Monday, October 3, 2011




Everyday Language & Dhamma language


Lecture at Suan Mokkhabalarama, Chaiya
8 October 1966
Translated by Roderick Bucknell

         Now we come to the word "stopping". Stopping in the sense of not moving, not stirring, is everyday language, the language of the ordinary person. This is one of its meanings. In Dhamma language, the language of the Buddha, "stopping" has a different meaning. To simplify matters we shall consider an example. When Angulimala spoke of "stopping", he meant one thing; and when the Buddha used the same word, he had in mind something quite different. If you have heard the story of Angulimala, you will be familiar with this dialogue between him and the Buddha. Angulimala, in using the word "stop," was speaking everyday language; the Buddha, when he used it, was speaking Dhamma language.
          In the language of the ordinary person, stopping means coming to a standstill, not moving; but in the language of the Buddha, stopping means becoming empty of self. If there is no self, what is it that goes running about? Why not have a think about this point? If there is no self, where is the "I" to go running about? Obviously the "I" has stopped. This is to be grasped at and clung to, absolute emptiness of selfhood. 
          To stop is the same as to be empty. This is what is meant by stopping in the Buddha's language. One may be physically running about and yet be said to have stopped, because no "self" is left to run about. Every form of wanting and craving has stopped. There is no "I" to want anything anywhere, no "I" to go running about. A person who still has desires goes running about looking for every kind of thing, even looking for merit and goodness. Running about, looking for this and that , here, there, and everywhere - this is running. But if one manages to stop desiring completely, to stop being a self, then even though one may go flying around in an aeroplane, one can still be said to have stopped. Learn to distinguish these two meanings of the word "stop" and understand them properly. It will help you to understand the teaching of emptiness also.

         If we discuss only these profound questions, you are bound to become drowsy, so now we shall take an easy word - namely, "light." When we speak of light, normally, we are referring to lamplight, sunlight, electric light, or some other kind of physical light. This is everyday language. In the Dhamma language of the Buddha, the word "light" refers to insight, wisdom, higher knowledge (panna). Even when the Buddha went and sat in a pitch dark cave, there was still light in the sense that in his mind there was the light of insight, of higher knowledge. On a moonless, starless night, when all lamps have been put out, it is still possible to say there is light if there is insight and higher knowledge in the mind of the one who practices earnestly. This is light in Dhamma language.

          Now "darkness". In ordinary everyday language, darkness is absence of light, which makes it impossible to see. In Dhamma language, darkness is lack of insight, ignorance of the truth, spiritual blindness (avijja). This is true darkness. If a person lacking true insight were to go and sit right in full sunlight, that person would still be in darkness, the darkness of ignorance as to the true nature of things. This is the difference between the meaning of darkness in Dhamma language and in everyday language.
          We come now to the word "kamma" (Sanskrit, karma). When ordinary people say, "That's kamma!" they mean "Too bad!" Bad luck as punishment for sins previously committed is the meaning given to the word "kamma" by ordinary people. But in Dhamma language the word "kamma" refers to something different. It refers to action. Bad action is called black kamma; good action is called white kamma. Then there is another remarkable kind of kamma which is neither black nor white, a kamma that serves to neutralize the other two kinds. Unfortunately, the more people hear about it, the less they understand it. This third kind of kamma is the realization of not-self (anatta) and emptiness (sunnata), so that the "self" is done away with. This kind of action may be called Buddhist kamma, the real kamma, the kind of kamma that the Buddha taught. The Buddha taught the transcending of all kamma.
Most people are interested only in black kamma and white kamma, bad kamma and good kamma. They take no interest in this third kind of kamma which is neither black nor white, neither bad nor good, which consists in complete freedom from selfhood and leads to the attainment of Nibbana. It wipes out every kind of bad and good kamma. People don't understand the method for wiping out kamma completely. They don't know that the way to put an end to all kamma is through this special kind of kamma, which consists in applying the Buddha's method. That method is none other than the Noble Eightfold Path.
The practice of the Noble Eightfold Path is kamma neither black nor white, and it is the end of all kamma. This is kamma in Dhamma language. It is very different from the "kamma" of immature people, who exclaim "That's Kamma!" meaning only "Too bad!" or "Bad luck!" Kamma understood as bad luck is the kamma of everyday language.
          Consider now the word "refuge" or "support" (saranฺa) In everyday language, a refuge or support is some person or thing outside of and other than oneself which one may depend on for help. For instance, people may depend on employers, ghosts, good luck omens, or guardian angels. Anything or anyone other than oneself that is relied upon - this is the meaning of "refuge" or "support" in everyday language.
          The "refuge" or "support" of Dhamma language is to be found within oneself. Even when we speak of going to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha for refuge, we really mean going to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha that are to be found within ourselves, within our own minds. Only then can they really serve as our refuge. So these supports are to be found within ourselves: our own efforts bring into existence the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha within our own minds. According to Dhamma language, one is one's own refuge. Refuge is within oneself, not somewhere outside.

