Another Kind of Birth


A lecture delivered at Pattalung Province










on 16 July, 1969


















Buddhadasa Bhikkhu






* Birth is perpetual suffering.

True happiness consists in eliminating the false

idea of “ I ”.

* Mankind’s problems reduce to the problem of

suffering, whether inflicted by another or by


* Everday language-Dharma language : In every

day language the term birth refers simply to

physical birth from a mother's body ; in Dharma

language birth refers to a mental event arising

out of ignorance, craving, and clinging.

* Whenever there arises the mistaken idea “ I ”,

the “ I ” has been born ; its parents are ignorance

and craving.

* The kind of birth that constitutes a problem for

us is mental birth.

* Anyone who fails to grasp this point will never

succeed in understanding anything of the

Buddha's teaching.


The subject we shall discuss today is one which

I feel everyone ought to recognize as pressing, namely

the following two statements made by the Buddha :

''Birth is perpetual suffering.'' (Dukkha jati punap-

punam) and

''True happiness consists in eliminating the false

idea of ‘I’. '' (Asmimanassa vinayo etam ve pa-

ramam sukham.)

Mankind's problems reduce to the problem of

suffering, whether inflicted by another or by oneself by

way of mental defilements (kilesa). This is the primary

problem for every human being, because noone wants

suffering. In the above statements the Buddha equates

suffering with birth : ''Birth is perpetual suffering'' ; and he

equates happiness with the complete giving up of the

false idea “ I ”, ''myself'', “ I am “, “ I exist ”.

The statement that birth is the cause of suffering

is complex, having several levels of meaning. The main

difficulty lies in the interpretation of the word “birth”. Most

of us don't understand what the word “birth” refers to

and are likely to take it in the everyday sense of physical

birth from a mother's body. The Buddha taught that birth

is perpetual suffering. Is it likely that in saying this he

was referring to physical birth? Think it over. If he was

referring to physical birth, it is unlikely that he would

have gone on to say: “True happiness consists in eliminating

the false idea ‘I’ ” because this statement clearly indicates

that what constitutes the suffering is the false idea “I”.

When the idea “I” has been completely eradicated, that is

true happiness, So suffering actually consists in the mis-

conception “I”, “I am”, “I have” The Buddha taught : ''Birth

is perpetual suffering.'' What is meant here by the word

''birth'' ? Clearly “birth'' refers to nothing other than the arising

of the idea “I” (asmimana).

The word ''birth'' refers to the arising of the mistaken

idea “I”, “myself”. It does not refer to physical birth, as

generally supposed. The mistaken assumption that this word

''birth'' refers to physical birth is a major obstacle to com-

prehending the Buddha's teaching.

It has to be borne in mind that in general a word can

have several different meanings according to the context.

Two principal cases can be recognized : (1) language

referring to physicalthings, which is spoken by the average

person ; and (2) language referring to mental things,

psychological language, Dharma language, which is spoken

by people who know Dharma (higher Truth, Buddha's

teaching). The first type may be called ''everyday language'',

the language spoken by the average person ; the second

may be called ''Dharma language'', the language spoken by

a person who knows Dharma.

The ordinary person speaks as he has learnt to

speak, and when he uses the word ''birth'' he means physical

birth, birth from a mother's body ; however in Dharma

language, the language used by a person who knows

Dharma, “birth” refers to the arising of the idea “I am”. If

at some moment there arises in the mind the false idea

“I am'', then at that moment the “I” has been born, When

this false idea ceases, there is no longer any “I”, the “I”

has momentarily ceased to exist. When the “I” idea again

arises in the mind, the “I” has been reborn. This is the

meaning of the word ''birth'' in Dharma language. It refers

not to physical birth from a mother of flesh and blood

but to mental birth from a mental ''mother'' , namely craving, ignorance, clinging (tanha, avijja, upadana). One

could think of craving as the mother and ignorance as

the father ; in any case the result is the birth of “I”, the

arising of the false idea “I”. The father and mother of the

“I” - delusion are ignorance and craving or clinging, Igno-

rance, delusion, misunderstanding, give birth to the idea “I”

“me”. And it is this kind of birth that is perpetual suffering. Physical birth is no problem ; once born from his mother ;

a person need have nothing more to do with birth. Birth

from a mother takes only a few minutes ; and no one ever

has to undergo the experience more than once.

Now we hear talk of rebirth, birth again and again,

and of the suffering that inevitably goes with it. Just what

is this rebirth ? What is it that is reborn ? The birth refered

to is a mental event, something taking place in the mind,

the non-physical side of our make-up. This is ''birth'' in

Dharma language. ''Birth'' in everyday language is birth from a

mother ; ''birth'' in Dharma language is birth from ignorance,

craving, clinging, the arising of the false notion of “I” and

“mine” These are the two meanings of the word “birth''.

This is an important matter, which simply must be

understood. Anyone who fails to grasp this point will never

succeed in understanding anything of the Buddha's

teaching. So do take a special interest in it. There are these

two kinds of language, these two levels of meaning : every-

day language, referring to physical things, and Dharma

language, referring to mental things, and used by people

who know. To clarify this point here are some examples.

Consider the word ''path''. Usually when we use the

word “path” we are referring to a road or way along which

vehicles, men, and animals can move. But the word “path”

may also refer to the Noble Eightfold Path, the way of

practice taught by the Buddha - right understanding, right

thoughts, right speech, right action, right Iivelihood, right

effort, right mindfulness, right concentration - which Ieads to

Nirvana; in eveyday language “path” refers to a physical

road ; in Dharma language it refers to the eightfold way of

right practice known as the Noble Eightfold Path, These are

the two meanings of the word “path”.

