Translated from the Thai by Bhikkhu Punno
For more information:
c/o Suan Mokh
Surat Thani 84110
First electronic edition: September 1996
Transcribed directly from disks provided by Santikaro Bhikkhu
Formatting & Proofreading: Scott Oser <[email protected]>
This electronic edition is offered
FOR FREE DISTRIBUTION ONLY
by arrangement with the Dhammadana Foundation.
This text is a gift of Dhamma. You may print this file for your
personal use, and you may make and distribute unaltered copies
of this file, provided that you charge no fees of any kind for
its distribution. Otherwise, all rights reserved.
* * * * * * * *
- General Information
- Editor's Preface
- Translator's Note
- On Voidness
- No Religion
- About the Author
* * * * * * * *
Other books by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu:
Handbook For Mankind
Mindfulness With Breathing: Unveiling the Secrets of Life
Buddha-Dhamma For Students
Keys to Natural Truth
Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree: The Buddha's Teaching on Voidness
The Buddha's Doctrine of Not-Self
The First Ten Years of Suan Mokkh
Christianity & Buddhism
Practical Dependent Origination
Why Were You Born?
FOR FREE DISTRIBUTION ONLY
"The gift of Dhamma surpasses all other gifts."
Buddha-Dhamma Meditation Center
8910 S. Kingery Highway
Hinsdale, IL 60521 USA
With help from:
The Buddhadasa Foundation
The Dhamma-Sabha Foundation
The Foundation for the Long Life of Buddhism
Copyright The Dhammadana Foundation, 1993
Permission to reprint in part or in whole will be granted upon written
request. This electronic version is available with the gracious
permission of the Dhammadana Foundation.
Please write to:
c/o Suan Mokkh
Surat Thani 84110
Many of Buddhadasa's writings are available from Wisdom Publications
(Boston, MA). Others may be obtained by contacting the Buddha-Dhamma
Meditation Center or the Dhammadana Foundation at the above addresses.
* * * * * * * *
On the occasion of this year's centennial of Chicago's 1893
Parliament of the World's Religions, the Buddha-Dhamma Meditation
Center of Hinsdale, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago) has chosen to
reprint "No Religion" for free distribution during and after this
year's Parliament. It is offered as a small contribution to the
discussions in Chicago, particularly because the author cannot be
present, and in hope that friends from other religions will appreciate
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu's emphasis on attachment and voidness.
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu sincerely believes that world peace is
possible, if humanity would only conquer the selfishness which is the
cause of all our conflicts and troubles. Moreover, he insists that
the world's religions are the most important vehicles for propagating
unselfishness. In this book, he digs into the heart of selfishness,
namely, attachment to "I" and "mine," and points to the unselfish
remedy. We hope that readers will find it useful in their own
spiritual lives and in our common search for lasting peace.
"No Religion" was originally a talk given to a Bangkok Buddhist
group in 1967. It was translated by Bhikkhu Punno in the mid-70's and
published in Bangkok, but has been long out-of-print. The manuscript
has been newly revised for the current edition.
The original talk was delivered spontaneously and informally.
While on some occasions Buddhadasa Bhikkhu prefers a more formal
style, when speaking with Dhamma friends and students he prefers to be
informal. We have tried to maintain some of the flavor of the talk's
style, for example, by using contractions and retaining some Thai
The Venerable Ajarn was speaking to a group which is already
familiar with the Lord Buddha's teaching and the Venerable Ajarn's way
of explaining it. Thus, he took for granted a certain familiarity with
key Buddhist terms and principles. Therefore, the translator and
editor have interpolated explanations into the text where we felt it
was necessary for the understanding of readers unfamiliar with the
Venerable Ajarn's style of teaching, which was particularly terse in
this talk. We have done our best to be sparing with these additions,
merely trying to bridge the gap between the original audience of the
talk and subsequent readers of this book, including non-Buddhists.
The Venerable Ajarn's talks usually contain a healthy dose of terms
from Pali, the scriptural language of Theravada Buddhism. We have
used easily understandable translations to the best of our ability.
Many of the terms are explained in the text and become clear as they
are used repeatedly, for example, suffering (dukkha), attachment
(upadana), and not-self (anatta). A small glossary is provided to
explain those terms which may need further explanation.
The Venerable Ajarn assumed that his audience was familiar
with the principle of not-self; however, this may be unfamiliar to
non-Buddhist readers. From the highest to the lowest forms and
phenomena of nature, nothing can be found which is truly a self, that
is, a lasting, separate, individual being. All things--except for
Nibbana--are transient, conditioned, inherently unstable, and
liable to decay. Thus, everything is not-self (anatta) and void of
inherent selfhood. Although this fact isn't explained directly in the
talk, there are numerous examples which should help readers to deepen their
understanding of this key aspect of reality.
As the venerable Ajarn was speaking to a Thai Buddhist
audience, he refers to Thailand's most prominent religions: Buddhism,
Islam, and Christianity. (Since the reading audience is much broader,
we have added references to other world religions.) The central
religious term in Thailand, as in much of South and Southeast Asia, is
"Dhamma" or "Dharma." We have retained it in this edition, rather
than using English translations, for two reasons. First, no English
translation captures the full richness and depth of "Dhamma." Second,
English terms tend to be colored and confounded by the cultures and
religions which have produced them and which, in turn, distort the
religious sensibilities of other cultures and languages.
In the original talk, all citations from scripture, both
Buddhist and Christian, were from memory and in loose paraphrase. For
this book, however, all quotes from the Bible have been copied from
Revised Standard Edition of the American Bible Society. All footnotes
are by the translator and editor.
Finally, special thanks to the Center for the Long Life of
Buddhism of Wat Cholapratan Rangsarit (Nontaburi) for the use of their
Macintosh, to Phra Jaran Aranyadhammo for teaching me how to use it,
and to Phra Surasak Surayano for organizing layout and printing.
Thanks and blessings also to the many people, both in Chicago and
Bangkok, whose gifts of knowledge, time, energy, and funds made this
Inevitably, some mistakes will be found in the
present edition. All comments, corrections, and criticisms will be
cheerfully welcomed. May all beings realize the best thing that
life has to offer--the lasting peace of voidness.
25 July 1993
* * * * * * * *
A key expression used in all of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu's talks to
grab the attention of Thai audiences is "tua-goo." Tua-goo" must be
translated as "I", but the full connotations of the Thai word does not
come through. Thai has literally dozens of forms for the first person
pronoun. Of these, "tua-goo" is one of the most colloquial and in
many cases is considered vulgar. Its use often implies anger on the
part of the speaker. Its frequent use by the Venerable Ajarn strikes
the audience with great impact. This impact is felt on many levels.
When he says "Suffering is caused by attachment to tua-goo" or
requests us to eliminate tua-goo, it leads the listener to see how
the ego is an emotional reaction to stimuli and how selfishness always
results from it. Finally, the listener may realize that ego is
basically a misconception and illusion. Hence, the Venerable Ajarn's
use of the word "tua-goo" can often startle the listener into a new
perspective, something that could never happen if he were to use any
of the more neutral first person pronouns. As English has only one
form of the first person singular pronoun, all of these many shades of
meaning are lost in translation. The translator has resorted to using
as many different words as possible ("I", "self", "ego", etc.) in the
hope that perhaps one of them will stimulate the reader to a fresh
view of himself or herself.
* * * * * * * *
Do work of all kinds with a mind that is void
And to the voidness surrender all of the fruits;
Eat the food of voidness as the holy ones do,
You'll have died to yourself from the very start.
* * * * * * * *
27 January 1967
Suan Usom Foundation, Bangkok
I didn't come here today to give any formal sermon or lecture,
but to have an informal chat among friends. I hope that you all agree
to this, so that we can speak and listen to each other without
formality and rituals, even if our talk here becomes somewhat
different or unusual. Further, I intend to speak only about the most
essential matters, important topics which people consider to be
profound. Therefore, if you don't listen carefully you may find it
difficult to follow and might misunderstand, especially those of you
who haven't heard the previous talks in this series. (As a matter of
fact, it's also difficult for me, for with each new talk I must
maintain a connection with the previous ones.)
