Đừng làm cho người khác những gì mà bạn sẽ tức giận nếu họ làm với bạn. (Do not do to others what angers you if done to you by others. )Socrates
Khi ý thức được rằng giá trị của cuộc sống nằm ở chỗ là chúng ta đang sống, ta sẽ thấy tất cả những điều khác đều trở nên nhỏ nhặt, vụn vặt không đáng kể.Tủ sách Rộng Mở Tâm Hồn
Vui thay, chúng ta sống, Không hận, giữa hận thù! Giữa những người thù hận, Ta sống, không hận thù!Kinh Pháp Cú (Kệ số 197)
Cho dù người ta có tin vào tôn giáo hay không, có tin vào sự tái sinh hay không, thì ai ai cũng đều phải trân trọng lòng tốt và tâm từ bi. (Whether one believes in a religion or not, and whether one believes in rebirth or not, there isn't anyone who doesn't appreciate kindness and compassion.)Đức Đạt-lai Lạt-ma XIV
Tôi chưa bao giờ học hỏi được gì từ một người luôn đồng ý với tôi. (I never learned from a man who agreed with me. )Dudley Field Malone
Tinh cần giữa phóng dật, tỉnh thức giữa quần mê. Người trí như ngựa phi, bỏ sau con ngựa hènKinh Pháp cú (Kệ số 29)
Chúng ta có thể sống không có tôn giáo hoặc thiền định, nhưng không thể tồn tại nếu không có tình người.Đức Đạt-lai Lạt-ma XIV
Cuộc sống không phải là vấn đề bất ổn cần giải quyết, mà là một thực tiễn để trải nghiệm. (Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.)Soren Kierkegaard
Thành công là khi bạn đứng dậy nhiều hơn số lần vấp ngã. (Success is falling nine times and getting up ten.)Jon Bon Jovi
Dầu nói ra ngàn câu nhưng không lợi ích gì, tốt hơn nói một câu có nghĩa, nghe xong tâm ý được an tịnh vui thích.Kinh Pháp cú (Kệ số 101)

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The Art of Living

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Nghệ thuật sống - Pháp thiền do Thiền sư S. N. Goenka giảng dạy - Chương 4: Căn nguyên của vấn đề

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“The truth of suffering,” the Buddha said, “must be explored to its end.”1 On the night that he was to attain enlightenment, he sat down with the determination not to rise until he had understood how suffering originates and how it can be eradicated.

Suffering Defined

Clearly, he saw, suffering exists. This is an inescapable fact, no matter how unpalatable it may be. Suffering begins with the beginning of life. We have no conscious recollection of existence within the confines of the womb, but the common experience is that we emerge from it crying. Birth is a great trauma.

Having started life, we are all bound to encounter the sufferings of sickness and old age. Yet no matter how sick we may be, no matter how decayed and decrepit, none of us wants to die, because death is a great misery.

Every living creature must face all these sufferings. And as we pass through life, we are bound to encounter other sufferings, various types of physical or mental pain. We become involved with the unpleasant and separated from the pleasant. We fail to get what we want; instead we get what we do not want. All these situations are suffering.

These instances of suffering are readily apparent to anyone who thinks about it deeply. But the future Buddha was not to be satisfied with the limited explanations of the intellect. He continued probing within himself to experience the real nature of suffering, and he found that “attachment to the five aggregates is suffering.”2 At a very deep level, suffering is the inordinate attachment that each one of us has developed toward this body and toward this mind, with its cognitions, perceptions, sensations, and reactions. People cling strongly to their identity—their mental and physical being—when actually there are only evolving processes. This clinging to an unreal idea of oneself, to something that in fact is constantly changing, is suffering.


There are several types of attachment. First there is the attachment to the habit of seeking sensual gratification. An addict takes a drug because he wishes to experience the pleasurable sensation that the drug produces in him, even though he knows that by taking the drug he reinforces his addiction. In the same way we are addicted to the condition of craving. As soon as one desire is satisfied, we generate another. The object is secondary; the fact is that we seek to maintain the state of craving continually, because this very craving produces in us a pleasurable sensation that we wish to prolong. Craving becomes a habit that we cannot break, an addiction. And just as an addict gradually develops tolerance towards his chosen drug and requires ever larger doses in order to achieve intoxication, our cravings steadily become stronger the more we seek to fulfill them. In this way we can never come to the end of craving. And so long as we crave, we can never be happy.