Similarly with the word ''Nirvana'' (nibbana). In

everyday language this word refers to the cooling of a hot

object. For example, when hot coals become cool, they are

said (in Pali or Sanskrit) to have “nirvana’ d” ; when hot food

in a pot or on a plate becomes cool it has ''nirvana'd''. This

is everyday language. In Dharma language ''Nirvana'' refers

to the kind of coolness that results from eliminating mental

defilements. At any time when there is freedom from mental

defilements, at that time there is coolness, momentary

Nirvana. So “nirvana” or ''coolness'' has two meanings,

according as the speaker is using everyday language or

Dharma language.

Another important word is ''emptiness'' (sunyata,

sunnata). In everyday language, the language of physical

things, “emptiness” means total absence of any object ; in

Dharma language it means absence of the idea “I”, “mine”.

When the mind is not grasping or clinging to anything

whatsoever as “I” or “mine” it is in a state of “emptiness”.

The word “empty” has these two levels of meaning, one

referring to physical things, the other referring to mental

things, one in everyday language, the other in Dharma Ian-

guage. Physical emptiness is absence of any object,

vacuum, Mental emptiness is the state in which all the

objects of the physical world are present as usual, but none

of them is being grasped at or clung to as ''mine''. Such

a mind is said to be ''empty''. When the mind has come

to see things as not worth wanting, not worth being, not

worth grasping at and clinging to, it is then empty of

wanting, being, grasping, clinging. The mind is then an

empty or void mind, but not in the sense of being

void of content. All objects are there as usual and the

thinking processes are going on as usual, but they are not

going the way of grasping and clinging with the idea of “I”

and “mine”. The mind is devoid of grasping and clinging

and so is called an empty or void mind. It is stated in the

texts : “A mind is said to be empty when it is empty of desire,

aversion, and delusion (raga, dosa, moha).” The world is

also described as empty, because it is empty of anything

that might be identified as “I” or “mine”. It is in this sense

that the world is spoken of as empty. “Empty” in Dharma

language does not mean physically empty, devoid of


You can see the confusion and misunderstanding

that can arise if these words are taken in their usual

evelday sense. Unless we understand Dharma language,

we can never understand Dharma ; and the most impodant

piece of Dharma language to understand is the term ''birth''.

The kind of birth that constitutes a problem for us

is mental birth, the birth or arising of the false notion “I”.

Once the idea “I” has arisen, there inevitably follows the

idea “I am Such-and-such”. For example, “I am a man”, “I

am a living creature”, “I am a good man”, “I am not a good

man”, or something else of the sort. And once the idea “I

am Such-and-such” has arisen, there follows the idea of

comparison : “I am better than So-and-so” “I am not as good

as So-and-so”, “I am equal to So-and-so”. All these ideas

are of a type ; they are all part of the false notion “I am”

“I exist”. It is to this that the term “birth” refers. So in a

single day we may be born many times, many dozens of

times. Even in a single hour we may experience many,

many births. Whenever there arises the idea “I”, and the

idea “I am Such-and-such'', that is a birth. When no such

idea arises, there is no birth, and this freedom from birth

is a state of coolness. So this is a principle to be

recognized : whenever there arises the idea “I”, “mine”, at

that time the cycle of Samsara has come into existence in

the mind, and there is suffering, burning, spinning on ; and

whenever there is freedom from defects of these kinds, there is

Nirvana, Nirvana of the type referred to astadanga-

nibbanaor vikkhambhana-nibbana.

Tadanga-nibbana is mentioned in the Anguttara-

Nikaya. It is a state that comes about momentarily when

external conditions happen, fortuitously, to be such that no

idea of “I” or “mine”, arises, Tadanga-nibbana is momentary

cessation of the idea “I”, “mine” due to favourable external

circumstances. At a higher level than this, if we engage in

some form of Dharma practice, in particular if we develop

concentration, so that the idea of “I”, “mine” cannot arise, that

extinction of “I”, “mine” is called vikkhambhana-nibbana. And

finally, whan we succeed in bringing about the complete

elimination of all defilements, that is full Nirvana, total


Now we shall limit our discussion to the everyday

life of the ordinal person. It must be understood that at

any time when there exists the idea “I”, “mine” at that time

there exists birth, suffering, the cycle of Samsara. The “I”

is born, endures for a moment, then ceases, is born again,

endures for a moment, and again ceases-which is why the

process is referred to as the cycle of Samsara. It is suffering

because of the birth of the “I”. If at any moment conditions

happen to be favourable, so that the “I”-idea does not arise,

then there is peace-what is called tadanga-nibbana,

momentary Nirvana, a taste of Nirvana, a sample of Nirvana,

peace, coolness.

The meaning of “Nirvana” becomes clearer when we

consider how the word is used in the Anguttara-nikaya, In

that text we find that hot objects that have become cool

are said to have “nirvana’d”. Animals that have been tamed,

rendered docile and harmless are said to have “nirvana'd”.

How can a human being become “cool” ? This question is

complicated by the fact that man's present knowledge and

understanding of life has not been suddenly acquired but

has evolved gradually over a long period.

Well before the time of the Buddha people consi-

dered that Nirvana lay in sensual delight, because a person

who gets precisely whatever sensual pleasure he wishes

does experience a certain kind of coolness. Having a shower

on a hot day brings a kind of coolness ; and going into a

quiet place brings another kind, in the form of contentment,

freedom from disturbance. So to begin with, people were

interested in the kind of Nirvana that consisted in an

abundance of sensual pleasure. Later, wiser men came

to realize that this was not good enough. They saw that

sensual pleasure was largely a deception (maya), so sought

their coolness in the mental tranquillity of concentration

(jhana). The jhanas are states of genuine mental coolness

and this was the kind of Nirvana people were concerned

with in the period immediately before the Buddha's

enlightenment. Gurus were teaching that Nirvana was

identical with the most refined state of mental concentra-

tion. The Buddha's last guru, Udakatapasa Ramaputra,

taught him that to attain the “jhana of neither perception

nor non-perception (n'eva sanna n' asannayatana)” was to

attain complete cessation of suffering. But the Buddha did

not accept this teaching ; he did not consider this to be

genuine Niwana, He went off and delved into the matter

on his own account until he realized the Nirvana that is the

total elimination of every kind of craving and clinging. As

he himself later taught : “True happiness consists in

eradicating the false idea ‘I’ ”. When defilements have been

totally eliminated, that is Nirvana. If the defilements are only

momentarily absent, it is momentary Nirvana. Hence the

teaching of tadanga-nibbana and vikkhanbhananibbana

already discussed. These terms refer to a condition of freedom

from defilements.

