A Simple and Ordinary Subject Called Dhamma

A Simple and Ordinary Subject Called Dhamma

An essay in Thai by “Santinan” (Luangpor Pramote Pamojjo nowadays), 31st August 1999

It is difficult for us to see that Dhamma (the Teachings of the Buddha) is simple and ordinary.  This  is because reflection of Buddhism and Dhamma are often less than ordinary.  To begin with, the language used in Dhamma teachings is full of Pali words and contains many technical terms.  Therefore, understanding the terminology alone is a challenge to everyone.

Once we are familiarized with the terms, there is another obstacle, in that there are many volumes of the Buddha’s Teachings and an overabundance of interpretations by his disciples. In addition, when one wants to begin practicing, he will be faced with yet another challenge: there are many meditation centers and most of them suggest that their teaching methods most accurately reflect the Buddha’s Teachings on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipatthana). Some places even accuse others of deviating from the actual Teachings.

The truth is that Dhamma is extremely close to us. It is so close that we can say it is about ourselves. The Dhamma’s aim is simple – How to be free from suffering (dukkha). When we study Dhamma, we should look directly into “where suffering is, how suffering arises and how to end suffering.”

We have all faced these difficulties. And they are what led me to question myself as to whether it is possible to study Dhamma in a more simple way: without learning Pali, without reading books and without having to join a meditation center.

Actually Dhamma as taught by the Buddha is quite easy and simple, as his disciples exclaimed, “It is so explicitly clear my Lord! The Truth that You reveal is like turning an inverted object right side up.”

This should not come as a surprise because we are all born with Dhamma, live with Dhamma, and will all die with Dhamma.  We just don’t realize where Dhamma is until it is revealed to us through the Teachings of the Buddha, which provide us with a simple path to follow.

Another point to note is just how wise the Buddha truly was. He could make the most complicated topic simple and easy to comprehend. He had the ability to convey the essence of the Dhamma in a way which was most suitable for his listeners. Language was no obstacle, for he was able to communicate clearly without relying on complicated terminology. On the contrary, many people who have studied and taught Dhamma in later generations have turned Dhamma into something complicated, out of reach, and not easily applicable as a tool to end suffering. Even the language used in their teachings is difficult for any ordinary person to understand.

The truth is that Dhamma is extremely close to us. It is so close that we can say it is about ourselves. The Dhamma’s aim is simple – How to be free from suffering (dukkha). When we study Dhamma, we should look directly into “where suffering is, how suffering arises and how to end suffering.”

To be successful in the study of Dhamma means to practice until reaching the end of suffering, not about the amount of knowledge acquired or the ability to explain Dhamma beautifully!

By simply observing the body, our clinging to the wrong view that the body is “ours” will eventually fade. Then, we will see that there is some other nature (that we call mind), which knows this body and which resides within it.

The truth is that the suffering we experience lies within our body and mind. The field of study for Dhamma is actually inside of us. Instead of looking to the outside world for learning, we may look inwardly at our own selves. The method is simple: just to observe our body and mind closely. We can start by simply observing our physical body.

The first step is to relax. There is no need to be tense or to think about practicing Dhamma. We just observe our own body. It does not matter how much we can notice, we just observe as much as we can. Once at ease, we can be aware of the whole body. We watch it as we might watch a robot… walking, moving, chewing, swallowing food (adding some material thing to the body), and excreting waste.

If we can watch this robot-body which we call “ours” performs its tasks, as neutral observers we will eventually see that the body is not really ours and moves of its own accord. It is only a material object, which never stands still and never stays fixed. Even the components of this robot change constantly, with substances moving in and out all the time, such as breathing in and breathing out, consuming food and drinks and excreting waste. Thus, the body is just a group of elements (earth, wind, fire, and water) which is not permanent.

By simply observing the body, our clinging to the wrong view that the body is “ours” will eventually fade. Then, we will see that there is some other nature (that we call mind), which knows this body and which resides within it.

Once we can see that this body is just a group of constantly changing elements and does not belong to us, why don’t we try to observe that which is hidden inside our physical body. In this way, we can learn about ourselves more deeply and in greater detail.

