If this comparison of our present birth to a journey along a road is still unclear, the matter must be thoughtover deeply, discussed, and studied thoroughly, In this study and practice, we can find help and guidance in the teachings of the Buddha, the one who succeeded in walking the Path right to the end, Unfortunately however, most people take no interest in the Buddha's teaching as a guide to the Path and how to walk it.
Now here is an important point to consider: this person who is to walk the Path - just which particular person is it? if it is a number of people, how many? Taking the broad outlook we can see that it is really the whole of humanity, mankind in general, Think about it, As long as noone exists who knows the Path and how to walk it, most people are sure to stray from the Path, But slowly and by degrees the right way is found, little by little the Path is re-discovered, until the time comes when there arises a fully enlightened being, a buddha, someone who manages to walk the perfectly right Path, In other words walking the Path is a long-term project which mankind is engaged in collectively, until such time as some exceptional individual happens to increase so much in insight that he manages to walk it right to the end.
Let us put this another way, Most people live no longer than one hundred years at the most, walking the Path more or less clumsily, they cover only a short distance before they die, No single person gets very far - and who is to carry on where he leaves off? The answer is posterity, Succeeding generations, benefiting from the insight gained by their predecessors, inherit the task of carrying on the journey, children and grandchildren carry on where their elders have left off, making steadily Tore progress until the time comes When One of them manages to complete the journey.
Look at in this way , even the having of children, the propagation of the species, has as its objective continual progress along 'the Path, and ultimately arrival at the end, But do people at the present time really have this objective in view when they have children? People go on producing more and more dark-eyed little infants - but are they thinking of these new individuals as heirs to the task of carrying on along the Path? If not, then their motivation must be on some lower level, the level of animals like dogs and cats, People give birth to offspring, which they then love so dearly they would willingly lay down their life for them, But animals do this too, The attachment to offspring dominating the mind of a parent operates in precisely the same way in animals as in man.
But let us examine why an animal has such an attachment to its offspring, such a strong desire to protect them, Just what is the purpose of it? We can safely assume that it is not a result of rational thinking on the part of the animal, Attachment to offspring and desire to protect them are naturally present in animals, And why has Nature equipped animals with this kind of instinct? In order to guard against the extinction of the species, And for what purpose should the extinction of an animal species be averted? Ultimately in order to make possible further evolution, further sleady progress towards the highest stage possible for a reproducing species, Thus we see Nature working to save each species of living things from extinction, thereby ensuring continued evolution up to the highest point, This is Nature's purpose, Animals in general are subject to this law, whether they realize it or not, It can be said, then, that for the lower Animal: too, birth is a journey. It is a non-stop journey of progress until the top is reached, until there evolves Man, And after that further progress is possible to the stage of Fully Enlightened Man,
Now, for what purpose does present-day man produce offspring? Possibly there do exist people who genuinely believe they are producing children in order that the human species may be perpetuated and Nirvana ultimately attained, in other words, in order that there may be continual progress along the Path, But obviously the great majority do not think like this, They love their children, They feed and care for them and make ail sorts of sacrifices on account of their blind love, Everyone wants his own children to be the best and the most beautiful, Noone is concerned about the propagation of the species for the sake of continuing the journey, Noone looks on his children in terms of humanity's collective progress towards the goal, Everyone thinks in terms of individual benefit, in terms of “me” and “mine.” It is only “my child” that matters, It is only he whose condition and progress are of any concern, This kind of thinking conforms with the laws of Nature, but conflicts with all the principles of Dharma, As a result, children are bound to bring their parents misery and tears, This narrow thinking does nothing to help humanity towards Nirvana.
All this discussion is intended to bring us back to the questions: “Why was I born” and “What ought I to be doing?'' Even if one has children and keeps the species going, what must one hand on to them so that they may be fit to encounter the Dharma and become genuine Dharma-followers: As long as each individual considers himself a single self-sufficient unit, not involved with the rest, mankind has no means of moving forward towards the coming into existence of an enlightened being, All of man's scientific knowledge is of no use unless it helps him to progress spiritually, Now, speaking in terms of material values, it does happen that what evil people achieve and pass on to evil people following them brings about progress, If this were not so, the world could never have attained its present unbelievably high stage of technological development. It could be maintained that we were born to work for the material progress of mankind up to the ultimate. But in material progress there is no ultimate. Progress, as understood by the average householder, the man of the world, never leads to any ultimate goal, By contrast, spiritual progress, progress towards the Truth known by an enlightened being, does have an ultimate goal, On this road it is possible to go right to the end and attain complete freedom from the unsatisfactory condition.
