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Venerable Sayadaw Ashin U Thittila

V. Talks dealing with Buddhism in general


I am going to talk about what has been contributed to the world in mental and spiritual wealth by him we call the Buddha, a title which means the Awakened or Enlightened One. He was so called because he was awakened or enlightened as to the inner nature of man, and the destiny that lies before man as regards his inward. psychical nature.

The Buddha is a great benefactor of humanity, because he taught men that there is no need for them to look outside themselves to any being supposed to be superior to themselves for help to reach the highest condition of mind and heart possible for them. He told men that they could find within themselves, and must find within themselves, all strength required for this task. He told men that they could be strong, strong enough in themselves to achieve their own deliverance from delusion, ill-will and selfishness, selfish craving. He pulled men to their feet with his gospel of self- help, and asked them to go forward by their own strength towards the goal he pointed out to them. And he told them that they could do this if they but tried.

It follows from the Buddha's proclamation of self-help as the one true way to deliverance from evil, that he condemned all sacrifices, performed in the name of religion, of any kind and particularly those that involved blood-shed, the killing of animals. You are familiar with the idea that 'sin' or evil can be atoned for, or done away with, by killing some animal in the name of God of the people who have such a religion.

In India, in the time of the Buddha, there were animal sacrifices. A great horse sacrifice is specially mentioned in one of the Buddhist Scriptures and there still are such today. If you go down the street in Calcutta where the temple of Pali stands, a feeling of nausea and repulsion and almost illness comes over you from the fumes hanging in the air of the goats there sacrificed to the goddess Kali, just as one feels when one passes near one of the big slaughter-houses.

From such horrors the Buddha did the world the service of proclaiming that they are alike useless and cruel, unnecessary and futile as a means of pleasing or placating any god. Men should purify and elevate themselves by their own good deeds till they stand higher than any gods, certainly higher than any that require death as tributes to their power, or to win their favour. And he also condemned the cruelty of taking life from creatures that are so entirely in our power that it is shameful to anyone of fine feeling to take advantage of them, as so many men do, in slaying them to save themselves, as they imagine, from the consequences of their own misdeeds. All shedding of blood, taking of life, as a part of religion, is the very antithesis of all that his religion means. The Buddhist religion means looking on all beings, all living creatures of every kind, high or low, as sharers of life, with equal rights to live their lives to the full, uninterfered with by any other creature.

More than that, the Buddha adjures man to practise active loving-kindness towards all beings, including animals. Societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals did not begin in the West. Long ago, in the days of Emperor Asoka of India, as we find recorded in durable characters on stone pillars in different spots in Northern India to this day, that great emperor ordered the establishment of hospitals for both man and beast in his great domains, and advised his subjects to practise kindly and considerate behaviour towards all living beings. Not only to abstain from hurting and killing animals, but actively to tend them when ill and guard them from hurt, was one of the edicts of the great Emperor Asoka, which he had learned to practise in his own life after he had learned the teaching of the Buddha on this point.

Another contribution to the world's welfare, was made by the Buddha when he condemned slavery in every shape and form. It was not William Wilberforce who was the pioneer of the movement for the abolition of slavery, it was very long before he did it. It was done 2,500 years ago when the Buddha began his teaching and laying down as a rule for the right manner of earning ones living, that one should not engage in any form of trafficking in human beings. Human beings might be engaged for service in the house and elsewhere, but it was enjoined that they must be treated with as much consideration as the members of one's own family as regards their personal rights, and even invited to share in little treats on special occasions.

In the pacifist movement the Buddha also was the great pioneer. One of our Scriptures tells us of a case where two sets of people had come to the verge of warfare over the right to take water from a river. They were all ready to shed each other's blood and destroy their lives when the Buddha appeared on the scene and enquired what the dispute was about. They told him that it was about some water each claimed the right to take. The Buddha asked them which was the more precious fluid, blood or water? Of course, he was told 'blood!' 'So then', he said, 'you are going to spill and destroy what is more precious for that which is less precious. Is that the conduct of sensible men? Go away together and see if you cannot compose your differences in some more reasonable way than this'. And the war was stopped through the Buddha's good advice and influence.

He had not a good word to say to 'conquerors'. 'Conquest engendereth hatred, for he who is conquered is wretched', he once said. And because the conquered one is wretched he wants to get out of his wretchedness and plans and schemes to conquer in turn his conqueror; and so the whole miserable business of revenge and counter-revenge goes on and on without any end to it. Against this insanity the Buddha advised men to have sane reasonable ways and not to be like ravening beasts of prey who are guided by nothing but their unreasoning greed.

The Temperance Movement that has made such progress in the West was also a movement that had its beginning in the word of the Buddha, which enjoined on his followers to abstain from using intoxicating liquors because they cause mental distraction and dullness. The idea of hospitals is another great thing which the world owes to the Buddha.

In connection with the establishment of hospitals there is a story about the Buddha. When he was wandering about teaching and preaching and visiting various communities, he once found among them a monk, who was very ill, and no one caring for him and keeping him clean. The Buddha at once looked after him, and calling the Bhikkhus together told them that those who were ill must always be looked after by those who were well. 'Those who succour the sick, succour me', he said.

Another great service the Buddha did the world was to declare the absolute wrongness of all distinctions between man and man based on birth. In his own country, India, such distinctions were and still are, the foundation on which the whole social system of the land was, and still is, built, i.e., caste. In India every Hindu has his lot in life determined and fixed for him just by the fact that his father was of this or that or the other of the four great castes of the Brahmins or teachers, the warriors or soldiers, the merchants or traders, and the hand-workers or peasants.

The Buddha made the unheard-of, the hitherto unparalleled declaration for an Indian to make, that a man's birth had nothing whatever to do with what he was fitted to be taught in religion or in anything else. He asserted the absolute equality of all men, no matter how or where they had been born, in their right to an open path to the highest truth their mind could receive. That was a terribly shocking thing to say to the upper classes of his countrymen. But he did it, and he was himself of the highest class as the castes were then classified, since his father was a king. And he not only said it, but he acted on it to the fullest extent. Once when thirsty, he asked for some water to drink from a peasant. The peasant looking at the noble features of the Prince, and his robe of a holy man, said timidly: 'Sir. I cannot give you anything to drink or eat, I am not of high caste'. The Buddha replied: 'Friend. I don't ask you for caste, I ask you for water'.

So you see, Buddhism is a religion of understanding. To acquire understanding, right understanding of what we are, and where we are, and what we have to do and then to do it, that is the whole of the Buddhist teaching.


(Extract from talk of above title)

Everyone reacts according to his own particular nature, there fore knowing how and why we differ in thought and outlook in life, we are able to make ample allowances for all types and are thus able to live more harmoniously with others. When we are young spiritually it is mostly physical and emotional pleasure that appeals to us, and while we remain young in evolution we shall not grow out of this stage. When we grow older in evolution, literature and study appeal to us. and we gain happiness through our intellectual pursuits. Finally, when we grow older still, we realize that spiritual happiness is the highest because it is real and lasting. This is our goal.

We can increase that growth at will, just as we can develop our muscles with constant exercise. With practice we can grow towards perfection; intellectually through the attainment of perfect knowledge, emotionally through the control and use of the emotions, spiritually through the attainment of perfect realization, physically through the attainment of perfect health and control of the body. The lower our nature is, to the greater extent our pleasure is dependent upon outside sources; the higher our nature is, the more influence we have over our happiness.

How can we develop or change ourselves? The word alchemy is made up of two Arabic words, 'al kimia'. the secret art of changing or fusion. There are two kinds of alchemy, physical and spiritual, and in both, men are doing the same thing, trying to find out the same great secret, how to change base, worthless, common things, into pure, valuable rare gold. The physical alchemist tries to change or transmute other metals into gold, while the spiritual alchemist tries to change the lower human passions of anger, jealousy, hate, etc.. into the pure gold of peace, kindness, love and generosity.

Many spiritual alchemists who have succeeded in changing all that was base, common and bad in their nature, into purity, goodness and love, are now willing to teach us how to do the same. They are so pure, so strong and so beautiful that we cannot but love and reverence them; they are the masters of wisdom, and what they have done we can do if only we persevere. They tell us that the only failure is in ceasing to try.

