Thai Forest Dhamma

in the tradition of Lungphu Mun Bhuridatto

and his western disciples

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Questions and Answers

The difference between 'mind' and 'consciousness'
Is the citta atman or anatta
How important is the samadhi approach in terms of vipassana
What is reborn?

The difference between 'mind' and 'consciousness'

Question

Please explain the difference between 'mind' and 'consciousness'. To my mundane, unenlightened understanding at present, the mind is one of the six senses and is conventionally called the sixth sense. All the other senses have a physical basis, i.e. sight has the eye as its 'base'; hearing, the ear; touch, the body; and so on. Where is the 'base' for mind? I understand that mind is where we put our attention, but, intrinsically, where is its 'base' as one of the six senses. Consciousness (vedanā) is one of the five khandhās, so does that mean it does not belong to the mind? I am very confused. Please elaborate the difference between mind and consciousness. Are they the same?

Answer by Ajahn Martin Piyadhammo

I think might be helpful to straighten out the definitions. The five khandhās are either the tools of the kilesas or the tools of the Dhamma; whichever of these sits on the 'throne' is in command of the khandhās. However, when we start practicing, the kilesas and the Dhamma fight to sit on the throne – one side sits for a while, then the other pushes it off, and so on. For the average person in the world, the kilesas sit undisputed on the throne most of the time.
Now, the five khandhās are rūpa, vedanā, sañña, saṅkhāra and viññāṇa generally translated as body, basic feeling, memory and association, short thoughts and consciousness, respectively.
The body has six senses, namely, sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch and thought, all of which have a sense base in the form of an eye, ear, nose, tongue, skin and brain. So what is the problem? The problem is that the citta, that does not have a base because it does not belong to conventional reality. We can only experience this citta when we enter appanā samādhi or when we become an Arahant. The citta that we experience here and now is the citta cloaked with avijjā and loaded with kamma. This citta is the driver of the khandhās. If the citta moves, the khandhās move; if the citta is quiet, the khandhās are quiet. To give a simile, the five khandhās are a biological robot, and the citta is the programmer, so when the programmer orders the robot to do this and that, the robot moves, and when the programmer sleeps, the robot just stands still. Do you understand now? When we normally talk about the mind or the heart, we normally refer to two qualities of the citta stained with defilements, namely, the rational aspect of the citta or the emotional aspect of the citta. So, it is not difficult to see that the 'base' of mind and heart is avijjā and kamma. Without avijjā there would be no consciousness and no kamma. This is illustrated in the doctrine of dependent origination, in which "avijjā pattaya saṅkhāra" (avijjā is the condition for all phenomena to arise), "saṅkhāra pattaya viññāṇa" (phenomena are the conditions for consciousness to arise), "viññāṇa pattaya nāma rūpa" (consciousness is the condition for form and meaning to arise), and so on. I hope you understand now.

Is the citta atman or anatta

Question

I would like to talk about the concept of 'citta' according to the Thai Forest Tradition. Other Theravadin traditions maintain that the concept of 'citta' according to the Thai Forest Tradition is almost a new way of reintroducing the 'atman'concept. Luangta Maha Bua says, "The citta is never born and never dies". So my question is what is the difference between the concept of 'citta' according to the teachings of the Thai Forest Tradition and the vedic concept of atman, since other people say that they seem to be alike?

Answer by Ajahn Martin Piyadhammo

I don't know the concept of atman, so it will be difficult to answer this. The best thing is for you to enter appanā samādhi and then you will know for yourself. However, if the atman is similar to the soul as understood in the West, then this would be analogous to the conventional citta that travels from one birth to the next. The citta has a cloak that covers it, a cloak called 'self'. The cloak is avijjā, and once avijjā has gone, there is only the true citta. So, the true citta and the atman cannot be the same. The term 'atta' means 'self', and the term 'atman' probably comes from that root, but the Lord Buddha teaches anatta, the principle of 'not self'. When fire is extinguished, that is nibbāna. What is left? Just try it out. Light a fire and extinguish it. What is left? As long as an arahant lives, the ingredients for lighting the fire (the five khandhās) are still there, but the fire is gone. Don't mix up the conventional citta with the true citta. The citta never dies, but the cloak that covers the citta and makes it an individual 'self' can be destroyed. This does not mean that the citta dies. It's like raindrops – as long as they are individual raindrops with individual forms they feel special, but once they drop into the ocean, the cloak of individuality is destroyed and they become one with the water. So, has the citta died or the raindrop vanished into thin air?

