Some people take 'self' to mean what is generally known as
'mind' or 'consciousness'. But the Buddha says that it is better for
a man to take his physical body as self rather than mind, thought,
or consciousness, because the former seems to be more solid than
the latter, because mind, thought, or consciousness
changes constantly day and night even faster than the
It is the vague feeling 'I AM ' that creates the idea of self which
has no corresponding reality, and to see this truth is to realize
Nirvana, which is not very easy. In the
2 there is an
enlightening conversation on this point between a bhikkhu
named Khemaka and a group of bhikkhus.
These bhikkhus ask Khemaka whether he sees in the Five
Aggregates any self or anything pertaining to a self. Khemaka
replies 'No'. Then the bhikkhus say that, if so, he should be an
Arahant free from all impurities. But Khemaka confesses that
though he does not find in the Five Aggregates a self, or anything
pertaining to a self, 'I am not an Arahant free from all impurities.
O friends, with regard to the Five Aggregates of Attachment, I
have a feeling "I A M" , but I do not clearly see "This is I A M" . '
Then Khemaka explains that what he calls 'I AM ' is neither matter,
sensation, perception, mental formations, nor consciousness, nor
anything without them. But he has the feeling 'I AM' with regard
to the Five Aggregates, though he could not see clearly 'This is I
He says it is like the smell of a flower: it is neither the smell of
the petals, nor of the colour, nor of the pollen, but the smell of
the Venerable Gotama. It would be good if the Venerable Gotama would preach to
me on good and bad (kusalakusalam) in brief." The Buddha said that he would explain
to him good and bad, in brief as well as in detail; and so he did. Ultimately Vaccha-
gotta became a disciple of the Buddha, and following his teaching attained Arahant-
ship, realized Truth, Nirvana, and the problems of Atman and other questions
obsessed him no more. (M I (PTS), pp. 489 ff.)
S II (PTS), p. 94. Some people think that Alayavijndna 'Store-Consciousness'
(Tathagatagarbha) of Mahayana Buddhism is something like a self. But the
Lankavatara-siitra categorically says that it is not Atman (Lanka, p. 78-79.)
S III (PTS), pp. 126 ff.
This is what most people say about self even today.
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Khemaka further explains that even a person wh o has attained
the early stages of realization still retains this feeling 'I AM'. But
later on, when he progresses further, this feeling of 'I A M' alto-
gether disappears, just as the chemical smell of a freshly washed
cloth disappears after a time when it is kept in a box.
This discussion was so useful and enlightening to them that
at the end of it, the text says, all of them, including Khemaka
himself, became Arahants free from all impurities, thus finally
getting rid of 'I AM'.
According to the Buddha's teaching, it is as wron g to hold the
opinion 'I have no self' (which is the annihilationist theory) as to
hold the opinion 'I have self' (which is the eternalist theory),
because both are fetters, both arising out of the false idea T AM'.
The correct position with regard to the question of
to take hold of any opinions or views, but to try to see things
objectively as they are without mental projections, to see that what
we call T, or 'being', is only a combination of physical and mental
aggregates, which are working together interdependently in a flux
of momentary change within the law of cause and effect, and that
there is nothing permanent, everlasting, unchanging and eternal
in the whole of existence.
Here naturally a question arises: If there is no
who gets the results of karma (actions) ? No one can answer this
question better than the Buddha himself. When this question was
raised by a bhikkhu the Buddha said: 'I have taught you, O
bhikkhus, to see conditionality everywhere in all things.'
The Buddha's teaching on
No-Soul, or No-Self, should
not be considered as negative or annihilistic. Like Nirvana, it is
Truth, Reality; and Reality cannot be negative. It is the false
belief in a non-existing imaginary self that is negative. The teaching
dispels the darkness of false beliefs, and produces the
light of wisdom. It is not negative: as Asanga very aptly says:
'There is the fact of No-selfness'
M III (PTS), p. 19; S III, p. 103.