Just as at the end of a school year or term there is an examination, which some pupils succeed in passing while others fail, so at the end of a term or period in the life of a person there is an examination in spiritual alchemy, and only those who are of pure gold in character pass. Those who fail have to come back to school and try again.

We have all come back to school, and each one of us is now busy at two kinds of work, reaping and sowing: reaping the result of what we have sown in our past lives, and sowing seeds of joy and sorrow, pain and pleasure, for reaping in our lives to come. According to the Buddhist Teaching the main purpose of life should be to learn how to pass the final examination in spiritual alchemy, and thereby succeed in changing all that is base, common and bad in our nature into purity, goodness and love, and thus to reach our goal, the goal of perfect peace, happiness and enlightenment.


Kamma is a Pa!i word meaning action. It is called Karma in Sanskrit. In its general sense Kamma means all good and bad actions. It covers all kinds of intentional actions whether mental, verbal or physical - thoughts, words and deeds. In its ultimate sense Kamma means all moral and immoral volition. The Buddha says: 'Mental volition, O Bhikkhus, is what I call action (Kamma). Having volition one acts by body, speech and thought'. (Anguttara Nikaya III.).

Kamma is neither fatalism nor a doctrine of predetermination. The past influences the present but does not dominate it, for Kamma is past as well as present. The past and present influence the future; the past is the background against which life goes on from moment to moment, the future is yet to be. Only the present moment exists, and the responsibility of using the present moment for good or for ill lies with each individual.

Every action produces an effect and it is a cause first and effect afterwards, we therefore speak of Kamma as 'the law of cause and effect'. Throwing a stone, for example, is an action. The stone strikes a glass window and breaks it. The break is the effect of the action of throwing, but it is not the end. The broken window is now the cause of further trouble. Some of one's money will have to go to replace it, and one is thus unable to save the money or to buy with it what one wants for some other purpose, and the effect upon one is a feeling of disappointment. This may make one irritable, and if one is not careful one may allow the irritability to become the cause of doing something else which is wrong and so on. There is no end to the result of action, no end to Kamma, so we should be very careful about our actions, so that their effect will be good. It is therefore necessary for us to do a good, helpful action which will return to us in good Kamma and make us strong enough to start a better Kamma.

Throw a stone into a pond and watch the effect. There is a splash and a number of little rings appear round the place where it strikes. See how the rings grow wider and wider till they become too wide and too tiny for our eyes to follow. The little stone disturbs the water in the pond, but its work is not finished yet. When the tiny waves reach the edges of the pond, the water moves back till it pushes the stone that has disturbed it.

The effects of our actions come back to us just as the waves do to the stone, and as long as we do our action with evil intention the new waves of effect come back to beat upon us and disturb us. If we are kind and keep ourselves peaceful. the returning waves of trouble will grow weaker and weaker till they die down, and our good Kamma will come back to us in blessings. If we sow a mango seed, for instance, a mango tree will come up and bear mangoes, and if we sow a chili seed, a chili plant will grow and produce chilis. The Buddha says:

According to the seed that's sown,
So is the fruit ye reap therefrom,
Doer of good will gather good,
Doer of evil, evil reaps,

Sown is the seed, and thou shalt taste,
The fruit thereof.

(Samyutta Nikaya Vol. 1.).

Everything that comes to us is right. When anything pleasant comes to us and makes us happy, we may be sure that our Kamma has come to show us that what we have done is right. When any thing unpleasant comes to us, hurts us or makes us unhappy, our Kamma has come to show us our mistake. We must never forget that Kamma is always just. It neither loves nor hates, neither rewards nor punishes. It is never angry, never pleased, it is simply the law of cause and effect.

Kamma knows nothing about us. Does fire know us when it burns us? No. It is the nature of fire to burn, to give out heat. If we use it properly it gives us light, cooks our food for us or burns anything we wish to get rid of, but if we use it wrongly it burns us and our property. Its work is to burn and our affair is to use it in the right way. We are foolish if we grow angry and blame it when it burns us because we have made a mistake.

There are inequalities and manifold destinies of men in the world. One is, for example, inferior and another superior. One perishes in infancy and another at the age of eighty or a hundred. One is sick and infirm, and another strong and healthy. One is handsome another ugly. One is brought up in luxury and another in misery. One is born a millionaire another a pauper. One is a genius and another an idiot.

What is the cause of the inequalities that exist in the world? Buddhists cannot believe that this variation is the result of blind chance. Science itself is indeed all against the theory of 'Chance', in the world of the scientist all works in accordance with the laws of cause and effect. Neither can Buddhists believe that this unevenness of the world is due to a God-Creator.

One of the three divergent views that prevailed at the time of the Buddha was: 'Whatsoever happiness or pain or neutral feeling a person experiences, all that is due to the creation of a Supreme Deity'. (Gradual Sayings, I.). Commenting on this fatalistic view the Buddha said: 'So, then, owing to the creation of a Supreme Deity men will become murderers, thieves, unchaste, liars, slanderers, abusive, babblers, covetous, malicious, and perverse in view. Thus for those who fall back on the creation of a God as the essential reason, there is neither the desire to do, nor necessity to do this deed or abstain from that deed'. (ibid).

Referring to the naked ascetics who practised self-mortification, the Buddha said: 'if, 0 Bhikkhus, beings experience pain and happiness as the result of God's creation, then certainly these naked ascetics must have been created by a wicked God, since they are at present experiencing such terrible pain', (Devadaha Sutta, No. 101. Majjhima Nikaya, 11.).

According to Buddhism the inequalities that exist in the world are due, to some extent, to heredity and environment and, to a greater extent, to a cause or causes (Kamma) which are not only present but proximate or remote past. Man himself is responsible for his own happiness and misery. He creates his own heaven and hell. He is master of his own destiny, child of his past and parent of his future.


Although Buddhism teaches that Kamma is the chief cause of the inequalities in the world yet it does not teach fatalism or the doctrine of predestination, for it does not hold the view that everything is due to past actions. The law of cause and effect (Kamma) is only one of the twenty-four causes described in Buddhist philosophy (see Compendium of Philosophy, p. 191), or one of the five orders (Niyamas) which are laws in themselves and operate in the universe. They are:

1. Utu Niyama, physical inorganic order, e.g., seasonal phenomena of winds and rains. The unerring order of seasons, characteristic seasonal changes and events, causes of winds and rains, nature of heat, etc., belong to this group

2. Bija Niyama, order of germs and seeds (physical organic order), e.g., rice produced from rice seed, sugary taste from sugarcane or honey, peculiar characteristics of certain fruits, etc. The scientific theory of cells and genes and physical similarity of twins may be ascribed to this order.

3. Kamma Niyama, order of act and result, e.g., desirable and undesirable acts produce corresponding good and bad results. As surely as water seeks its own level so does Kamma, given opportunity, produce its inevitable result, not in the form of a reward or punishment but as an innate sequence. This sequence of deed and effect is as natural and necessary as the way of the moon and stars.

4. Dhamma Niyama, order of the norm, e.g., the natural phenomena occurring at the advent of a Bodhisatta in his last birth. Gravitation and other similar laws of nature, the reason for being good, and so forth may be included in this group.

5. Citta Niyama. order of mind, of psychic law, e.g., processes of consciousness, arising and perishing of consciousness, constituents of consciousness, power of mind, etc. Telepathy, telesthesia, retro-cognition, premonition, clairvoyance, clairaudience, thought reading, all psychic phenomena which are inexplicable to modern science are included in this class. (Abhidhammavatara.).

These five orders embrace everything in the world and every mental or physical phenomenon could be explained by them. They being laws in themselves, require no lawgiver and Kamma as such is only one of them.


Kamma is classified into four kinds according to the time at which results are produced. There is Kamma that ripens in the same lifetime. Kamma that ripens in the next life, and Kamma that ripens in successive births. These three types of Kamma are bound to produce results as a seed is to sprout. But for a seed to sprout, certain auxiliary causes such as soil, rain, etc.. are required. In the same way for a Kamma to produce an effect, several auxiliary causes such as circumstances, surroundings, etc., are required. It sometimes happens that for want of such auxiliary causes Kamma does not produce any result. Such Kamma is called 'Ahosi Kamma' or 'Kamma that is ineffective'.