Question

Can you give me your view on various comments about this issue posted on the internet [the specific website has since been removed, but the reply covers the topic in a more general sense].

Answer by Ajahn Martin Piyadhammo

In the article referred to by the comments on that website, Luangta Maha Bua was talking about the citta, and the comments concerned consciousness. Consciousness (viññāṇa) is one of the khandhās and it is not eternal, of course. The citta is eternal. Just remember what the Lord Buddha said – that the Thatagata after death neither is nor is not. The citta is not individual; it is not personal. How could the Lord Buddha come to Ajahn Mun and teach Dhamma to him in the form of the historical Buddha if there is nothing eternal and everything dies away? In fact, we are grasping the term ‘citta’ wrongly. We think that every being has a citta, but that is not right. Every being is part of the one citta that is eternal – this would be the correct view.

Now, why do we come to believe that there is a citta that belongs to us? It is because when we say 'us', we are talking in terms of the five khandhās. The five khandhās are personalised, are individual. What, then, goes from one life to the next? The answer is kamma. People cannot grasp the idea of the citta, they don't know it, and they confuse it with consciousness. But consciousness doesn't go from one life to the next! So, actually, people do not know what goes from one life to the next. Kamma is caused by intention, and intention is caused by desire...but thinking about this leaves us completely blanked out. What is creating desire? At root, the cause is avijjā, so avijjā is presenting this delusion of 'self'. It's just like a virtual reality game, which gives us the feeling that there is a person, but if nobody plays, there is no person. The citta covered by the cloak of avijjā creates this illusion of a personal citta, and this is what Luangta Maha Bua calls the conventional citta. In the same way, a raindrop is called a raindrop but its essence is the water or the ocean from which it came, and once the raindrop has fallen back into the ocean, where is it? So, when avijjā is destroyed, what remains? It is the pure citta. The raindrop has fallen back into its home, the place from which it originated, and no further raindrops will be created because the sun, which caused it to emerge from the ocean as a raindrop, has been destroyed. People just don't understand; they just cannot grasp something beyond their capabilities to understand, and that's why the Lord Buddha gave them the path and the sign-posts to follow to reach the end. If people do not follow his teaching, how in the world will they ever understand? In that case, the Dhamma just turns into a poisonous snake and bites them, blinding them for a long, long time. Now do you understand? Appanā samādhi is the way to experience this true citta (not the conventional citta) that you can know for yourself day in and day out.

Question

Luangta Maha Bua has written, "A fundamental problem is that we lack the power needed to be our own true self. Instead, we have always taken counterfeit things to be the essence of who we really are, so that the citta's behaviour is never in harmony with its true nature." Venerable Nandisena told me, "You see. That is another way of reintroducing the 'atta' concept into Buddhism." Why is that?

Answer by Ajahn Martin Piyadhammo

First, let's think about what the Lord Buddha said. Nibbāna is extinction. What is extinguished? The fire, or avijjā in other words. Avijjā creates for us an illusion that there is 'self', so if avijjā is gone, 'self' is gone. What else did the Lord Buddha say? He said that it is not correct to state that the Tathagata 'is' after death, and nor is it correct to state that the Tathagata 'is not' after death. People who argue that the pure citta is self most probably fall into the wrong view that after parinibbāna there is nothing. And, of course, that is wrong view according to the Lord Buddha. 'Atman', if I am not wrong, is self. Self is the illusion that is created by avijjā, and once avijjā has gone, the atman has gone. So, if you discuss this topic with others, ask them what is left when avijjā is gone? In fact, it is the pure citta, not the defiled citta that is contaminated with self. To make a long answer short, the Tathagata after death neither is nor is not; according to the teaching of the Forest Tradition, this is the pure citta. And why would the Lord Buddha describe nibbāna as the supreme happiness if there is nothing left at all?

How important is the samadhi approach in terms of vipassana

Question

How important is samadhi for the practice of vipassana? Some people say that samadhi has to be well developed before starting Vipassana, while other people maintain that samadhi is less important, and still others, such as Ajahn Buddhadasa, advise combining both. I've heard that one teacher even advises setting metta as a vipassana object, giving a very different twist to the practice altogether!