Let us pursue the question further, Given that man was born to walk the Path to nirvana, how exactly are we to set about this walking? The Buddha has said:
“When a man sees with insight that all compounds are transient, he becomes fed up with them as unsatisfactory, That is the Path to Nirvana, to Purity.''
When a man comes to recognize the true nature of compounds (sankharas), he becomes fed up With them, And this disenchantment with compounds is the first step on the Path leading to Nirvana, to Dharma, The Buddha said furthermore:
When one has seen these three characteristics, one becomes disenchanted with those unsatisfactory compounds, And that is the Path to Nirvana - or at least the beginning of it, The point to note here is that when a person has come to a proper' realization of these characteristics of compounds, he finds himself naturally repelled by compounds, that is, by the unsatisfactory condition, All compounds are thoroughly unsatisfactory, As soon as a person begins to see compounds as thoroughly unsatisfactory, he becomes utterly fed-up with compounds, Compounds are by their very nature unsatisfactory. The word ''compound'' automatically implies unsatisfactoriness, There is no such thing as a satisfactory compound, When compounding stops, there is Nirvana, the ideal state.
But the last line of this quotation covers both compounds and non-compounds, Nothing whatsoever, be it compound or no compound, is a self that might be grasped at as being one's own, This is the last word, Compounds are ever changing ; compounds are unsatisfactory; all thing, compounds or not, are such that they may not be grasped at as selves or as belonging to oneself, Only when this fact is seen in all clarity has the real Path begun', only then has one really staged moving towards the overcoming of the unsatisfactory condition, that is, towards Nirvana.
The word ''path'' has several meanings, First of all and most basically it should be understood as synonymous with ''practice'' (Patipatti) or ''way of practice'' (patipada). Both of these terms imply stepwise progress like walking along a path', and they also imply the path itself which is to be walked, The word ''path'' refers specifically to that which is practised or walked, but strictly speaking the Path and the walking of it ought not to be distinguished, The walking, the walker, and the path walked are not to be recognized as separate things. In the Pali language one single word pas used for these, or at least one basic root word was used in slightly different forms which referred respectively to the one who walks the path walked and the act of walking, All these are in Pali variants of the one root word. So when we hear of the practice (Patipatti) or the way of practice (patipada), let us bear in mind that they refer to walking the Path.
And there are numerous other terms all referring to this same Path. A person who, not having studied the matter very closely, comes 'across such a large number of equivalent terms may well jump to the conclusion that they refer to several different things, In reality they all refer to this one Path, For instance the Task (kammapatha) is simply the Path to be walked; the Ten Skillful Actions (kusalakammapatha) are also simply the Path; Morality, Concentration, and Insight (sila-samadhi panna) are the Path; the Noble Eightfold Path (ariya atthangika magna) is once again the Path; and even to see all compounds as transient and unsatisfactory, and all things as net selves -this too is the Path, Anyone who has been thinking of these various names as all denoting different things would do well to correct this misunderstanding, All these different names denote one and the same path looked at from different points of view for purposes of instruction,
Now what are the Ten Skillful Actions? These are ten kinds of abstinence from sinful bodily, vocal, and mental action. Taken together they are called the Ten Skillful Actions because anyone who practices in this way is walking the high Path. The Buddha used this particular mode of speaking when teaching ordinary average people. When he wished to teach on a higher level or in briefer terms, for the benefit of people with a more than average degree of understanding, he spoke in terms of the Noble Eightfold Path -rlght understanding, right aspiration, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. This Eightfold Path is a mode of practice rather above the level appropriate for the average householder. But its objective is just the same. It too aims at the attainment of Nirvana, differing from other schemes only in intensity or level.
Now let us look at the Buddha's brief statement that whenever transience, unsatisfactoriness, and non-selfhood (anicca, pukka, anatta) are perceived with insight, that is the Path, This is even more clearly a statement designed specifically for people with insight, The Pali says quite clearly: ''When transience, unsatisfactoriness, and non-selfhood are perceived with insight, that is the Path.''
Reflection will show that when we have proper insight and understanding of the true characteristics of all compounds, that is, of Nature itself, then at that time our behaviour, bodily, vocal, and mental, will be just as it should be, It will be right behaviour - but not simply right in terms of the law-books or general morality, or social custom, not just unintelligently right. To put it another way, if a person really perceives transience, unsatisfactoriness, and non-selfhood, he cannot possibly do the wrong thing by way of body, speech, or mild, because the power of this understanding acts as a governor, If we properly know and understand and perceive the three characteristics, we cannot possibly think wrong thoughts or have wrong aspirations, or say or do the wrong thing, Having had clear insight into the true nature of things, we are no longer liable to become obsessed with them. Actions based on true insight are always right actions. Thus morality, concentration, and insight (or the Noble Eightfold Path, or the Ten Skillful Actions, etc.) come into being of their own accord.