Abhisamuc, p. 31.
• M E D I T A T I O N ' O R M E N T A L C U L T U R E :
The Buddha said: 'O bhikkhus, there are two kinds of illness.
What are those two? Physical illness and mental illness. There
seem to be people who enjoy freedom from physical illness even
for a year or two . . . even for a hundred years or more. But, O
bhikkhus, rare in this world are those who enjoy freedom from
mental illness even for one moment, except those who are free
from mental defilements' (i.e., except arahants).
The Buddha's teaching, particularly his way of 'meditation',
aims at producing a state of perfect mental health, equilibrium and
tranquility. It is unfortunate that hardly any other section of the
Buddha's teaching is so much misunderstood as 'meditation', both
by Buddhists and non-Buddhists. Th e moment the word 'medita-
tion' is mentioned, one thinks of an escape from the daily activi-
ties of life; assuming a particular posture, like a statue in some cave
or cell in a monastery, in some remote place cut off from society;
and musing on, or being absorbed in, some kind of mystic or
mysterious thought or trance. True Buddhist 'meditation' does not
mean this kind of escape at all. The Buddha's teaching on this
subject was so wrongly, or so little understood, that in later times
the way of 'meditation' deteriorated and degenerated into a kind
of ritual or ceremony almost technical in its routine.
Most people are interested in meditation
in order to gain
some spiritual or mystic powers like the 'third eye', which others
do not possess. There was some time ago a Buddhist nun in
India who was trying to develop a power to see through her ears,
A (Colombo, 1929), p. 276.
Tbe Yogavacara's Manual (edited by T. W. Rhys Davids, London, 1896), a text on
meditation written in Ceylon probably about the 18th century, shows how medita-
tion at the time had degenerated into a ritual of reciting formulas, burning candles, etc.
See also Chapter XII on the Ascetic Ideal, History of Buddhism in Ceylon by Walpola
Rahula, (Colombo, 1956), pp. 199 ff.
while she was still in the possession of the 'power' of perfect eye-
sight ! This kind of idea is nothing but 'spiritual perversion'. It is
always a question of desire, 'thirst' for power.
The word meditation is a very poor substitute for the original
which means 'culture' or 'development', i.e.,
mental culture or mental development. Th e Buddhist
properly speaking, is mental culture in the full sense of the term.
It aims at cleansing the mind of impurities and disturbances, such
as lustful desires, hatred, ill-will, indolence, worries and restless-
ness, sceptical doubts, and cultivating such qualities as concentra-
tion, awareness, intelligence, will, energy, the analytical faculty,
confidence, joy, tranquility, leading finally to the attainment of
highest wisdom which sees the nature of things as they are, and
realizes the Ultimate Truth, Nirvana.
There are two forms of meditation. One is the development of
of one-pointedness of
by various methods pre-
scribed in the texts, leading up to the highest mystic states such as
'the Sphere of Nothingness' or 'the Sphere of Neither-Perception-
nor-Non-Perception'. All these mystic states, according to the
They have nothing to do with Reality, Truth,
Nirvana. This form of meditation existed before the Buddha.
Hence it is not purely Buddhist, but it is not excluded from the
field of Buddhist meditation. However it is not essential for the
realization of Nirvana. The Buddha himself, before his Enlighten-
ment, studied these yogic practices under different teachers and
attained to the highest mystic states; but he was not satisfied
with them, because they did not give complete liberation, they
did not give insight into the Ultimate Reality. He considered
these mystic states only as 'happy living in this existence'
or 'peaceful living'
He therefore discovered the other form of 'meditation' known
'Insight' into the nature of
things, leading to the complete liberation of mind, to the realiza-
tion of the Ultimate Truth, Nirvana. This is essentially Buddhist
See above p. 38.
See Sallekba-sutta (no. 8), of M.