Now if we examine ourselves we discover that we

are not dominated by defilements all the time. There are

moments when we are free from defilements ; If this were

not the case we should soon be driven mad by defilements

and die, and there would not be many people left in the

world. lt is thanks to these brief periods of freedom from

distress causing defilements that we don't all suffer from

nervous disorders and go insane or die. Let us give Nature

due credit for this and be thankful she made us in such

a way that we get a sufficient period of respite from

defilements each day. There is the time we are asleep, and

there are times when the mind is clear, cool, at ease. A

person who can manage to do as Nature intended can avoid

nervous and psychological disorders ; one who cannot is

bound to have more and more nervous disorders until he

becomes mentally ill or even dies. Let us be thankful for

momentary Nirvana, the transient type of Nirvana that

comes when conditions are favourable. For a brief moment

there is freedom from craving, conceit, and false views, in

particular, freedom from the idea of , “I” and “mine”. The mind

is empty, free, just long enough to have a rest or to sleep,

and so it remains healthy.

In days gone by this condition was morecommon than

it is now. Modern man, with his ever-changing knowledge

and behaviour, is more subject to disturbance from

defilements than man in past ages. Consequently modern

man is more prone to nervous and psychological illnesses-

which is a disgrace. The more scientific knowledge he has

the more prone he is to insanity ! The number of psychiatric

patients is increasing so rapidly the hospitals can't cope.

There is one simple cause for this : people don't know how

to relax mentally. They are too ambitious. They have been

taught to be ambitious since they were small children. They

acquire nervous complaints right in childhood and by the

time they have completed their studies they are already

mentally disturbed people. This comes from taking no

interest in the Buddha's teaching that the birth of the idea

of “I” and “Mine” is the height of suffering.

Now Iet us go further into the matter of “birth”. No

matter what type of existence one is born into, it is nothing

but suffering, because the word “birth” refers here to

attachment unaccompanied by awareness. This is an

important point which must be well understood : if there

arises in a person's mind the idea “I am Such-and-such”

and he is aware that this idea has arisen, that arising is

not a birth (as that term is used in Dharma language). If

on the other hand he deludedly identifies with the idea,

that is birth. Hence the Buddha advised continual mind-

fulness. lf we know what we are, know what we have to

do, and do it with awareness, there is no suffering, because

there is no birth of “I” or “mine”. Whenever delusion,

carelessness, and forgetfulness come in, there arise desire

and attachment to the false idea “I”, “mine” “I am So-and-

so, ” “I am Such-and-such” ,........., and this is birth.

Birth is suffering ; and the kind of suffering depends

on the kind of birth. Birth as a mother brings the suffering

of a mother, birth as a fatherbrings the suffering of a father.

If, for example, there arises in a person the illusory idea

of being a mother and therefore of wanting this, that , and

the other thing-that is the suffering of a mother. It is the

same for a father. If he identifies with the idea of being

a father, wanting this and that, grasping and clinging-that

is the suffering of a father. But if a person has awareness,

there is no such confusion and distortion ; he simply knows

in full clarity what he has to do as a father or as a mother

and does it with a steady mind, not clinging to the idea

“I am this”, “I am that”. ln this way he is free from suffering

; and in this condition he is fit to rear his children properly

and to their best advantage. Birth as a mother brings the

suffering of a mother ; birth as a father brings the suffering

of a father ; birth as a millionaire brings the suffering of a

millionaire ; birth as a beggar brings the suffering of a

beggar. What is meant here can be illustrated by the

following contrast.

Suppose first a millionaire, dominated by delusion,

desire, attachment, grasping at the idea “I am a millionaire”.

This idea is in itself suffering ; and whatever that man says

or does is said and done under the influence of those

defilements and so becomes further suffering. Even after

he has gone to bed he dwells on the idea of being a

millionaire and so is unable to sleep. So birth as a million-

aire brings the suffering of a millionaire. Then suppose a

beggar, dwelling on his misfortunes, his poverty, his

sufferings and difficulties-this is the suffering of a beggar.

Now if at any moment either of these two men were to be

free of these ideas, in that moment he would be free

from suffering; the millionaire would be free from the

suffering of a millionaire, the beggar would be free from

the suffering of a beggar. Thus it is that one sometimes

sees a beggar singing happily, because at that time he

is not being born as a beggar, is not identifying himself

as a beggar or as in any sod of difficulty. For one moment

he has forgotten it, has ceased being born a beggar and

instead has been born a singer, a musician. Suppose a

poor ferryman. If he clings to the idea of being poor, and

rows his ferryboat with a sense of weariness and self-

pity, then he suffers, just as if he had fallen straight into

hell. But if instead of dwelling on such ideas, he reflects

that he is doing what he has to do, that work is the lot

of human beings, and does his work with awareness and

steadiness of mind, he will find himself singing as he rows

his ferryboat.

