buddha 6
Photo: Phap Uyen

Hue Gia: Cultivating the Five Fundamental Precepts


After making up his mind to take Buddhism as a refuge, the lay Buddhist continues his religious transformation process by practicing five of the Buddha’s fundamental teachings directly concerning his daily living:

– not to take life,
– not to take what is not given,
– not to engage in improper sexual conduct,
– not to lie,
– not to drink intoxicants.

In the early Scriptures these teachings are included in the Siṅgālovāda-suttanta, the only comprehensive discourse delivered by the Buddha for the benefit of the lay devotees, and intended as the disciplinary foundation of their religious practice[1]Pañcasīla: pāṇātipātā veramaṇī, adinnādānā veramaṇī, kāmamicchācārā veramaṇī, musāvādā veramaṇī, surāmerayamajjapamā daṭṭhānā veramaṇī. (Dīgha Nikāya iii, … Continue reading. It is due to this classification together with the popular conception of their value as only a preliminary step for higher practices (samādhi and prajñā) that their deep philosophical aspect has been thrown into the shade and many people have consequently been misled into regarding them as nothing but moral rules. An elaborate study of their contents with reference to the universal principles of Buddhism and of their practical impact on the Buddhist’s living shows, however, that they are of no less value than any other teachings needed for the salvation of men out of the circle of transmigration. From such a standpoint they are not only religious precepts but also crystalization of the essential teachings recommended to the Buddhist for establishing a perfect life on the way towards enlightenment.

In Buddhism such a way of living is the spontaneous manifestation of an Enlightened One’s pure mind in the phenomenal world; on the other hand, it is an indispensable condition for the Buddhist on the way to realize this pure mind. In other words, the living in accordance with the above teachings may be considered either cause or effect. As being an effect, that is, the qualities of morality proceeding from the pure mind, it is of little importance and should not be emphatically treated as the ultimate goal of the Buddhist’s religious life[2]Dīgha Nikāya i, Brahmajāla Sutta 7,8,9,10.. But as being a cause, that is, the skillful means for the Buddhist’s attainment of the pure mind[3]Śīla, one of Six Perfections., it is of unthinkable merit and should not be mistaken for a type of common moral conduct. These are the two extremes that the Buddhist is always expected to transcend in the practice of these teachings.

At the moment of solemnly professing Buddhism in the presence of the Triple Gem[4]Buddha, Dharma, Saṃgha., the mystical faith (śraddhā) in the supreme goal of religious life has been aroused in the Buddhist’s innermost mind. And from the sacred texts he also learns that there will never be true liberation unless the Perfect Enlightenment is attained[5] The following is said to have been the Buddha’s utterance at the time of his Enlightenment: Thro’ many a birth in saṃsāra wandered I, Seeking but not finding, the builder of this … Continue reading). Nevertheless, Enlightenment in essence is not anything separated from an Enlightened One; as a result, the Buddhist comes to see that his process of attaining the ultimate goal is the very process of transforming himself, or more practically, of making his personality perfect.

The central significance of all the Buddhas’ appearance in the world is to save sentient beings out of the circle of life-and-death by helping them cultivate and achieve this process of transformation. That is the first and last value of all the Buddhas’ teachings whatsoever languages and schools in which they are recorded and preserved[6]“The metaphysics of the Mahayana in the incoherence of its systems shows clearly enough the secondary interest attaching to it in the eyes of the monks, whose main interest was concentrated on the … Continue reading. Through the ages the value has become the unchangeable foundation of all activities concerning Buddhism. Not based on a right view of the true value of Buddhist teachings, any study, research, cultivation, application, etc. of any aspect of Buddhism may inevitably result in non-Buddhist achievements.

Thus the decisive condition for the Buddhist’s applying these five teachings to his living is to gain a complete view of the way he has chosen. In order to help the Buddhist overcome innumerable hindrances, various ways of practicing Buddhist teachings have been indicated in the texts; however, it should be noticed that all of them lead to the same goal, that is, the Perfect Enlightenment. Being diverted towards anything other than this, the way that the Buddhist has vowed to follow will be no longer the way of true liberation whatsoever splendid labels it may be decorated with.