Another great attachment is to the “I,” the ego, the image we have of ourselves. For each of us, the “I” is the most important person in the world. We behave like a magnet surrounded by iron filings: it will automatically arrange the filings in a pattern centered on itself, and with just as little reflection we all instinctively try to arrange the world according to our liking, seeking to attract the pleasant and to repel the unpleasant. But none of us is alone in the world; one “I” is bound to come into conflict with another. The pattern each seeks to create is disturbed by the magnetic fields of others, and we ourselves become subject to attraction or repulsion. The result can only be unhappiness, suffering.

Nor do we limit attachment to the “I”: we extend it to “mine,” whatever belongs to us. We each develop great attachment to what we possess, because it is associated with us, it supports the image of “I.” This attachment would cause no problem if what one called “mine” were eternal, and the “I” remained to enjoy it eternally. But the fact is that sooner or later the “I” is separated from the “mine.” The parting time is bound to come. When it arrives, the greater the clinging to “mine,” the greater the suffering will be.

And attachment extends still further—to our views and our beliefs. No matter what their actual content may be, no matter whether they are right or wrong, if we are attached to them they will certainly make us unhappy. We are each convinced that our own views and traditions are the best and become very upset whenever we hear them criticized. If we try to explain our views and others do not accept them, again we become upset. We fail to recognize that each person has his or her own beliefs. It is futile to argue about which view is correct; more beneficial would be to set aside any preconceived notions and to try to see reality. But our attachment to views prevents us from doing so, keeping us unhappy.

Finally, there is attachment to religious forms and ceremonies. We tend to emphasize the external expressions of religion more than their underlying meaning and to feel that anyone who does not perform such ceremonies cannot be a truly religious person. We forget that without its essence, the formal aspect of religion is an empty shell. Piety in reciting prayers or performing ceremonies is valueless if the mind remains filled with anger, passion, and ill will. To be truly religious we must develop the religious attitude: purity of heart, love and compassion for all. But our attachment to the external forms of religion leads us to give more importance to the letter of it than the spirit. We miss the essence of religion and therefore remain miserable.

All our sufferings, whatever they may be, are connected to one or another of these attachments. Attachment and suffering are always found together.

Conditioned Arising: The Chain of Cause and Effect by Which Suffering Originates

What causes attachment? How does it arise? Analyzing his own nature, the future Buddha found that it develops because of the momentary mental reactions of liking and disliking. The brief, unconscious reactions of the mind are repeated and intensified moment after moment, growing into powerful attractions and repulsions, into all our attachments. Attachment is merely the developed form of the fleeting reaction. This is the immediate cause of suffering.

What causes reactions of liking and disliking? Looking deeper he saw that they occur because of sensation. We feel a pleasant sensation and start liking it; we feel an unpleasant sensation and start disliking it.

Now why these sensations? What causes them? Examining still further within himself he saw that they arise because of contact: contact of the eye with a vision, contact of the ear with a sound, contact of the nose with an odour, contact of the tongue with a taste, contact of the body with something tangible, contact of the mind with any thought, emotion, idea, imagination, or memory. Through the five physical senses and the mind we experience the world. Whenever an object or phenomenon contacts any of these six bases of experience, a sensation is produced, pleasant or unpleasant.

And why does contact occur in the first place? The future Buddha saw that because of the existence of the six sensory bases—the five physical senses and the mind—contact is bound to occur. The world is full of countless phenomena: sights, sounds, odours, flavours, textures, various thoughts and emotions. So long as our receivers are functioning, contact is inevitable.

Then why do the six sensory bases exist? Because they are essential aspects of the flow of mind and matter. And why this flow of mind and matter? What causes it to occur? The future Buddha understood that the process arises because of consciousness, the act of cognition which separates the world into the knower and the known, subject and object, “I” and “other.” From this separation results identity, “birth.” Every moment consciousness arises and assumes a specific mental and physical form. In the next moment, again, consciousness takes a slightly different form. Throughout one’s existence, consciousness flows and changes. At last comes death, but consciousness does not stop there: without any interval, in the next moment, it assumes a new form. From one existence to the next, life after life, the flow of consciousness continues.

