Monday, February 21, 2011

'Tilakkhana: the Three Characteristics'

The principle of ‘tilakkhan᷂a, or in some contexts is also called ‘theory of Three Characteristics’, is one of the exalted principle of Buddhism. The theory profoundly explains the general trait and characters of naturally extant substante and beings in this world. In some occasion it can be called ‘sāmaňňa-lakkhn᷂a’ – [sāmaňňalukṥn᷂a S.]. The word ‘ti’ [Pāli] or ‘tri’ [Sanskrit] means ‘three’ whilst ‘lakkhan᷂a’ is literally translated ‘characteristics’. Therefore, altogether, the principle is well accepted as ‘the Three Characteristics’.

Buddhist traditions, especially, from Theravādin Schools admit that Buddha demonstrates this theory intentionally referring to general characters of all beings and substances which are conditioned by or consisted from the great four elements [rūpakhan᷂dha; pat᷂havī-dhātu, āpo-dhātu, tejo-dhātu, and vāyo-dhātu] such as mountain, tree, and general materials, or from the five aggregates [paňca-khan᷂dhāni] which is believed to condition the existence of human-beings like us. Therefore, according the principle, Buddhists believe that we are bound to these three characteristics since the day we were born, or in the other expression, one might describe it in short that ‘the Three Characteristics’ are the innate traits of the five aggregates because they are bound to these three;
1.     aniccatā’ – Literally means ‘impermanence or transiency’.  The theory profoundly explains Buddhist belief that all beings and substances are subjected to the state of impermanence, change and decadence. It is believed to be stated by the Buddha in ‘Sanggatalakkhan᷂asutta: the discourse of conditioned characteristics’ in Anggutara Nikāya that all substances emerge [upapada], subjected to alteration while existing [t᷂hitassa aňňathattā], and extinction [bhangga] at the end of the wondering circle. Furthermore, the theory which is believed to be established earlier in the time of the Buddha, is also vividly enhanced the explanation by the prominent commentator, Buddhaghosa, in around the 10th century B.C.E in his well- known scholarly work  called ‘visuddhimagga: the path of purification’.

In his work, Buddhaghosa vividly explains that impermanence is bound to all beings- nothing lasts for eternity. However, because of all things seem to possess the condition of continuation [santati], therefore we tend to overlook and see it as permanent phenomena. For instance, the continuous growth of a child, if we observe that child every day and every moment of our lives, our perception automatically assumes that there is no alteration in that child. This perception is related to the way we perceive our aging condition and deterioration in which it seems unchanged at all.
2.     dukkhatā’ – It is iterally translated as ‘state of suffering or being oppressed’.  It is also comprehensively explained by Buddhists that it is the ‘state of vulnerable and hard to persist’, and ‘state of unsustainability’. Buddhism also describes and categorizes this view vividly in many approaches. For instance; ‘tukka-tukkatā’ – suffering because of the feeling or perception of sufferings, for example we feel suffer from physical suffering like pain then leads to mental suffering like worrying and uncomfortable from our pain. ‘sangkhara-tukkhatā’ – suffering because of conditioned factors physically occur to all substances in which we hardly bear to its alteration and unsustainability such as, human-being cannot sit still forever. At a certain stage, we have to change our gesture and position to release physical pain, as well as our physical condition does not sustain in the same condition for eternity- it deteriorates and decays at the end. ‘viparināma-tukkhatā’ – suffering conditioned by change and variation. It is believed to be the suffering which occurs even within our happiness. There is actually the acceptance of ‘happiness’ in Buddhist theory. However, this ‘happiness’ state also contains ‘suffering’ inside it every moment because of fear and worry of losing that ‘happiness’ at the end.
3.     anattata’ – It is literally interpreted ‘soullessness; or a state of being not self’.  Buddhists believe that all substances and beings are subjected or conditioned to the law of nature – nothing is subjected to our control. The meaning is categorized into two groups; [1] ‘the state of being not self’ seems to derive from an ancient principle found by the Buddha that there is no ‘self’ [attā] against other philosophical theory of several schools in India in which it is called ‘attaman’ in Sansrit. It is believed that before and during the time of Buddha, there was a view of the existence of ‘self’ whilst the Buddha later completely denied it.