In reality, it is no easy task for the Buddhist, especially for those who are not personally instructed by the Saṃgha. The way of liberation found in Buddhism seems to be going beyond the range of his common conceptions of time and space. For what he is taught to attain is only a spiritual achievement but not a certain realm full of blessings in the coming life as ever promised in other religions; and the achievement that he is supposed to grasp with all of his efforts seems to be neither at the end of the journey nor at each of his footsteps. In other words, through the Buddha’s statements of the characters of conditioned things the Buddhist would not expect to grasp anything truly happy, secure and substantial during the process of transformation. If there is something conventionally considered highly noble that the Buddhist can grasp on the way, it will undoubtedly be a thing arising and perishing momentarily, and then leaving nothing but a delusive image in the Buddhist’s ignorance-covered mind. And if there were anything beyond the control of the characters above, it certainly could not be the object of the Buddhist’s grasping. The principle of duḥkha with its three aspects[7]duḥkha-duḥkhatā: suffering as it is ordinarily conceived;
vipariṇāma-duḥkhatā: suffering as it changes;
saṃskāra-duḥkhatā: suffering as it is a conditioned state.
does not lull the Buddhist into any illusions about a true happiness in his life. The principle of impermanence dashes to the ground all of his expectations about something eternal that he could be possessed of. The principle of selflessness grinds down every imagination in his mind of a substantial entity, both internal and external, that he has ever dreamed of as his own achievement. Even the very being of the Buddhist is also considered to be merely a combination of elements in a continuous change, in which no agent is found creating the transformation process and enjoying a desirable effect from it.

Compared with the followers of other religions, it may be said that the Buddhist appears to be so unhappy and unfortunate, and his religious life to be full of hardship, too. He would not expect a reincarnation in the heaven since he is taught that the enjoyment there could hinder his attempts to get free from the circle of life-and-death. Nor would he wish a wealthy life in the future in return for his good actions in the present since he sees clearly that any attachment to material values could spoil his mind towards enlightenment. And the most difficult matter for him is that the religious transformation process, which is not a periodically-performed ritual act, must be carried out constantly in his everyday living. He realizes that he has been sinking so deep in the deceptions of the phenomenal world that he cannot hope to get free from them unless he decides to cease attaching to them and regarding them as the eternal values of life.

Thus the Buddhist comes to see that the process of transformation is not that of accumulation but of abandonment. His efforts of studying and practicing Buddhist teachings are all concentrated on abandoning. Even some of the achievements supposed to be the outcome of his efforts during the process must, too, be abandoned; for in so far as he has not yet cleaned his mind of countless layers of defilement aggregated for long aeons, he remains held to them in a terribly warm embrace.

From the popular standpoint, it is a rather negative process, which is easily conducive to misunderstandings of Buddhism as being passive, pessimistic, nihilistic, etc. From the deep standpoint, it is a highly positive process since, in this case, the essence of abandonment is not to lose but to help uncover what is potential within, and never separated from ourselves. According to Buddhism a being is a process of being ‘self-created’ and ‘self-creating’ based on the principle of Dependent Origination[8]Junjirö Takakusu, The Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy, Honolulu, 1956, Chapter III.. Therefore, all that can cause the Buddhist to be confined in or liberated from the circle of transmigration must be discovered from within himself. At the beginning of the process the Buddhist, of course, cannot immediately uncover every potential energy within himself since it has all been buried so deep in his defilement and ignorance; however, he decides to direct his transformation process to this aim owing to his absolute faith in the Buddha and his teachings. The Buddha himself, indeed, showed to the world how successfully he could develop the infinite power of what is termed Great Wisdom and Great Compassion in Buddhism after his attainment of the Perfect Enlightenment. Just from the unthinkable pure mind that he had attained after a long transformation process the qualities of morality and wisdom manifested themselves in the phenomenal world like the unshakeable justification for the Buddhist’s faith in the ultimate goal of his religious life. The sixty-two views mentioned in the Brahmajāla Sutta and possibly covering the farthest limits of human thought are all cut down by the Buddha’s “sword of wisdom”; and the charming flavor of all types of bad conduct and livelihood proceeding from men’s defilement is entirely extinguished by his “fragrance of morality”. The seemingly metaphysical aim that has ever been thought to be something indescribable and unthinkable and unspeakable is now revealing its trace for the Buddhist to follow.