So do look closely, carefully, and clearly into this

question: what is it that is being referred to as birth? If

at any moment a millionaire is “born” as a millionaire, in that

moment he experiences the suffering of a millionaire; if a

beggar is born as a beggar, he experiences the suffering

of a beggar. If, however, a person does not identify in this

way, he is not “born” and so is free from suffering-whether

he is a millionaire, a beggar, a ferryman, or whatever. At

the present day we take no interest in this matter. We

let ourselves be dominated by delusion, craving, attach-

ment. We experience birth as this, that, or the other, I

don't know how many times each day. Every kind of

birth without exception is suffering, as the Buddha said.

The only way to be free from this suffering is to be free

from birth. So one has to take good care, always keeping

the mind in a state of awareness and insight, never

disturbed and confused by “I” and “mine”. One will then be

free from suffering. Whether one is a farmer, a merchant,

a soldier, a public servant, or anything else, even a god

in heaven, one will be free from suffering.

As soon as there is the idea “I” there is suffering.

Grasp this important principle and you are in a position to

understand the essential core of Buddhism, and to derive

benefit from Buddhism, taking full advantage of having

been born a human being and encountered Buddhism. If

you don't grasp it, then though you are a Buddhist you will

derive no benefit from it; you will be a Buddhist only

nominally, only according to the records; you will have to

sit and weep like all those other people who are not

Buddhists; you will continue to experience suffering like a

non-Buddhist. To be genuine Buddhists we have to practise

the genuine teaching of the Buddha, in particular the

injunction : Don't identify as “I” or “mine”,' act with clear

awareness and there will be no suffering. You will then be

able to do your work well, and that work will be a pleasure.

When the mind is involved in “I” and “mine” all work

becomes suffering; one doesn't feel like doing it; light

work becomes heavy work, burdensome in every way.

But if the mind is not grasping and clinging to the idea

“I”, “mine”, if it is aware, all work, even heavy or dirty work,

is enjoyable.

This is a profound, hidden truth that has to be un-

Derstood. The essence of it lies in the single word “birth”.

Birth is suffering; once we can give up being “born”, we

become free from suffering. If a person experiences

dozens of births in a day he has to suffer dozens of times

a day; if he does not experience birth at all, he has no

suffering at all. So the direct practice of Dharma, the kernel

of the Buddha's teaching, consists in keeping close watch

on the mind, so that it does not give rise to the condition

called the cycle of Samsara, so that it is always in the

state called Nirvana. One has to be watchful, guarding

the mind at all times so that the state of coolness is

constantly there, and leaving no opportunity for the arising

of Samsara. The mind will then become accustomed to the

state of Nirvana day and night and that state may become

permanent and complete. We already have momentary

Nirvana, the type of Nirvana that comes when circum-

stances are right, the Nirvana that is a sample, a foretaste.

Preserve it carefully. Leave no opening for Samsara, for

the idea “I”, “mine”. Don't let the “I”-idea come to birth.

Keep watch, be aware, develop full insight, Whatever you

do, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, do it with

awareness. Don't become involved in “I” and “mine”. Then

Samsara will not be able to arise; the mind will remain in

Nirvana until it has become fully accustomed to it and

unable to relapse-and that is full or complete Nirvana.

Since childhood we have lived in a way favourable

to the birth of “I” and “mine” and have become used to

the cycle of Samsara. This habit is hard to break. It has

become part of our makeup, and so is sometimes called

a fetter (samyojana) or a latent disposition (anusaya),

something that is bound up in our character. These terms

refer to the habit of giving birth to “I”, “mine” of producing

the sense of “I”, “mine”. In one form it is called greed

(lobha); in another form it is called anger (krodha); in another

form it is called delusion (moha). Whatever form it takes it is

simply the idea “I”, “mine” self-centredness.

When the “I” wants to get something, there is greed;

when it doesn't get that something, there is anger;

when it hesitates and doesn't know what it wants, there is confu-

sion, involvement in hopes and possibilities. Greed, anger,

and delusion of whatever kind are simply forms of the “I”-

idea, and when they are present in the mind, that is

everlasting Samsara, total absence of Nirvana. A person

in this condition does not live long. But Nature helps. As

we saw in the beginning, through natural weariness the

process seometimes stops of itself, there is sleep or some

other form of respite, and one's condition improves,

becomes tolerable, and death is averted.

The various enlightened beings that have appeared

in the world have discovered that it is possible to prolong

these periods of Nirvana, and have taught the most direct

way of practice to this end, namely the Noble Eightfold Path.

This is a way of practice intended to prolong the periods

of coolnees, or Nirvana, and to reduce the periods of

suffering, or Samsara, by preventing as far as possible the

birth Of “I” and “mine”. It's so simple it's hard to believe-

like the Buddha's statement: “If monks will practise right

living, the world will not be empty of Arahants (enlightened

beings).” (Sace me bhikkhu samma vihareyyum asunno loko

arahantehi assa.) One finds it hard to believe. But if one

examines it, one must believe it.

In the simple statement: “If monks will practise right

living, the world will not be empty of Arahants” the expression

“right living” has an important and profound meaning. Right

living implies absence of the idea of “I”, “mine”. We are Iiving

day after day, but we are not living rightly, so the idea of

“I” and “mine” is born. It pops up numerous times every

day, so there is no chance for full Nirvana to come in and

we don't become Arahants. Right living means living in

accordance with the Noble Eightfold Path: right under-

standing, right thoughts, right speech, action, livelihood,

effod, mindfulness, and right concentration. If we have

these eight kinds of perfection, we are practising right living.

And if we live rightly in this way, the mental defilements

cannot arise, “I” and “mine” cannot be born; they wither

away, like an animal deprived of nourishment. Right living

deprives the “I” and the “mine” of nourishment, and so

prevents them from taking birth. In time they lose their

strength and the day finally comes when they dry up

completely and disappear for good and that is what is

called attaining the Fruit of the Path, total Nirvana.

The important thing is continuous right under-

standing and right action, so that the “I” and the “mine”

cannot arise, so that there is no birth. When there is no

is true happiness, as the Buddha said. Once one has

examined this matter and come to realize that birth is always

suffering, every time, one takes good care to avoid birth.