Kamma is also classified into another four kinds according to its particular function. There is Regenerative (Janaka) Kamma which conditions the future birth: Supportive (Upatthambaka) Kamma which assists or maintains the results of already-existing Kamma, Counteractive (Upapilaka) Kamma which suppresses or modifies the result of the reproductive Kamma and Destructive (Upaghataka) Kamma which destroys the force of existing Kamma and substitutes its own resultants.

There is another classification according to the priority of results. There is Serious or Weighty (Garuka) Kamma which produces its resultants in the present life or in the next. On the moral side of this Kamma the highly refined mental states called Jhanas are weighty because they produce resultants more speedily than the ordinary unrefined mental states. On the opposite side, the five kinds of immediately effective serious crimes are weighty. These crimes are: matricide, patricide, the murder of an Arahanta (holy-one or perfect saint), the wounding of a Buddha and the creation of a schism in the Sangha.

Death-proximate (Asanna) Kamma is the action which one does at the moment before death either physically or mentally - mentally by thinking of one's own previous good or bad actions, or having good or bad thoughts. It is this Kamma which, if there is no weighty Kamma, determines the conditions of the next birth. Habitual (Acinna) Kamma is the action which one constantly does. This Kamma, in the absence of death-proximate Kamma, produces and determines the next birth.

Reserved (Katatta) Kamma is the last in the priority of results. This is the unexpended Kamma of a particular being and it conditions the next birth if there is no habitual Kamma to operate.

A further classification of Kamma is according to the place in which the results are produced, namely:

1. Immoral Kamma which produces its effect in the plane of misery.
2. Moral Kamma which produces its effect in the plane of the world of desires.
3. Moral Kamma which produces its effect in the plane of form.
4. Moral Kamma which produces its effect in the plane of the formless.

(I) Ten immoral actions and their effects:

Immoral Kamma is rooted in greed (Lobha), anger (Dosa) and delusion (Moha).

There are ten immoral actions (Kamma) - namely, killing, stealing, unchastity (these three are caused by deed); lying, slandering, harsh language, frivolous talk (these four are caused by word): covetousness, illwill and false view (these three are caused by mind).

Of these ten, killing means the destruction of any living being including animals of all kinds. To complete this offence of killing five conditions are necessary, viz: a being, consciousness that it is a being, intention of killing, effort and consequent death.

The evil effects of killing are: short life, diseasefulness, constant grief caused by separation from the loved and constant fear.

To complete the offence of stealing five conditions are necessary, viz: property of other people, consciousness that it is so, intention of stealing, effort and consequent removal. The effects of stealing are: poverty, wretchedness, unfulfilled desires and dependent livelihood.

To complete the offence of unchastity (sexual misconduct) three conditions are necessary, viz: intention to enjoy the forbidden object. effort and possession of the object. The effects of unchastity are: having many enemies, getting undesirable wives, birth as a woman or as an eunuch.

To complete the offence of lying four conditions are necessary, viz: untruth, intention to deceive, effort, and communication of the matter to others. The effects of lying are: being tormented by abusive speech, being subject to vilification, incredibility and stinking mouth.

To complete the offence of slandering four conditions are necessary, viz: division of persons, intention to separate them, effort and communication. The effect of slandering is the dissolution of friendship without any sufficient cause.

To complete the offence of harsh language three conditions are necessary, viz: someone to be abused, angry thought and using abusive language. The effects of harsh language are: being detested by others although blameless, and harsh voice.

To complete the offence of frivolous talk two conditions are necessary, viz: the inclination towards frivolous talk and its narration. The effects of frivolous talk are: disorderliness of the bodily organs and unacceptable speech.

To complete the offence of covetousness (abijjha) two conditions are necessary, viz: another's property and strong desire for it, saying would this property were mine'. The effect of covetousness is unfulfilment of one's wishes.

To complete the offence of ill-will (Vyapada) two conditions are necessary. viz: another being and the intention of doing harm. The effects of illwill are: ugliness, various diseases and detestable nature.

False view (Micchaditthi) means seeing things wrongly without understanding what they truly are. To complete this false view two conditions are necessary, viz: perverted manner in which an object is viewed and the misunderstanding of it according to that view. The effects of false view are: base attachment, lack of wisdom, dull wit, chronic diseases and blameworthy ideas. (Expositor Pt. 1, p. 128).

(II) Good Kamma which produces its effect in the plane of desires:

There are ten moral actions - namely;

1) generosity (Dana),
2) morality (Sila),
3) meditation (Bhavana),
4) reverence (Apacayana),
5) service (Veyyavacca),
6) transference of merit (Pattidana),
7) rejoicing in others' merit (Anumodana),
8) hearing the doctrine (Dhammasavana),
9) expounding the doctrine (Dhammadesana), and
10) forming correct views (Ditthijjukamma).

'Generosity' yields wealth. 'Morality' causes one to be born in noble families in states of happiness. 'Meditation' gives birth in planes of form and formless planes, and helps to gain higher knowledge and emancipation.

'Reverence' is the cause of noble parentage. 'Service' is the cause of a large retinue. 'Transference of merit' causes one to be able to give in abundance in future birth. 'Rejoicing in others merit' is productive of joy wherever one is born. Both hearing and expounding the Doctrine are conducive to wisdom.

(III) Good Kamma which produces its effect in the planes of form. It is of five types which are purely mental, and done in the process of meditation, viz:

1) The first state of Jhana which has five constituents: initial application, sustained application, rapture, happiness and one- pointedness of the mind.

2) The second state of Jhana which occurs together with sustained application, rapture, happiness, one-pointedness of the mind.

3) The third state of Jhana which occurs together with rapture, happiness and one-pointedness of the mind.

4) The fourth stage of Jhana which occurs together with happiness and one-pointedness of the mind.

5) The fifth stage of Jhana which occurs together with equanimity and one-pointedness of the mind.

(IV) Good Kamma which produces its effect in the formless planes. It is of four types which are also purely mental and done in the process of meditation, viz:

1) Moral consciousness, dwelling in the infinity of space.
2) Moral consciousness dwelling in the infinity of consciousness.
3) Moral consciousness dwelling on nothingness.
4) Moral consciousness wherein perception is so extremely subtle that it cannot be said whether it is or is not.


Kamma, as has been stated above, is not fate, is not irrevocable destiny. Nor is one bound to reap all that one has sown in just proportion. The actions (Kamma) of men are not absolutely irrevocable and only a few of them are so. If, for example, one fires off a bullet out of a rifle, one cannot call it back or turn it aside from its mark. But if, instead of a lead or iron ball through the air, it is an ivory ball on a smooth green board that one sets moving with a billiard cue, one can send after it and at it another ball in the same way, and change its course. Not only that, if one is quick enough, and one has not given it too great an impetus, one might even get round to the other side of the billiard-table, and send against it a ball which would meet it straight in the line of its course and bring it to a stop on the spot. With one's later action with the cue, one modifies, or even in favourable circumstances, entirely neutralizes one's earlier action. It is in much the same way that Kamma operates in the broad stream of general life. There, too, one's action (Kamma) of a later day may modify the effects of one's action (Kamma) of a former day. If this were not so, what possibility would there ever be of a man's getting free from all Kamma forever. It would be perpetually self-continuing energy that could never come to an end.

Man has, therefore, a certain amount of free-will and there is almost every possibility to mould his life or to modify his actions. Even a most vicious person can by his own free-will and effort become the most virtuous person. One may at any moment change for the better or for the worse. But everything in the world including man himself is dependent on conditions, and without conditions nothing whatsoever can arise or enter into existence. Man therefore has only a certain amount of free-will and not absolute free-will. According to Buddhist philosophy, everything. mental or physical, arises in accordance with laws and conditions. If it were not so, there would reign chaos and blind chance. Such a thing, however, is impossible, and if it would be otherwise, all laws of nature which modern science has discovered would be powerless.

