Tuesday, October 4, 2011



Everyday Language & Dhamma language


Lecture at Suan Mokkhabalarama, Chaiya
8 October 1966
Translated by Roderick Bucknell
          Now, let us look at the words "female" and "male". In everyday, worldly language, these words mean the two sexes - the female sex and the male sex. In Dhamma language, however, they refer to the distinguishing marks and signs of certain duties which Nature has assigned to human beings: duties which must be performed co-operatively, in partnership. Female and male have nothing to do with the exchange and consumption of sexual flavors. Rather, they point to the fact that human being must exist in the world and that the species must not become extinct. This means that the human race must be preserved through the duty of reproduction for as long a time as is necessary for humanity to realize the highest Dhamma - nibbana. The duties called for by this necessity must be divided between the female and male. Once the female and male exist, they help each other to lighten their burdens by dividing their everyday responsibilities and work, which, when done correctly, is Dhamma practice.
          In Dhamma language, the signs of the duties which Nature has stipulated in this way are known as "female" and "male". This isn't the lowly meaning assumed in everyday language. We shouldn't think of female and male solely in terms of an instinctual animal activity. Rather, we ought to think of them as signs of the division of those duties which can be carried out properly only in co-operation.
          From this we'll move on to "marriage". In everyday language, everyone understands this word to mean the ceremony that joins a woman and man according to social customs. That's marriage in worldly terms. However, in Pali, the language of Dhamma, the word "marriage" is samarasa,which translates as "having equal (sama) flavor, taste, duty, or function (rasa)" through Dhamma or in Dhamma. This means that two people with correct wants and needs are united as one. Physical contact between them is unnecessary, though there may be other forms of contact, such as letter writing.
Marriage is possible even though the skin and flesh of the two partners never touch. This is because their wants are the same and their responsibilities are equal. For example, both genuinely want to transcend dukkha using the same principles of practice. Both persons are satisfied in the unified Dhamma practice and in the fruits mutually desired. This is what we call "having equal flavor" which is marriage in Dhamma language and in Pali. The meanings of words in Dhamma language are always as clean and pure as in this example.
          Now we come to the words "father" and "mothers." In ordinary worldly language, these words refer to the two people responsible for our having been born. But in the deeper language of Dhamma, our "father" is ignorance (avijja) and our "mother" is craving (tanha). They must be killed and gotten rid of completely. For instance, the Buddha said:
"Matram pitram hantva akatannusi brahmana."
"Be ungrateful. Kill the "father," kill the "mother", and you will attain nibbana."
Our father, the one responsible for our birth, is ignorance or not-knowing (avijja); our mother, the other one responsible for our birth, is craving (tanha). The words "father" and "mother" in Dhamma language were given these higher meanings by the Buddha. So the "parents" - avijja and tanha - have to be killed, destroyed completely, for nibbana to be realized.
          The word "friend" in worldly everyday language refers to a companion, someone who does things that please one. But in Dhamma language, "friend" or "companion" refers to the Dhamma, and in particular to that aspect of the Dhamma that enables us to free ourselves from dukkha. The Buddha specifically mentioned the Noble Eightfold Path as humanity's supreme friend (kalyanamitta). In Dhamma language, "friend" means the Noble Eightfold Path: right understanding, right intention, and so on up to right concentration. This is what "friend" means in Dhamma language.
          An enemy in everyday language is someone whom we hate and who is out to do us harm. But our enemy, as this word is understood in Dhamma language, is our own misdirected mind. Our very own mind and the misuse of it - that is our real enemy. The misdirected mind is our enemy, not someone outside of ourselves. The enemy that the ordinary person has in mind is the enemy of everyday worldly language. The enemy of Dhamma language is the misdirected mind. The enemy exists any time that the mind is misdirected. It is born in the mind and of the mind. With the mind well directed and fixed on Dhamma, the enemy is absent and the friend is there instead.
          Now, let us ask, what is "the putrid, foul-smelling thing"? In everyday language it may be rotten fish or something of the sort, but in Dhamma language it is something very different. The Buddha referred to the mental defilements (kilesa) as putrid, foul-smelling things. Excessive desire, self-centredness, and obsession with the ideas of "me" and "mine" - these are putrid, foul-smelling things.
      All these words that we have considered are nothing but perfectly ordinary words selected to demonstrate the difference between everyday language and Dhamma language. If you think it over, you will realize that this difference is the very reason that we fail to understand Buddha-Dhamma. We don't understand this highest and most profound of teachings simply because we don't know the language of Dhamma. We know only everyday language and are unable to comprehend the language of the nobles ones (ariyans, beings well advanced in the practice).
          Consider, for example, laughter. The Buddha once said, "Laughter is the behaviour of an infant in its cradle." Think about it. We like to laugh heartily, even though it is the behaviour of an infant in its cradle. It doesn't even embarrass us. We like it. We go right on laughing heartily, guffawing loudly. Why did the Buddha say that "Laughter is the behaviour of an infant in its cradle"? Think of an infant in its cradle and the way it lies there gurgling and grinning at you.
The laughter of the noble ones is different. They laugh at all compounded things (sankhara), which are impermanent and changing, unsatisfactory (dukkha), and not-self. Because they know, they can laugh at compounded things and at craving, which henceforth can do them no harm. This is the right kind of laughter, the kind that has meaning and worth.
         bNow consider singing. Singing, such as we hear on the radio, is just like someone weeping. The ariyans put singing in the same category as weeping. In singing, the actions of mouth, throat, vocal chords, and tongue are just the same as they are in weeping. But if it is a real song, the song of the noble ones, then it is a paean of joy at having seen the Dhamma. It proclaims the Dhamma and it proclaims satisfaction in the Dhamma. The song of the ariyans is a paean of joy proclaiming the Dhamma. This is true singing.
Next, consider dancing, which is so popular. People make a special effort to learn how to do it, and they get their sons and daughters to learn it too. They spend a lot of money on it. The ariyans, however, regard dancing as the antics of madmen. You can see for yourself how closely dancing resembles the antics of madmen, if you just compare them. No sane person would ever get up and dance! It has been calculated that a peson has to be at least 15% mad in order to overcome his sense of shame to get up and dance. So dancing is the antics of madmen.
          The dancing of the ariyans is dhammanandi. They "dance" and jeer at the defilements, proclaiming their liberation. They are no longer bound hand and foot, arm and leg. Their limbs are free. They can "dance" because they are not bound down by attachment. This is how the noble ones dance.
          Think it over. If we know only the language of common people, we can't possibly understand this kind of talk. The wise person says: "The birds see not the sky," and the foolish person doesn't believe it. Why don't birds see the sky? Because they are flying in the sky. The wise person says: "The fish see not the water," and again the foolish person doesn't believe it. It never occurs to such people that fish living in water cannot see the water because the fish are in such close contact with it. They know nothing about water. Likewise, earthworms always burrowing in the earth never see the earth. And the worms that live in a dung heap, that are born and die in a dung heap, never see that dung heap.
Lastly, "humanity sees not the world." People living and moving about in the world still do not see the world. If they really saw the world, they certainly wouldn't stay stuck in it. They would be sure to get free to the world and dwell with the Dhamma. People who are bogged down in the world, like worms in a dung heap, know only worldly everyday language. They don't know Dhamma language. The reason they don't know Dhamma language is that they are stuck fast in the world like the worms in their dung heap, the earthworms in the ground, the fish in the water, and the birds in the sky. People don't know Dhamma language. Not knowing Dhamma language, they cannot comprehend Dhamma.