The last talk was called "What To Do To Be Void." This time I
intend to talk about "No Religion." If you find the subject strange
or incomprehensible, or if don't agree, please take the time to think
it over. But remember, it isn't necessary to believe or subscribe to
what I say right away.
When we meet together like this, I feel there is something
which prevents us from understanding each other and this thing is
simply the problem of language itself. You see, there are two kinds
of language. One is the conventional language that ordinary people
speak, what I call "people language."
People language is used by the ordinary people who don't
understand Dhamma very well and by those worldly people who are so
dense that they are blind to everything but material things. Then,
there is the language which is spoken by those who understand reality
(Dhamma), especially those who know and understand reality in the
ultimate sense. This is another kind of language. Sometimes, when
only a few words or even just a few syllables are uttered, the
ordinary listener finds Dhamma language paradoxical, completely
opposite to the language he speaks. We can call it "Dhamma language."
You always must take care to recognize which language is being spoken.
People who are blind to the true reality (Dhamma) can speak only
people language, the conventional language of ordinary people. On the
other hand, people who have genuinely realized the ultimate truth
(Dhamma) can speak either language. They can handle people language
quite well and are also comfortable using Dhamma language, especially
when speaking among those who know reality, who have already realized
the truth (Dhamma). Amongst those with profound understanding, Dhamma
language is used almost exclusively, unfortunately, ordinary people
can't understand a word. Dhamma language is understood only by those
who are in the know. What is more, in Dhamma language it isn't even
necessary to make a sound. For example, a finger is pointed or an
eyebrow raised and the ultimate meaning of reality is understood. So,
please take interest in these two kinds of language--people
language and Dhamma language.
To illustrate the importance of language, let us consider the
following example. Ordinary, ignorant worldly people are under the
impression that there is this religion and that religion, and that
these religions are different, so different that they're opposed to
each other. Such people speak of "Christianity," "Islam," "Buddhism,"
"Hinduism," "Sikhism," and so on, and consider these religions to be
different, separate, and incompatible. These people think and speak
according to their personal feelings and thus turn the religions into
enemies. Because of this mentality, there come to exist different
religions which are hostilely opposed to each other.
Those who have penetrated to the essential nature of religion
will regard all religions as being the same. Although they may say
there is Buddhism, Judaism, Taoism, Islam, or whatever, they will also
say that all religions are inwardly the same. However, those who have
penetrated to the highest understanding of Dhamma will feel that the
thing called "religion" doesn't exist after all. There is no
Buddhism; there is no Christianity; there is no Islam. How can they
be the same or in conflict when they don't even exist? It just
isn't possible. Thus, the phrase "No religion!" is actually
Dhamma language of the highest level. Whether it will be understood
or not is something else, depending upon the listener, and has
nothing to do with the truth or with religion.
I'd like to give a simple example of people language, the
language of materialism. "Water" will suffice. A person who don't
know much about even the simplest things thinks that there are many
different kinds of water. They view these various kinds of water as
if they have nothing in common. They distinguish rain-water,
well-water, underground-water, canal-water, swamp-water, ditch-water,
gutter-water, sewer-water, toilet-water, urine, diarrhea, and many
other kinds of water from each other. Average people will insist that
these waters are completely different, because such people take
external appearances as their criteria.
A person with some knowledge, however, knows that pure
water can be found in every kind of water. If you take rain-water and
distill it, you will get pure water. If you take river-water and
distill it, you will get pure water. If you take canal-water,
sewer-water, or toilet-water, and distill it, you will still get pure
water. A person with this understanding knows that all those
different kinds of water are the same as far as the water component is
concerned. As for those elements which make it impure and look
different, they aren't the water itself. They may combine with water,
and alter water, but they are never water itself. If we look through
the polluting elements, we can see the water that is always the same,
for in every case the essential nature of water is the same. However
many kinds of water there may seem to be, they are all the same as far
as the essential nature of water is concerned. When we look at things
from this viewpoint, we can see that all religions are the same. If
they appear different it's because we are making judgments on the
basis of external forms.
On an even more intelligent level, we can take that pure water
and examine it further. Then, we must conclude that there is no
water, only two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. There's no water
left. That substance which we have been calling "water" has
disappeared, it's void. The same is true everywhere, no matter where
we find the two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen. In the sky,
in the ground, or wherever these parts happen to be found, the state
of water has disappeared and the term "water" is no longer used. For
one who has penetrated to this level of truth, there is no such thing
In the same way, one who has attained to the ultimate truth
sees that there is no such thing as religion. There is only a certain
nature which can be called whatever we like. We can call it "Dhamma,"
we can call it "Truth," we can call it "God," "Tao," or whatever we
like, but we shouldn't particularize that "Dhamma" or that "Truth" as
Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Judaism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, or
Islam, for we can neither capture nor confine it with labels or
concepts. Still, such divisions occur because people haven't yet
realized this nameless truth for themselves. They have only reached
the external levels, just as with canal-water, muddy water, and the
The Buddha intended for us to understand and be able to see
that there is no person, that there is no separate individual, that
there are only dhammas or natural phenomena. Therefore, we shouldn't
cling to the belief that there is this religion and that religion. We
added the labels "Buddhism," "Islam," and "Christianity" ourselves,
long after the founders lived. None of the great religious teachers
ever gave a personal name to their teachings, like we do today. They
just went about teaching us how we should live.
Please try to understand this correctly. When the final level
is reached, when the ultimate is known, not even man exists. There
is only nature, only Dhamma. This reality can't be considered to be
any particular thing; it can't be anything other than Dhamma. It
can't be Thai, Chinese, Indian, Arab, or European. It can't be black,
brown, yellow, red, or white. It can't be eastern or western,
southern or northern. Nor can it be Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, or
anything else. So please try to reach this Dhamma, for then you will
have reached the heart of all religions and of all things, and finally
come to the complete cessation of suffering.
Although we call ourselves "Buddhists" and profess Buddhism,
we haven't yet realized the truth of Buddhism, for we are acquainted
with only a tiny aspect of our own Buddhism. Although we be monks,
nuns, novices, lay devotees, or whatever, we are aware of only the
bark, the outer covering which makes us think our religion is
different from the other religions. Because we have failed to
understand and haven't yet realized our own truth, we look down upon
other religions and praise only our own. We think of ourselves as a
special group and of others as outsiders or foreigners. We believe
that they are wrong and only we are right, that we are special and
have a special calling, and that only we have the truth and the way to
salvation. We have many of these blind beliefs. Such ideas and
beliefs show that we are still ignorant, very foolish indeed, just
like little babies who know only their own bellies. Tell a small
child to take a bath and to wash with soap to get all the dirt off;
the little child will scrub only her belly. She doesn't know to wash
all over. She will never think of washing behind her ears or between
her toes or anywhere like that. She merely scrubs and polishes her
In this same way as the child, most of the adherents of
Buddhism know only a few things, such as how to take and how to get.
Even while doing good, supporting the temples and monks, and observing
the precepts, their only objective is to get something, they even want
to get more in return than they gave. When they make offerings, some
people expect back ten times what they gave, some a hundred times,
some a thousand, and some even more. In this case, it would be more
accurate to say that these people know nothing at all, for they are
acquainted only with how to get and how to take. That isn't Buddhism
at all. It's the religion of getting and taking. If ever they can't
get or can't take something, they are frustrated and they suffer.
Real Buddhism is to know how to get without getting and take without
taking so that there is no frustration and no suffering at all.
This must be spoken about very often in order to acquaint
everyone with the heart of Buddhism: Non-Attachment. Buddhism is
about not trying to seize or grasp anything, to not cling or attach to
anything, not even to the religion itself, until finally realizing
that there is no Buddhism after all. That means, if we speak
directly, that there is no Buddha, no Dhamma, and no Sangha!(*)
However, if we speak in this way, nobody will understand; they will be
shocked and frightened.