Suppose now, that, having reached the peak of insight into transience, unsatisfactoriness, and non-selfhood, we then descend. Any action we then do at this lower level will be a thoroughly right action. And taking it the other way round, if we are working up from the bottom, we have to build a firm foundation of right behaviour, bodily, vocal, and mental, supported by which we may grow in insight day by day. So a man of the world, one who is still an ordinary deluded worldling, must have faith in the efficacy of the Ten Skillful Actions and try his best to practise them. If he does this constantly, he will soon start Making progress in insight because this is the right way to walk the Path. Ultimately he will reach the peak, attaining insight into transience, unsatisfactoriness, and non-selfhood. So regardless of whether the Path is viewed from the end towards the beginning, or from the beginning towards the end, it is seen as something that can be done - provided of course the individual concerned is reasonably well equipped as to character, sense faculties, and intelligence, Everyone who has been born in the world and blessed with long life, ought to make it his business to develop insight, little by little, every day, until he reaches the stage where he is able to see the three characteristics of all compounds, to see the endless process of compounding as unsatisfactory, and to perceive escape from unsatisfactoriness in the state of freedom from compounding,
This is sufficient answer to the question why the Buddha taught the Path in several different ways. At the high level he taught the Four Exercises in Mindfulness (satipatthana) as the One Path, the perfect system for the individual walking alone, the one way towards the one and only goal, He taught the Path under the name of Mindfulness, and under treaty other names which we need not go into here at length. All we wish to do here is to realize that this thing called the Path will have come to be the True Path just as soon as there arises insight into transience, unsatisfactoriness, and nonselfhood. As long as this insight has not yet arisen, it is still not the True Path, but only the very beginning of it. So if a person has not yet gained this insight into the three characteristics, he still does not know the Path to be walked. Instead he goes off in search of things which are transient, unsatisfactory, and not selves more than ever, and his life becomes more and more unsatisfactory. But if a person does come to see that all compounds are transient, unsatisfactory, and not selves, his mind will seek to avoid those compounds. It will seek to transcend them, to get above them, so that they cannot harm it This is the True Path, the Path that leads away from unsatisfactoriness and towards the overcoming of it.
SO it is up to each one of us to develop the True Path based on insight and try to gain understanding of the transience, unsatisfactoriness, and non-selfhood of compounds, to see them as inherently unsatisfactory, as nothing but unsatisfactory, as the unsatisfactory condition itself, to be avoided at all costs. This seen, behaviour will thenceforth be free of compounding with craving and attachment. Once transience, unsatisfactoriness, and non-selfhood have been seen, craving and attachment cannot arise. All that is left is the insight, Insight senves to prevent the arising of craving and attachment. So this life can be one with the Path. Life can be in itself a good steady progress; it can be one and he same as walking the Path.
I hope you will all now take a greater interest in these three words ''transience, unsatisfactoriness, non-selfhood.'' Don't go just memorizing someone's explanation of them. See for yourself that things which go on perpetually combining and changing possess these three characteristics. When a person does not realize the true nature of things, he unwittingly takes them as lasting, worthwhile. selves belonging to himself you can imagine the trouble that then results, it's liketaking a thing with certain properties and trying to force it to have different properties. It can't be done any more than fire can be forced to be without heat. The result is b0th comic and tragic.
So the majority of people believe that having been born into this life, we ought to go after one thing or another, according to our desires, being pleased when we get what we want and upset when we don't, When people have children they have nothing better to teach them than this primitive philosophy, This is all they have to offer, It is a far cry from the Path taught by the Buddha. Children walk in the same old ruts as their parents, and so it goes on from one generation to the next. There is no progress forwards, no variation or improvement based on knowledge that all things are transient, unsatisfactory, and not selves, and therefore not to be grasped at. If then our children, and we ourselves too, are to walk the Path easily and quickly, it behoves us to take a special interest in this matter of grasping and non-grasping, to train ourselves in it and teach it to others.
True, we have to live in the world, We have to eat, to make use of various articles, to see and come in contact with all sorts of things. But it is possible to live with these things without grasping at and clinging to them. We must act intelligently, always mindful of the three characteristics. We hen our offspring have this insight, when they have come to see that nothing whatsoever can be grasped at and clung to, we can then leave them to look after themselves. They are then able to think, speak, and act correctly of their own accord , in the way that is free from the unsatisfactory condition. It is up to us to teach and train our children in this matter of grasping and nob-grasping so that they may be free from excessive depression and elation. They must develop stalfficient intelligence to keep them above the things that would otherwise make them laugh or cry. They must develop in this insight just as they develop physically. This is how to be a good parent who hands on to his offspring the job of walking the Path the right and rapid way. Thin is how it should be, in keeping with the principle that man is born to walk the Path so that the goal may one day be attained.