The real, essential nature of action (Kamma) of man is mental. When a given thought has arisen in one's mind a number of times, there is a definite tendency to recurrence of that thought.

When a given act has been performed a number of times, there is a definite tendency to the repetition of that act. Thus each act, mental or physical, tends to constantly produce its like, and be in turn produced. If a man thinks a good thought, speaks a good word, does a good deed, the effect upon him is to increase the tendencies to goodness present in him, is to make him a better man. If on the contrary, he does a bad deed in thought, in speech or in action, he has strengthened in himself his bad tendencies, he has made himself a worse man. Having become a worse man, he will gravitate to the company of worse men in the future, and incur all the unhappiness of varying kinds that attends life in such company. On the other hand, the man of a character that is continually growing better, will naturally tend to the companion ship of the good, and enjoy all the pleasantness and comforts and freedom from the ruder shocks of human life which such society connotes.

In the case of a cultured man, even the effect of a greater evil may be minimized, while the lesser evil of an uncultured man may produce its effect to the maximum according to the favourable and unfavourable conditions. The Buddha says:

'Here, O Bhikkhus, a certain person is not disciplined in body, is not disciplined in morality, is not disciplined in mind, is not disciplined in wisdom, is with little good and less virtue, and lives painfully in consequence of trifles. Even a trivial evil act committed by such a person will lead him to a state of misery.

'Here, O Bhikkhus, a certain person is disciplined in body, is disciplined in morality, is disciplined in mind, is disciplined in wisdom, is with much good, is a great being, and lives without limitation. A similar evil act committed by such a person is expiated in this life itself and not even a small effect manifests itself (after death), to say nothing of a great one.

'It is as if, O Bhikkhus, a man were to put a lump of salt into a small cup of water. What do you think. O Bhikkhus? Would now the small amount of water in this cup become saltish and undrinkable?' 'Yes, Lord'. 'And why?' 'Because, Lord, there was very little water in the cup, and so it becomes saltish and undrinkable by this lump of salt.'

'Suppose, O Bhikkhus. a man were to put a lump of salt into the river Ganges. What think you, O Bhikkhus? Would now the river Ganges become saltish and undrinkable by the lump of salt?'

'Nay, indeed, Lord'. 'And why not?'

'Because, Lord, the mass of water in the river Ganges is great, and so it would not become saltish and undrinkable'.

'In exactly the same way. O Bhikkhus, we may have the case of a person who does some slight evil deed which brings him to a state of misery; or again, O Bhikkhus, we may have the case of another person who does the same trivial misdeed, and expiates it in the present life. Not even a small effect manifests itself (after death), to say nothing of a great one.

'We may have, O Bhikkhus, the case of a person who is cast into a prison for a half-penny, for a penny, or for a hundred pence; or again, O Bhikkhus, we may have the case of a person who is not cast into prison for a half-penny, for a penny, or for a hundred pence.

'Who, O Bhikkhus, is cast into prison for a half-penny, for a penny, or for a hundred pence? Whenever, O Bhikkhus, anyone is poor, needy and indigent: he, O Bhikkhus, is cast into prison for a half-penny, for a penny, or for a hundred pence.

'Who, O Bhikkhus, is not cast into prison for a half-penny, for a penny, or for a hundred pence? Whenever, O Bhikkhus, anyone is rich, wealthy and affluent: he, O Bhikkhus, is not cast into prison for a half-penny, for a penny, or for a hundred pence.

'In exactly the same way, O Bhikkhus, we may have the case of a person who does some slight evil deed which brings him into a state of misery; or, again, O Bhikkhus, we may have the case of another person who does the same trivial deed, and expiates it in the present life. Not even a small effect manifests itself (after death), to say nothing of a great one'. (Anguttara Nikaya, Part 1.).


The more we understand the law of Kamma, the more we see how careful we must be of our acts, words and thoughts, and how responsible we are to our fellow beings. Living in the light of this knowledge, we learn certain lessons from the doctrine of Kamma.

1) PATIENCE. Knowing that the Law is our great helper if we live by it, and that no harm can come to us if we work with it, knowing also that it blesses us just at the right time, we learn the grand lesson of patience, not to get excited, and that impatience is a check to progress. In suffering, we know that we are paying a debt, and we learn, if we are wise, not to create more suffering for the future. In rejoicing, we are thankful for its sweetness, and learn, if we are wise, to be still better. Patience brings forth peace, success, happiness and security.

2) CONFIDENCE. The Law being just, perfect, it is not possible for an understanding person to be uneasy about it. If we are uneasy and have no confidence, it shows clearly that we have not grasped the reality of the law. We are really quite safe beneath its wings, and there is nothing to fear in all the wide universe except our own misdeeds. The Law makes man stand on his own feet and rouses his self-confidence. Confidence strengthens, or rather deepens, our peace and happiness and makes us comfortable, courageous; wherever we go the Law is our protector.

3) SELF-RELIANCE. As we in the past have caused ourselves to be what we now are, so by what we do now will our future be determined. A knowledge of this fact and that the glory of the future is limitless, gives us great self-reliance, and takes away that tendency to appeal for external help, which is really no help at all. 'Purity and impurity belong to oneself, no one can purify another' says the Buddha.

4) RESTRAINT. Naturally, if we realize that the evil we do will return to strike us, we shall be very careful Jest we do or say or think something that is not good, pure and true. Knowledge of Kamma will restrain us from wrong-doing for others' sakes as well as for our own.

5) POWER. The more we make the doctrine of Kamma a part of our lives, the more power we gain, not only to direct our future, but to help our fellow beings more effectively. The practice of good Kamma, when fully developed, will enable us to overcome evil and limitations, and destroy all the fetters that keep us from our goal, Nibbana.


According to Buddhism death is 'the temporary end of a temporary phenomenon'. It is not the complete annihilation of the being, for although the organic life has ceased, the kammic force which hitherto actuated it is not destroyed. Our forms are only the outward manifestations of the invisible kammic force. This force carries with it all characteristics which usually lie latent but may rise to the surface at any moment. When the present form perishes another form takes its place according to a good or bad volitional impulse (kamma that was the most powerful) at the moment before death.

At death the kammic force remains entirely undisturbed by the disintegration of the physical body, and the passing away of the present consciousness conditions the coming into being of a fresh one in another birth. The stream of consciousness flows on. It constantly flows on like a river 'receiving from the tributary streams of sense constant accretions to its flood, and ever dispensing to the world around it the thought-stuff it has gathered up by the way'. (Compendium of Philosophy, p. 12). The continuity of flux at death is unbroken in point of time, and there is no breach in the stream of consciousness and so there is no room whatever for an intermediate stage between this life and the next or between any two lives. The only difference between the passing of one ordinary thought moment (or one unit of consciousness) to another, and of the dying thought-moment (consciousness) to the rebirth-consciousness, is that in the former case the change is invisible and in the latter case a marked perceptible death is visible. Rebirth takes place immediately.

It may be asked: is the place always ready to receive this rebirth? The answer is: as a point in the ground is always ready to receive the falling stone, so there is always an appropriate place to receive the rebirth which is conditioned by the natural law of kamma.

Death being a momentary incident, rebirth is immediate. Some years ago it might have been doubtful about such rapidity in the transmission of the life-force; but in these days of scientific methods of investigation we know of such rapid transmission of energy in wireless telegraphy and telephony. Solid walls do not prevent the radio waves from reaching an appropriate receiving set within a room. The transmission of the life-force from one existence to another may be compared to a receiving set that responds to the particular wave-length sent out from a distance of thousands of miles. It is more like the tuning-fork which vibrates in response to a particular note of a particular wave-length in the musical scale. So long as a musical note sets up vibrations in the air, so long will some tuning-fork that is responsive to that particular note, vibrate in unison. When the vibrations of the musical note cease, the tuning-fork will cease to vibrate to that note. And so it is with that restless kammic force, or life-force, which continues to bring about births through appropriate germ plasms or other life-conditions till that restless kammic force ceases to exist in the peace of Nibbana.