He also argues that there is no ‘self’- It is merely a lexical creation of word to represent a conventional truth which we use to define and call things daily. Furthermore, he explains that ‘self’ in which we presume as our ‘body’ or ‘ourselves’ is merely the assembly of the five aggregates [paňca-kandhāni: rupa= corporality, vedanā= sensation or feeling, saňňā= perception, sangkhara= mental formation; volitional activities, and viňňāna = consciousness] in which, again and again, it is subjected alteration, uncontrollable, impermanent and decay at the end. [2] ‘anattatā’ as state of being not subjected to authority. For instance, we are not able to control or authorize the assembly of the five aggregates to last or sustain in the same condition for eternity; speaking of which, we cannot force or prevent the negative condition such as; pain, illness and aging that happen to our conventional ‘self’.

The principle of ‘the Three Characteristics’ is considered the common law of nature bound to the world we live in. It is believed that whether the Buddha emerges or happens in the world or not, this natural law always exist. Therefore, in some Buddhist traditions, the reverence of doctrinal principal is more accepted and emphasized than that of the personal- even the significance of Buddha. However, still, he is revered as the one who discovered, enhanced, and declared it to the world. Nonetheless, it seems the theory of ‘tilakkhan᷂a’ has been undergone through several alteration and enhancement through a long history since the time of the Buddha. Apparently the term seems to be more vividly described in the ‘commentaries’ era when Buddhist scholarly works sprung prosperously in Sri Lanka, Burma and Thailand approximately 1,000 years after the demise of the master. Buddha merely refers to these three characteristics by calling it ‘dhamaniyāma’ which appears in the ‘tipitāka’.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

‘Noble or holy individuals’ [ariya-puggala] in Buddhist views

Theravāda Buddhist School holds a view that individuals [both ascetic and laymen] have potential to liberate from the state of suffering [tukkhatā], the state of impermanence [aniccatā], and enter the stream which entails the liberation [vimutti, vimokkha]. Eventually, once we have entered the stream, Buddhists believe that we are qualified and ready to attain the state of enlightenment which signifies and determines that we will reach the final extinction [nirvana/nibbāna], and at that position we will never born again. 

However, the term ‘nirvana’ literally is translated ‘extinction’ or ‘liberation’ has become a fruitful debate among scholars for the last two centuries since Buddhism was discovered and re-created to life once again by the West around the 18th Century [Original Buddhism is believed to extinct from its mother-land, India, for centuries before it was spread to other parts of the world, and become prosperous in all sorts of forms and styles]. The debate mainly focuses on clearer meaning and condition of the so-called ‘nirvāna’ which consequently reflects vague explanation from Buddhist traditions at the first place. However, as we are living a worldly life, and merely learning, witnessing and/or guessing on individual’s experience which may have been written millenniums ago, it seems a manifestation of this quiz still in distance to show us the true light. 

Nonetheless, the discussion herein mainly aims to render the procedure or path of practical way to reach the ideal goal [again, nirvana]. Although, the clear definition of its condition and true meaning is still debatable, and, perhaps unconvincing, for our generation, condition, and environment, Buddhists, throughout various traditions, have created very systematic and practical approach rendered in various scriptures including primary source like the ‘tipit᷂aka’. Therefore, in this discussion I would like to draw merely details of those who are considered the ‘stream enterer’ or ‘holy individuals’ [ariya-puggala] of Buddhists regarding what have they experienced inside that stream before ending in the state of extinction upon death. They are vividly described as follow;

  • A.    ariya-puggala 2’ – Technically, they are considered holy and noble individuals who succeed or reach sublime qualifications in Buddhist view which initially is counted from the first sublime stage called ‘sotāpattimagga = the path for stream entering stage’. They are classified into 2 here;

1.     sekha’ – Literally means ‘the learner’. They are considered the ones who still have obligation of learning, experiencing and practicing inside the stream called ‘the first 7 kinds of ariya-puggala out of 8 [the 8 stage is considered the last one called ‘arahat’ means ‘the enlightened or worthy one].