          Here is a good example of Dhamma language: "Walking, walking, and never arriving." The average person will not grasp the meaning. Here "walking" refers to wanting something and going off in search of it. "Never arriving" refers to peace, to nibbana, which remains unattainable. Nibbana is attained by not wanting, not desiring, not hoping, not yearning. So there is no need to walk at all; by not walking, nibbana will be realized. Walking, walking, and never arriving. Wanting, wanting, and never attaining. The more we want anything - want to get this or that, want to be this or that - the more inaccessible it becomes. All we must do is to give up wanting something and we get it in full, straight away.
          In Dhamma language, it is said, "Talk is not loud; silence is loud." This means that when the mind is well concentrated, still and quiet, the voice of Dhamma will be heard. Again it is said, "These things that can be talked about are not the real Dhamma; about the real Dhamma nothing can be said." Everything that I have been saying in this talk is still not really Dhamma, it is still not the actual thing. My words are nothing more than an attempt to explain how to arrive at and understand the real thing. The real thing cannot be discussed. The more we say about Dhamma, the further it recedes from us. We can talk about only the method which will guide us along, which will tell us what to do in order to arrive at the real thing, the genuine Dhamma. So we must stop talking.
          This being the case, we shall leave off our comparison of everyday language and Dhamma language. I suggest you think it over and decide whether or not you agree with me concerning our failure to understand Dhamma. Some of us have been listening to sermons and lectures and expositions of Dhamma for ten years, twenty years, thirty years, and more. Why is it, then, that we still don't understand Dhamma, see Dhamma, penetrate Dhamma? The reason we don't understand is simply that we don't listen in the right way. And why don't we listen in the right way? Because we are familiar only with everyday language and have no acquaintance with Dhamma language. We hear Dhamma language and take it as being everyday language. We are just like those foolish people who always take the word "emptiness" in its everyday sense, completely miss the Dhamma sense, and then make all sorts of ridiculous assertions about it.
          Such are the unhappy consequences of not being familiar with both everyday language and Dhamma language. People in this portion have not got their wits about them. They lack discernment, the quality the Buddha was referring to when he said:
Appamatto ubho atthe adhiganhati pandito,
Ditthe dhamme ca yo attho, yo ca'ttho samparayiko.
Atthabhisamayadhiro pandito ti pavuccati.
The wise and heedful person is familiar with both modes of speaking: the meaning seen by ordinary people and the meaning which they can't understand. One who is fluent in the various modes of speaking is a wise person.

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