Answer

Well, let's take the fourth noble truth, i.e. the noble eight-fold path, which is often described in terms of three pillars – sila, samadhi and panna (morality, concentration and wisdom, respectively). Bhikkhus who answer this question will focus on samadhi and panna; they can take sila for granted as they themselves undertake the higher sila, the 227 precepts of a bhikkhu. Speaking personally, I sometimes forget to mention sila, since over time it has become second nature to me. However, when explaining the subject to laypeople, the importance of sila must be stressed since without good sila progress along the path is very difficult.

Without a doubt, as Luangta Maha Bua said again and again, the only thing that will lead us to freedom is vipassana or 'insight/investigation meditation'. However, he also said that vipassana without samadhi will have no effect, as the mind will simply drift into thoughts and memories. After Luangta Maha Bua had been stuck in samadhi for five years, his teacher Ajahn Mun forced him out, and made him turn his attention to the investigation of the physical body. After three days, he returned to Ajahn Mun and said that he could not sleep because he was so absorbed in this investigation. Ajahn Mun responded, "See, now you're stuck in thoughts and memories(sanna)". After this, Luangta Maha Bua balanced contemplation with samadhi, and after eight months had finished the examination of the body and had attained to the state of Anagami, free from greed and hatred.

Luangta Maha Bua frequently used the comparison of panna as a knife and samadhi as the sharpening of the blade. The sharper the knife is, the easier it is to cut through, and the easier any investigation will be. With an extremely sharp knife, a tomato can be cut cleanly into pieces with only a little pressure, and then we can clearly see its structure; the sharper our concentration (samadhi), the easier our investigation(developing panna). With a not-very-sharp knife, it is much harder to cut into the tomato, and even when we get inside the inner structure will be hard to recognize. However, with a completely blunt knife, cutting open the tomato will require a lot of work, and the end result will probably be a squashed tomato in which we can see nothing.

To summarise the above, samadhi alone does not lead to wisdom, but rather to rest and concentration. The panna that develops is vipassana or 'insight meditation' which has the five khandhas as its object, and which looks into the true nature of things. Vipassana without samadhi leads to thinking and remembering. If it was possible to gain release from suffering by thinking alone, we could certainly save ourselves a lot of time and trouble, but we can't. Sila is vital as a protection for us, particularly in making sure that we have a clear conscience when we come to meditate. I'll give you a useful analogy to explain the fourth noble truth: the three pillars. If we build a house with only one column (panna), it will fall down in any direction. Even with two columns (samadhi and panna), it remains shaky and can still be upset quite easily. With three columns (sila, samadhi and panna), however, it is stable in all directions. If we want to build a home that will take us all the way to freedom, we cannot build it only on one or two columns – it will fall over. Only if we have all three columns evenly in place will we reach the end of the path.

Finally, the practice of samadhi makes us aware where our sila may be going wrong and sharpens ability to investigate. As our sila increases, our samadhi becomes deeper and allows us to overcome obstacles more easily. As our panna increases, it supports our samadhi and helps us refine our sila. All three work hand in hand.

I'll just touch briefly on other subsidiary questions that might arise. Without a knife that has been sharpened by some level of samadhi, we will not be able to get far. To start with investigation, the mind must already be stable enough to stay with the object of investigation for at least 10 to 15 minutes, without getting distracted by intermediate thoughts or memories. However, general reflections (such as reflections on death, rebirth, kamma, our everyday lives, or on what went well or bad during the day) which do not require much samadhi can help us at the beginning, to foster our determination to follow the path and keep the sila. Generally, we should start this type of reflection after we have 'washed' our minds with at least 40 minutes of mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati) or practice with a parikamma. Metta is a fundamental principle of our citta, which samadhi can help us to become acquainted with. Metta can be developed, but at this stage it is only 'artificial' metta, which has little in common with the 'true' nature of metta. The more we remove the dirt from our hearts by the practice of investigation, the more the metta will naturally radiate through. After all, the Lord Buddha himself gave us the thirty-two parts of the body, and the four mental khandhas, as initial objects of investigation, but he did not advise us to start with metta. Other objects of investigation we can use are anicca, dukkha and anatta, or the four elements.

