of Mind Training
Bodhi Leaves BL 42
Copyright © 1969,1991 Buddhist Publication Society
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electronic edition was transcribed from the print edition
in 1994 by Steven McPeak under the auspices of the DharmaNet
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of the Buddhist Publication Society.
you hear something about Buddhism in the daily news you usually
think of it having a background of huge idols and yellow-robed
monks, with a thick atmosphere of incense fumes. You never
feel that there is anything in it for you, except, maybe,
an exotic spectacle.
But is that all there is in Buddhism? Do the news photographers
take pictures of the real Buddhism? Do the glossy magazines
show you the fundamentals, or only the externals?
Let us see, then, what Buddhism really is, Buddhism as it
was originally expounded and as it still exists underneath
the external trappings and trimmings.
Although generally regarded as a religion, Buddhism is basically
a method of cultivating the mind. It is true that, with its
monastic tradition and its emphasis on ethical factors, it
possesses many of the surface characteristics that Westerners
associate with religion. However, it is not theistic, since
it affirms that the universe is governed by impersonal laws
and not by any creator-god; it has no use for prayer, for
the Buddha was a teacher and not a god; and it regards devotion
not as a religious obligation but as a means of expressing
gratitude to its founder and as a means of self-development.
Thus it is not a religion at all from these points of view.
Again, Buddhism knows faith only in the sense of confidence
in the way recommended by the Buddha. A Buddhist is not expected
to have faith or to believe in anything merely because the
Buddha said it, or because it is written in the ancient books,
or because it has been handed down by tradition, or because
others believe it. He may, of course, agree with himself to
take the Buddha-doctrine as a working hypothesis and to have
confidence in it; but he is not expected to accept anything
unless his reason accepts it. This does not mean that everything
can be demonstrated rationally, for many points lie beyond
the scope of the intellect and can be cognized only by the
development of higher faculties. But the fact remains that
there is no need for blind acceptance of anything in the Buddha-doctrine.
Buddhism is a way of life based on the training of the mind.
Its one ultimate aim is to show the way to complete liberation
from suffering by the attainment of the Unconditioned, a state
beyond the range of the normal untrained mind. Its immediate
aim is to strike at the roots of suffering in everyday life.
All human activity is directed, either immediately or remotely,
towards the attainment of happiness in some form or other;
or, to express the same thing in negative terms, all human
activity is directed towards liberation from some kind of
unsatisfactoriness or dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction, then,
can be regarded as the starting point in human activity, with
happiness as its ultimate goal.
Dissatisfaction, the starting point in human activity, is
also the starting point in Buddhism; and this point is expressed
in the formula of the Four Basic Statements, which set out
the fact of dissatisfaction, its cause, its cure, and the
method of its cure.
The First Basic Statement can be stated thus:
is Inescapable in En-self-ed Life
In its original meaning, the word which is here rendered as
"dissatisfaction" and which is often translated as "suffering"
embraces the meanings not only of pain, sorrow, and displeasure,
but also of everything that is unsatisfactory, ranging from
acute physical pain and severe mental anguish to slight tiredness,
boredom, or mild disappointment.
Sometimes the term is rendered as "dissatisfaction" or "unsatisfactoriness";
in some contexts these are perhaps more accurate, while at
other times the word "suffering" is more expressive. For this
reason we shall use both "suffering" and "dissatisfaction"
or "unsatisfactoriness" according to context.
In some translations of the original texts it is stated that
birth is suffering, sickness is suffering, old age is suffering,
and pleasure is suffering. In English, this last statement
fails to make sense; but if we restate it as "pleasure is
unsatisfactory" it becomes more readily understandable, for
all pleasure is impermanent and is eventually succeeded by
its opposite, and from this point of view at least it is unsatisfactory.
Now the Buddha-doctrine teaches that dissatisfaction or suffering
is inescapable in en-self-ed life; and the term "en-self-ed
life" needs some explanation. In brief, the doctrine teaches
that the self, considered as a fixed, unchanging eternal soul,
has no reality.
The central core of every being is not an unchanging soul
but a life-current, an ever-changing stream of energy which
is never the same for two consecutive seconds. The self, considered
as an eternal soul, therefore, is a delusion, and when regarded
from the ultimate standpoint it has no reality; and it is
only within this delusion of selfhood that ultimate suffering
can exist. When the self-delusion is finally transcended and
the final enlightenment is attained, the ultimate state which
lies beyond the relative universe is reached. In this ultimate
state, the Unconditioned, suffering is extinguished; but while
any element of selfhood remains, even though it is a delusion,
suffering remains potentially within it.
We must understand, then, that the First Basic Statement does
not mean that suffering is inescapable; it means that suffering
is inescapable in enselfed life, or while the delusion of
We can now move on to the Second Basic Statement, which says:
Origin of Dissatisfaction is Craving
If you fall on a slippery floor and suffer from bruises, you
say that the cause of your suffering is the slippery floor.
In an immediate sense you are right, of course, and to say
that the cause of your bruises is craving fails to make sense.
