TWO KINDS OF LANGUAGE:
Everyday Language & Dhamma language
Lecture at Suan Mokkhabalarama, Chaiya
8 October 1966
Translated by Roderick Bucknell
8 October 1966
Translated by Roderick Bucknell
Now we come closer to home, to the word "person". We think nothing of using the word "person, person, person" all the time. Everyone is a person. But we ought to be careful here, because the word "person" has two different meanings. In everyday language, "person" refers to a creature with a body shaped like what they call a "person" or human being.
But in Dhamma language, the word "person" refers to certain special qualities implied in the word "human" - which means "possessing a lofty mind" or "high minded" - certain high mental qualities. This is not so difficult to understand. If someone criticizes a friend saying, "You're not a person!" what does he mean? The one criticized has a human body just as does the one criticizing. Why, then, is the first accused of not being a person? The point is that he lacks the special qualities implied in the word "human". Lacking these , he is accused of not being a person. Thus, the word "person" has two different meanings. In everyday language, it refers to a creature of human form; in Dhamma language, it refers to the higher mental or spiritual qualities implied in the word "human".
Now we consider the word "God". In everyday language, "God" refers to a celestial being with various creative powers. This is the God of everyday language. The "God" of Dhamma language is rather different. It is a profound and hidden power, which is neither human being, nor celestial being, nor any other kind of being. It has no individuality or self, and it is impersonal. It is natural and intangible. It is what we call the Law of Nature, for this Law is responsible for creation and for the coming into existence of all things. Natural Law governs all things. Natural Law has power over all things. Hence in Dhamma language, the word "God" means, among other things, the Law of Nature, what Buddhists call Dhamma. In the Pali language, the Law of Nature was referred to simply as "Dhamma". Dhamma, just that one single word, implies all of the Law of Nature. So Dhamma is the Buddhist God.
Now let us direct our gaze downwards. Let us look at the "four woeful states" (apaya). The woeful states are the nether worlds. Normally four of them are recognized; hell (naraka), the realm of the beasts (tiracchana), the realm of the hungry ghosts (peta), and the realm of the frightened ghosts (asura or asurakaya). These four as a group are called the "four woeful states." They are vividly depicted in temple murals. Hell, the beasts, the hungry ghosts, and the asuras are all depicted according to traditional beliefs, which means all four are thought to apply only after death. In other words, the four woeful states as understood in everyday language are interpreted materialistically. The denizens of hell, the beasts, and so on are thought of as actual lowly, "flesh and blood" creatures.
In everyday language, hell is a region under the earth. It is ruled over by the god of death, who carries off people and subjects them to all sorts of punishments. It is a place where one may go after death. Contrast this with hell as understood in Dhamma language. Here hell is anxiety, anxiety which burns us just like a fire. Whenever anxiety afflicts us, burning us up like a fire, then we are in hell, the hell of Dhamma language. Anyone who roasts himself with anxiety, just as he might burn himself with fire, is said to fall into hell in that same moment. And just as anxiety is of various kinds, so we recognize various kinds of hells corresponding to them.
Now to the realm of beasts (tiracchana). Birth as a beast means in everyday language actual physical birth as a pig, a dog, or some other actual animal. Rebirth after death as some kind of lower animal is the everyday meaning of rebirth into the realm of the beasts. In Dhamma language, it has a different meaning. When one is stupid, just like a dumb animal, then at that moment one is born into the realm of beasts. It happens right here and now. One may be born as a beast many times over in a single day. So in Dhamma language, birth as a beast means stupidity.
The term "hungry ghost" (peta) in everyday language refers to a creature supposed to have a tiny mouth and an enormous belly. It can never manage to eat enough and so is chronically hungry. This is another possible form in which we may be reborn after death. These are the hungry ghosts of everyday language. The hungry ghosts of Dhamma language are purely mental states. Ambition based on craving, worry based on craving - to be afflicted with these is to be born a hungry ghost. These symptoms are just like those that result from having a mouth the size of a needle's eye and a belly the size of a mountain. Anyone suffering from an intense craving, a pathological thirst, anyone who worries and frets excessively, a pathological thirst, anyone who worries and frets excessively, has the same symptoms as a hungry ghost. Such a person can be said to have been reborn a hungry ghost right here and now. It is not something that happens only after death.
Now to the asura or frightened ghosts. In everyday language, an asura is a kind of invisible being. It goes around haunting and spooking, but is too afraid to show itself. In Dhamma language, the word "asura" refers to fear in the mind of a human being. To be reborn as an asura, it is not necessary for the body to die. Whenever one is afraid, one is simultaneously reborn an asura. To be afraid without good reason, to be excessively fearful, to be superstitiously afraid of certain harmless creatures - this is what it is to be reborn as an asura. Some people are afraid of doing good. Some are afraid that if they attain nibbana, life will lose all its flavour and be unbearably dull. Some people do have this kind of fear of nibbana. To be afflicted with unjustified fear of this kind is to be reborn as an asura right here and now.