In the words of the late Bhikkhu Silacara:

'This new being which is the present manifestation of the stream of kamma-energy is not the same as, and has no identity with the previous one in its line; the aggregate that makes up its composition being different from, and having no identity with, those that make up the being of its predecessor. And yet it is not an entirely different being, since it has the same stream of kamma energy, though modified perchance just by having shown itself in that last manifestation, which is now making its presence known in the sense perceptible world as the new being'.

If we were to obtain a quick motion picture of any particular individual's life from his birth to his death, the most striking fact that would attract our attention would be the changefulness that we should find running right through the series of pictures. The infant changes to the child, the child to the adult, and the adult to the decrepit old person who collapses to death. This change goes on in every part of the individual's body; and not only in the body but in the mind also. So that any adult individual who surveys his own existence will realize that the child that was, is now no more. That child had a different body, in size as well as in form, different likes and dislikes, and different aspirations. That child is almost a stranger to the present adult individual. And yet the adult individual is responsible for whatever he has done in his childhood because there is a continuity (or identity) in the process of life-force from childhood to manhood, as a child becomes a man.

In exactly the same way the new being has the same stream of kammic energy, or life-force, as its predecessor, so it is responsible for whatever its predecessor has done. This new being has as much identity with the previous one as the adult individual of today has with the child that was; nothing less and nothing more.

This is well expressed in the Milinda Panha. King Milinda asked Arahant Nagasena whether he who is reborn remains the same or becomes another. 'Neither the same nor another', was the answer he received.

'Suppose, O King. that a man were to light a lamp, would it burn the night through?'

'Yes, it might do so, Venerable Sir'.

'Now, is it the same flame that burns in the first watch of the night, Sir, and in the second?'

'No, Venerable Sir'.

'Or the same that burns in the second watch and in the third?'

'No. Venerable Sir'.

'Then is there one lamp in the first watch, and another in the second, and another in the third?'

'No, the light comes from the same lamp all the night through'.

'Just so, 0 King, is the continuity of a person or a thing maintained. One passes away, another comes into being; and the rebirth is, as it were, simultaneous. Thus, neither as the same nor as another does a man go on to the last phase of his self-consciousness'.

Asked for another illustration, Arahanta Nagasena gives that of milk which, once it is taken from the cow, after a lapse of time, turns first to curds, and then from curds to butter, and then from butter to ghee. Just as it would not be correct to say that the milk was the same thing as the curds, or the butter, or the ghee, but that they are produced out of it, so he points out the continuity of a person or a thing as being maintained in the same way.

There is also the illustration of a wave of water in a lake or the ocean. A certain mass of water is raised up as a wave. As the wave passes on, or seems to pass on, a moment or so later it is not the same mass of water that forms the wave, but a different mass altogether. And yet we speak of the wave 'passing on'.

The present being, present existence, is conditioned by how one faced circumstances in the last, and in all past existences. One's present position in character and circumstances is the result of all that one has been up to the present; but what one will be in the future depends on what one does now in the present. The true Buddhist regards death as a momentary incident between one life and its successor, and views its approach with calmness. His only concern is that his future should be such that the conditions of that life may provide him with better opportunities for perfecting himself. Holding, as he does, the great doctrine of kamma, he perceives that it is within his power to alter or modify the quality of the life force that continues in the next birth, and that his future environment will depend entirely on what he does, upon how he behaves, in this and in his previous lives.


Every birth is conditioned by a past good or bad kamma (action) which predominates at the moment of death. Our forms are only the outward manifestations of the invisible kammic force, and this force carries with it all our characteristics which usually lie latent, but may rise to the surface at unexpected moments. The death of a person is merely the temporary end of a temporary phenomenon, the present form perishing and another taking its place in accordance with the thought that was most powerful at the death moment.

One unit of consciousness perishes only to give birth to another, persistently flowing on like a river. When a person is about to die, no renewed physical function recurs as from the seventeenth thought moment reckoned backwards from the point of death. The material qualities of the body which are produced by kamma, temperature, mind and nutriment from food, arise no more, this critical stage being comparable to the flickering of a lamp just before it becomes extinguished. Now to this dying man one of three things appear very vividly before his mind's eye, namely, kamma, kamma nimitta or gati nimitta.


By kamma is meant some action of his, whether good or bad; and if it is his WEIGHTY KAMMA, which is one of the four kinds of kamma, or action, that condition the future birth, such weighty kamma will certainly produce results in this life or in the next. Weighty kamma can be good or bad; such a thing as jhanic practice, for example, being good, and killing, which is bad, especially so in the case of the most serious crimes involving matricide, patricide, the murder of an arahant or the mere wounding even of a Buddha. As said above, weighty kamma such as that just mentioned, will for certain produce results in this life or the next.

If a dying man has no such weighty kamma as the object of his dying thought he may take an action, kamma, done immediately prior to the death moment; this is known as asanna, DEATH PROXIMATE KAMMA. Owing to the great part it plays in determining the future birth, much importance is attached to the type of object of the final dying thought moment; and the custom of reminding the dying man of his good deeds, and making him do good deeds on his death-bed, still prevails in Burma, Ceylon and other Buddhist countries.

Sometimes a bad person may die happily and receive a good birth, if fortunately he remembers or does a good act at the last moment, but although he enjoys a good rebirth this does not mean he will be exempt from the effects of the evil deeds he performed during his previous lifetime. On occasions, a good person may die unhappily by suddenly remembering an evil act of his, or by harbouring some unpleasant thought perchance compelled by unfavourable circumstances. These, however, are exceptional cases, for as a rule the last thought moment is conditioned by the general conduct of a person. In any event it is always advisable to remind the dying person of his good deeds, and to turn his attention away from all worldly bonds and worries.

HABITUAL KAMMA is next in priority of effect. It is the type of action that one habitually performs and remembers, and these habits, whether good or bad, become second nature as it were, tending to form the character of a person. In one's leisure moments one frequently reverts to a characteristic type of thought; a miser, for instance, will constantly be thinking of his money and may not be able to detach his mind from his cherished possessions; a social worker will be interested in his social activities; a spiritual adviser will be always intent on his spiritual work. Thus each one of us may be dominated by our habitual doings, especially at our death moment.

In the absence of all these as objects of the dying thought moment, some casual act is presented from the accumulated reserves of the endless past. Each being has his reserve fund, so to speak, of CUMULATIVE KAMMA which may at any time become the object of the dying thought moment.

So one of these four actions, kammas, naturally appears very vividly before the mind's eye of the dying man. i.e., weighty kamma, death proximate kamma, habitual kamma, cumulative kamma.


In the case of kamma nimitta the object of the dying thought moment is that thing appearing in the form of a sight, sound, smell, taste, touch or idea which has been dominantly associated with the performance of a particular kamma, such as knives in the case of a butcher, patients in the case of a doctor, an object of worship in the case of a devotee, etc.


This means that the object of the dying thought moment takes the form of some sign of the place where the dying man will take rebirth, a thing which frequently happens to dying persons. Symbols of one's destiny may be forests, mountainous regions, mother's womb, celestial mansions, etc. When these indications of the future birth occur, and if they are bad, they can be turned into good. This is done by influencing the thoughts of the dying man so that his good thoughts may now act as good proximate kamma, and counteract the influence of the bad kamma which would otherwise affect his subsequent birth.

Taking kamma, kamma nimitta or gati nimitta for its object, the dying man's thought process reaches the actual death consciousness, the final conscious state in this life. With the cessation of this final conscious state, death actually occurs. Death is merely the temporary end of a temporary phenomenon, it is not the complete annihilation of the being. Although the organic life has ceased, the force which hitherto actuated it is not destroyed; just as electric light is only the outward visible manifestation of invisible electric energy, even so are we only the outward manifestation of invisible kammic energy. When the electric light bulb breaks, the light is extinguished but the current remains, and light again becomes manifest upon concurrence with another suitable bulb. In the same way the kammic force remains entirely undisturbed by the disintegration of the physical vehicle.

The final conscious state in a life that is ceasing, conditions the immediately succeeding conscious state; however, this immediately succeeding conscious state will be occurring in and as the very first state of consciousness in the new life, and so the process continues. The succeeding consciousness inherits all the past activities, but the new being, which is the present manifestation of the stream of kammic energy, is not the same as the previous one. However, to the extent that it inherits the same past causal conditions, neither can it be said to be entirely different.