It is easy to understand that the birth referred to is something

mental, something in the mind, but it is very difficult to master

this birth. In a single day or even in a single hour one may

experience this kind of birth many times, many dozens of

times, Be careful about this problem of birth; it is a problem

that faces us here and now. If we can master this kind of birth

here and now we will also be able to master the birth

that comes after physical death. So let's not concern

ourselves with the birth that follows physical death;

instead let us concern ourselves seriously with the birth that

happens before physical death, the kind of birth that goes

on while we are alive, which happens dozens of times every

day; let us learn to master it and the problem will be

eliminated. If birth can be eliminated here and now, in this

life, that will be the end of birth for good and all.

Everyone concerns himself with the trivial question

in what form he will be reborn after death, wondering into

which of the eight realms of existence he will be reborn:

as a hell-being, an animal, a preta (hungry ghost), an

asura (frightened ghost), a human being, a god of the

sensuous heaven (kamavacara), an embodied brahma, or

a bodiless brahma. Each of these possible forms of rebirth

falls under either of the two headings Sugati and Duggati,

depending on the nature of the corresponding feelings.

Those states that are desirable or satisfying are called

Sugati; those that are the opposite are called Duggati.

But this is not the doctrine the Buddha taught. He taught: if there

is birth there is nothing but perpetual suffering; and this is

so regardless of the realm into which one is born, because

“birth” refers to grasping and clinging, as already discussed.

No matter what one is born as, it is suffering. The form

of the suffering may vary, as in the case of the millionaire

and the beggar, but it is suffering nevertheless, suffering

as heavy as that of the Duggati realms. And while birth

in the Duggati realms brings the sufferings of the Duggati

realms, birth in the Sugati realms brings the sufferings of

the Sugati realms, Birth has to be stopped altogether. Don't

go wondering what you will be reborn as; don't go thinking

of being reborn as a human being, or a god, or a brahma.

The result will be the suffering of a human being, a god,

or a brahma, because even the brahmas experience

suffering, the suffering of brahmas. If brahmas were free

from suffering there would have been no need for Buddhism

Buddhism came into existence in order to produce Ariyans,

people who have put an end to suffering of every kind,

the suffering of human beings, of gods, and of brahmas,

This is why the Buddha is referred to as the “Teacher of gods

and men”: he taught to put an end to suffering for all


Here caution is needed. A person here in this

particular life has the possibilty of being reborn into any

realm of existence in the vast cycle of Samsara: into one

of the lower worlds or Duggati as a hell-being, animal, preta,

or asura; into the middle realm as a human being; or into

one of the higher realms as a god of the sensuous sphere,

as an embodied brahma, or (at the highest level) as a

bodiless brahma, So there are eight possibilities: the four

woeful states or lower realms, the human world or middle

realm, and three heavens or upper realms. Each of these

eight forms of birth is suffering in its own particular way.

If one identifies with one's state of birth, one is bound to

experience the corresponding kind of suffering-and every

one of us has, in his everyday lfe, experienced these eight

kinds of birth.Let us try to understand what this means.

We shall deal first with birth in the woeful states, birth as

a hell-being, animal, preta(hungry ghost), or asura

(frightened ghost).

Te real meaning of “hell” is anxiety ( literally “mind-

Heat”). Anxiety burns one Iike a fire. If a

person is worked up, burning with anxiety, then he is to

be recognized as a hell-being. Whether monk, novice, lay

follower, householder, or whatever, if he is burning with

anxiety (“mind-heat”) burning through involvement in “I”,

“ mine”, then he is in hell.


If at some moment a person is deluded, then at that

moment he is a dumb animal. At any time that a person,

male or female, monk or layman, or whatever, is deluded,

he has taken birth as an animal. The meaning of birth as

an animal is delusion.

At any time that “I” and “mine” go the way of mental

hunger and thirst, as when a gambler or a person buying

lottery tickets suffers a hunger for money, a hunger to win

a prize, a mental hunger, that is birth as a preta (hungry

ghost). Birth as a preta is extreme mental hunger.

If there is fear, timidity, that is birth as an asura

(frightened ghost). The word “a-sura” means “not brave”, an

asura is any timid, frightened person.

In a single day we may be born in all four of these

States. Watch! Notice in what form the “I” and “mine” arise.

If they arise in the form of anxiety, one has been born a

denizen of hell; if as delusion, an animal; if as mental hunger,

a preta; and if they arise in the form of fear, one has been

born an asura. Here is an example to illustrate.

A gambler who makes a blunder and loses

everything experiences anxiety, as if burnt by fire; he has

fallen into hell right there in the gambling-house. Again,

when he is so deluded as to think that gambling can solve

his problems, he is a dumb animal-even before he begins

playing. When, in the course of playing, he has an

uncontrollable mental hunger, then he is a preta. And when

he is afraid of being beaten and losing everything, then he

is an asura, This single example, the case of a gambler

in a gaming-house, shows how one may be born as a hell-

being, an animal, a preta, or an asura.

Our grandparents were no fools, otherwise they

would not have had the saying: S'Heaven is in the head;

hell is in the mind.'' Their children and grandchildren

apparently are fools because they think one goes to

heaven or hell only after dying, after having been put into

the coffin. Examine this idea and you will see how foolish

it is. So Iet us be as intelligent as our grandparents, at

least to the extent of recognizing that heaven and hell are

in the mind.

Think of the example of the gambler, who can

become a hell-being, an animal, a preta, or an asura.

Anxiety can come from wrong-doing or as a result of karma.

Anxiety is hell. Delusion can sometimes be so bad as to

be almost beyond belief. Have a good think about it;

examine it and you will see that we are sometimes

unbelievably deluded. This delusion leads us into inappro-

priate or bad action. As for hunger, it is always ptesent:

desire for pleasure, desire for fame, and so on, If it reaches

the point of being a mental thirst, one becomes a preta.