'meditation', Buddhist mental culture. It is an analytical method
based on mindfulness, awareness, vigilance, observation.
It is impossible to do justice to such a vast subject in a few
pages. However an attempt is made here to give a very brief and
rough idea of the true Buddhist 'meditation', mental culture or
mental development, in a practical way.
The most important discourse ever given by the Buddha on
mental development ('meditation') is called the
'Th e Setting-up of Mindfulness' (No. 22 of the
10 of the
This discourse is so highly venerated
in tradition that it is regularly recited not only in Buddhist
monasteries, but also in Buddhist homes with members of the
family sitting round and listening with deep devotion. Ve ry often
bhikkhus recite this
by the bed-side of a dying man to purify
his last thoughts.
The ways of 'meditation' given in this discourse are not cut off
from life, nor do they avoid life; on the contrary, they are all
connected with our life, our daily activities, our sorrows and joys,
our words and thoughts, our moral and intellectual occupations.
The discourse is divided into four main sections: the first
section deals with our body
the second with our feelings
the third with the mind
fourth with various moral and intellectual subjects
It should be clearly borne in mind that whatever the form of
'meditation' may be, the essential thing is mindfulness or aware-
attention or observation
One of the most well-known, popular and practical examples of
'meditation' connected with the body is called 'The Mindfulness or
Awareness of in-and-out breathing'
It is for this 'medi-
tation' only that a particular and definite posture is prescribed in
the text. For other forms of 'meditation' given in this
may sit, stand, walk, or lie down, as you like. But, for cultivating
mindfulness of in-and-out breathing, one should sit, according
to the text, 'cross-legged, keeping the body erect and mindfulness
alert'. But sitting cross-legged is not practical and easy for people
of all countries, particularly for Westerners. Therefore, those who
find it difficult to sit cross-legged, may sit on a chair, 'keeping the
body erect and mindfulness alert'. It is very necessary for this
exercise that the meditator should sit erect, but not stiff; his hands
placed comfortably on his lap. Thus seated, you may close your
eyes, or you may gaze at the tip of your nose, as it may be con-
venient to you.
You breathe in and out all day and night, but you are never
mindful of it, you never for a second concentrate your mind on it.
Now you are going to do just this. Breathe in and out as usual,
without any effort or strain. Now, bring your mind to concentrate
on your breathing-in and breathing-out; let your mind watch and
observe your breathing in and out; let your mind be aware and
vigilant of your breathing in and out. When you breathe, you some-
times take deep breaths, sometimes not. This does not matter at all.
Breathe normally and naturally. The only thing is that when you
take deep breaths you should be aware that they are deep breaths,
and so on. In other words, your mind should be so fully concentrated
on your breathing that you are aware of its movements and
changes. Forget all other things, your surroundings, your environ-
ment; do not raise your eyes and look at anything. T ry to do this
for five or ten minutes.
At the beginning you will find it extremely difficult to bring
your mind to concentrate on your breathing. You will be aston-
ished how your mind runs away. It does not stay. You begin to
think of various things. Y ou hear sounds outside. Y ou r mind is
disturbed and distracted. You may be dismayed and disappointed.
But if you continue to practise this exercise twice daily, morning
and evening, for about five or ten minutes at a time, you will
gradually, by and by, begin to concentrate your mind on your
breathing. After a certain period, you will experience just that
split second when your mind is fully concentrated on your breath-
ing, when you will not hear even sounds nearby, when no
external world exists for you. This slight moment is such a
tremendous experience for you, full of joy, happiness and tran-
quility, that you would like to continue it. But still you cannot.
Ye t if you go on practising this regularly, you may repeat the
experience again and again for longer and longer periods. That is
the moment when you lose yourself completely in your mindful-
ness of breathing. As long as you are conscious of yourself you
can never concentrate on anything.
This exercise of mindfulness of breathing, which is one of the
simplest and easiest practices, is meant to develop concentration
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