[* The Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha (Community) are the beloved Triple
Gem which most Buddhists cherish as the basis of their faith.]
Those who understand, see that the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the
Sangha are the same thing, that is, just Dhamma or just Nature itself.
The compulsion to seize and hang onto things as persons and
individuals, as this and that, doesn't exist in them. Everything is
non-personal, that is, is Dhamma or Nature in its pure state or
whatever you wish to call it. But we dare not think like this. We
are afraid to think that there is no religion, that there is no
Buddha, Dhamma, or Sangha. Even if people were taught or forced to
think in this way, they still wouldn't be able to understand. In
fact, they would have a totally distorted understanding of what they
thought and would react in the opposite way to what was intended.
For this reason, after the passing away of the Buddha, there
appeared many new systems of religious practice. The teachings were
reorganized into descending levels, with lower, more accessible
aspects, so that even if someone wished to make offerings in order to
gain heavy benefits in return, equal to dozens, hundreds, or thousands
of times their "merits," it could be done. This was a preliminary
arrangement so that the rewards for good deeds would be a bait to
attract people and keep them from going astray. As a starting point,
people were encouraged to hang on to the good and its rewards as much
as possible. If they continued to do so, they would eventually
discover that it was unnecessary to cling or be attached to goodness.
They would come to see that any such attachment is unsatisfying and
painful. Thus, they would gradually disentangle themselves from the
habit of attachment. This is how Dhamma leads through successively
higher levels and is why the practice of Dhamma in its earliest stage
is based on "gaining merits" to let people get something they really
like at the start.
The next step on the path of Dhamma is to voluntarily choose
to live a plain and simple life, a pure life, in which one isn't led
astray or intoxicated by anything. On this level, there is still a
sense of the "I" who is enjoying this mode of happiness, but it's a
better, more developed "I."
The next highest level of Dhamma is to not let any traces of
the "I" to remain at all. It's finished. The mind no longer has the
feeling of being "I," of being a self, and there is no way that
suffering or dissatisfaction can happen, since there is no "I" to
suffer. Suffering can't occur because this egolessness is the highest
happiness, if we speak in people language. If we speak in Dhamma
language, however, there is nothing to say. There is nothing to get,
nothing to have, nothing to be--no happiness, no suffering, nothing
at all. We call this "voidness." Everything still exists, but it's
free and void of any feeling of being "I" or "mine." For this reason
we say "voidness."
To see that everything is void is to see things as being
neither an aspect of oneself nor in anyway possessed by oneself. The
words "void" and "voidness" in the common language of ignorant people
mean that nothing exists, but in the language of the Buddha, the
Awakened One, the words "void" and "voidness" mean everything exists,
but without attachment to any of it in terms of "I" or "mine." That
there isn't clinging or attachment to things as being "I" and "mine"
is voidness of I and voidness of mine. When the words "void" and
"voidness" are used in this way, it's the voidness of Dhamma language.
To use "void" in the sense that nothing actually exists is the
language of worldly people who are trapped in their senses, is the
language of materialism, is the language of householders who know
nothing but their homes. Here, "voidness" has given us another
example of the difference between people language and Dhamma language.
We should always keep in mind this truth about language and
discriminate whether the words we hear, read, and use are people
language or Dhamma language. For example, the Buddha said, "Kill
your father and kill your mother, then you shall attain Nibbana."
"Kill your father and mother, be an ungrateful child, then you
shall attain Nibbana." The Buddha didn't mean that we should take
this literally and kill our flesh and blood parents. Instead, he
meant that ignorance is a kind of father and craving is a kind of
mother. The two give birth to ego-consciousness and subsequently all
forms of selfishness and sin. There's no reason to feel any
gratitude toward them; destroy them immediately and Nibbana is
To speak in this fashion is to use the Dhamma language
which the ordinary person is unable to understand. He must study and
inquire, think and reflect, until finally he understands. But the
Noble ones, those who have realized Dhamma already, will
understand immediately, though only a few words are spoken and
without any explanation or advice. Just one word is enough for them
to understand, without further explanation, because they know Dhamma
The words "birth" and "death" require the same discrimination
regarding language. In people language, the word "birth" means to be
born from a mother's womb. In Dhamma language, however, the word
"birth" means some form of attachment is born. This kind of birth
happens every time we allow the arising of a thought or feeling which
involves grasping and clinging to something as "I" or "mine," such as,
"I am," "I have," "I think," and "I do." This is the birth of the "I"
or the ego.
For example, think like a criminal and one is instantly born
as a criminal. A few moments later those thoughts disappear, one
thinks like a normal human being again and is born as a human being
once more. If a few moments later one has foolish thoughts, right
then one is born as a fool. If one then thinks in an increasingly
foolish and dull manner, one will be born as an animal immediately.
Whenever an attachment is felt intensely--when it burns inside
one with the heat of fire--one is born as a demon in hell.
Whenever one is so hungry and thirsty that one could never be
satiated, one is born as an insatiably hungry ghost. When one is
overly cautious and timid without reason, one is born a cowardly
titan.(*) Thus, in a single day one can be born any number of times
in many different forms, since a birth takes place each and every time
there arises any form of attachment to the idea of being something.
Each conception of "I am," "I was," or "I will" is simultaneously
a birth. This is the meaning of "birth" in Dhamma language.
Therefore, whenever one encounters the word "birth," one must be very
careful to understand its meaning in each particular context.
[* Animals, demons, hungry ghosts (peta), and cowardly titans (asura)
are the inhabitants of the "lower realms" in traditional Buddhist
"Birth is suffering." These words mean that the egoistic kind
of birth described above is always painful and ugly. That is to say,
if we allow "I" to be born in any manner, suffering occurs
immediately. If we live simply and directly in the awareness of
"not-being-I," it's like remaining unborn and never experiencing
suffering. Although physical birth has happened long ago, there is no
further spiritual birth of the egoistic "I."
On the other hand, whenever an egoistic thought or feeling
arises, there is suffering at once and the suffering always fits the
particular kind of "I" that is being born. If "I" is human, it suffers
like a human. If "I" is an angel, it suffers angelically. If "I" is
demonic, it suffers hellishly. The manner of the grasping and
clinging can change repeatedly, even being born as beasts, hungry
ghosts, and cowardly titans. In one day, there may be many births,
many dozens of births, and every one of them is unsatisfactory,
frustrating, and painful. To destroy this kind of birth is Nibbana.
Concerning death, there's no need to speak about what happens
after the people language version. Why talk about what happens once
we're in the coffin? Instead, please deal with this most urgent issue
of ego-birth, that is, don't get born and there will be no suffering.
Without the feeling of being born, there is no person anymore and all
the problems disappear with it. That is all. When there isn't
this continual being born, there is no longer a "somebody" to have
problems. It's as simple as that. The time remaining in life is no
longer an issue once we know how to experience the fact that this "I"
will never be born again. This can be called "non-birth." You may
call it "death" if you prefer.
So you see, between people language and Dhamma language the words
"birth" and "death" have opposite meanings. The same situation exists
in the scriptures of other religions, especially those of
Christianity. As a result, the Christians don't understand their own
Bible, just as we Buddhists don't understand the Tipitaka (Buddhist
scriptures). Thus, whenever members of the two meet, they end up
arguing until they are blue in the face. The quarrels are simply
unbelievable; they fight to the end. Therefore, let us
develop some understanding concerning this matter of people
language and Dhamma language.
We have discussed the word "birth" in a Buddhist context, now
let us consider a word from the Christian scriptures, such as "life."
Matthew says that Jesus Christ "surrendered his life as a ransom for
many" (Matt. 20:28). Elsewhere, Jesus said, "If you would enter life,
keep the commandments" (Matt. 19:17). These two statements show that
the word "life" has more than one meaning. In the first statement,
"life" is used in its people language sense. Jesus allowed them to
kill the life of his body, which is the ordinary meaning of "life."