Why be hungry? We have sufficient intelligence to know

what we have to do, so, let's do it contentedly, without preta-

like hunger. Even if we do buy lottery tickets, we don't have

to do it with preta-like hunger. We can buy our tickets

simply for the fun of it, or we can think of how we are

thereby helping provide funds to develop the countl. We

don't have to buy tickets out of hunger, as prelas. If there

is awareness, ''I'' and ''mine'' do not arise and one is

not hungry, not a preta. But if awareness is lacking one is

hungry, one has become a preta here and now. It is the

same with fear. Fear can become a habit. Think about it.

To be afraid, as some people are, of even earthworms,

lizards, geckoes, and mice is just going too far. This is

unjustified fear. Then there is fear of ghosts, things whose

presence cannot even be demonstrated. And something

some people are very afraid of is Dharma. They are afraid

that practising Dharma will make life tasteless and dry, that

Nirvana is simply tastelessanddry. So they fear Dharma and

Nirvana. Such people are full-fledged asuras, right here and


Now we move up to the realm of human beings. The

term ''human being'' in this context implies fatigue,

exhaustion, shedding sweat, hard work, trading the sweat

of one's brow for food and sensual pleasure. If has nothing

to do with anxiety, delusion, or the others', it is the honest

exchanging of the sweat of one's brow for things one wants.

This is the meaning of the term ''human being''. Don't think

of it as of a type with the terms ''hell-being'' ''animal'' ''prefa'',

and ''asura'', which refer to something much lower, ''Hell''

means anxiety, ''animal'' means delusion, ''prela'' means

hunger, ''asura'' means fear, ''Human being'' means

something of a totally different type. It means simply

striving, persevering, working to get things one wants

honestly and fairly, purchasing them with the sweat of one's

brow. This is what it is to be a human being. In short the

meaning of ''human being'' is fatigue, a condition of habitual


Higher than this are the gods of the kamavacara

(sensual) heaven. These are the gods we hear about

who have celestial mansions, attendant angels, and so

on. The reference is to a condition of freedom from fatigue,

and abundance of every sensual pleasure. Higher again is

the state of a person who has become bored with sensual

pleasure, who has come to see sensual pleasure as some-

thing contaminating and wishes to live uncontaminated and

pure. This is the heaven of the embodied brahmas (rupa-

brahma), in which there is involvement in material things .

And higher again is the level where one sees the body as

impermanent, not worth becoming involved in, and feels it

would be betterto have no body at all. A person who feels

this way is called a bodiless brahma (arupabrahma).

The meanings of these terms are not as in everyday

usage. For 'example the hell depicted in temple murals,

with great copper cauldrons, seas of acid, rains of lances

and swords, is a metaphor, an illustration in material terms

of mental states that cannot be depicted. It is a physical

illustration of anxiety and worry ('dmind-heat''), Similarly we

have physical representations of delusion, hunger, and

fear. Similarly again the '?human realm'' is the condition of

fatigue. And the kamavacara heaven is complete sensual

satisfaction; when a person has, by means of money,

power, good luck, or whatever, attained satisfaction in

sensual pleasure, and is free of fatigue, he is a god in the

senusal realm, called kamavacara. And a bodiless brahma

is one who has become tired of this, who has ceased being

involved in sensual pleasure and takes delight only in pure

things, things that do not contaminate.

Let us examine the state of ourown minds. Sometimes

we are infatuated with sensual pleasure, but when we repeat

it over and over, we become fed up with it and wish to have

a rest from it. Sometimes we want to play, or interest

ourselves in other material things, and those things fail to

satisfy, and we begin thinking of non-physical things such

as good fortune, name, and fame. Let's put it more simply.

There are people who are infatuated with sensual pleasure

and there are others who prefer to amuse themselves with

hobbies, such as gardening or keeping tropical fish or

pigeons, and become infatuated with them. The mind is

liable to change in this way. Now it may happen that a

cedain person at a certain time comes to see that all these

things are a source of confusion and not to be compared

with mental things-thoughts and dreams about possible

good fortune, about beauty, or about name and fame, non-

physical things. These various conditions differ considera-

bly among themselves; theyconstitute a series of levels. The

point to note is that a single person is Iiable to experience

any of these eight kinds of birth. Examine yourselves and

see how many different states the mind can go through. On

a cedain day a certain person may be involoved in sensual

pleasure for an hour or so. Then he may feel like having

a break from it by going and playing sport or amusing himself

with some hobby. At other times he may feel like having

a complete rest, free from all disturbance. Sometimes he

has to be a ''human being'' working for long hours,

becoming fatigued. And sometimes he spends a few minutes

in hell (anxiety); or in the condition of an animal (delusion),

or a preta (hunger), or an asura (fear). So a single person

may experience several kinds of birth in a single day; and

in a week he may experience all eight kinds. He may be

born in one of the woeful states (hell, animal, preta, asura),

in the human realm, or in the heavens of gods and brahmas.

But whichever kind of birth it is, it is nothing but suffering;

freedom from suffering comes only with freedom from birth.

This last statement is difficult to understand; but once you

have understood it, you have understood the whole of the

Buddha's teaching.

The expression ''freedom from birth'' does not imply

that one is not born again after physical death, that after

having died and been placed in the coffin one is not reborn.