2.     asekha’ – These kids of noble individuals are believed to have completed all the learning and practicing procedure and now holding a state of enlightenment called ‘arahattaphala’ = the fruit of worthy one. Buddha and his famous foremost like Sārīputra or Moggalāna for example are believed to attain this stage.

Nonetheless, of those two kinds of ‘ariya-puggala’, endlessly Buddhists also divide and classify them into more vividly and detailed figures. From previous quantity of 2 I have rendered previously, now they are classified into 4 as follow;

  • B.    ariya-puggala 4’

1.     sotāpattipannā’ – Individuals [this term can be used with both ascetic and lay people] who are believed to have work and practice hard [ in the path of virtue, meditation, and wisdom = sīla; samādhi; paňňā] and finally reach the first stage of the stream. Literally means ‘the stream-enterer’. However, individuals who attain this stage are still believed to return to the worldly life and reborn again [no exact numbers of how many lives we have to undergo suggested at this point] to practice, and develop until gaining sufficient qualification to move to the next stage.

2.     sakadāgāmī’ – The ones who have attained or enter the second stage of the stream, literally means ‘once-returner’. It could be explained that if we reach this stage, it means that we will merely return once to the worldly life in order to practice and cultivate more until yielding sufficient sublime qualification to move to the next stage.

3.     anāgāmī’ – It is believed that individuals who enter this stage are considered the ones who will never return to worldly life again. Thus, it literally means ‘non-returner’ which could be explained that from this position we hold to the final stage [arahat] can be accomplished in this life.

4.     arahanta/arahat’ – The worthy one; the one who has ceased the circle of rebirth, transmigration, and wondering. This stage is on the top of the stream in Buddhist view. It is considered the last life which is believed to bring the cessation of suffering [tukkha] conditioned by impermanence [aniccatā], no-self [anattatā] [nothing else in this world is under our control], and subjected to decay.

It is noteworthy to observe that although Buddhist [Theravāda School] view on stages of stream which entails the final extinction or liberation is considered to properly formalized and strictly followed in order to attain the ideal final state of extinction, other traditions like ‘Mahāyāna School’ interestingly is believed to hold diferent view in this kid of state or stream, perhaps, even the state of ‘nirvāna’ itself is explained and interpreted differently.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Buddhist [Theravādin School] views on materiality and element [rūpa]

The assumption and notion of natural substance and material of Buddhism, especially from Theravādin School, is described in profound interpretation and meaning. They, slightly, differ from that of modern science in which it is being viewed and rendered differently. However, herein since we have merely discussed Buddhist matter, views of modern science on natural substance and material [which I believe we all well acknowledge through our experiences in life] would not be explicitly discussed. Therefore, today, I would love to draw some notions and views on such matters from the pālī canon and various scriptures of Asian sources to share and discuss in this very space. Technically one of the most recognized and acknowledged fundamental principles of human-being and the world of Theravādin view is ‘rūpa’.

According to the Buddhist discourse, the term ‘rūpa’ is vividly described in ‘anggutranikāya/ pan᷂cakanipāta = the collection of discourses arranged in accordance to numbers/ fifth-category’, and some description of the team also appear in ‘dighanikāya = the collection of long length discourse’. The term is literally translated ‘corporeality; materiality; and matter’. ‘rūpa’ itself is categorized in several groups and numbers rendering from 2 to 60. It is believed that original terminology might have been discovered and preached by Buddha possibly a few. Then, later after his demise, Buddhist commentators and monastic pundits, who may have succeeded in profound practice and discovered deeper insight, interpreted and added in much later sources they have composed.  Its trait and behavior is also described as ‘conditions or substances which are unstable, unsustainable, impermanent, and vulnerable conditioned by natural factors; body and constituents which consist of both behavior and traits’. Therefore, the precise definition seems very descriptive and, at the same time, vague. Nonetheless, herein, we ought to begin merely with the ‘rupa 2’;
  1. mahā-bhūtarūpa’ or ‘bhūta-rūpa 4’ – literally means ‘the Four Primary Elements; primary matter’. Theravādin traditions believe to hold the views that the world [material and mental world, or whatever] is consisted and composed from these four primary elements or matters. Thus, there are believed to eventually decompose and decay at certain stage, as well as are subjected to unsustainable, impermanent conditions and the demise. The Four Primary Elements are;
1.1  pat᷂havīdhātu’ – Element which possesses extensional and solid condition, takes up space, and provides foundation for other substance, generally called ‘element of soil, or earth’.
1.2  āpodhātu’ – Element which possesses cohesive and liquid condition. It absorbs; infiltrates; expands; and flows freely. It is general called ‘element of water’.
1.3  tejodhātu’ – Element which possesses heat or radiated condition. It is general well acknowledged as ‘element of fire; or heat’.
1.4  vāyodhātu’ – Element which possesses waving, vibrating, and motioning condition. It is generally well acknowledged as ‘element of wind; or air’. 