"Life" in the second passage is the same word "life," but it now
refers to a life that can never be killed. It's a life which will
never know death. By this we see that even the simple word "life" can
have two very different meanings.
The word "die" provides another example. In people
language, "to die" means that the bodily functions have stopped,
which is the kind of death we can see with our eyes. However, "die"
in the language used by God has quite a different meaning, such as
when he spoke to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden telling them not
to eat the fruit of a certain tree, "for in the day that you eat of it
you shall die" (Gen. 2:17). Eventually, Adam and Eve ate that fruit,
but we know that they didn't die in the ordinary sense, the kind that
puts people into coffins. That is, their bodies didn't die. Instead,
they died in another way, in the Dhamma language sense, which is a
spiritual death much more cruel than being buried in a coffin. This
fate worse than death was the appearance of enormous sin in their
minds, that is, they began to think in dualistic terms--good and
evil, male and female, naked and clothed, husband and wife, and so on.
The pairs of opposites proliferated making the pain very heavy, so
much so that their minds were flooded by a suffering so severe that
it's impossible to describe. All this has been passed down through
the years and inherited by everyone living in the present era.
The consequences have been so disastrous that the Christians
give the name "original sin" to the first appearance of dualistic
thinking. Original Sin first happened with that primordial couple and
then was passed on to all their descendants down to this very day.
This is what God meant by the word "death"; whenever we partake of
this fruit of dualism (from the "tree of the knowledge of good and
evil") we must die right then and there. This is the meaning of
"death" in Christian language.
"Death" has the same meaning in the language of the
Buddha. Why is this so? Because both religions are pointing to the
same truth concerning attachment and dualism. Whenever
dualistic thoughts arise there is bound to be suffering, which is
death. Death means the end of everything good, the end of happiness,
the end of peace, the end of everything worthwhile. This is the
meaning of "death" in Dhamma language. Most of us die this way many
times each day.
It's called "death" because it makes the heart heavy.
It always creates a feeling of frustration and depression to some
degree, not to mention worry, restlessness, and anxiety. The more
intelligent and clever a person is, the more often one dies and the
more profound the deaths. The clever person's deaths are much more
special and creative than those of an ignorant person.
We must know how to avoid death in order to be in accord with
the teachings of the Buddha and Jesus (along with the other prophets)
The objective of Buddhism is the same as of Christianity: Don't let
this original sin overpower you; don't let dualistic attachment
dominate your heart or your mind. Refuse to let it dominate the mind
We must always be aware of the true nature of Dhamma,
that in reality there is no duality of any sort--no gain, no loss,
no happiness, no suffering, no good, no evil, no merit, no sin, no
male, no female. There is absolutely nothing at all that can be
separated and polarized into opposites. Rather than buy into them, we
ought to transcend.
The dualistic pairs are the basis of all attachment, so don't
fall for their tricks. Don't attach to any of them. Try to
understand that these things can never be seized and held onto because
they are impermanent, lack any real substance, and are not-self. Try
to go about your business with a mind that is unattached. Work with
a mind that clings to nothing and is free from all forms of
attachment. This is called "working with a void mind."
We should perform every kind of task with a void mind, no
matter whether it's at the office or at home. Even rest and
recreation should be done with a void mind, a mind that always remains
unattached and free because it's above all dualities. If we work with
a busy mind, a mind that is restless and always grasping and clinging
to one thing or idea after another, a mind that is over-burdened with
attachments, then there is suffering and we must inevitably be born in
a lowly state. The lower realms spoken of by traditional Buddhists
happen right then and there; birth as a demon in hell, as a beast, as
a hungry ghost, or as a cowardly titan takes place at that very
moment. This is the most serious problem facing humanity, it's the
most original sin, and it's death in Dhamma language. Therefore, we
should live, work, and play without attachments.
There is a short verse of mine which I'd like to discuss.
Do work of all kinds with a mind that is void
And to the voidness surrender all of the fruits;
Eat the food of voidness as the holy ones do,
You'll have died to yourself from the very start.
Some people are unable to understand this verse and they keep saying
that the author is crazy. Nonetheless, it isn't so difficult to
That we should do every kind of work with a void mind is a
warning that the busy and agitated mind which jumps into things with
attachment always becomes dark and clouded with delusion, is full of
worries and fears, and becomes gloomy and insecure. If people insist
on keeping this up, before long they are sure to suffer a nervous
breakdown or some other kind of illness. If they let these mental
diseases and related physical ailments accumulate, they end up
confined to a sick bed. Even though they may be intelligent,
talented, and sophisticated people who do important work and earn a
great deal of money, they will still end up being confined to bed with
nervous breakdowns, ulcers, and other disorders caused by insecurity
and anxiety. All of these illnesses begin with attaching and
clinging to such things as fame and money, profit and loss, happiness
and unhappiness, and praise and blame.
So, don't get involved with these things. Get free of all such
attachments and the mind will be void. The mind will be brilliantly
intelligent, as clear and sharp as possible. Then, do your work with
just such a void mind as this. All your needs will be satisfied
without the least bit of frustration or suffering. Sometimes, it will
even seem to be a Dhammic sort of fun. Best of all, working like this
is the kind of Dhamma practice which frees us from the false
distinction between practicing Dhamma at the temple and working at
home. Such a dichotomy is rather foolish; it's what happens when
people think only in people language.
According to Dhamma language, we must practice Dhamma in this
body and mind at the same time we do our work with this same body and
mind. Both work and Dhamma practice are done in the same place or the
same thing. The practice of Dhamma is there in the work; the work in
itself is Dhamma practice. In other words, to do work of any kind
without grasping or clinging is a way to practice Dhamma. Wherever
and whenever we practice non-attachment, there and then is Dhamma
Accordingly, whether we are engaged in training the mind to be
unattached and calm, or whether we are working to earn a living in
some occupation or another, if we do so with a void mind that forms no
attachments, right there is the practice of Dhamma. It doesn't matter
if we are in an office, a factory, a cave, or whatever. To work like
this without getting involved in attachments, obsessions, and ego is
what is meant by "Do work of all kinds with a mind that is void."
The result of working this way is that we enjoy ourselves
while working, and that the work is done well because our minds are
very clear and sharp then, and there are no worries about things like
money. The things we need are acquired in the usual ways and all this
without the attachment forged by grasping and straining.
This brings us to the second line of the verse which is "And
to the voidness surrender all of the fruits." When our work bears
fruit in the form of money, fame, influence, status, and so forth, we
must give it all to voidness. Don't be so stupid as to cling to these
things as "belonging to me"--"my money," "my success," "my talent,"
or "my" anything. This is what is meant by not attaching to the
results of our work.
Most of us blindly cling to our successes and so our
experiences of success increase our selfish desires and defilements
(kilesa). Let ourselves be careless for only a moment and we will fall
into pain immediately due to the weight of attachments and
anxieties. In truth, this kind of mental or spiritual pain is always
happening. Before long, if we aren't careful, the pain manifests
itself physically in the body as well. Some people have nervous
breakdowns or go insane, while others develop one of the numerous
varieties of neuroses so prevalent in the world today, even though
they may be famous, knowledgable, and wealthy. All this pain results
from the fact that people the world over have misunderstood,
abused, and ignored their own religions.
We shouldn't think that the teaching of non-attachment is
found only in Buddhism. In fact, it can be found in every religion,
although many people don't notice because it's expressed in Dhamma
language. Its meaning is profound, difficult to see, and usually
Please forgive me, I don't mean to be insulting, but I feel
that many religious people don't yet understand their own religion.
For instance, in the Christian Bible, St. Paul advises us to "Let
those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn
as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they
were not rejoicing, and those that buy as though they had no goods,
and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with
it" (Cor. 7:29-31). This passage is found in the New Testament of the
Christian Bible; anyone can look it up. It should be understood in
the same way as our basic Buddhist theme of non-attachment. That is,
if you have a wife, don't attach to having her; if you have a husband,
don't cling to having him. If you have painful or sorrowful
experiences, don't cling to them as "I" or "mine" and it will be as if
they never happened. That is, don't be sad about them. Don't attach
to joy, goods, and worldly dealings, either.