The transcendental personality of an Enlightened One entering the phenomenal world in such a mysterious manner has broken up the Buddhist’s illusion that he could escape from the phenomenal world to seek for something supernatural or superhuman outside it. To an impure mind like his the phenomenal world is entirely the manifestation of suffering, impermanence, insubstantiality, life-and-death, etc.; but, to the pure mind of an Enlightened One it is the mysterious existence of Wisdom and Compassion. Just like the waves on water of an ocean, the phenomenal world together with all of its characters such as suffering, impermanence, etc. is eternally not anything separable from our existence since it is the very manifestation of our impure mind, the whole production of our discriminating mind. We no longer imagine that we would renounce it as something quite disgusting that is clinging to us since our fate has long been attached to it. All that the Buddhist can do is not to renounce the world but to transform himself; and in Buddhism to transform oneself means to transform the world as well.


From such rather general understanding of the mutual relation between the mind and the world, the Buddhist begins to focus his efforts on purifying the mind by gradually erasing each tainted trace found on it. But it is not easy for him. The only means he can resort to at this stage is intellect, which has long been an excellent product of all conventional values created by his ‘grasping’ of the phenomenal world and an inseparable companion of his mind in every journey he has made in the circle of transmigration. It has succeeded so fully in building up the so-called intellectual life of our existence that it always claims its authority over and responsibility for all of our intentions and resolutions; and it has enough experience and intelligence in thus doing. For the intellect is a boundless treasure of familiar ideas that it has laboriously grasped and arranged in every orderly framework created and developed in advance by itself. Without it the Buddhist would certainly find it extremely difficult to get a satisfactory picture of the situation into which he has decided to enter. The mind is expecting a real effort of transformation to be exerted on itself whereas the phenomenal world does not cease flowing into it in each moment. Without an exact recognition of its impact on the mind, it would be impossible for him to carry out the process successfully. And here the intellect sets forth its own statement: the phenomenal world cannot be considered delusive as we are being swept away in its current; nor is it considered real as we have not got free from it yet. In such a confused and perplexed state it is quite reasonable for us to raise the question: how should we conceive the world?

In order to answer this question we usually have to depend on nothing other than our various arguments stored carefully in the intellect to prove that our views are reasonable, objective, comprehensive, especially as much corresponding with the Buddhist teachings as possible. Some of the answers, for instance, would be: the world is real because it is suffering, which the Buddha justified in his declaration of the Four Noble Truths; or the world is unreal because it does not have its own real being, that is to say, it is a conditioned thing; or the world is both real and unreal, that is, being real to an unenlightened being but unreal to an Enlightened One; or the world is neither real nor unreal because it is empty.

Undoubtedly each of the answers illustrated above has a very deep meaning and only those who have acquired some scholastic knowledge of Buddhist philosophy can reason in such a logical way. From the Buddhist view, however, all of them may be regarded as those of the sixty-two views mentioned in the Brahmajāla Sutta and all of us may be compared to the poor fishes that are trying hopelessly to escape from the net of reasoning.[9]“… sabbe te imeh’ eva dvā-saṭṭhiyā vatthūhi anto-jāli-katā, ettha sitā va ummujjāmāna ummujjanti, ettha pariyāpannā anto-jāli-katā va ummujjāmāna ummujjanti.” … Continue reading)

Maybe some of us would argue that it is not the case since our answers are not based on any of heretical views. We can, of course, give far more explanations to deny that these answers are to be considered heretical. Whatever reasonable objections we may offer, we cannot deny the fact that they are all based on our own knowledge of Buddhist teachings. Ironically, it is due to the manner in which the answers have been formed in our mind and the process we have created them that they are regarded as being heretical views and we are regarded as the fishes confined in the net of false views. For all of them have arisen from our very “self-attachment” (ātmagrāha), which we have not been aware of since it has never been the object of our consciousness. In reality all of the answers above do not proceed from our insight into the nature of the world but from our own ideas of various teachings concerning the world. The world as a concrete reality never falls into the ‘grasping’ of intellect. All that our intellect can grasp is only abstraction fitted into its framework and becomes what we have always preserved as our mental possessions (ātmiyagrāha). The more our mental possessions increase, the more firmly we are attached to them. They have become so vital a part of our being that it never comes to our mind that we could exist without it.