But the Second Statement does not refer to individual cases
or to immediate causes. It means that the integrating force
that holds together the life-current is self-centered craving;
for this life-current -- this self-delusion -- contains in
itself the conditions for suffering, while the slippery floor
is merely an occasion for suffering.
It is obviously impossible, by the nature of the world we
live in, to cure suffering by the removal of all the occasions
for suffering; whereas it is possible in Buddhism to strike
at its prime or fundamental cause. Therefore the Third Basic
May Be Achieved by Destroying Craving
It is self-centered craving that holds together the forces
which comprise the life-current, the stream of existence which
we call the self; and it is only with self-delusion that unsatisfactoriness
or suffering can exist. By the destruction of that which holds
together the delusion of the self, the root cause of suffering
is also destroyed.
The ultimate aim of Buddhist practice, then, is to annihilate
the self. This is where a great deal of misunderstanding arises,
and naturally so; but once it is realized that to annihilate
the self is to annihilate a delusion, this misunderstanding
disappears. When the delusion is removed, the reality appears;
so that to destroy delusion is to reveal the reality. The
reality cannot be discovered while the delusion of self continues
to obscure it.
Now what is this reality which appears when the delusion is
removed? The ultimate reality is the Unconditioned, called
also the Unborn, the Unoriginated, the Uncreated, and the
Uncompounded. We can, inadequately and not very accurately,
describe it as a positive state of being. It is characterized
by supreme bliss and complete freedom from suffering and is
so utterly different from ordinary existence that no real
description of it can be given. The Unconditioned can be indicated
-- up to a point -- only by stating what it is not; for it
is beyond words and beyond thought.
Hence, in the Buddhist texts, the Unconditioned is often explained
as the final elimination from one's own mind, of greed, hatred
and delusion. This, of course, also implies the perfection
of the opposite positive qualities of selflessness, loving-kindness,
The attainment of the Unconditioned is the ultimate aim of
all Buddhist practice, and is the same as complete liberation
from dissatisfaction or suffering. This brings us to the last
of the Four Basic Statements:
Way of Liberation Is the Noble Eightfold Path
The eight factors of the path are these:
Right understanding, a knowledge of the true nature of existence.
you will see that in this Noble Eightfold Path there is nothing
of an essentially religious nature; it is more a sort of moral
Right thought, thought free from sensuality, ill-will and
Right speech, speech without falsity, gossip, harshness,
and idle babble.
Right action, or the avoidance of killing, stealing and
Right livelihood, an occupation that harms no conscious
Right effort, or the effort to destroy the defilements of
the mind and to cultivate wholesome qualities.
Right mindfulness, the perfection of the normal faculty
Right concentration, the cultivation of a collected, focussed
mind through meditation.
But in the East as well as in the West people as a whole demand
external show of some sort, and -- on the outside at least
-- the non-essentials have assumed more importance than the
While some external features in the practice of Buddhism must
of necessity vary according to environment, the essential
and constant characteristics of that practice are summed up
in the following outline of the Noble Eightfold Path, the
Middle Way between harmful extremes, as taught by the Buddha.
Although it is convenient to speak of the various aspects
of the eightfold path as eight steps, they are not to be regarded
as separate steps, taken one after another. On the contrary,
each one must be practiced along with the others, and it might
perhaps be better to think of them as if they were eight parallel
lanes within the one road rather than eight successive steps.
The first step of this path, right understanding, is primarily
a matter of seeing things as they really are -- or at least
trying to do so without self-deceit or evasion. In another
sense, right understanding commences as an intellectual appreciation
of the nature of existence, and as such it can be regarded
as the beginning of the path; but, when the path has been
followed to the end, this merely intellectual appreciation
is supplanted by a direct and penetrating discernment of the
principles of the teaching first accepted intellectually.
While right understanding can be regarded as the complete
understanding of the Buddha doctrine, it is based on the recognition
of three dominating characteristics of the relative universe,
of the universe of time, form and matter. These three characteristics
can briefly be set out in this way:
Impermanence: All things in the relative universe are unceasingly
self, then, is not a static entity but an ever-changing flux.
This dynamic concept of existence is typical of deeper Buddhist
thought; there is nothing static in life, and since it is ever-flowing
you must learn to flow with it.
Dissatisfaction: Some degree of suffering or dissatisfaction
is inherent in en-selfed life, or in life within the limitations
of the relative universe and personal experience.
Egolessness: No being -- no human being or any other sort
of being -- possesses a fixed, unchanging, eternal soul
or self. Instead, every being consists of an ever-changing
current of forces, an ever-changing flux of material and
mental phenomena, like a river which is always moving and
is never still for a single second.
Another aspect of right understanding is the recognition that
the universe runs its course on the basis of a strict sequence
of cause and effect, or of action and reaction, a sequence
just as invariable and just as exact in the mental or moral
realm as in the physical. In accordance with this law of moral
action and reaction all morally good or wholesome will actions
eventually bring to the doer happiness at some time, while
unwholesome or morally bad will-actions bring suffering to
The effects of wholesome and unwholesome will-actions -- that
is to say, the happiness and suffering that result from them
-- do not generally follow immediately; there is often a considerable
time-lag, for the resultant happiness and suffering can arise
only when appropriate conditions are present. The results
may not appear within the present lifetime. Thus at death
there is normally a balance of "merit" which has not yet brought
about its experience of happiness; and at the same time there
is also a balance of "demerit" which has not yet given rise
to the suffering which is to be its inevitable result.