That thing which is hidden inside of us can easily be seen. It is the feelings of happiness, unhappiness, and neutrality. For example, as we observe this robot-body moving around, soon we will see aching, pain, thirst, hunger, and some other discomforts arising from time to time. However, once the unhappy feelings pass, we will again feel happy for a time (happiness arising). For example, when we are thirsty and feeling unhappy, we drink some water and the unhappiness caused by the thirst is gone.  Or if we are sitting for a long time and begin to ache, we feel unhappy. Once we adjust the body position, the discomfort goes away and the unhappiness disappears with it (happiness arising).

Sometimes when we are ill, we can be aware of physical suffering continuously for a longer period of time. For example, when we have a toothache for several days, if we closely monitor the pain, we will discover that the discomfort arises from somewhere between the tooth and the gum.

However, these objects (tooth and gum) themselves don’t produce the pain. The body is like a robot which does not feel pain and suffering, yet the discomfort resides inside the body. We will see that these feelings of happiness, unhappiness and neutrality are not part of the body, but something that can be felt and observed within the body, just like the body itself.

From there, we can study ourselves in greater detail. We can closely observe that when physical suffering arises, it is our mind which reacts negatively.  For example, when we are hungry we get upset more easily, when we are tired we get angry more easily, when we have fever we get agitated more easily, or when our desires are not met we get irritated more easily. We can be aware of the anger that arises when faced with physical suffering.

On the other hand, when we see beautiful sights, hear pleasing sounds, smell pleasant fragrances, taste delicious flavors, feel a soft touch or a comfortable temperature – not too hot and not too cold – or think pleasant thoughts, we will feel liking and satisfaction with such sights, sounds, fragrances, tastes, touches, and thoughts. Once we are aware of pleasant and unpleasant feelings as they arise, we can similarly become aware of other feelings such as doubtfulness, vengeance, depression, jealousy, disdain, cheerfulness, and tranquility of mind as well.

If we observe ourselves more and more, we will soon understand how suffering occurs, how to be free from suffering, and how it feels to be without suffering. Our mind will rectify itself without having to think about meditation, wisdom, or the path that leads to the end of suffering.

When we study these feelings further, we will begin to realize that they themselves are not stable. For example, when we are angry and become conscious of the anger, we can detect the constant change in the intensity of this anger.  Eventually, it will fade and disappear. Whether or not the feeling of anger disappears, what is important is that the anger is seen as an object to be observed, not belonging to us. There is no “us” in the anger. We can observe other feelings with this same understanding.

At this point we can see that our body is like a robot. And the feelings of happiness, unhappiness, and all others are just objects to be observed and do not belong to us. The more we understand about the process of our minds, the more evident is the truth that suffering only arises when there is a cause. We will find that there is a natural impulse, or force within our mind. For example, when we see a beautiful woman, our mind will start to develop a liking toward her. This creates a compelling force toward that woman. Our mind will in turn wander toward that woman, seeing only that woman, and we forget about ourselves.

(Regarding the subject of mind wandering, a person who has only studied from textbooks may feel puzzled. However, if a person really gets into practice, he/she will see just how far the mind can wander, just as described word-for-word by the Buddha Himself.)

Or when we have doubtful thoughts about how to practice Dhamma, we will see that we have the urge to find an answer. Our mind will then wander into the world of thoughts. This is when we forget about ourselves. The robot-body is still here, but we forget about it, as if it has disappeared from this world. There may be other emotions inside as well; however, we might not be aware of them because our mind is busy searching for answers to the doubtful thoughts.

If we observe ourselves more and more, we will soon understand how suffering occurs, how to be free from suffering, and how it feels to be without suffering. Our mind will rectify itself without having to think about meditation, wisdom, or the path that leads to the end of suffering.

We may not be well-versed in Dhamma or Pali words, but our minds can still be free from suffering.  And, even though we still experience suffering, it will be less intense and for a shorter period of time.

I wrote this essay as a small gift for all those who are interested in practicing Dhamma in order to convey that: Dhamma is ordinary, it is about ourselves, and can be learned by ourselves without much difficulty. So do not feel discouraged when you hear people who are well-versed in Dhamma talking about theory.

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By | 2018-04-07T18:18:18+00:00 August 31st, 1999|Teachings|Comments Off on A Simple and Ordinary Subject Called Dhamma
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