2.     upādāya-rūpa 24’ – It is literally interpreted ‘materiality that depends on one of those mentioned primary elements in order to emerge and occur in several conditions; or it is called ‘derivative materiality’. Notably, these views on materials and conditions of substances may have been freely interpreted, composed and added to scriptures in various own Buddhist traditions. Therefore, the term of ‘derivative materiality’ are categorized and vividly rendered in Buddhist discourses both in a so-called primary source like ‘dhīghanikaya= the collection of long length discourses’, and in secondary sources like ‘visuddhimagga’ scripture which was composed by ‘Buddhaghosa’ – the prominent Buddhist commentator – in the 10th century B.C.E. The 24 kinds of ‘upādāya-rūpa’ appear in details as follow;

A.    pasāda-rūpa 5’ – Material or element which possesses sensitive conditional qualities;

1.     cakkhu’ – the eye
2.     sota’ – the ear
3.     ghāna’ – the nose
4.     jivahā’ – the tongue
5.     kāya’ – the body

B.    gocara-rūpa; or visaya-rūpa 5’ – Material or element which is described as sources or material qualities of those sensual fields;

6.     rūpa’ – form
7.     sadda’ – sound
8.     gandha’ – smell; scent; odour
9.     rasa’ – taste

                   *** ‘phot᷂t᷂habba’ – Generally it is known as ‘tangible objects’. However, it is not counted or included in this context by some traditions because of it is clearly annexed with ‘mahā-bhūtarūpa 3; pathavī, vāyo and tejo’

C.    bhāva-rūpa’ – Materiality or element which is considered as ‘material qualities of genders or sex’.

10.  itthatta’ – femininity
11.  purisatta’- masculinity

D.    hadaya-rūpa 1’ – It is considered a mental form or element and/or physical basis of mind, which appears merely one element in Theravādin view.

12.  hadaya-vaddhu’ – The foundation or basement of the heart; heart base. This is obviously seen as more physical than ‘mind’ in Buddhist view.

E.     jīvita-rūpa 1’ – It is considered a material quality of life. It merely appears by itself in this category which is;

13.  jivitindriya’ – the faculties of life; vitality; or vital force. It is considered physical force or energy which strives for survival of all beings in this worldly life. It also appears by itself in this context.

F.     āhāra-rūpa 1’ – Literally means ‘material quality of nutrition or food’. It seems, however, the definition of this category is vaguely or flexibly preserved. Possibly, some of elements may have been left out because merely this form appears below;

14.  kaval᷂ingkārāhāra’ – literally means ‘edible or staple food; nutriment’. As mentioned, Buddhists categorize liquid or soften form of food in other unit. 

G.    pariccheda-rūpa 1’ – It is considered a material quality of delimitation. It is categorized by itself in this context as;

15.  ākāsa-dhātu’ – This element is also categorized in the ‘vāyo-dhātu’ of ‘mahā-bhūtarūpa’ as ‘space-element’. Speaking of which, as we may have observed that the categorization may been overlapped or annexed without any way out in some stages of translation through various texts which freely composed and interpreted throughout Buddhist traditions to fit best with cultural, social and environmental context. 

