Monday, 14 December 2015

The Dhamma

Dhamma (Skt: Dharma) is a pre-Buddhist term meaning the nature of things, the truth of reality, the way it is. The Buddha used this term because it was so prevalent and well known, but in explaining it he gave his own interpretation; that is, when he said to people that he would teach them Dhamma, he taught them his own path of practice for the realization of the truth of the way things are. Thus for Buddhists ‘Dhamma’ came to mean specifically the Buddha’s teachings as preserved in the Buddhist scriptures. We can thus say that Buddha-Dhamma is the particular Buddhist path to realizing the universal truth of the way things are.  Another common and more mundane meaning of the word ‘dhamma’ is ‘things’, ‘phenomena’
or ‘objects of the mind’.

The Right Attitude (1)
Then, monks, King Yama questions that man, examines him and addresses him concerning the first divine messenger: ‘Didn’t you ever see, my good man, the first divine messenger appearing among humankind?’
And he replies: ‘No, Lord, I did not see him.’
Then King Yama says to him: ‘But, my good man, didn’t you ever see a woman or a man eighty, ninety, or a hundred years old, frail, bent like a roof bracket, crooked, leaning on a stick, going shakily along, ailing, youth and vigour gone, with broken teeth, with gray and scanty hair or bald, wrinkled, with blotched limbs?’
And the man replies: ‘Yes, Lord, I have seen this.’
Then, King Yama says to him: ‘My good man, didn’t it ever occur to you, an intelligent and mature person, “I too am subject to old age and cannot escape it. Let me now do noble deeds by body, speech, and mind”?’
‘No, Lord, I could not do it. I was negligent.’
. . .
When, monks, King Yama has questioned, examined, and addressed him thus concerning the first divine messenger, he again questions, examines, and addresses the man about the second one, saying: ‘Didn’t you ever see, my good man, the second divine messenger appearing among humankind?’
‘No Lord, I did not see him.’
‘But, my good man, didn’t you ever see a woman or a man who was sick and in pain, seriously ill, lying in his own filth, having to be lifted up by some and put to bed by others?’
‘Yes, Lord I have seen this.’
‘My good man, didn’t it ever occur to you, an intelligent and mature person, “I too am subject to illness and cannot escape it. Let me now do noble deeds by body, speech, and mind”?’
‘No, Lord, I could not do it. I was negligent.’
. . .
When, monks, King Yama has questioned, examined, and addressed him thus concerning the second divine messenger, he again questions, examines, and addresses the man about the third one, saying: ‘Didn’t you ever see, my good man, the third divine messenger appearing among humankind?’
‘No Lord, I did not see him.’
‘But, my good man, didn’t you ever see a woman or a man one, two, or three days dead, the corpse swollen, discoloured, and festering?’
‘Yes, Lord I have seen this.’
‘Then my good man, didn’t it ever occur to you, an intelligent and mature person, “I too am subject to death and cannot escape it. Let me now do noble deeds by body, speech, and mind”?’
‘No, Lord, I could not do it. I was negligent.’
(A.I,138-40 abridged; Bhikkhu Bodhi translation; IBW p.29)
These three ‘divine messengers’ are the primary existential conundrums which all reflective humans confront at some point in their lives. Who has not asked, ‘What happens when we die?’, or pondered, ‘What is the true purpose of life if it ends in old age and death?’ And of course we soon realize that everyone, rich or poor, famous or obscure, powerful or powerless, all faces the same fate; we are all equal before death. Unfortunately, some people are overwhelmed by these impending experiences and choose to ignore, deny or avoid dealing with them. For others they are a valuable opportunity to look deeper into the purpose and meaning of their lives, and perhaps make some important decisions about the future direction they wish to take. Being stirred (saṁvega) by these inevitable realities and seeking an answer to these issues is where the spiritual journey begins.
However, while some people may be impelled to seek for a spiritual answer when confronted by any of these ‘divine messengers’, their spiritual enthusiasm may wane when they obtain some degree of consolation or relief. Thus the Buddha encouraged serious seekers to reflect often upon these inevitabilities of life (A.III,71). Although the vivid memory of the ‘divine messengers’ may pass away, these facts of life themselves do not.

(Commentary by Ajahn Thiradhammo)