Please think about this: if in the daily round there is only

wareness preventing the arising of ''I'' and ''mine'' the ''self''

-idea, egoism - that is freedorm from birth. When nothing

remains but awareness, one is able to do what one has to

do, and to do it properly. Under these conditions, doing one's

job is fun; to be able to do one's job properly without any

''I'' or ''mine'' is a joy. This is the essence of the Buddha's

teaching. In effect it calls on us to live with a mind free from

the idea ''I'', ''mine'', Every religion teaches this; it is based

on a law of nature, which can be proved rigorously,


Buddhism teaches that if one's thoughts include the

idea of self, self centredness, that is suffering. Christianity

teaches the same thing; it teaches us not to think in terms

of ''I'' or ''mine'', not to misidentify as ''I'' or ''mine'', But most

Christians don't understand this teaching, just as most of us

Buddhists don't understand the Buddha's teaching on this

Matter. It's the same the world over and in every religion:

no one understands the real essence of his own religion.

We Buddhists don't understand what is meant by ''Don't be

born! Stop being born!'' We don't understand it and so we

are perplexed, disbelieving it, or even considering it a false

teaching. Perhaps we do not go so far as to accuse the

Buddha of teaching false doctrine but still that idea is there

in our minds; or we may think that any monk expounding

this doctrine is misrepresenting the Buddha. This is what

happens. So we fail completely to understand the doctrine

of anatta (non-self) and sunnata (emptiness), the doctrine

that there is no ''I'' or ''mine''. Consequently we experience

suffering. We are born frequently; we experience more of

Samsara than of Nirvana.

The proof of all this is the fact that the hospitals for

nervous and mental disorders are overfilled. This is all

the proof needed; we don't have to ask further. People

simply don't understand the truth about how to prevent

mental illness. This is the objective of the Buddha's teaching.

The Buddha's goal was a life of awareness, continuous

awareness, seeing the world as something empty of ''I'',

''mine'', keeping the mind always free of the idea ''I'',

''mine'', leaving only the awareness, so that one knows what

has to be done, and does it. This is the essence of the

Buddha's teaching; there is no more to it than this.

Now at this point I should Iike to say something about

a Christian teaching which Christians themselves take no

interest in. It is a piece in the New Testament, from the book

of Corinthians, in which St Paul sums up the entire teaching

of Jesus. It is a short piece of instruction to the Corinthian

people: ''If you have a wife, think as if you have no wife,

If you have wealth, think as if you have no wealth, If you

are suffering, think as if you were not suffering. If you are

happy, think as if you were not happy. If you go to buy

goods at the market, bring nothing home.''

Here we have the essence of the Buddhist teaching

in the Bible : ''If you have a wife, think as if you have no

wife.'' Paul is speaking to the men ; he does not mention

that a woman who has a husband should think as if she

had no husband, but this is understood ; the statement is

good for both wife and husband. The meaning is : ''Don't

grasp and cling ; don't identify as 'mine'.'' If you have wealth,

don't go clinging to it, thinking of it as my wealth ; in effect,

think as if you had no wealth. If suffering arises, then

acknowledge it and it will go away. Don't think of it as

my suffering. If you have happiness, then don't think of it

as my happiness. If you go and buy something at the

market, bring nothing home. This means : while we are

carrying our purchases home from the market, our mind is

not identifying them as ''mine''. In this sense we are

brin-ging nothing home. This is a Christian teaching, the

essence of Christianity. I once asked a Christian, a

highranking teacher, how he understood this passage. At

first he was speechless, then he said . ''I've never taken any

interest in it.'' He had never taken any interest whatever

in this piece from the Bible because he thought it

unimportant. He had taken great interest in the subject of

faith and so on, but had taken no interest in this, the most

important subject Of all. Every rellnlbn worthy Of the name

aims essentially at teaching freedom from Self-centredness.

Every religion includes the important teaching of freedom

from self and from concern with self-in which, however, its

adherents take no interest. They are like us Buddhists, who

take no interest in the doctrine of sunnata and analla, the

characteristic doctrine of Buddhism.

It can be said, then, that mankind is taking no inter-

est in the thing that is most important to mankind. People

are interested only in chattering and eating, self-centred

pastimes which increase ''I'' and ''mine''. Consequently they

are more often hell-beings, animals, pretas , and asuras

than human beings. And when they are human beings, they

are sweating and striving far too much, not knowing how

to relax. If they are in one of the heavenly realms, they are

experiencing the corresponding kind of suffering as gods,

or brahmas, or whatever. This is because they don't

understand, they have fallen under the influence of Mara

(Satan) : they have been drawn into the way of Mara rather

than in to the way of the Buddha.

Mara (Satan) is yet another thing we don't understand

properly. In reality ''Mara'' denotes all the fascinating things

that draw the mind and subjugate it. Mara is these things,

in particular sexual and other sensual pleasures. Mara's

commander-in-chief entices us into the paranimmitavasavatti

heaven, the heaven that abounds in sensual delights, where

other off-siders of Mara then wait on us, serving us and

attending to our every need. This is what is meant by

''Mara's commander-in-chief''. At present we are underlings

or victims of Mara because we are desiring these things

and are thereby cultivating the ''I'' and the ''mine''. Once

''I'' and ''mine'' have arisen, there is no end to it; one has

got into the Mara current rather than the Buddha current.

This is all there is to Mara. Whenever there exists in the

mind the idea ''I'', ''mine'', then Mara is present, one is an

underling of Mara. And whenever the mind is empty of

''I'', ''mine'', one is a follower of the Buddha. In a single

day you may be an underling of Mara for a few hours and

a follower of the Buddha for afew hours. Everyone realizes

this so there is no need to discuss it here. Everyone can

see for himself that in a single day ''I'' and ''mine'' may be

present for a few hours, and absent for a few hours.

At any moment when ''I'' and ''mine'' arise one is born

as this or that, and identifying with it; and that is suffering,

every time. We ought to fight shy of this and take steps

to prevent its arising. We have to foster and prolong those

periods of emptiness and quietness, or Nirvana, and in time

we shall be free of all ailments, both mental and physical.