It may be said that there is nothing much easier to be misunderstood than the meaning of what is called “self-attachment” in Buddhism. Theoretically it is one of the strong hindrances we must break through in the process of transformation. But in reality it is a very subtle activity so deep in our mind that our normal consciousness can hardly reach and destroy it. Just as a person is attempting to lift the chair on which he is seated, we are never capable of abandoning what is believed to be supporting our very being. According to the Abhidharma literature[10]Louis de la Vallée Poussin, L’Abhidharmakośa de Vasubandhu, Bruxelles, 1971, Tome IV, Chapitre 5, p.p. 15, 17., “self-attachment” is our attachment to our ‘becoming being’ (satkāyadṛṣṭi), that is, the whole of our physical and mental organism (upādānaskandhas). This attachment is neither an idea (saṃjñā) nor a consciousness (vijñāna) but a mental formation, a mental activity, a volitional action (saṃskāra). It is one of the five views[11]Satkāyadṛṣṭi, antagrāhadṛṣṭi, mithyādṛṣṭi, dṛṣṭiparāmarśa, śīlavrataparāmarśa. that can only be abandoned by the view of the First Noble Truth[12]Ibid. p. 31..

Thus, when we are thinking of “self-attachment”, that is, forming an idea, a thought, or a conception of it in our mind, this “self-attachment” is not the ātmagrāha itself but only an idea functioning as the object of our thinking, or rather, of the idea we are forming. As an object in the present, it is the effect conditioned by numerous ideas and physical and mental states in the past as well as in the present. In other words, the self-attachment mentioned here is an idea following an idea following an idea… of what we have heard or read about a mental state termed ātmagrāha at some time in the past. It may be said that had we not heard or read anything about ātmagrāha, we could not have any idea of it; but this supposition does not mean that ātmagrāha or satkāyadṛṣṭi would not arise and perish in a series of causation within ourselves. Like all the other states and functions, both physical and mental, of our being, it has the same manner of arising and perishing but it has never been the object of our normal consciousness.

In order to form some ideas of it, let us get a glimpse of what is termed skandha in Buddhism.

According to Buddhism our being is considered to be a combination of forces or energies classified into five aggregates (skandhas): forces of rūpa (form), of vedana (feeling), of saṃjñā (idea, thought, conception, etc.), of saṃskāra (volition and other mental activities), and of vijñāna (consciousness). All the forces arise and perish momentarily on the principle of Dependent Origination, or rather, of Causal Dependence; that is to say, the arising and perishing of a force is conditioned by and conditioning the other force in the same and/or other aggregates. For example, an idea (saṃjñā) of the countryside caused by the ‘seeing’ (vijñāna) of a picture (rūpa) may be the cause of another idea of a family union, of a smile (rūpa) on the face, of a pleasant feeling (vedana), of a decision (saṃskāra) to go back homeland, and so forth.

The Buddha’s teaching of the Five Aggregates is aimed at helping us have a new view of the organism conventionally called “individuality”, “identity”, or “personality”, and the mutual relation between the forces within it and the external world in order that we may abandon the false view that apart from these elements there would be a permanent agent termed “self” (ātma). Such a new view is very necessary to us, especially at the beginning of our religious transformation process as we must know exactly what we should do and what we should not with regard to every effort in our daily living.

Thus the teaching above should not be understood as a physiological or psychological analysis of a human being. Buddhism does not hold that mind is separated from body, or that spirit is opposed to matter. A description in detail of the operation of forces in the five aggregates is not to be found in the Buddha’s teachings (Sūtra-piṭaka and Vinaya-piṭaka); nevertheless, it can be found in the Abhidharma-piṭaka as well as in many treatises written later by Buddhist philosophers. The most popular and available of them are Satyasiddhi-śāstra[13]Harivarman, translated into Chinese by Kumārajīva, Taisho, 1646, vol. 32, p. 239-374.Abhidharmakośa-śāstra[14]Vasubandhu, translated into Chinese by Hiuan-Tsang, Taisho, 1558, vol. 29, p. 1-160. Cf. Louis de la Valle Poussin, L’Abhidharmakośa de Vasubandhu, Bruxelles, 1971. Cf. Dr. Subhadra Jna, The … Continue readingVijñāptimātrasiddhi-śāstra[15]Dharmapāla and other scholars, translated into Chinese by Hiuan-Tsang, Taisho, 1585, vol. 31, p. 1-59.
Cf. French translation by Louis de la Vallee Poussin, Bruxelles, 1971.
Abhidhammattha-sangaha[16]Anuruddhācariya, translated into English with explanatory notes by Nārada Thera, Colombo, 1956.. Many different interpretations found in the authors’ analyses and explanations cannot be accounted for in the present writing; it is, therefore, from the Abhidharmakośa only that some of rather similar points among them concerning the five aggregates are extracted here.