          This bring us to the expression "the heart of Buddhism." In discussions about what constitutes the heart of Buddhism, all sorts of strange ideas are brought forward. some people recite this or that formula, such as VI-SU-PA. This sort of "heart" is everyday language, the language of stupid people. People with no knowledge of Dhamma will just rattle off a couple of Pali words or some other cliche and proclaim this to be the heart of Buddhism.
The heart of Buddhism, as this expression is understood in Dhamma language, as the Buddha has put it, is the realization that nothing whatsoever should be grasped at and clung to.
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya."
          Nothing whatever should be grasped at and clung to as "me" or "mine" This is the heart of Buddhism as understood in Dhamma language, the language of the Buddha. So anyone who is after the heart of Buddhism should be very careful not to get just the "heart" of everyday language, the language of people ignorant of Dhamma. That sort of "heart" is likely to be something ridiculous, laughable, and childish.
         What I have said so far ought to be sufficient to enable you to realize how a single word may have two different meanings. An intelligent and discerning person will be capable of considering both modes of speaking. " A wise person is one who is careful to consider both modes of speaking." "Both modes of speaking" means both of the possible meanings of a word. One is the meaning the word has in everyday language; the other is the meaning that same word has in Dhamma language. A discerning person must consider both meanings, as we have done in the numerous examples dealt with above. The words we have considered so far as examples are rather high-level terms. Let us now consider some more down-to-earth examples. I apologize if some of these appear a little crude.
Take the word "eating". In everyday language, to eat is to take in nourishment through the mouth in the usual way. But the eating of Dhamma language can be done by way of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, or mind. Think it over. What does the word "eat" refer to here? The eye sees a form, the ear hears a sound, the nose smells an odour, and so on with the remaining sense organs. This is referred to as "eating," eating by way of eye, ear, nose, and so on. This is Dhamma language. For instance in Pali and Sanskrit the word "kamabhogi" was commonly used to refer to a person who indulged in sensuality; literally this word means simply "sensuality eater."
          The expression "eating a woman" sounds most peculiar in Thai. But in Pali and Sanskrit it is a perfectly ordinary expression. To eat a woman does not mean to carry off, kill, cook, and eat her. It means to have sexual relations with her. This is what is meant by "eating" in this case, and this is what the word "eating" means in Dhamma language.
         On the other hand, the Pali word "nibbhogo" (having nothing to eat) is used to describe the Buddha and arahants (fully enlightened beings), for they are no longer involved in colours and shapes, sounds, odours, tastes, tactile stimuli, and mental images. Because they are above involvement in these six kinds of sense objects, they are people with "nothing to eat." Get to know this broad usage of the word "eat" in Dhamma language. It will make it easier to understand the more profound aspects of the teaching.
          Now the word "sleeping". When we use this word in the sense of lying down and sleeping like a dog or cat, we are speaking everyday language. But in Dhamma language, sleeping refers to ignorance (avijja). Though a person may be sitting up with eyes wide open, if ignorant of the true nature of things, this person can be said to be asleep. This is "sleeping" in Dhamma language. To live in ignorance of the true nature of things, regardless of bodily posture, is to be asleep.

          To be "awake" normally means to have roused oneself from sleep. But in Dhamma language, it means to be always mindful, to be always fully aware. In this condition, regardless of whether one is physically awake or asleep, one can be described  a awake. People who practice mindfulness (satipatthana) are always fully aware. Even if they go to sleep, they are immediately fully aware again the moment they wake up. When they are awake, they are awake; and when they are asleep, they are also awake. This is what it is to be "awake" in Dhamma language.
          "To play" in the language of the ordinary person is to amuse oneself as do children with games, sports, laughter, and good fun. But in Dhamma language, "to play" is to rejoice in the Dhamma, to be joyful over the Dhamma. Even to play with the bliss associated with the deeper stages of concentration (jhana) was called in Pali "jhanakila" (concentration-games). This is the "play" of the ariyans (those well advanced in Dhamma practice). This is what "play" means in Dhamma language. 
        Next, the word "angel" (Thai nang-faa, literally, "sky-woman"). In everyday language, this word refers to the exceptionally beautiful female inhabitants of heavenly palaces. They are personifications of physical beauty. But in Dhamma language, "angel" refers to the Buddha-Dhamma. Generally people restrict this meaning to the Dhamma written and studied in books, but in truth it encompasses all Dhamma, for all Dhamma is beautiful in the beginning, beautiful in the middle, and beautiful in the end (as explained above regarding the Sublime Way of Life). Thus, even the word "angle" has different levels of meaning; and "angel" in Dhamma language is the hope of all worthy Buddhists.

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