Then what causes this flow of consciousness? He saw that it arises because of reaction. The mind is constantly reacting, and every reaction gives impetus to the flow of consciousness so that it continues to the next moment. The stronger a reaction, the greater the impetus that it gives. The slight reaction of one moment sustains the flow of consciousness only for a moment. But if that momentary reaction of liking and disliking intensifies into craving or aversion, it gains in strength and sustains the flow of consciousness for many moments, for minutes, for hours. And if the reaction of craving and aversion intensifies still further, it sustains the flow for days, for months, perhaps for years. And if throughout life one keeps repeating and intensifying certain reactions, they develop a strength sufficient to sustain the flow of consciousness not only from one moment to the next, from one day to the next, from one year to the next, but from one life to the next.

And what causes these reactions? Observing at the deepest level of reality, he understood that reaction occurs because of ignorance. We are unaware of the fact that we react, and unaware of the real nature of what we react to. We are ignorant of the impermanent, impersonal nature of our existence and ignorant that attachment to it brings nothing but suffering. Not knowing our real nature, we react blindly. Not even knowing that we have reacted, we persist in our blind reactions and allow them to intensify. Thus we become imprisoned in the habit of reacting, because of ignorance.

This is how the Wheel of Suffering starts turning:

If ignorance arises, reaction occurs;
if reaction arises, consciousness occurs;
if consciousness arises, mind-and-matter occur; if mind-and-matter arise, the six senses occur; if the six senses arise, contact occurs;
if contact arises, sensation occurs;
if sensation arises, craving and aversion occur; if craving and aversion arise, attachment occurs;
if attachment arises, the process of becoming occurs; if the process of becoming arises, birth occurs;
if birth arises, decay and death occur, together with sorrow, lamentation, physical and mental suffering, and tribulations. Thus arises this entire mass of suffering.3

By this chain of cause and effect—conditioned arising—we have been brought into our present state of existence and face a future of suffering.

At last the truth was clear to him: suffering begins with ignorance about the reality of our true nature, about the phenomenon labelled “I”. And the next cause of suffering is saṅkhāra, the mental habit of reaction. Blinded by ignorance, we generate reactions of craving and aversion, which develop into attachment, leading to all types of unhappiness. The habit of reacting is the kamma, the shaper of our future. And the reaction arises only because of ignorance about our real nature. Ignorance, craving, and aversion are the three roots from which grow all our sufferings in life.

The Way out of Suffering

Having understood suffering and its origin, the future Buddha then faced the next question: how can suffering be brought to an end? By remembering the law of kamma, of cause and effect: “If this exists, that occurs; that arises from the arising of this. If this does not exist, that does not occur; that ceases from the ceasing of this.”4 Nothing happens without a cause. If the cause is eradicated, there will be no effect. In this way, the process of the arising of suffering can be reversed:

If ignorance is eradicated and completely ceases, reaction ceases;

if reaction ceases, consciousness ceases;

if consciousness ceases, mind-and-matter cease;

if mind-and-matter ceases, the six senses cease; if the six senses cease, contact ceases;

if contact ceases, sensation ceases;

if sensation ceases, craving and aversion cease;

if craving and aversion cease, attachment ceases;

if attachment ceases, the process of becoming ceases;

if the process of becoming ceases, birth ceases;

if birth ceases, decay and death cease, together with sorrow,

lamentation, physical and mental suffering and tribulations.

Thus this entire mass of suffering ceases.5

If we put an end to ignorance, then there will be no blind reactions that bring in their wake all manner of suffering. And if there is no more suffering, then we shall experience real peace, real happiness. The wheel of suffering can change into the wheel of liberation.

This is what Siddhattha Gotama did in order to achieve enlightenment. This is what he taught others to do. He said,

By yourself committing wrong you defile yourself.
By yourself not doing wrong you purify yourself.6

We are each responsible for the reactions that cause our suffering. By accepting our responsibility we can learn how to eliminate suffering.

The Flow of Successive Existences

By the Wheel of Conditioned Arising the Buddha explained the process of rebirth or saṃsāra. In the India of his time, this concept was commonly accepted as fact. For many people today, it may seem to be an alien, perhaps untenable, doctrine. Before accepting or rejecting it, however, one should understand what it is and what it is not.