(1)     Skandha means literally ‘heap’, rāśi. The meaning is based on the Buddha’s teaching recorded in Saṃyukta Sūtra: “Whatever rūpa it may be, past or future or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or excellent, distant or near, if it is all put together, whether it is past, etc., this is called rūpaskandha.”[17]“Yat kiṃcid rūpam atītānāgatapratyutpannam ādhyātmikaṃ vā bāhyaṃ vā audarikāṃ vā sūkṣmaṃ vā hīnaṃ vā praṇītaṃ vā dūraṃ vā antikaṃ vā tad ekadhyam … Continue reading)

(2)     All the five skandhas are characterized by the principles of Suffering, Impermanence and Selflessness.

(3)     Apart from them there is not anything real, permanent and substantial termed “self” (ātma).

(4)     A skandha that is composed of impure conditioned elements (sāsrava saṃskṛta) is termed upādānaskandha since it proceeds from defilement (kleśa), is governed by defilement, or produces defilement.

(5)     Consciousness arises having a sense organ as its faculty (indriya), as its support (aśraya), and as its ‘door’ (ayatana) through which it grasps a corresponding object.

(6)     The organs that function in such manner are eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mana[18]It is any of the six consciousnesses that has just perished.; thus, consciousness is regarded as of six different types: visual consciousness, auditory consciousness, olfactory consciousness, gustatory consciousness, tactile consciousness, and ‘mental’ consciousness (mano-vijñāna).

(7)     A consciousness arises being accompanied by a caitta, that is, a feeling, a conception, a mental activity (saṃskāra).

(8)     A caitta that accompanies a consciousness arises having the same organ and object of the consciousness.

(9)     Consciousness grasps the presence of an object. It is conception (saṃjñā) that forms an idea, plan, etc. of the object. When mana, for instance, comes into contact with an idea, a mental consciousness arises knowing the presence of the idea but not recognizing it. It is the idea accompanying the mental consciousness that recognizes the other idea is good or bad, etc.

(10) The mental consciousness can grasp an object of any kind, physical or mental, external or internal (dharmadhātu); but the other consciousnesses grasp only their corresponding objects.

Through the above explanations may be formed one of the Buddhist views of the working of the so-called intellect in the human world of names and ideas. All that is defined as “the faculty of the mind by which one knows or understands, capacity for thinking and acquiring knowledge of a high or complex order,”[19]Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, New York, 1999, p. 684. or “the power of the mind to reason and acquire knowledge (contrasted with feeling and instinct)”[20]Oxford Advanced Learner’s  Dictionary of Current English, Oxford University Press, 1992. is, according to the Abhidharma literature, not a mental phenomenon or faculty independent of or contrasted with feeling[21]As a pleasant feeling it is included in Vedanaskandha; as a feeling of shame, etc. it is included in samskaraskandha. and instinct[22]Being included in vedana and saṃskāra. but a process of many different physical and mental phenomena. The process starts with a consciousness of an object, followed by the recognizing of the object, which is affected by a preceding feeling – pleasant, unpleasant or neutral – and characterized by experience or memory, then followed by cognition and resolution, and comes to an end or goes on in its manifestation through body or speech.

Considered in a sequence in relation to time, each of the phenomena is both cause and effect; but in the entire movement of the five skandhas the phenomena are mutually dependent. “The faculty by which one knows” is the arising of consciousness, “the faculty by which one understands” the arising of conception, “the capacity for thinking” the arising of cognition and resolution, “the power of the mind to acquire knowledge” the arising of ideas, plans, etc., “of high or complex order” of subtle ideas arising in a highly logical order, and so on.