These are the four woeful states as understood in Dhamma language. they rather different from the woeful states of everyday language. Now there is a point worth thinking about in connection with this. If we don't fall into the woeful states of Dhamma language, then we are sure not to fall into the woeful states of everyday language. For instance, if we avoid making the mistakes that lead to affliction with anxiety, then we avoid falling into hell in this life. At the same time, we need have no fear of falling into hell in some later lifetime after death. Again, if we avoid being stupid like the beasts, ravenous like the hungry ghosts, and frightened like the asura, then we are free of the kinds of unskillful attitudes that might cause us to be reborn after death as beasts, hungry ghosts, or asura.
So it behoves us to interest ourselves only in these woeful states that we are in danger of experiencing right here and now. The kind that we may experience after death can be put aside. There is no need for us to concern ourselves with them. If we avoid right here and now the hungry ghosts and other woeful states as understood in Dhamma language, then no matter how we die, we are certain not to fall into the woeful states of everyday language. If we live and practice properly, we avoid falling into the woeful states here and now, and we are certain not to fall into the woeful states that are supposed to follow death.
Most people recognize that heaven and hell are simply states of mind. Why, then, are they so foolish as to misunderstand the meaning of the four woeful states, which are so much a part of life? True enough, the heaven and hell of everyday language are external realms - though don't ask me where - and they are attained after death; but the heaven and hell of Dhamma language are to be found in the mind and may occur at any time, depending on one's mental make-up. This is how the woeful states of Dhamma language differ from those of everyday language.
"Heaven" in everyday language means some wonderful, highly attractive, celestial realm up above. Spend a certain amount of money in merit making and you're entitled to one mansion in heaven, where there are angels by the hundreds. In Dhamma language, however, "heaven" refers first of all to infatuating sensual bliss of the highest order. This is the lower heaven, the heaven of sensuality. Higher up is the heaven called the Brahmaloka, where there are no objects of sensuality. It is a state of mental well-being that results from the absence of any disturbing sensual object. It is as if a certain person with a hunger for sense objects had indulged himself until becoming thoroughly fed up with all sense objects. Then he would want only to remain quite empty, still, untouched. This is the state of freedom from sensuality, the condition of the Brahma gods in the Brahmaloka. The ordinary heavens are full up with sensuality, the highest of them, the Paranimmitavasavatti heaven, being completely full of sensuality. The heavens of the Brahmaloka, however, are devoid of disturbance from sensuality, though the "self", the "I" still persists.
Now let us discuss the word "ambrosia," the elixir of immortality. In everyday language, ambrosia is a kind of liquor that celestial being imbibe to make themselves invulnerable before going out again to slaughter and cause general havoc. This is the ambrosia of everyday language. The ambrosia of Dhamma language is Dhamma at its highest, the truth of not-self(anatta) or emptiness (sunnata). This highest Dhamma, the truth of not-self or emptiness, makes a person immortal because it brings freedom from the "self" idea. When there is no "self", how can there be death? So in Dhamma language, the elixir of life is the truth of not-self or emptiness. As for the liquor which is traditionally supposed to confer eternal life on whoever drinks it, that is the ambrosia of everyday language, the language of foolish people, the language of people who have not perceived or penetrated to the truth.
A moment ago we mentioned the word "emptiness" (sunnata). Let us now have a closer look at it. Sunnata is a Pali word. Sunna means "void" or "empty," and "-ta" is the equivalent of "-ness". Sunnata is emptiness or voidness. In the everyday language of people who have not seen or penetrated to the truth, emptiness means simply the absence of any content whatsoever, a physical void, a vacuum, a useless nothingness. This is emptiness in everyday language. Emptiness or sunnata in Dhamma language is quite different. Here everything of every kind and variety may be present in any quantity - everything, that is, with the single exception of the ideas of "me" and "mine". Everything may be present, everything of every sort and kind you can think of, the entire lot of both physical and mental phenomena, with just this one exception - there is no idea of "me" and "mine". No "I," no "my," - that is emptiness as it is understood in Dhamma language, the language of the Buddha.
The world is empty. Empty of what? Empty of self and anything belonging to self. With this single exception, everything may be present, as long as nothing is regarded as "me" or "mine". This is the emptiness of Dhamma language. When the Buddha spoke of emptiness, he was speaking Dhamma language. Foolish people understand this as everyday language and take it that there is nothing i the world at all, just a vacuum! If the word "emptiness" is misinterpreted like this in term of everyday language, the Buddha's teaching of emptiness becomes meaningless. Those foolish people come out with many strange assertions that have nothing whatever to do with emptiness as taught by the Buddha.
I hope you will take an interest in this and bear it well in mind. This word "empty" applied to physical things naturally means absence of any content, but in the metaphysical context, it means that though every sort of thing may be present, there is utter absence of "I-ness" and "my-ness." In the physical world, the mental world, or anywhere at all, there is no such thing as "me" or "mine". The conditions of "I-ness" and "my-ness" just do not exist. They are unreal, mere illusions, hence the world is described as empty. It is not that the world is devoid of all content. Everything is there, and it can be made use of with discernment. Go ahead and make use of it! Just one thing though - don't go producing the ideas of "me" and "mine"!
Thus, in Dhamma language, empty does not mean "devoid of all content." Anyone who takes it as meaning this is ignorant of Dhamma and ignorant of the language of Dhamma. Such a person is speaking only everyday language. If we go forcing this everyday meaning into the context of Dhamma language, how can we ever make any sense of Dhamma? Do make a special effort to understand this word. It has these two quite distinct meanings.
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