Saṃsāra is the cycle of repeated existences, the succession of past and future lives. Our deeds are the force that impels us into life after life. Each life, low or high, will be as our deeds were, base or noble. In this respect the concept is not essentially different from that of many religions that teach a future existence where we shall receive retribution or reward for our actions in this life. The Buddha realized, however, that in even the most exalted existence suffering can be found. Therefore we should strive not for a fortunate rebirth, since no rebirth is wholly fortunate. Our aim should rather be liberation from all suffering. When we free ourselves from the cycle of suffering, we experience an unalloyed happiness greater than any worldly pleasure. The Buddha taught a way to experience such happiness in this very life.

Saṃsāra is not the popular idea of the transmigration of a soul or self that maintains a fixed identity through repeated incarnations. This, the Buddha said, is precisely what does not happen. He insisted that there is no unchanging identity that passes from life to life: “It is just as from the cow comes milk; from milk, curds; from curds, butter; from fresh butter, clarified butter; from clarified butter, the creamy skimmings. When there is milk, it is not considered to be curds, or fresh butter, or clarified butter, or skimmings. Similarly at any time only the present state of existence is considered to be real, and not a past or future one.”7

The Buddha held neither that a fixed ego-principle is reincarnated in successive lives, nor that there is no past or future existence. Instead he realized and taught that only the process of becoming continues from one existence to another, so long as our actions give impetus to the process.

Even if one believes in no existence other than the present, still the Wheel of Conditioned Arising has relevance. Every moment that we are ignorant of our own blind reactions, we create suffering which we experience here and now. If we remove the ignorance and cease reacting blindly, we shall experience the resulting peace here and now. Heaven and hell exist here and now; they can be experienced within this life, within this body. The Buddha said, “Even if (one believes) there is no other world, no future reward for good actions or punishment for evil ones, still in this very life one can live happily, by keeping oneself free from hatred, ill will, and anxiety.”8

Regardless of belief or disbelief in past or future existences, we still face the problems of the present life, problems caused by our own blind reactions. Most important for us is to solve these problems now, to take steps toward ending our suffering by ending the habit of reaction, and to experience now the happiness of liberation.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: Can't there be wholesome cravings and aversions—for example, hating injustice, desiring freedom, fearing physical harm?

S. N. GOENKA: Aversions and cravings can never be wholesome. They will always make you tense and unhappy. If you act with craving or aversion in the mind, you may have a worthwhile goal, but you use an unhealthy means to reach it. Of course you have to act to protect yourself from danger. You can do it overpowered by fear, but by doing so you develop a fear complex which will harm you in the long run. Or with hatred in the mind, you may be successful in fighting injustice, but that hatred will become a harmful mental complex. You must fight injustice, you must protect yourself from danger, but you can do so with a balanced mind, without tension. And in a balanced way, you can work to achieve something good, out of love for others. Balance of mind is always helpful and will give the best results.

What is wrong with wanting material things to make life more comfortable?

If it is a real requirement, there is nothing wrong, provided you do not become attached to it. For example, you are thirsty, and you want water; there is nothing unhealthy in that. You need water so you work, get it, and quench your thirst. But if it becomes an obsession, that does not help at all; it harms you. Whatever necessities you require, work to get them. If you fail to get something, then smile and try again in a different way. If you succeed, then enjoy what you get, but without attachment.

How about planning for the future? Would you call that craving?

Again, the criterion is whether you are attached to your plan. Everyone must provide for the future. If your plan does not succeed and you start crying, then you know that you were attached to it. But if you are unsuccessful and can still smile, thinking, “Well, I did my best. So what if I failed? I'll try again!”—then you are working in a detached way, and you remain happy.

Stopping the Wheel of Conditioned Arising sounds like suicide, self- annihilation. Why should we want that?

To seek annihilation of one's life is certainly harmful, just as is the craving to hold on to life. But instead one learns to allow nature to do its work, without craving for anything, not even liberation.

But you said that once the chain of saṅkhāras finally stops, then rebirth stops.

Yes, but that is a far-off story. Concern yourself now with the present life! Don't worry about the future. Make the present good, and the future automatically will be good. Certainly when all saṅkhāras that are responsible for new birth are eliminated, then the process of life and death stops.

Then isn't that annihilation, extinction?