The process above is merely one simplified exemplary interpretation of the Buddhist views on the working of some series of physical and mental phenomena in a complex of five skandhas termed “individual being”. Some other descriptions may be found in many treatises of Buddhist schools. They set forth various interpretations as regards the ultimate reality, the manner of arising, and the mutual relation, of all the external and internal phenomena. No matter how different they may be, all of them agree on the general view that the five skandhas are merely of phenomena; for each skandha arises and perishes momentarily and none of them exists as fixed, eternal entity. It is really too early for us to deal with the ultimate reality of the five skandhas in the present writing. Any attempts to touch such highly abstract matters are no doubt to be considered irrelevant in this stage. Nevertheless, the common view of Buddhism that all the skandhas working in a so-called human being are merely momentary phenomena is sufficient for us to realize that it is impossible to gain a view of the world as it is only by means of such an imperfect process of grasping by intellect. Every phenomenon of the world is changing ceaselessly in each moment whereas our knowledge and experience are only the arising of “images” distorted by the influence of many other external and internal phenomena. Even consciousness, which is interpreted as the most objective grasping of an object, may also be modified by the faculty (indriya) on which it is based. Arising and perishing momentarily, consciousness can grasp only the common characters (sāmānyalakṣaṇa) but not the particular ones (svalakṣaṇa) of an object. But it is due to such momentary and superficial grasping that feeling, idea, volition, etc. can arise and become part of our knowledge, experience, memory, etc. Grasped in such an imperfect process any object, external or internal, is no longer what it is but only a reflection in our mind. Strictly considered the ideas and images aroused in our mind of an object are quite unreliable since the object is always in a continuous change; but in our conventional living, they are essential to our intellectual activity. The more ideas are impressed in our mind, the more knowledge and experience we have. Without them, we cannot give any designations, values and various characters to objects; that is to say, we cannot know, think and understand anything at all as to the phenomenal world. As a result, in order to understand the world fully we have tried to acquire as much knowledge of it as possible. Such an effort is commonly regarded as a perfect, excellent way of grasping the phenomenal world since it helps us get more and more detailed information of it. Through abstractions and imaginations gradually accumulated and well arranged in our mind we established a fixed structure of ideation of our own, from which we find it easier and more convenient to form any comprehensive view of the aspects of any phenomena without attempting to observe them attentively.

In Buddhism a view based on such a structure of ideation is not an insight into the phenomenal world but only a discriminating view (savikalpa-citta). And the idea that the accumulation and arrangement of more and more knowledge and experience could provide us with a basis of reasoning and understanding is, too, produced by the discriminating mind itself. From our view the structure of ideation is a real entity since it has become part of our mental possessions. It has been so closely attached to our being that we cannot admit the fact that we are capable of understanding the world without it. Nevertheless, from the view of Buddhism, it is nothing but a chain of phenomena, arising and perishing moment after moment, and becoming one of the objects frequently grasped by ātmadṛṣṭi and ātmiyadṛṣṭi.

Such an imperfect and defiled faculty cannot be regarded as a skillful means by which the Perfect Enlightenment is attained. As it has been said before, the final aim that Buddhism sets forth for its followers cannot be found on the plane of the conventional world; and the Buddhist cannot penetrate into the transcendental world without transcending the conventional world. But to transcend it is not to renounce it or escape it to seek for something absolute outside it. In so far as the Buddhist is still deceived by all kinds of phenomena in the conventional world, any idea of a perfect liberation from it is only an imaginary thing. For that reason, the process of attaining the Absolute Truth indicated in the teaching of the Four Noble Truths starts with the view of the conventional world as it is (yathābhūtam). That is to say, the Buddhist is required not to change the world but to change his view of the world. And in order to do this he needs a philosophical passion to overcome the intellect and a religious faith to uncover all of his latent powers.


Thus, the Buddhist’s religious transformation process is to be performed right in the conventional world in accordance with the teaching of the Four Noble truths. From the conventional world the Buddhist may form any conceptions as regards the Absolute; but they are quite of no avail since they are merely imaginary visions proceeding from his structure of ideation. This explains why Nāgārjuna, the greatest philosopher of Indian Buddhism, terms the last two of the Four Noble Truths “higher truths” but not “absolute truths”[23]Junjirō Takakusu, ibid. pp. 196, 197..