Unfortunately, the fact is that most people--whatever their
religion--are dominated by these things. They let themselves
suffer intolerably over such matters until finally they go insane or
commit suicide. But those of us who follow St. Paul's advice can go
on as if nothing had happened. That kind of suffering doesn't happen
to us, we remain fine. We buy things without taking anything home,
which means we never get attached to what we buy and take home. We
bought it, we brought it home, but it's like we didn't buy anything,
because we don't give birth to the thought that we possess something.
This is how to buy and live as though having no goods, but if
you discuss this passage with some Christians, you will find that they
don't understand it at all. Even some of the clergy, the teachers of
their religion, couldn't explain to me correctly how to practice in
accordance with St. Paul's instructions. Their explanations were
vague and obscure. They beat around the bush and don't give any
practical interpretation of the passage. In fact, this passage has
the same meaning as "Do work of all kinds with a mind that is void and
to the voidness surrender all of the fruits," which, of course, many
Buddhists don't understand either.
The third line of the verse is "Eat the food of voidness as
the holy ones do." Here, some people might ask, "Then, what do we
eat?" If everything is void or given away to the voidness, what will
there be to eat? The answer is to eat food that belongs to voidness,
the same way that the Noble Ones do. We work with a void mind and turn
all the rewards over to voidness. Voidness then stockpiles it all and
preserves it safely. When it's time to eat, we can eat from the stock
of voidness, too.
If you earn a million dollarsfrom your work and store it in a safe or
the bank, offer it to voidness and don't think "it's mine, it belongs
to me!" When you spend the money, do so with the same void mind.
Simply use the money to buy some food to eat, or whatever we need to
consume. This is what is meant by "Eat the food of voidness as the
holy ones do."
In this line, "holy ones" means those who understand deeply
and have no attachments. We ourselves ought to eat in the same way
that these liberated ones eat. The Buddha ate food and all the
enlightened disciples ate food. So, we aren't saying that a Buddha
doesn't have to eat food anymore, but from whomever he gets his
food, it's always the food of voidness, for it's received and eaten
without any feelings of possession or attachment. And yet, a Buddha
always has more than enough to eat. This is the meaning of "Eat the
food of voidness as the holy ones do."
We can do the same. When we give all the rewards of our work
to voidness, they don't disappear. Nothing is lost. Physically, in
worldly terms, everything is still there. It's stored and protected
in the usual ways and the law still recognizes that it belongs to us.
If someone tries to snatch it away, we can battle to protect our
rights in court, but always with the same void mind. That is, we
needn't get angry or upset, we needn't suffer, we needn't feel
personally involved, we needn't attach. In fact, with complete
non-attachment we will be able to argue our case even better. We
needn't create any problems for ourselves, things won't become
complicated and difficult, and we will be able to protect our rights
To pursue this point a little further: even when caught in an
argument or involved in a lawsuit we should be restrained and mindful
at all times so that the mind is free of attachment. Take care not to
be attached or emotionally involved. In other words, first make sure
the mind is void, then argue and fight out the case to the finish. In
this way, we will have the advantage. Our side will debate more
cleverly, will argue more skilfully, and will experience a higher
level of victory.
Even in cases when we are forced to be insulting, use the
usual words but do so with a void mind. This may sound funny and
hopelessly impractical, but it really is possible. The word "void"
includes such strange aspects; they are all implications of working
with a void mind, willingly giving all that we get to voidness, and
always eating food from the pantry of voidness.
The fourth, final, and most important line of the verse is
"You'll have died to yourself from the very start." We already have
died to ourselves--that precious inner "me" is gone--from the
very first moment. This means that when we re-examine the past and
reflect upon it with clarity, mindfulness, and wisdom, we will know
for a fact that there never was a "person" or "individual." We will
see that there are only the basic processes of life (khandha), the
sensory media (ayatana), the elements (dhatu), and natural phenomena
(dhammas). Even the things we had previously clung to as existing no
longer exist. They died in that moment.
Everything has died at the moment of their birth. There never
was an "I" and there never was a "mine." In the past, we were stupid
enough to lug "I" and "mine" around all the time. Now, however, we
know the truth that even in retrospect they never were what we took
them to be. They're not-me, they're not-mine, the me-ing and my-ing
died from the very start right up to this moment. They're finished,
even in the future. Don't ever again fall for any "I" and "mine" in
your experiences. Simply stop thinking in terms of "I" and mine. So
you see, we needn't interpret this verse to mean that we must
physically kill ourselves. One has to be trapped in one's ego to
understand it in such a way. Such an interpretation is too physical,
too superficial, and too childish.
This "I," this ego, is just a mental concept, a product of
thought. There is nothing substantial or permanent upon which it's
based. There is only an ever-changing process flowing according to
causes and conditions, but ignorance misconstrues this process to be a
permanent entity, a "self," and an "ego." So don't let attached
thoughts and feelings based on "I" and "mine" arise. All pains and
problems will end right there and then, so that the body becomes
insignificant, no longer a cause of worry. It's merely a
collection of the five aggregates (khandha), functioning according
to causes and conditions, pure in its own nature. These five
aggregates or component processes of life are naturally free of
attachment and selfishness. As for the inner aspect, those
habits of desire and selfishness, try to do without them. Keep
striving to prevent them from being born until the defilements and
selfishness have no more opportunities to pollute the
heart. In this way, we force ourselves to die, that is, we die
through the elimination of polluting selfishness and defilements
Just don't allow any egoistic consciousness, that's
the meaning of "death" in Dhamma language. Without anything
masquerading as "I" and "mine," where can suffering take place?
Suffering can only happen to an "I" and its "mine." So you see,
possessing "I" and "mine" is the heart of suffering. Should there be
some happiness, as soon as clinging comes in the happiness becomes
painful, yet one more way to suffer.
Ignorant people are always attaching to something; they don't
know how to live without clinging to "I" and "mine." As a result,
even beneficial things are converted into causes of suffering.
Happiness is turned into pain; goodness is turned into pain; praise,
fame, honour and the like are all turned into forms of suffering. As
soon as we try to seize and hang on to them, they all become
unsatisfactory, painful, and ugly. Among good and evil, virtue and
sin, happiness and unhappiness, gain and loss, and all other dualistic
pairs, suffering inevitably happens whenever we attach to either pole
of one pair or another. Clinging to one pole also traps us in its
When we are intelligent enough not to cling or be attached to
any form of dualism, then we will no longer suffer because of these
things. Good and evil, happiness and suffering, virtue and sin, and
the rest, will never be painful again. We realize that they are
merely natural phenomena, the ordinary stuff of nature. They all are
naturally void and so there is no suffering inherent in any of them.
These are the consequences of not having an ego, of not having
any "I" and "mine" in the mind. Outwardly, we may say "I" and "my"
according to social conventions, but don't let them exist in the mind
or heart. As St. Paul said, "Let those who have wives live as though
they had none, and those that mourn as though they weren't mourning
. . . and those who buy as though they had no goods."
Externally, we should behave the same as others do: eat like
they eat, work like they work, and speak like they speak. Speak in
their people language: "this is my house, this is mine." There's
nothing wrong in using these words when necessary, but don't let the
mind fall for them. Leave such words outside, don't let them into the
mind, don't believe them. We ought always to train ourselves this
way, that is, "mouth is one and mind another." The mouth says one
thing, but the heart knows otherwise.
Actually, this phrase is usually an insult used to
condemn liars and conmen, not something to be encouraged. In the
end, however, it can be turned around and applied to a person who
really practices Dhamma, that is, whose external behavior conforms
with worldly conventions but whose internal reality is another
story. While the external expressions actually take place, they don't
manifest in the mind. We call this, "mouth is one and mind another"
or "external and internal do not correspond." A behavior that we
used to condemn and try to abandon because of its dishonesty and
crookedness becomes the most noble and excellent form of speech.
Sometimes Dhamma language seems rather strange!