Diabetes, high blood pressure, neart diseases-all these

come from ''I'', ''mine''. Identification as ''I'' or ''mine'' is a

source of disturbance which prevents our getting sufficient

rest. When the mind is confused, the sugar metabolism

becomes abnormal, rising and falling sharply, and the result

is some physical illness. Mental illness also results, in the

form of mental suffering. In short, the body can't take the

stress and the result is nervous or mental illness, or even

death. Though one may escape death, one is sure to

experience much suffering and melancholy, as if one had

fallen into one of the hells.

This whole question could be treated in much greater

detail. For example, we have spoken of hell as equivalent

to anxiety, though the more detailed texts recognize

eighteen or twenty-eight or more different hell-regions.

Ultimately, however, they all involve suffering from heat;

there is no hell that is cool. With the pretas it is the same.

Several different kinds of pretas are recognized : serpent-

pretas, pretas with mouths the size of a needle's eye and

bellies the size of a mountain (hence never able to satisfy

their hunger) , and others. But they all amount to the same

thing : hunger. You can interpret all these details how you

like, at a great or little length as you like, so long as

you understand the basic meaning : hell-beings suffer

anxiety, animals are deluded, pretas are hungry, asuras are

afraid, human beings are fatigued, kamavacara gods are

infatuated with sensual delights, embodied brahmas are

infatuated with pure physical things, and bodiless brah-

mas are infatuated with pure mental things. These are all

forms of ''birth''. Without exception, everyone who is ''born''

is certain to suffer. Try to give up this identifying altogether.

''True happiness consists in eliminating the false idea ''I''

Maintain awareness and insight ; be free of ''I'' and ''mine''

and you will be free from suffering. Maintain this condi-

tion ; when it has become permanent, that is genuine and

complete Nirvana.

We already have momentary Nirvana. Let us prolong

it reducing sufiering, or Samsara, as far as possible. Let

us not waste this opportunity, this eighty-year or hundred-

year long life into which we have been born. If we don't

effect this improvement we may never get anywhere, even

if we live a thousand years ; but if we do effect this

improvement, we may achieve full Nirvana in this very life.

Whether a person is a child, a teenager, an adult, or an

eighty-year-old, if he properly understands the meaning of

all this, how suffering arises and how it ceases, he will be

able to cure all his ailments effectively, to control self-

centredness, the ''I'' and the ''mine''; he will automatically

become fed up with it, and begin experiencing coolness,

happiness, freedom from suffering. This is all there is to

it. The Buddha summed it up briefly when he said : Don't

grasp at or cling to anything whatsoever (Sabbe dhamma

nalam abhinivesaya) , that is, don't cling to it as ''I'' or

''mine''. No matter what it is-physical object, condition,

action, mental object, result of action, or whatsoever-don't

think of it as ''I'' or ''mine'' . Think of it as belonging to Nature,

as Nature itself, as a part of Nature obeying the laws

of Nature, as the property of Nature. Don't take it as

''I'', ''mine''. Anyone who is so bold as to think of it as

''I'', ''mine'', is a thief , appropriating for himself something

that properly belongs to Nature. No good can come of

thieving ; it is bound to lead to the suffering of a thief, Hence

the Buddha's teaching that we shouldn't grasp at or cling

to anything as ''I'' or ''mine''. Hence also his statement, so

terse that it is hard to understand and even harder to

ac?ept : ''If people will practise right living, this world will not

be empty of Arahants'' . This statement sums up the whole


I hope you will all take an interest in this teaching

of the Buddha, that you will think it over, examine it, and

come to understand it. It is the profound and essential

core of the Dharma, and it is genuinely capable of helping

us attain freedom from suffering.



Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (Slave of the Buddha) went

forth as a bhikkhu (Buddhist monk) in 1926, at the age of

twenty. After a few years of study in Bangkok, he was

inspired to live close with nature in order to investigate the

Buddha-Dhamma. Thus, he established Suan Mokkhabala

rama (the Grove of the Power of Liberation) in 1932, near

his hometown. At that time, it was the only Forest Dhamma

Center and one of the few places dedicated to Vipassana

(mental cultivation leading to ''seeing clearly'' into reality) in

Southern Thailand. Word of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, his work,

and Suan Mokkh spread over the years so that they are

easily described as ''one of the most influential events of

Buddhist history in Siam'' Here, we can only mention some

of the more interesting services hc has rendered Buddhism.

Achan Buddhadasa has worked painstakingly to

establish and explain the correct and essential principles of

original Buddhism. That work is based on extensive

research of the Pali texts (Canon and commenlary),

especially of the Buddha's Discourses (sulla pitaka),

followed by personal experiment and practice with these

teachings. Then he has taught whatever he can say truly

quenches dukkha (suffering.) His goal has been to produce

a complete set of references for present and future research

and practice. His approach has been always scientific,

straight-forward, and practical.

Although his formal education only went as far as

ninth grade and beginning Pali studies, he has been given

five Honorary Doctorates by Thai universities. His books,

both written and transcribed from talks, fill a room at the

National Library and influence all serious Thai Buddhists.

Progressive elements in Thai society, especially the

young, have been inspired by his teaching and selfless

example. Since the 1960's, activists and thinkers in areas

such as education, social welfare, and rural development

have drawn upon his teaching and advice.

Since the founding of Suan Mokkh, he has studied

all schools of Buddhism, as well as the major religious

traditions. This interest is practical rather than scholarly, He

seeks to unite all genuinely religious people in order to work

together to help humanity. This broadmindedness has won

him friends and students from around the world, including

Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs.

Now he focuses his energies on his Iast project,

establishing an international Dhamma Hermitage. This addi-

tion to Suan Mokkh is intended to provide facilities for :

- Courses which introduce foreigners to the correct

understanding of Buddhist principles and practice;

- Meetings among Buddhists from aroung the

world to establish and agree upon the ''heart of