Theoretically, we cannot penetrate the absolute world without transcending the conventional one. But how can we transcend it while our efforts are being controlled and directed by such an imperfect faculty as intellect? How can we burst through the ties of that which is making up ourselves? Even the arising of such good thoughts as “we must cease from all evil, we must cultivate good, we must purify our mind,” and so on may be merely a few words of consolation given by the intellect. For what is conveyed in the terms “evil”, “good”, “purify” is all regulated and adjusted in the restrictive framework already established by it; and the arising of them is immediately overrun by consecutive ideas motivated by our very defilement and ignorance. Even though we attempt to prolong these ideas as far as possible, it is only a hopeless effort of ours in keeping up a long dream of an unreal transformation.

That is no doubt a failure that any Buddhist can experience in his efforts of acquiring knowledge and reasoning in a logical manner as regards the Buddhist teachings during his process of transformation. Nevertheless, it is an effective failure in Buddhism. For it is when we realize our inability that we start raising doubt about the supposedly supreme power of intellect. This is really the first of a series of strokes tolling for the death of ātmagrāha since we have known how to abandon it “unconsciously”, that is, not by means of intellect but by the very potential power aroused by our realization of the inability of intellect. Just as any other phenomena within our being, ātmagrāha cannot arise without an object for its grasping. All that we have longed for and frequently cleaved to as the most precious possessions within our ‘becoming body’ inevitably grows into the desirable object of ātmiyadṛṣṭi. It is, therefore, a failure for the Buddhist to abandon it by the faculties that are being employed to support it. It is just at the moment when we no longer believe in the abiding capacity of intellect that we are capable of orientating our faith towards the Triple Gem altogether. For the Buddhist it is the vital moment, determining his religious process to be a success or a failure.

To put our thorough faith in the Triple Gem is to confide our entire life to Buddha, Dharma, and Saṃgha fearlessly and unhesitantly. Any touch of fear or hesitation at this moment may make us a prey to the intellect and we cannot avoid being devoured again by our defilement and ignorance. All kinds of fear proceed from ātmagrāha; and hesitation is the very protest in silence of intellect. It should be mentioned here that the conceptions of ‘self-power’ and ‘other-power’, ‘self-salvation’ and ‘other-salvation’, and various antithetical notions stored in our structure of ideation are all created by the dualistic view of the phenomenal world and frequently defiled by such egoistic mental formations as pride, arrogance, envy, self-conceit, self-glorification, etc. All the forces of the same kind (kleśa) together with the capacity of analyzing, discriminating and reasoning of intellect have built up a solid boundary between the so-called outer world and our being, upon which we begin to found the entire system of ego-centered views concerning ourselves and the world. Now it is time for us to cease wandering disappointedly in the world of names and ideas, and courageously jump into the phenomenal world instead.

Thus the faculty that we can make use of at the first stage of our religious transformation process is not intellect but faith. Once faith has been awakened, it is possible for us to cultivate gradually other faculties which have been hidden within ourselves so far. Inasmuch as the faculties of Mindfulness (smṛti), etc. cannot yet be aroused and developed, faith and vigor (vīrya) are considered to be the skillful means of practicing the Buddhist teaching without being dominated and distorted by intellect. In so far as the faculties of Mindfulness, Concentration (samādhi), Wisdom (prajñā) have not been cultivated, the Buddhist is expected not to exert much impact on the increasing of his structure of ideation. In other words, instead of thinking too much about the Buddhist teaching passively, he focuses his efforts on practicing it right in the phenomenal world. Although the Buddhist’s volition (cetana) remains the source of all the manifestations through his body and speech, it is no longer motivated by evil caittas owing to the force of faith and vigor. And according to the principle of Causal Dependence these manifestations will be reflected in the mind and help it weaken gradually the force of evil caittas. Here a question may be raised: May the phenomena that are manifested by the actions of body and speech become the Buddhist’s ‘mental possessions’ again when they are reflected in his mind? Naturally, they are all impressed in his structure of ideation but they are no longer mental possessions since they are of a kind of influence destroying ātmagrāha; that is to say, they are not the conditions for the arising of ātmagrāha. In so far as the Buddhist has not yet gained an insight into the phenomenal world, he is taught to view it as a dream, a lightning flash, a bubble, a drop of dew, etc.[24]Vajracchedika 32. and his action of practicing Buddhist teaching as “a deed without merit”[25]D. T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Grove Press, Inc., New York, 1964, p. 131.. Furthermore, he is taught to transfer all of his merit supposedly obtainable from his deed to all beings in the world[26]Avataṃsaka sūtra, Ten Great Vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, Taisho, 279, vol. 10..