The stream of consciousness flows on, the transition of the flux being so instantaneous that there is no room whatsoever for an intermediate state. According to Tibetan Buddhist works, there is an intermediate state where beings remain for some days or for some weeks, or until the forty-ninth day; and according to Theosophical teachings, between every two lives we have a beautiful holiday in heaven, called Devachan, in which we think over all that happened to us in our previous life and digest all our experiences gained in our past lives.

According to Buddhism the continuity of flux at death is unbroken in point of time, and there is no breach in the stream of consciousness. The only difference between the passing of one thought moment to another, and of the dying thought moment to the rebirth consciousness, is that in the former case the change is invisible and in the latter case a marked perceptible death is visible. Rebirth is instantaneous.

You may ask, is the place always ready to receive this rebirth?' The answer is that in the same way as a point in the ground is always ready to receive the falling stone, so is there always an appropriate place to receive the rebirth which is conditioned by kamma.


In the event of war being thrust upon his country, you may ask whether a Buddhist ought to volunteer for military service. From a Buddhist point of view the answer is. 'No'. On no account, and for no reason whatsoever should a Buddhist volunteer to go and kill.

You may say that Buddhists should never become escapists from reality, but what is this reality you speak of? Presumably you mean by it the world in which you live, the life about you in which you and all of us take a greater or lesser part; but of what does it consist, what is this samsara in which we have our being? If you examine it closely you will find that it is a gigantic compound result, arisen from causes inextricably intermingled. It is subject to constant change, even as the causes underlying it are changing incessantly; indeed, you yourself, all of us, are changing continuously from year to year, from day to day. from moment to moment. You are not the man you were last week, nor even the man you were a few minutes ago. Such is samsara, an ever-changing compound. Can this rightly be called reality?

Now the counterpart of samsara is Nibbana, which, when literally translated, means 'no craving', that indescribable state where craving, hatred and delusion are not, and where change - the result of craving, hatred and delusion - has come to an end, whence there is no more suffering. The Buddha was able to describe Nibbana, and we find his description in Udana VIlI.

A study of that passage will show that Nibbana is the real, in contradistinction to the unreal world of everyday life which man has created for himself. A Buddhist, that is, a follower of the Buddha, aims to seek Nibbana, the real. In doing so he will follow that path pointed out by his Master who realized Nibbana so long before him. The Buddhist layman will follow, therefore, at least the five precepts laid down by the Buddha, the first of which enjoins him not to kill any living creature. If this precept is carried into practice logically and consistently it is clear what the Buddhist's conduct should be in the event of war, even if the war is 'forced upon his country by an aggressor nation.

In the Majjhima Nikaya (Vol. I) we find the following passage. 'Yea, disciples, even if highway robbers with a two-handed saw should take and dismember you limb by limb, whoso grew darkened in mind thereby would not be fulfilling my injunctions. Even then, disciples, thus must ye school yourselves, 'unsullied shall our minds remain, neither shall evil word escape our lips. Kind and compassionate ever, we will abide loving of heart nor harbour secret hate. And those robbers will we permeate with a stream of loving thought unfailing; and forth from them proceeding, enfold and permeate the whole wide world with constant thoughts of loving-kindness, ample, expanding. measureless, free from enmity, free from ill-will'. Thus, my disciples, thus must ye school yourselves'.

Not to escape from reality, therefore, but in order to find the real, will the Buddhist layman obey the first precept, and he will do so even if it should bring him into conflict with mass opinion. Escapists from reality are those who, rather than think for themselves, allow themselves to be swept along by mass hysteria and slogans, who dare not be different from their fellows.


We begin our Buddhist meetings by reciting the formula of the three refuges (tisarana):

Buddham saranam gacchami - I go to the Buddha for refuge
Dhammam saranam gacchami -
I go to the Dhamma for refuge
Sangham saranam gacchami - I go to the Sangha for refuge

These three are also called the triple gem, or the threefold jewels (tiratana). Ratana means that which gives delight, pleasure, that which pleases. There are seven kinds of jewels, i.e., gold, silver and the other five of precious stones. These are called jewels, ratanas, because they give us delight, pleasure, but of a worldly, material nature, and therefore we take them as ornaments and not as refuges; whereas the other threefold jewels, the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, give us real spiritual pleasure and happiness, and therefore we take them not as ornaments but as our guides and refuges against the evil power of ignorance, greed, hatred and illwill.

We go to the Buddha for refuge because he had boundless compassion for man's weakness, sorrow, disappointment and suffering, and because he found for us the path of deliverance by his own ceaseless effort through countless lives. He has given us great encouragement and inspiration to fight against evil until we overcome it. He is our supreme teacher.

We go to the Dhamma for refuge because it enables one who follows it to attain the end of all dissatisfaction and suffering through the attainment of enlightenment, perfect wisdom and perfect equanimity. The best way to follow the Buddha and pay homage to him is to follow the Dhamma in our lives. In following the Dhamma there are three stages: study, practice and realization. First we should study the pure Dhamma preached by the Buddha, followed by the arahats and theras. and which is now known in the West as Theravada, the author of which is the Buddha himself. Dhamma means truth; thus the teaching of the Buddha is called Dhamma since it enables one to see the truth. Because it consists of three divisions it is also called Tipitaka. The divisions are entitled Vinaya. Sutta and Abhidhamma. and they are so called because of their differences in treatment and analysis. Until recently there has never been any doubt. dispute or argument about the divisions, but one has heard some people say now that Abhidhamma is not the teaching of the Buddha himself, but a later development. Well, the answer to that is not far to seek, and one of the simplest answers is that if the Abhidhamma is not the Buddha's teaching, and therefore not the third division, what then would be the third division in its place? If there is no third division why do we have the original old, well recognized word Tipitaka. which means threefold division?

We should study not only the Pali canon but also the commentaries, especially by Buddhaghosa who re-wrote the old vast commentaries which existed before his time and to which he often referred in his commentaries. His explanations are not based on his own opinion, but are based on the Buddha's teachings themselves. We cannot do without his commentaries, which the theras of that time and their unbroken descendants down to the present day have regarded as correct and the most helpful. When one translates from the Pali into one's own language a verse by the Buddha, one will of course use one's own knowledge of the term and subject, and one's own common sense. but it is wiser first to consult the commentaries and sub-commentaries for the orthodox meaning. There are commentaries on all the teachings of the Buddha, but unfortunately very few of them have been translated into English; we need more Pali scholars like Miss Horner (deceased 1981), there is a lot to be done yet in this respect. We should study pure Dhamma, and spread pure Dhamma.

The second stage in following the Dhamma is to practise it in daily life. Since we are subject to birth, old age, sickness, death, and we suffer from dissatisfaction and unhappiness, we are sick people. The Buddha is compared to an experienced and skilful physician. and the Dhamma is compared with the proper medicine; but however efficient the physician may be, and however wonderful the medicine may be, we cannot be cured unless and until we ourselves actually take the medicine. I think many of us are in need of some medicine to cure us of our misunderstanding of one another, our impatience. irritability, lack of sympathy and metta (loving-kindness). Right understanding. patience. tolerance, goodwill and loving-kindness are the primary and elementary principles of Buddhism. For the average person this may prove to be difficult to practise. but we should be trying to rise above the average. Buddhists should be good examples to others by practising what they preach: examples are better than any preaching. Only by practice can realization, the understanding of things as they really are, devoid of concept, be achieved. The only way in which we can truly express our gratitude and veneration for the Buddha, our Master, who with infinite compassion showed us the road to the end of suffering, is by practising the Dhamma.

Lastly we go the the Sangha for refuge. because the Sangha is the living stream through which the Dhamma flows to us.

Sangha literally means group. but here it means a group of saints who have reached the aryan noble stage. There are eight stages, from the first of initiation to the eighth of arahatta. perfect saint. A bhikkhu who has not attained to any of the states, but sincerely follows the Dhamma, belongs to the Sangha.