To be honest in both mouth and mind, that is, speech and
thought, is people language, not Dhamma language. Ordinary people
demand that our words honestly reflect our thoughts, but when it comes
to the Dhamma language of the Buddha, we practice in the manner called
"mouth is one and mind another." In other words, the outside appears
one way, while the inside is the opposite. Outwardly, in our speech
and actions, we may possess all the things that others possess, but in
the mind we possess nothing. Inwardly, we are broke and bankrupt,
without a penny to our names. So please remember this saying -
"mouth is one and mind another" -- in its Dhamma language meaning
of course, not in the people language understanding. Please give it
Another common teaching concerns humility. The
Buddha taught us not to boast or show off and Jesus Christ
emphasized this point even more. There are many pages in the Bible
concerning this subject. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches
us to do our religious practices--such as praying, giving charity
- and fasting, in secret so as to not let others see (Matt. 5-7,
especially 6). If it's something we want others to see, that means we
want to show off, which is attachment. If we apply his teaching to
our Buddhist practices, such as when we keep the special precepts
on the observance days (uposatha), we shouldn't dress up or powder and
perfume ourselves. Don't let anyone know we are keeping the special
precepts, just keep them strictly. Jesus stresses this point in many
ways, both in this sermon and elsewhere. When offering prayers to
God, fasting, or practicing austerities, don't let others see. If we
wish to give alms or make a donation to charity, do so secretly; don't
let others know who the giver is. Jesus teaches us to do everything
without anyone knowing. In other words, his aim is to teach
non-attachment. This kind of practice destroys selfishness and
Buddhists should be able to understand this principle
of giving without letting anyone know; giving in this way will
destroy the giver's self-centeredness much more than public giving.
As you know, we like to say, "sticking gold on the image's back."
This saying can be interpreted in two ways. As understood by foolish
people, this should never be done, because sticking gold leaf on the
back of an image won't gain one any honour, reputation, or other
benefits.(*) On the other hand, wise people take the words "sticking
gold on the image's back" to mean something good, because one doesn't
receive any recognition, praise, status, or honor from the act. One
hasn't traded the goodness of the act for any worldly benefits. Thus,
one makes more merit than if one were to stick the gold on the front
of the image.
[* In Thailand, putting small squares of gold leaf onto Buddha images
and other respected objects is a popular form of making merit.
According to popular Thai belief, by affixing gold leaf to the eyes,
mouth, forehead, cheeks, etc., of a Buddha image, the one who affixes
it will be reborn in her next life with beautiful eyes, mouth, forehead,
cheeks, etc., just like those of the image decorated with gold. At
the same time, her merit making is seen by all.]
Here we see that the teachings of Christianity and
Buddhism are the same; they have the same meaning, namely, to
destroy attachment. We should do all religious duties and practices
without others knowing. In the end, it's like they don't exist any
more and we don't exist either. There's no good, no evil, no virtue,
no sin, no happiness, no suffering, and, finally, not even any
religion. This is the highest level of religion.
Now, let us consider the fact that non-attachment, the highest Dhamma,
is something wonderful, priceless, and extraordinary. It's the heart
of every religion. It's the essence of Dhamma. If there is a God, it
can only be found right here in non-attachment.
Non-attachment, the highest Dhamma, is wonderful precisely
because anyone seeking it need not invest anything. No money, gold,
or jewels are needed, not even a single penny. According to people
language, nothing can be obtained without an investment. If they
listen to people language, those who wish to gain merit, goodness,
or whatever must pay in money, silver, and gold, or invest their
labor. If they listen to Dhamma language, however, the reality is
quite different. The Buddha said that Nibbana is given free of
charge. Nibbana--the coolness and peace experienced when
there's no attachment--doesn't cost a penny. This means that we
can practice for the sake of Nibbana without spending any money along
the way. Jesus said what amounts to the same thing. He invited us to
drink the water of life for which there is no charge. He said this at
least three times. Further, he called us to enter eternal life, which
means to reach the state where we are one with God and therefore will
never die again.
"Let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the
water of life without price" (Rev. 22:17). This call of Jesus is
identical to what is taught in Buddhism. The Buddha said that the
Noble Path of Liberation, the Liberating Results, and Nibbana are free
of charge, no monetary investment is required. We live according to
the Noble Eightfold Path, which means we give up this, give up that,
and keep giving up things until everything is surrendered. Give up
everything and take nothing back. Don't receive any payment and we
won't have to pay anything: we will realize what is called "the Noble
Path, the Liberating Results, and Nibbana." We can taste the flavor
of Nibbana without paying a penny.
We spend a lot of money trying to buy Nibbana, but the money
just gets in the way. It's like investing money in order to win a
palace in heaven; the two have nothing to do with each other. In
fact, they are incompatible. If we want to give charity, it should be
solely for the sake of others. Nibbana is our first concern and
requires no money.
Why do we make donations then? Not for ourselves, of course,
but to help our fellow human beings so that they may also reach that
which requires no financial investment. So, we contribute money to
build temples and schools, we develop methods of teaching, and we
publish books in order to help our fellow human beings to travel on
the right path, to travel toward that which is obtained without
payment - Nibbana. Those of us who intend to earn merit with their
gold and silver should please think in this way.
If those who intend to invest their money for so-called
spiritual rewards don't reconsider, they will incur losses rather than
make profits. Not only will they fail to make a profit, they won't
even be able to recover their investment. And when there is no profit
and no breaking even, there is only loss. To act that way goes
contrary to the words of the Buddha who said, "It's free." Jesus also
said that it's free.
Jesus added further that what "you received without pay, give
without pay" (Matt. 10:8). It seems that the Buddha never said quite
the same thing, but we can say, from the implications of his teaching,
that he could easily have spoken these words. If something is
obtained for free, we ought to pass it on for free, too. Don't be
unwilling or reluctant. Don't go taking advantage of people by
claiming favors or hinting that they'll benefit by helping one in
such-and-such a way or implying that students owe a debt of gratitude
to their teachers. All of that is inappropriate. When we get
something for free, we must give it away for free. Therefore, as the
loftiest of all things, the Dhamma of each religion is something to be
obtained for free. Once we have got it, we are obligated to pass it on
to our fellow human beings for free, also. Don't try to wheedle any
benefits out of it in return.
When we make contributions to religious causes, they
are for a particular purpose, which has no bearing on our realizing
Nibbana. Such contributions are meant to be instrumental in
helping people who don't yet see the way to be able to find it and
eventually arrive at that which is given away for free to
everyone. In the end, they also will obtain that precious thing
which is obtained for free, without any obstacles.
If we look carefully, we will see that the pinnacle, the most
excellent of things, which we get for free, is called "Nibbana" (as
well as by many other names). Jesus called it "Life." This state in
which we currently exist is death. Because everyone is dying, they
don't reach God, they don't reach the Ultimate. Yet, if we follow the
teachings of Jesus we are born again at once. After dying for so
long, we need to be reborn. When we are born anew, we are born into
eternal life, which is true life. The Buddha spoke in the same
fashion. He said that we don't realize that this existence is like
being dead, that is, that it's suffering. We must make the required
knowledge, we must awaken into a new world, newly born. Then there
will be no more suffering. To understand this is a fundamental
Up until this realization, we were dead, that is, full of "I"
and "mine." Always living under the burden of ego and egoism is death.
Because of "I" and "mine," we died over and over again. Now we are
reborn into eternal life, the life of Nibbana, the deathless life, the
immortality in which all "I" and "mine" end. The word "reborn" here
comes to mean a life without ego, free of "I" and "mine." This is the
true life which can never die. The five aggregates (khandha), the
basic processes of life, are now pure, the body and mind are free of
attachment and selfishness. Prior to this, the five aggregates, the
body-mind process, were continually being grasped at and clung to by
means of "I" and "my" and were always stained by these corrupt
attachments. That continuous "I" and "mine" was death.
