great deal of difference between insight and ordinary
theoretical understanding. I mean people's ordinary theoretical understanding is very weak, its
usually very weak because they are not able to concentrate, there's no energy behind it. So in
order really to be able to concentrate, really to be able to see the truth of things you need all
your energies together, you need all your energies behind that, effort behind that thrust as it
were. And meditation you can say from one point of view at least, dhyana experience from
one point of view at least is just the bringing together of all those energies into a concentrated
focus of attention, so that you can then really see. That to think about things in a scattered sort
of way, as we usually do, that isn't enough. So its through the dhyana experience that the
mind is made sufficiently concentrated, sufficiently one-pointed to be able to penetrate
through into the truth of insight. So therefore, even though its only by means of insight that
you achieve the final conquest of the cravings, the dhyana experience mobilizes your energies
for that particular purpose, So you can see from this that the dhyanas are necessary and as
important as insight itself in the long run. Some schools do speak of a "dry" insight, that is to
say insight which is not, so to speak, moistened by the experience of the dhyanas, but this
seems to be a purely theoretical possibility, not an actual possibility at all.
Murray: Do you know what happens to these people who go on to these Vipassana courses? I
met one or two at the LBC who claimed in all seeming honesty that they had had powerful
experiences of one sort of another during this Vipassana,...no sort of dhyana-based meditation
at all.
S: Yes ... well there are different methods of so-called vipassana meditation (karamargis?]...
this particular tradition has become popular over the last 30/40 years, especially the last 20years and there are quite a number of different teachers and it is taught in a number of
different ways. Some more rigorous and other less rigorous. But broadly speaking what seems
to have happened is that most of these teachers or some of these teachers still place great
emphasis on isolation. You don't meditate with other people in a group, you meditate in your
own room or in your own cell. You observe silence and they cut down on sleep, they
systematically and deliberately reduce sleep and you have long hours of meditation that is to
say the vipassana practises and you don't usually see anybody except the instructor. A
prominent feature of quite a lot of the Vipassana techniques is paying attention to your
movements, which is of course Buddhist practice, being aware of one's bodily movements,
feelings... But they seem to do it in rather a peculiar way. Instead of remaining continuously
aware of the whole flow of movement, they break the movement up into discrete bits, into a
series of jerks almost. And this breaks up the flow of attention also.. And this seems to have a
sort of breaking-down effect on the whole personality. Do you see the sort of thing I mean?
For instance, you can sort of move your hand and you're quite aware, you're quite mindful that
you are moving your hand, so there is the natural spontaneous movement ...

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