What is reborn?

Question

What is reborn? When I read Luangta Maha Bua's teachings, the answer seems to be the 'citta' (literally, the 'heart-mind'), which would be similar to the Christian idea of a soul enduring beyond death. But others say that it is purely the kammaphala (the fruit of kamma) that is reborn. If it is indeed the citta, then the 'past-life regressions' which apparently allow people to remember their past lives would probably be much easier to explain than if rebirth involved only kammaphala.

Answer

Luangta Maha Bua called the citta the eternal tourist who goes from life to life. In this case, it is the conventional citta. It would not be wrong to call it a soul or to speak of souls. On the other hand, we can also refer to it as kamma that goes from one life to the next. Luangta Maha Bua sometimes answered this question by referring to what actually goes from one life to the next – the fruit of kamma.

Isn't that mind boggling? And what is the difference between kamma and the conventional citta? In fact, they are one and the same. The conventional citta is a name for the kamma which adheres to the citta that we usually refer to as the self or the soul. However, kamma is not only attached to the citta, as kamma will be also integrated into the five khandhas at the moment we are reborn. The Arahant who has destroyed avijja (literally 'not knowing', i.e. wanting to know or understand in line with the truth but not being able to) in this life has destroyed the adhesion of kamma to the citta, and therefore future rebirth, but not the kamma that has created these five khandhas. The kamma that is left in the five khandhas retains the appearance of a self that others can recognize as our personality. For this reason, the Arahant does not lose his personality, and the kamma that he has accumulated continues to operate until the end of his life. But he does not generate any more kamma because avijja, the prerequisite for making kamma, has been destroyed.

The problem we normally have is that kamma seems rather impersonal, while the citta seems more like a personal thing. Actually it's quite the opposite, and don't forget the Lord Buddha's teachings on anatta – this is not me, this is not mine, this is not my self. As long as avijja is in control, we have the illusion of self, and as long as we practice we will be under this illusion until avijja has been completely destroyed. This is why I like to use the term eternal tourist or soul. It puts the responsibility on us to put things in order. If, however, we take the other view and think that kamma is something impersonal – akin to the law of gravity – then it is possible to get carried away and deny responsibility for our situation, believing that we simply have to see through this delusion to become liberated.

And who, may I ask, is this 'I' that claims that it has been liberated?

If we compare Dhamma practice with a trip from Stuttgart to Beijing, the journey starts in Stuttgart. The ego still exists even when we have arrived in Vienna; in fact, it is there until the moment just before we have arrived in Beijing. Even if we have one foot on the threshold of Beijing and the other foot in the air, there is still the 'I'. Only when both feet are on the ground in Beijing has the ego gone; it goes with the lowering of the foot, though the attachment to the "I" is weakened during the course of our practice. But what exactly is the 'I'?

It is nothing more than the view that we are this collection of five khandhas. Only through the continuous and complete investigation of the five khandhas – from the body all the way up to consciousness – can we dispel the illusion that these five groups belong to us or are our self. Outside of these groups, there is nothing we can refer to as 'I', so the investigation of the five khandhas is fully sufficient for us to rid ourselves of the illusion.

When we have completed the examination of the physical elements (body, physical feelings and bodily senses), we reach the level of Anagami. At this stage, greed and hatred have been destroyed. Thereafter, we examine moha (delusion), which can be thought of as an electrical mixer that completely and perfectly mixes sanna (memory) together with sankhara (thought/imagination). Once we have ripped sanna and sankhara fully apart and investigated them completely, the moha falls away; only then do we see avijja, the master himself. This Master is also anicca (impermanent), full of dukkha (suffering), and without a form of self (anatta); we have to investigate the Master himself to understand that he has these three characteristics. Only by entering through one of these three doors (anicca, dukkha or anatta) can avijja be completely be destroyed. Then we realize that everything has always been impersonal. It's just like being in a cinema – one life leads on to the next just as one movie gives way to another. We have identified ourselves with the characters on screen, cried or laughed, been teased or had our desires inflamed, forgetting that we are, in fact, sitting on the chair in the dark. It's also like playing a computer game and forgetting that someone, who does not exist on the screen, is squatting on the chair observing what is going on.