Now let us have a look at Thailand, and the hundred-odd other countries of the world, and see what sorts of things people are teaching their children. What sorts of things are people doing? What are their desires, the causes of those actions that are producing so much suffering and misery in every part of the world at the present time?
We find that people, far from walking the right Path, are following the Devil, Satan, Mara, whatever one cares to call him, which is bound to be a source of all sorts of misery. This is not at all in keeping with the purpose of birth as a human being, let alone a human being who has encountered the Buddha's teaching. Even any ordinary human being ought not to behave like this, because the term ''human'' (in Sanskrit manusya) means something rather special, It implies a high-minded being, a descendant of Manu the wise, something higher than average. To deserve the title of human being, one must walk the True Path. As soon as one Wanders from the Path, one ceases to be human in the true sense. If one thinks along lines inconsistent with Truth of Dharma for even one moment, then in that moment one has ceased being a true human being and is instead walking the path of Mara, or the path of the beasts. Our examination has to be done in such detail that we walk the Path all the time, with every breath we take, every minute and every second. We must walk the Path all the time. As soon as we relax, we go astray,
So let us not go lapsing into thought patterns that lead to carelessness or overconfidence, or the idea that this journey is an easy one, There is also a danger of relaxing and simply going downstream, drifting with the current, This is one of the worst dangers. The Buddha taught us to be constantly aware, to walk the Path every single ''thought moment.'' One moment of unawareness and the mind is off the track again. Sometimes it may go so far astray that to return to the Path becomes very difficult and time-consuming. Suppose one falls into one of the ''woeful states'' such as hell. This means that one has done the wrong thing, relaxed, and let the mind drop to the low level known as hell, so that it is difficult to return promptly. This wandering from the Path is like walking into a trap, falling into a pit or ditch. It comes from being careless, not keeping to the Path, not being constantly aware of those three characteristics, transience, unsatisfactoriness, ard non-selfhood. And there is no travelling companion who will help us keep to the straight and narrow. There is boone to keep an eye on us and see that we don't wander off the Path. Each of us is just a blind man being led by blind men. The lot of us are just fumbling along all the time. It is because the great majority of people are forever being careless and wandering off the Path that the entire world is in such a pitiful and hopeless condition.
Do realize that this business of the Path and the walking of it is no small matter, no joke. On the contrary it is the most vital matter of all. It is the task for a human being. It is a job to be done with all the intelligence and ability a human being care muster. Don't waver for an instant, not for a split second! In a single instant one may go astray from the Path. If the mind is not on the lookout at every moment, there is a danger of its running off the Path and even falling into hell. It behoves each one of us to reflect on the dangers of this kind of lapse, and resolve to maintain clear and unobscured insight into the transience, unsatisfactoriness, and non-selfhood of every single thing about him. His every action, word, and thought will then be in keeping with that insight. There is no way it can lapse and give rise to some kind of suffering.
This, then, is in brief the way to walk the Path. It is just a brief summary just the essence of it. It could be dealt with in more detail to cover the numerous different forms of practice out of which an individual may choose just the one that best suits his own particular temperament. One can think of it as the Noble Eightfold Path, or the Four Exercises in Mindfulness, or the Ten Skillful Actions, or something else, just as one chooses. We may choose to think of it as the Ten Virtues, which a buddha is said to possess. These Virtues are once again the Path to be walked from ordinary human status to buddhahood. If we feel ten Virtues are too much for us to aim at, that is all right; and if we feel we could manage all ten but not to the degree possible for a buddha, that is all right too. These Virtues simply constitute a mode of practice governed by insight into the thoroughly unsatisfactory nature of this worldly condition, this cycle of Samsara, these compounds. Our job is to cross over from all this to the other side, Nirvana, by means of the kind of action that sees things as they really are, as transient, unsatisfactory, and not selves, So we practise in such a way as to wipe out all grasping and clinging to these transient, unsatisfactory, selfless things. We practise charity, goodwill, honesty, tolerance, all the virtues that we realize will give mastery over the lower kinds of thought, the kind that is blind to the three characteristics.
To sum up then, walking the Path must begin, develop, and culminate with perfectly clear insight into the three characteristics. This is all there is to it. I hope you will follow this Path taught by the Buddha and gain the benefits of so doing.
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