When the polluting desires and attachments are completely gone
there is a new birth in the world of the Noble Ones. "Rebirth in the
world of the Noble Ones" is a people language expression. In Dhamma
language, we speak of "quenching it." Quench the "I" and the "mine";
quench ego and its selfishness. Then there's nothing. There remains
only supreme voidness, which is Nibbana. So says Dhamma language.
If we speak in people language, as Jesus Christ often did, we
say that one is reborn in the world of the Noble Ones and that one
lives eternally in the Kingdom of God. That's people language. When
we translate it into Dhamma language, we use the opposite words and
speak of "quenching." One language speaks of "rebirth," while the
other talks about "utter quenching." Only the words are different.
In people language we talk about being reborn; in Dhamma language we
talk about quenching completely.
Therefore, let us live a life of total quenching, a life that
douses the flames of desire, a life of coolness. When we are burning,
we are dying. A person who is hot inside is like a demon in hell, an
animal, a hungry ghost, or a cowardly titan. Such a person is always
dying. His attachment to "I" is never quenched. His ego hasn't yet
been doused; it boils and bubbles inside him with the heat of fire.
It has to be cooled down.
To make things easier, we should remember that the word
"nibbana" means "to cool down." In India at the time of the Buddha,
"nibbana" was a common everyday word spoken in the houses, streets, and
markets. When something hot had cooled down, they used the word
"nibbana" to describe it. If the curry was too hot to eat, then
cooled down enough to be eaten, they would say the curry is "nibbana,
so let's eat."(*)
[* Actually, the words takes on different forms as a verb, noun, and
adjective, and according to case and context. As Thai doesn't
conjugate words like the Indian languages, only the form "Nibbana"
We can see that the word "nibbana" was not originally
an exalted religious term, but had an ordinary everyday usage
in people language--the cooling down of something hot. For
example, if a red-hot charcoal cools down until it can be picked up,
we can call that "nibbana." If we apply the term on a higher level,
such as, to animals, then it refers to animals which are no longer
hot. The heat of animals is the wildness and fierceness which is
dangerous for humans. If a wild elephant or wild bull is tamed and
well-trained so that finally its wildness, rebelliousness, and
viciousness disappear and it's safe for humans, we can say that
it's "nibbana," meaning it has cooled down.
When we speak of humans, "hot" means a person who is burning
and boiling as if in hell or the other netherworlds. That isn't
Nibbana. After we discover the way to apply Dhamma to cool ourselves
off, we begin to nibbana, continue to nibbana, nibbana steadily,
nibbana until everything is thoroughly cool, which is the highest
level of Nibbana--absolute coolness.
Even now, we must nibbana to some extent in order to
be able to sit here and discuss Dhamma like this. Otherwise, if the
flames were flaring up within us now, we wouldn't be able to remain
sitting here. Therefore, we should understand that Nibbana is related
to us at all times, with every inhalation and exhalation. If
this weren't so, if we had no connection to Nibbana whatsoever, we
would all go out of our minds and die before we knew it. Fortunately,
we have some relationship with Nibbana nearly all the time. It may
disappear temporarily when lust, hatred, or delusion arise,
when the mind is taken over by defilements and selfishness. But when
lust, hatred, and delusion aren't present in our minds, we experience
a small degree of Nibbana, a brief taste or free sample of
Nibbana. Due to the benefits of these recurring glimpses of Nibbana,
we don't go crazy and don't die from overheat. We survive by virtue
of Nibbana's beneficial effects. Therefore, we should thank Nibbana
and acknowledge our gratitude to it by acting so as to have more and
more Nibbana for longer and longer periods of time. Keep calming and
cooling things, that is, destroy "I" and "mine." Don't let ego prick
up its ears and point its tail. With self-discipline and good
manners, keep the ego small and out of trouble. Lessen it, reduce
it, shrink it, until at last nothing remains, then you will get the
best thing that a human being can possibly get.
Whenever we quarrel due to opinions, pride, vanity, or
stubbornness, it shows that we have lost touch with Nibbana. At such
moments, we are crazy. If we argue, quarrel, or interfere with others
at any time--no matter whether over an ordinary affair or a
religious one--we are insane. In such moments, we aren't really
human anymore, because we've lowered ourselves to the level of arguing
and fighting. And so, as was said before, if people remain foolish
they will think that there are many different religions which are
incompatible and opposed to each other, which are enemies that must
compete, fight, and destroy each other. These are the most stupid and
ignorant of people. They cause and experience a great deal of trouble.
When religions are regarded as in opposition and conflict,
people become enemies as a result. Everyone thinks "We are right, they
are wrong; they are wrong, we are right," and so forth, and then there
is quarrelling and fighting. Such people are incredibly foolish.
What they are quarrelling about is only the outer shell. Everyone
should recognize that these are only external forms, they aren't the
When people of intelligence and wisdom get together concerning
the essentials of religion, they recognize that religions are all the
same. Though outwardly they may seem different, intelligent people
know that the inner spirit must be the same in all cases. The inner
essence is the same no matter how different the external forms are,
just like we saw with the analogy of water. The essential pure nature
of water is always the same, no matter how putrid or filthy it appears
from the outside. It isn't the water that is dirty, but the other
elements that are mixed in with the water that are dirty. We
shouldn't take those other elements. When we take those elements, it
means we drink dirty water; it means we swallow the filth, urine,
excrement, or whatever, and don't drink pure water.
Whenever there is a quarrel, whether it's among lay people,
novices, nuns, or monks, it means that the people involved are eating
filth, namely, the defilements of "I" and "mine." This should never
happen; it should be given up. Don't prick your ears and point your
tails. Don't puff yourself with ego and create these conflicts of
pride. That's letting things go too far. Rather, our duty is try to
pacify these things and cool them down.
How silly it's that the older a person gets, the more full of
ego he or she becomes. I beg your pardon for speaking so frankly, but
some facts can't be ignored. Why do people become more egoistic with
age? Because the older they get, the more accustomed they are to
attachment; "I" and "mine" accumulate and pile up inside us as we age.
Further, people have sons and daughters, so they puff themselves with
ego and determine to lord it over their children. "My son! How could
he do that without my permission!" When they have grandchildren, they
become even more puffed up and superior. Thus, elderly people
are more obsessed with "I" and "mine" than children are.
If we look back at childhood, we will find that children have
very little ego. Immediately after birth, it's very hard to find much
ego in them, while the child in the womb has hardly any traces of "I" or
"mine" at all. However, as we grow into adulthood and become fathers
and mothers, and later grandfathers and grandmothers, "I" and
"mine" develops in a multitude of forms and personalities. These
become deeply rooted in our minds and stick there with such tenacity
that they are very difficult to remove. Therefore, old folks should
be very careful and alert. They should try to return to being like
children again. To be like children is a kind of Dhamma practice
which leads to non-attachment and voidness. Otherwise, the older
they get, the further away from the Buddha and from Nibbana they will
In truth, as we grow older we should grow closer to the
Buddha. In other words, the more we age the younger we should be.
The older we get, the more youthful we should become. As we get older
we should become more light-hearted, cheerful, bright, and fresh. We
shouldn't end up dry and lifeless, so that we gradually wither away.
Everybody should become increasingly fresh, bright, and light-hearted
as they grow older. As we age, we should get closer to the Buddha,
the Dhamma, and the Sangha, which means we understand Dhamma more and
more. The more successful we are in making the inner flames recede,
the cooler we become. As we get cooler, we feel increasingly more
refreshed and hearty, we look brighter and more lively. When we
have cooled down absolutely, we will absolutely sparkle with
brightness and cheer. Therefore, the more ancient we get, the more
youthful we should become, and the more cheerful and fresh we should
look and feel.
The lively physical activity and fresh complexions of young
people is one kind of youth, while the youthfulness of Dhamma
language - of the mind, heart, and spirit--refers to a spiritual
brightness, vigor, and serenity that comes with having more Dhamma.