The annihilation of the illusion of “I”; the extinction of suffering. This is the meaning of the word nibbāna: the extinction of burning. One is constantly burning in craving, aversion, ignorance. When the burning stops, misery stops. Then what remains is only positive. But to describe it in words is not possible, because it is something beyond the sensory field. It must be experienced in this life; then you know what it is. Then the fear of annihilation will disappear.

What happens to consciousness then?

Why worry about that? It will not help you to speculate about something that can only be experienced, not described. This will only distract you from your real purpose, which is to work to get there. When you reach that stage you will enjoy it, and all the questions will go away. You won't have any more questions! Work to reach that stage.

How can the world function without attachment? If parents were detached then they would not even care about their children. How is it possible to love or to be involved in life without attachment?

Detachment does not mean indifference; it is correctly called “holy indifference.” As a parent you must meet your responsibility to care for your child with all your love, but without clinging. Out of love you do your duty. Suppose you tend a sick person, and despite your care, he does not recover. You don't start crying; that would be useless. With a balanced mind, you try to find another way to help him. This is holy indifference: neither inaction nor reaction, but real, positive action with a balanced mind.

Very difficult!

Yes, but this is what you must learn!

The Pebbles and the Ghee

One day a young man came to the Buddha crying and crying; he could not stop. The Buddha asked him, “What is wrong, young man?”

“Sir, yesterday my old father died.”

“Well, what can be done? If he has died, crying will not bring him back.”

“Yes, sir, that I understand; crying will not bring back my father. But I have come to you, sir, with a special request: please do something for my dead father!”

“Eh? What can I do for your dead father?”

“Sir, please do something. You are such a powerful person, certainly you can do it. Look, these priestlings, pardoners, and almsgatherers perform all sorts of rites and rituals to help the dead. And as soon as the ritual is performed here, the gateway of the kingdom of heaven is breached and the dead person receives entry there; he gets an entry visa. You, sir, are so powerful! If you perform a ritual for my dead father, he will not just receive an entry visa, he'll be granted a permanent stay, a Green Card! Please sir, do something for him!”

The poor fellow was so overwhelmed by grief that he could not follow any rational argument . The Buddha had to use another way to help him understand. So he said to him, “All right. Go to the market and buy two earthen pots.” The young man was very happy, thinking that the Buddha had agreed to perform a ritual for his father. He ran to the market and returned with two pots. “All right,” the Buddha said, “fill one pot with ghee, with butter.” The young man did it. “Fill the other with pebbles.” He did that too. “Now close their mouths; seal them properly.” He did it. “Now place them in the pond over there.” The young man did so, and both of the pots sank to the bottom. “Now,” said the Buddha, “bring a big stick; strike and break open the pots.” The young man was very happy, thinking that the Buddha was performing a wonderful ritual for his father.

According to ancient Indian custom, when a man dies, his son takes the dead body to the cremation ground, puts it on the funeral pyre, and burns it. When the body is half burned, the son takes a thick stick and cracks open the skull. And according to the old belief, as soon as the skull is opened in this world, the gateway of the kingdom of heaven is opened above. So now the young man thought to himself, “The body of my father was burned to ashes yesterday. As a symbol, the Buddha now wants me to break open these pots!” He was very happy with the ritual.

Taking a stick as the Buddha said, the young man struck hard and broke open both the pots. At once the butter contained in one pot came up and started floating on the surface of the water. The pebbles in the other pot spilled out and remained at the bottom. Then the Buddha said, “Well, young man, this much I have done. Now call all your priestlings and miracle workers and tell them to start chanting and praying: ‘Oh pebbles, come up, come up! Oh butter, go down, go down!' Let me see how it happens.”

“Oh sir, you have started joking! How is it possible, sir? The pebbles are heavier than water, they are bound to stay at the bottom. They can’t come up, sir; this is the law of nature! The butter is lighter than water, it is bound to remain on the surface. It can’t go down, sir: this is the law of nature!”

“Young man, you know so much about the law of nature, but you have not understood this natural law: if all his life your father performed deeds that were heavy like pebbles, he is bound to go down; who can bring him up? And if all his actions were light like this butter, he is bound to go up; who can pull him down?”

The earlier we understand the law of nature and start living in accordance with the law, the earlier we come out of our misery.9

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