The Sangha is the point at which the Buddha-Dhamma makes direct contact with humanity', it is the bridge between living men and absolute truth. The Buddha greatly emphasized its importance as a necessary institution for the well-being of mankind; for, if there had not been the Sangha. the Buddha-Dhamma would have become a mere legend and tradition after the passing of the Buddha. Not only has the Sangha preserved the word of the Master, but also the unique spirit of the Noble Teaching. It cannot exist, however, without the support of the lay Buddhists, upasakas and upasikas. Those who help to maintain the Sangha, benefit both themselves and others, for in so doing they not only acquire merit but they are helping to keep alive and spread the Noble Teaching.

The task of each and every Buddhist is first to make the Buddha Dhamma a living reality, by studying it and practising it in everyday life. When we live in accordance with the Dhamma we can speak about it with authority. Secondly, a Buddhist's task is to spread the pure Buddha-Dhamma, or to help the Sangha who devote their whole lives to the study, practice and spreading of the pure Dhamma - which is excellent in the beginning, in the middle and in the end. Thereby we become helpers of humanity and messengers of peace and happiness.


The Parliament of the Union of Burma passed unanimously the following resolution, moved by the Religious Affairs Minister, on the 1st October 1951:

'That not being satisfied with the measures usually undertaken hitherto by the peoples and governments of the world for the solution of the problems confronting mankind, by promoting the material well-being of man in his present existence in the form of ameliorating his living conditions and standard of life; and also being fully aware of the fact that such measures would result only in a partial solution of the problems, this Parliament declares its firm belief that it is necessary to devise and undertake such measures for the spiritual and moral well-being of man as would remove these problems and help man to overcome Greed, Hatred and Delusion which are at the root of all the violence, destruction and conflagration consuming the world.'

In pursuance of the above resolution and in furtherance of its general plan for the spiritual and moral uplift of man, the Government of the Union of Burma have provided one million pounds to form the central fund for the purpose of making necessary preparations for holding the Sixth Great Buddhist Council in Rangoon. This project involves two principal pro grammes of work:

(a) Preparation of the Buddhist Texts.
(b) Erections of necessary buildings for the Great Council.

The holding of the Sixth Great Council will be the most momentous event not only in the history of Burma but also of Asia and the Buddhist world. Throughout the history of nearly 2500 years since the demise of the Buddha, there have been five Great Buddhist Councils held for the purpose of re-examination and recension of the teaching of the Buddha with a view to preserving the same in its pristine purity. The First Great Council was held soon after the demise of the Buddha with the support of King Ajatasattu. a most devoted follower of the Buddha and a powerful king of North India, when all the principal disciples assembled together at the city of Rajagaha and proceeded to recite, classify and arrange all the teachings of the Buddha.

In that Great Council in 546 B.C., soon after the Buddha's death, it was considered necessary to entrust different portions of the teachings of the Buddha to different groups of disciples who came to be known as the Reciters of the Texts. The groups of monks to whom these portions of the Texts were entrusted, and their pupils after them, preserved the Texts by learning and reciting them, and thus the original teachings of the Buddha were handed down by word of mouth from teacher to pupil for over four centuries, until the Texts were committed to writing for the first time in Ceylon in 29 B.C. To these groups of monks we owe the preservation of the original teachings of the Buddha in the form of Pali Texts.

The Second Great Council was held at Vesali in 443 B.C. with the support of King Kalasoka, and the Third Great Council at Pataliputta in 308 B.C. with the support of Emperor Asoka. through whose good offices and religious zeal Buddhism spread to almost all the then known countries of the world. The Fourth Great Council was held in Ceylon in about 29 B.C. where the Texts were committed to writing for the first time, as it was then felt that it would no longer be safe under modern conditions to leave such vital teachings to human memory. The Fifth Great Council was held when the Texts were recorded on 729 marble slabs at Mandalay, Burma, in 1871 with the support of King Mindon.

The forthcoming Great Council will have the collaboration and participation of the learned monks of Ceylon, Siam. Cambodia, India, Pakistan, Nepal etc., and thus have a much wider significance than any of the previous Great Councils. Five hundred Buddhist monks in Burma who are well versed in the study and practice of the teachings of the Buddha, take the responsibility of re-examining the Texts; for that purpose they are organized into ten groups so that each group would be responsible for a particular portion of the Texts. A large group of lay scholars edits the first draft of the Texts in Pali and also makes original draft Burmese translations for submission to the respective groups of monks. In each of the Buddhist countries as far as possible, national groups of monks have been organized on similar lines. The preparation may take about three years and the first meeting of the Great Council will take place on the Vesakha, the full moon day of May 1954. The Council will go on till the completion of its task on the Vesakha, the full moon of May 1956 which will coincide with the completion of the 2500th year of the Buddhist era, i.e. 2500th anniversary of the Buddha's passing away.

The buildings which have been newly erected for holding the Sixth Great Council, include one large assembly hall, one ordination hall, one library, a few blocks of hostels and dormitories, small meditation huts and such other buildings as may be required for use as a sanatorium, lecture theatres, staff residential flats and quarters. offices, press etc. When the Sixth Great Council is over, these buildings will be used for the new Buddhist University which is expected to become not only the seat of Buddhist learning, culture and civilization but also the spiritual centre of South East Asia. radiating such irresistible and over-powering rays of Wisdom, Truth and Righteousness as will dispel from the earth those dark and evil forces rooted in Greed, Hatred, and Delusion which are now threatening to swamp and swallow the whole of Asia and of the world.

All these achievements of the past, and plans and preparations for the future, are the outcome of the unprecedented and happy unity of purpose and harmony of action between the community of monks and the Government and the people of Burma, in spite of all the troubles and tribulations following in the wake of her newly won independence. They have passed through dark days, and there is still a long and difficult road ahead of them; but they are confident that it is the strength of Buddhism that has borne them through countless tribulations, and they look to it with supreme confidence to enable them to help the troubled and benighted world in achieving peace, prosperity and happiness.

May all beings throughout the universe share the merits of our work and may peace be established in the world.


While Western cultures stem from a dozen different sources; from the old magics of the dawn of time, persisting longer in the cold western climes; from the Greek tradition; from the Norse tradition; from the blending and play on those of the impacts of the Hebrews, the Huns and the Arabs, with Christianity as a moulding force, the culture of Asia is firmly rooted in the religions of Asia.

The genuine culture of Asia is based entirely on the spiritual principles of its religions. The cultural life of the Asian countries would not exist without this spiritual basis.

So much so that this highlights the difference in our culture as compared with Western culture, and has given rise to the myth of 'the unchanging East'. Asia changes and is changing gradually, developing slowly and consistently to more and more beautiful forms like the opening of a thousand-petalled lotus which appears so often in our imagery.

Take away our religion and what of culture is left? Just what would be left if you took away from the lotus the life-giving waters ...nothing but the odour of decay.

This applies not only to Buddhism but to the two great faiths of Hinduism and Islam as well.

What is Buddhism?

The answer is in the Dhammapada:

'Sabbapapassa akaranam,
kusalassa upasampada,
etam Buddhana sasanam.

Not to do any evil,
to cultivate good,
to purify one's thoughts,
- this is the Teaching of the Buddhas.'

Inasmuch as the Hindus and the Moslems teach these as eternal truths and verities, we honour these great faiths therefore. Where the Buddhist bases his actions, his culture, his whole life on the law of cause and effect working through Kamma. the Hindu postulates a Supreme Being as the author of Kamma and the Moslem regards the tremendous laws of day and night, of life and death, of growth and decay' as 'manifesting the power of Allah and attesting his sovereignty'.

Though difference there is, there is not so much difference here as may at first appear, for the great laws of decay and death and the greater law of love is recognized by all.

This is the thread that joins and harmonizes all Asian culture. This is the thread that the materialists have sought to snap, in vain. That is true, but the danger is not over, and indeed is intensifying. Why is this? Why is there to be seen everywhere a decline in spiritual values? It is simply because the spiritual has for some time now been neglected for the purely material values. Spiritual and moral concepts of some Asians as well as of some Westerners have been deteriorating rapidly. There has been an over-emphasis on purely material value.

Nobody would deny that material values are values. On one occasion the Buddha knew that a certain man was ripe for salvation and would understand the Doctrine. But he demanded that the man who was hungry, first be fed. Only then would he be able to pay the requisite attention to the Teaching.