This is the youthfulness of heat subsiding so that coolness can enter
and envelop us. Consequently, we feel increasingly refreshed, vibrant,
and cheerful. So let all elderly people become fresh and full of
life. May we all become more youthful. Just let youthfulness grow
inside us and that problem of bickering and quarrelling will no longer
Worse than that quarrelling is the habit of "extolling oneself
while putting down others." Vicious back-biting and name-calling has
no place among Buddhists and anyone who does such things has ceased to
be a Buddhist, except, perhaps, in name. Being a Buddhist in name
alone doesn't mean anything and can't be depended upon. Just
declaring oneself to be "Buddhist" because its written on one's
birth certificate or because one signed up at certain temples doesn't
accomplish much good because they aren't sincere. We must be
genuine Buddhists in the true sense of the word, which means to weaken
and reduce "I" and "mine" in order to be cool and thereby be closer to
Nibbana. So we needn't discuss atrocities like disparaging and
oppressing others, or extolling oneself while putting down others.
These things should never happen.
What to do about those who still engage in such behaviour? I
don't know what class to put them in: First grade? Kindergarten?
Nursery school? These are still too high; there should be some lower
class or grade for people who behave in such gross ways. In Buddhism,
genuine lay followers never do such things. Even those who are at the
kindergarten level and have not yet reached into the first grade of
primary school know better than to do such things. They know that
such behaviour is hot and has nothing to do with Dhamma or Buddhism.
Progressing through the upper grades, through the junior and
senior classes, there is less egoism until, finally, there is no more
"I" and "mine." On the highest level, there's no self, everything is
void of self. There's no "I," no "you," no "we," no "they," which
means there's no Buddhism, no Christianity, no Islam, and no religion.
How can different religions exist when there's no "we," no "they," no
"anybody," when there is nothing but Dhamma? There is only pure
nature itself (suddhidhamma pavattanti), nature is all that exists
- with either active aspects or still aspects, depending on whether
something is conditioned and transient or unconditioned and
absolute. Those who are in the upper grades already
understand this. Those who are in kindergarten and primary
school should also know about this so that they can prepare
themselves to reach its level.
So don't get caught up in envy and jealousy, in insults and
praises, in harassing and interfering with others, in arguing and
fighting, in extolling oneself while putting down others. Such
behaviour is worthless. It's for those who don't know how to learn on
even the lowest level. It's too low to have a place in the network of
All of us begin at a point where we're full of clinging, then
steadily reduce the clinging until we don't cling to anything anymore,
until we reach the point where everything is voidness: void of "I" and
void of "mine." Understand that in essence everything has been void
from the start. Whether physical or mental, look deeply into it's
essential nature and it will turn out to be void. There is no
clinging there anymore.
Whatever clinging there was has just now happened.
Originally, there was no attachment, just as all water originally is
pure and clean. It's pure as it forms in the clouds, but picks up
fine particles of dust as it falls through the sky. Once it falls on
roofs and collects in water jars, it becomes further
contaminated. Even more contaminated is the water in wells, streams,
ponds, and swamps. Worse is the putrid water found in ditches,
sewers, and toilets. As we examine the external changes, we should
recognize that the dirty elements aren't the water and aren't
So look deeply into this very body and mind when they're in
their natural state, when they aren't polluted by any defiled objects.
The pure, natural, uncontaminated body-mind is the object of knowledge
and study. The "I," the ego, knowing this, knowing that, this is
good, that is good: this is just dirty stuff. They mix with the
mind, contaminate it, and muck it up. Naturally, in themselves, our
bodies and minds aren't dirty, but owing to stupidity and
carelessness the newly spawned defilements invade. It's these
impure guests which enter the mind and contaminate it. Why then do
we take these late-coming impurities to be "I," "me," or "my own true
self"? They're just new arrivals, there's nothing genuine about them.
They're just dirt, isn't it silly to take dirt as one's self? One
ends up with a dirty self, a dirty ego--no doubt about it.
The mind which is knowledgable and wise, which is awakened
(Buddha), doesn't take anything to be self. It doesn't take dirty
things as its "self." It doesn't take defilements to be "self." If
it must have a self, the voidness which is free of defilements must be
the self. The voidness of defilements doesn't attach or cling to
anything. Even though the mouth says "I am" or "I have," the mind
inside doesn't feel any attachment. "Mouth is one and mind another"
at all times. I hope that you will all practice in this way.
All I have said today is merely a chat among friends. If it
were a public lecture or formal sermon, these things couldn't be said
like this. It might create a big disturbance. However, this has been
just an informal talk within our small circle of friends, among those
who should be able to understand. I only mentioned these things
because I thought the people here are capable of understanding.
Indeed, I hope that everyone has listened carefully, has been able to
follow, and will think over the issues seriously. Those who see the
truth of and agree with these principles should try to live
accordingly. Before long we will progress to a higher level on the
path to voidness and freedom from suffering. Then we can do work of
all kinds with a void mind and we can give all of the fruits to
voidness. We will be able to eat the food of voidness. And so, we
will be able to die completely from the very beginning. That's the
end. That's the end of being a Buddhist; it's the end of all
In people language they say, "Don't waste the opportunity of
having been born human and of having encountered Buddha-Dhamma." If
we speak in Dhamma language, however, we would have to say, "It's the
end of everything. There is nothing left to be a problem ever again."
Such a life can be called "eternal life," for there is no more birth,
aging, illness, or death.
Are you ready to die before dying?
* * * * * * * *
anatta, not-self, selflessness: the fact that all things lack any
lasting essence or substance which could properly be
called a "self." (Cf. sunnata.)
dukkha, pain, hurt, suffering, dissatisfaction: literally, "hard
to bear"; the stressful quality of all experiences which
are accompanied by desire, attachment, and ego. Dukkha
is also said to be a universal characteristic of all phenomena;
because things are impermanent, they are undependable and can
never satisfy us. The inherent decay and dissolution of things
Dhamma, Nature, Natural Law, Duty, Truth: the way things naturally
are and the way we must live so that things (dhammas) don't become
problems for us.
khandha, groups, heaps. aggregates: the five basic processes
or sub-systems which make up human life, namely,
body, feeling, perception, thought, and consciousness.
kilesa, defilement, pollution, impurity: the various
manifestations of selfishness which defile the mind,
especially greed, anger, and delusion.
Nibbana, coolness: the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice.
The cool peacefulness of Nibbana manifests when the
fires of defilement, selfishness, and suffering are
thoroughly and finally quenched.
noble eightfold path: the way of life leading to Nibbana,
namely, right understanding, right aspiration, right
speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right
mindfulness, and right concentration.
Noble Ones: human beings who have eradicated all or almost
all of the attachments and defilements. They are the
exemplars of Buddhist life due to their wisdom, coolness,
calmness, and compassion.
sunnata, voidness: the reality of being void and free of
selfhood, ego, or anything that could be taken to be "I"
or "mine." (See anatta.)
upadana, attachment, clinging, grasping: to hold onto some
thing foolishly, that is, to regard it as "I" or "mine"; to
take things personally
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu has been the most important interpreter and
reformer of Thai Buddhist thought in this century. Since he began
Suan Mokkh, "The Garden of Liberation," in 1932, he has undertaken the
most innovative, influential, and wide-ranging study of the Pali
scriptures of Theravada Buddhism. These studies were the underpinning
for his experiments and researches into life and nature, out of which
developed a commanding body of work. His talks, lectures, and
writings, along with the monastic community he founded, have inspired
many to take a fresh look at Buddhism and religion.
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu has always had a profound interest in other
religions and has made many friends among them. In particular, he has
been in dialogue with Christianity through foreign missionaries and
local Christians who were delighted to find a Buddhist monk who sought
only to understand their religion, without looking down on it. This
book reveals some of his thoughts on religion.
The sixtieth anniversary of Suan Mokkh was observed on May 27,
1992. Despite the after effects of a heart attack and minor strokes,
Ajarn Buddhadasa spent the last few years of his life as he had spent
the previous sixty.
The Venerable Ajarn passed away at Suan Mokkh on July 8, 1993.
Suan Mokkh, aided by the Dhammadana Foundation and other supporters,
carries on his with his work.
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