H.    viňňatti-rūpa 2’ – It is interpreted as ‘material quality of communication’ here which is divided into two elements as follow;

16.  kāya-viňňatti’ – Material quality of communication which entails bodily intimation; or a gesture.
17.  vacī-viňňatti’ – Material quality of communication which entails verbal intimation; or speech.

I.       vikāra-rūpa 5’ – It is interpreted as ‘forms or elements which are flexible and subjected to transformation’. Material quality of plasticity or alterability is also accepted.

18.  rūpa-lahutā’ – It is a condition of ‘lightness; agility’
19.  rūpa-mudutā’ – It is a condition of ‘pliancy; elasticity; malleability’
20.  rupa-kammaňňatā’ – It is a condition of ‘adaptability; wieldiness’

J.      ‘lakkhan᷂a-rūpa 4’ – This element is considered a trait or behaviour of material quality of salient or notable features which is rendered in details as follow;

21.  ‘rūpa-upacaya’ – Condition or element of growth and integration.
22.  rūpa-santati’ – Condition or element of continuity.
23.  ‘rūpa-jaratā’ – Condition or element of decay or demise.
24.  rūpa-aniccatā’ – Condition or element of impermanence. 

These are views and assumption of natural substances, elements and material which form and determine our world [both physical and mental]. It is noteworthy to observe that the principle simply begins with few major figure of descriptive terminology then vividly rendered, explained, categorized and displayed. However, it seems, notably, all vivid and descriptive elements described above eventually fit into one condition which is considered the core-teachings of Buddhism in which they are all subjected to ‘aniccatā; tukkhatā; and anattatā = impermanent; subjected to alteration or change; and being no self’.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Pālī Language [part lV]

It is noteworthy to presume that Theravāda traditions in accordance to extant evidences. Substantial Buddhist scriptures in various Asian traditions refer to the dialect Buddha preached in his time called ‘magadī’. He conveyed the meaning of his doctrine by using ‘magadikavohāra’ which is believed to be widely spoken in ‘magada’ district.  Prominent commentator like ‘Buddhaghosa’ states that it is a so-called ‘skānirutti’, which is believed that it was the language Buddha spoke. However, ‘skānirutti’ is a combination of ‘ska [self, own]+nirutti [language]’ literally means ‘own language’ or language that generally spoken by masses [in their own styles, forms and sounds]. Therefore, the interpretation of ‘pālī’ as ‘skānirutti’ is problematic. 

Nonetheless, speaking of which, ‘pālī’ [magadī] is believed to be spoken and preached by the Buddha. And, even after his demise, the language has been preserved in the form of his tenets by community of Buddhist monks and laymen for centuries until it was firstly properly inscribed into stone pillars of Emperor Asoka in the 3rd Century B.C. The significant historical event was conducted in the city of ‘Pātliputri’ in the kingdom of ‘Kosāla’ – generally known as ‘tatiya sanggīti’ – the third council. Then, it is described that doctrinal scriptures were carried by 9 groups of missionaries to propagate the wisdom outside of ‘chambhutīpa’ – India, for the first time. 

According to ‘mahāvangsa’ scripture – the famous scripture depicted an ancient history of Ceylon; it refers to the account of Mahindathera, a prominent Buddhist monk who is believed to introduce Buddhism in Sri Lanka. However, for the state of our knowledge at the moment, we are not certain of what form or type of language he brought to the island. Nonetheless, it is described by the scripture that the ‘tipit᷂aka’ he brought in with him was translated into Sinhalese language in the 5th Century B.C. in the reign of King Vat᷂t᷂agāminīabhaya.  Therefore, the term ‘pālī’ seems to be introduced much later when Buddhism was already established in Sri Lanka. 

Thus, it is common to acknowledge several assumptions towards the status of ‘pālī’ and its genuine origin based upon discovered and tentative evidences. Plentiful Asian Buddhists claim, based upon traditional scriptures, that the language was also called ‘mūlabhāsā’ and ‘tan᷂tibhāsā’ – literally means ‘original dialect’ and ‘conventional dialect’. Thus, since ‘magadī’ also shares common synonym of ‘mūlabhāsā’, and ‘tan᷂tibhāsā’, the assumption of ‘magadī’, and ‘pālī’ are identical, is acceptable and possible.