It is useless preaching spiritual things to hungry people, to the sore oppressed. On the other hand it is just as useless to preach materialism to people who are spiritually starved. For this materialism, in the absence of any spiritual force, will turn and rend itself, will inspire the leaders of a country or a movement to make plays for power, through greed, that will destroy the people and destroy that which would make for the very material prosperity they seek. We have seen instances of this in history right up to the present day.

Only by maintaining the spiritual force in its full power can we get the best out of the material advances which modern science is everywhere making.

In the world as a whole there is enough material and no lack of intellect. What then is lacking? The spiritual basis of culture is lacking, the world is disturbed and peace eludes us. Men distrust each other. Conflicts, greed-based conflicts, racial, political, religious, economic, bring war due to the lack of a spiritual basis of culture.

The word 'culture' is here used in the sense of refinement of thought and activity in human life. This term 'culture' is very wide in its significance. It includes religion, philosophy, ethics, politics, economics, every human activity. The basic inspiring principles of a man's life or that of a race or that of a country, along with the way of life adopted, constitute the basis of their culture. It is therefore impossible to expect oneness or uniformity or identity of culture. In a profound harmony, it is the variety that gives depth and feeling.

But if culture is to amount to anything worth having and really worthy of the name, it must be spiritually based. With Asians it has been, and still is, spiritually based and a part of and not apart from their religions.

A so-called material culture leads, as we have seen, to conflict, to war, to greed and to desolation.

Taking all nations as one whole, there is in the world to-day sufficient wealth and ability to abolish unemployment, poverty, much of disease and hardship, and certainly all of cruelty and oppression. The world possesses all that it needs, and the discovery of new sources of power can, if scientists will but unite in a commonwealth of humanity, give all mankind the leisure to work for good and for happiness, instead of for mere subsistence.

This is the disease and the remedy. But how are we to persuade this sick world patient to take the remedy?

We must show him that the materialist way of looking for gold on the earth all the time, averting his gaze from the stars and the sun and the moon, will but lead him into a bog, just as he will fall into a bog if he keeps his gaze forever on the stars and never looks about him.

We must give him a remedy, persuade him to take it, and persuade him to walk on the way of Truth and Enlightenment, to a better and more prosperous living here, that will give him leisure to walk the way of salvation. Here is the safe way and the safe remedy.

The only way to impart this remedy is by making it practical, by education, true education; by imparting it with vigour. If we can propagate the Truth with half as much vigour as the materialists propagate untruth, we shall save the world.

To establish lasting peace and happiness, a genuine religious, spiritual awakening is absolutely necessary. That awakening is here, but energy is required to keep it awakening. What is of importance is not mere faith, rituals and ceremonies in religion but lives of compassion and love and reason and justice based on the moral, spiritual principles of religion. True religion is an education of the heart, and exercise of the heart and of the mind. True education is the free development of personality and character and conduct within a framework of morality, of love for one's neighbour. It is not mere acquisition of information, but information of such a character that it inspires and embodies in itself the capacity for its use in the expression of personality. No doctrine merely held in the mind has any driving force; no doctrine is of any value unless it is applied. One must study and apply the Teaching; applying it first to oneself, only then can wisdom come. The Buddha said: 'A beautiful thought or word which is not followed by a corresponding action is like a bright-hued flower that bears no fruit'.

Man has been described as 'a thinking animal', and between man and animal there is no great gulf. But man, along with animal instincts and sensual feeling, has memory and reason to guard and to guide him. As a moral being, guided by moral conscience, man rather than living lower than the animals by neglecting and spurning reason and human feeling, can use his ability to rise to supreme heights if he will make up his mind to endure the hard climb.

And there is something in man that welcomes a challenge, especially if the challenge is shown to be a challenge to himself, calling on him to rise and act and to act and rise, to rise indeed above the world.

This indeed is the very essence of religion, of true religion: the very essence of spirituality. Not the preaching of 'Be good and you will be happy'. Not the teaching of mere rite and ritual, but the positive action, the striving, the improving, the loving, the comradeship of men of goodwill.

This is what must be propagated to keep the present awakening of spiritual values a real progressive awakening; to oppose with it the negativistic materialisms which deny spiritual values and make vague promises of heaven on earth, evolution after evolution.

There has been too much defeatism on the part of religions. We are an army with banners. The Buddha pointed out that: For lofty virtue, for high endeavour, for sublime wisdom - for these things do we wage war; therefore are we called warriors'.

The sun of reasoned spirituality is rising and the dark clouds of materialism cannot stand before it.

We shall win if you march with us.


Pali is the original language in which the Buddha spoke and all the Buddhist scriptures were written. The serious student of Buddhism is undoubtedly to derive more advantage from a knowledge of Pali than from the knowledge of any other language. In the first place he thereby gains access to the vast stores of a noble literature. The advantage of being able to read the original Buddhist scriptures called Tipitakas or three baskets of the canon, which have been estimated by some English translators of them to be eleven times the size of the Christian Bible, and the commentaries on them, is incalculable.

It is true that most of the Buddhist scriptures and some of their commentaries have been translated into many Asian languages and also some European languages, and that those translations were honest attempts to get at the truth. Unfortunately, however, some of them are totally incorrect and misleading, or, at the very least, ambiguous. The English rendering, for example, of the Pali words, sati (mindfulness) by insight, understanding or reason; nama-rupa (mind and matter) by image and ideal; sankhara (kamma-formations, 50 mental properties or conditioned things) by tendencies or conceptions and Nibbana (extinction of greed) by annihilation or nothingness, are some of the worst interpretations by some Western scholars. The Italian proverb that translators are traitors, is worth remembering in this regard.

The readers who rely on such mistaken terms have often misunderstood the true meaning and the true nature of such fundamental principles of Buddhism as the Eightfold Path, the Four Noble Truths, the Paticcasamuppada, the Five Groups of Existence and the doctrine of Anatta, which is the essence of the whole Teaching of the Buddha. The Dhamma, therefore, should only be described by those who have not only confidence in it but also a proper knowledge of Pali, otherwise the writer is likely to miss the true nature of it which alone makes the Teaching a living thing capable of swaying the lives of men. Without this vital point his effort is bound to be not only futile but harmful to the Teaching.

Probably no religion has suffered so much in this respect as Buddhism. In the first place, Buddhism is an oriental religion which was quite unknown to Europe a hundred years ago, and its discovery was so gradual that the whole of its scriptures have not been properly translated. Of the commentaries on the scriptures, scarcely any prominent part except the Dhammapada and Dhammasangani has been translated into any European languages. Under these circumstances it is not surprising that some Western writers misrepresented Buddhism in the most grotesque manner.

Among the Western writers on Buddhism there were some who had no intention of doing justice to Buddhism but were only concerned with showing that it was a heathen religion and inferior to the existing faith of the West. There were also others who were not only friendly but had a good intention and yet often took a distorted, one sided view, for the simple reason that their knowledge of Pali and Buddhism was inadequate. As a result there have been some extraordinary mixtures of misconceptions and queer ideas, or, in some cases, of Theosophy and Hinduism that have passed for Buddhism in the West.

The English language in the world of ideas is so impregnated with the Christian view of life that it has, in many cases, no equivalent ideas to the Buddhist ones. It is therefore difficult, if not impossible, to convey Buddhist ideas through the medium of the English language which has no perfect equivalents for the words required by them. The word 'bhikkhu' for instance. although its Pali meaning is a very simple one, has no English equivalent that exactly conveys the meaning of it. It is often mistranslated as a beggar or priest or monk. As he does not beg in the true sense of the word he (bhikkhu) is not a beggar. Neither is he a priest, because he does not act as a mediator between God and man. Nor is he strictly a monk, since he is not bound by any vows. As a result, in the books on Buddhism in English the Western reader will come across a great number of Pali words retained for that reason.

This being the case, the serious student who genuinely wishes to gain an understanding of the profound teaching of the Buddha should be prepared to take a little trouble to acquaint himself with its essential keywords, or to acquire such working knowledge of Pali as will enable him to understand the sublime Dhamma in its true light.

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updated: 01-08-2002