After death, the body disintegrates, of course, but the life-current
continues, not in the form of an unchanging soul, but in the
form of an ever-changing stream of energy. Immediately after
death a new being commences life to carry on this life current;
but the new being is not necessarily a human being, and the
instantaneous rebirth may take place on another plane of existence.
But in any case, the new being is a direct sequel to the being
that has just died.
Thus the new being becomes an uninterrupted continuation of
the old being, and the life-current is unbroken. The new being
inherits the balance of merit built up by the old being, and
this balance of merit will inevitably bring happiness at some
future time. At the same time, the new being inherits the
old being's balance of demerit, which will bring suffering
at some time in the future.
In effect, in the sense of continuity, the new being is the
same as the old being. In just the same way -- that is, in
the sense of continuity only -- an old man is the same as
the young man he once was, the young man is the same as the
boy he once was, and the boy is the same as the baby he once
was. But the identity of the old man with the young man, and
with the boy, and with the baby, is due only to continuity;
there is no other identity.
Everything in the universe changes from day to day and from
moment to moment, so that every being at this moment is a
slightly different being from that of the moment before; the
only identity is due to continuity. In the same way, the being
that is reborn is different from the previous one that died;
but the identity due to continuity remains as before.
These teachings are basic to the Buddha-doctrine -- the illusory
nature of the self, the law of action and reaction in the
moral sphere, and the rebirth of the life-forces -- but there
is no need for anyone to accept anything that does not appeal
to his reason. Acceptance of any particular teaching is unimportant;
what is important is the continual effort to see things as
they really are, without self-deceit or evasion.
So much for a brief outline of the doctrine under the heading
of right understanding. The second step, right thought or
aim, is a matter of freeing the intellectual faculties from
adverse emotional factors, such as sensuality, ill-will, and
cruelty, which render wise and unbiased decisions impossible.
Right speech, right action, and right livelihood together
make up the moral section of the path, their function being
to keep the defilements of the mind under control and to prevent
them from reaching adverse expression. These defilements,
however, cannot be completely eradicated by morality alone,
and the other steps of the path must be applied to cleanse
the mind completely of its defilements.
Now in the next step -- right effort -- we enter the sphere
of practical psychology, for right effort in this context
means effort of will. In other words, the sixth step of the
path is self-discipline, the training of the will in order
to prevent and overcome those states of mind that retard development,
and to arouse and cultivate those that bring about mental
The seventh step of the path is also one of practical psychology;
this is the step called right mindfulness, and it consists
of the fullest possible development of the ordinary faculty
of attention. It is largely by the development of attention
-- expanded and intensified awareness -- that the mind can
eventually become capable of discerning things as they really
The primary function of the seventh step, right mindfulness,
is to develop an increasing awareness of the unreality of
the self. However, it functions also by continually improving
the normal faculty of attention, thus equipping the mind better
to meet the problems and stresses of the workaday world.
In the Buddha-way, mindfulness consists of developing the
faculty of attention so as to produce a constant awareness
of all thoughts that arise, all words that are spoken, and
all actions that are done, with a view to keeping them free
from self-interest, from emotional bias, and from self-delusion.
Right mindfulness has many applications in the sphere of everyday
activities. For example, it can be employed to bring about
a sharpened awareness, a clear comprehension, of the motives
of these activities, and this clear comprehension of motive
is extremely important.
In right concentration, the last of the eight steps, the cultivation
of higher mind-states -- up to the meditative absorptions
-- is undertaken, and these higher mind-states serve to unify,
purify, and strengthen the mind for the achievement of liberating
In this ultimate achievement the delusion of selfhood, with
its craving and suffering, is transcended and extinguished.
This penetrating insight is the ultimate goal of all Buddhist
practices, and with it comes a direct insight into the true
nature of life, culminating in realization of the Unconditioned.
While the Unconditioned is the extinction of self, it is nevertheless
not mere non-existence or annihilation, for the extinction
of self is nothing but the extinction of a delusion. Every
description of the Unconditioned must fail, for it lies not
only beyond words but beyond even thought; and the only way
to know it is to follow the Noble Eightfold Path to its end.
This, then, is the original Buddhism; this is the Buddhism
of the Noble Eightfold Path, of the path that leads from the
bondage of self to liberating insight into reality.
A. Bullen was one of the pioneers of the Buddhist movement in
Australia. He was the first president of the Buddhist Society
of Victoria when it was established in 1953 and one of the first
office-bearers of the executive committee of the Buddhist Federation
of Australia. He was also a co-editors of the Buddhist journal
Metta. He passed away in 1984 at the age of 76.
His other publications issued by BPS are A Technique of
Living (Wheel No. 226/230) and "Action and Reaction in
Buddhist Teaching" in Kamma and Its Fruit (Wheel No.
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