It is upon this principle that the Five Precepts are established for the lay Buddhist. Just like all the other precepts of Buddhism, they are not commandments but skillful means. The Buddhist does not observe them but cultivates them, making them new energy for abandoning all the conditions for the arising of defilement and ignorance. Therefore, the Five Precepts do not aim at transforming the Buddhist into “an isolated island” but they help him transform himself in relation to the phenomenal world, right in the midst of the phenomenal world. This is definitely indicated in the contents of the five precepts. The first four of them deal with the manifestations of his body and speech; the last with those of his mind. All of them are simultaneously practiced on the principle of Causal Dependence: from the non-existence of thisthat does not exist; from the existence of thisthat exists.

Thus, the Five Precepts are to be cultivated in both of their aspects: negative and positive, in accordance with the principle of the interdependent arising of all phenomena in the conventional world:

– not to take life is to make great efforts to protect other beings’ living;
– not to take what is not given is to make great efforts to give anything needed by other beings;
– not to engage in improper sexual conduct is to make great efforts to protect other beings’ happiness;
– not to lie is to make great efforts to help other beings penetrate the Truth;
– not to drink intoxicants is to make great efforts to help other beings develop Wisdom.

All of them build up what is generally called Moral Quality of a Buddhist. But in Buddhism, they symbolize the Transcendental Personality, on the way to which the Buddhist is putting his first footsteps. Such modest steps have never stirred up the phenomenal world; on the contrary, they can help it restore its originally peaceful order, an order that has been ceaselessly ravaged by various powers of defilement and ignorance. From one point of view, the Five Precepts may be looked upon as an ideal for the Buddhist only. But, in the history of Buddhism, the popularity and universality of the ideal has been proved and performed right in the midst of the phenomenal world by such great laymen as Asoka in India, Prakrama Bahu I in Ceylon, Khri-sron-Ide-btsan in Tibet, Tran Nhan Tong in Vietnam, Liang Wu Ti in China, Shotoku Taishi in Japan, Jayavarman VII in Cambodia, Rama IV in Thailand, Anawratha in Burma, and so on.

There have never been found in Buddhism any essential teachings concerning the transformation of the world. Instead, its main interest is forever concentrated on the salvation of human beings out of suffering. From the influence of their efforts of transforming themselves, however, the transformation of the suffering world has accrued. This may remain a doubtful ideal for a certain Intellectualistic Westerner; but for an Eastern Buddhist, it is not only a strong impression in his structure of ideation, but also his personal experience, of all that the Buddhist adherents have contributed to the preservation and development of the human kind’s true values. Without the manifestations of such perfect personality on earth, the world in which he exists is really nothing other than An Animal Farm.

1 Pañcasīla: pāṇātipātā veramaṇī, adinnādānā veramaṇī, kāmamicchācārā veramaṇī, musāvādā veramaṇī, surāmerayamajjapamā daṭṭhānā veramaṇī. (Dīgha Nikāya iii, Siṅgālovādā-suttanta)
cf. Aṅguttara Nikāya iii. 203; Apadāna, Buddhavaṃsa of Khuddaka Nikāya.
2 Dīgha Nikāya i, Brahmajāla Sutta 7,8,9,10.
3 Śīla, one of Six Perfections.
4 Buddha, Dharma, Saṃgha.
5  The following is said to have been the Buddha’s utterance at the time of his Enlightenment:
Thro’ many a birth in saṃsāra wandered I,
Seeking but not finding, the builder of this house.
Sorrowful is repeated birth.
O house-builder! You are seen. You shall build no house again.
All your rafters are broken, your ridge-pole is shattered.
To dissolution goes the mind.
The end of craving have I attained.
(Dhammapada 153, 154, translated by Nārada Thera, Colombo, 1946, p.26
6 “The metaphysics of the Mahayana in the incoherence of its systems shows clearly enough the secondary interest attaching to it in the eyes of the monks, whose main interest was concentrated on the attainment of release; the Mahayana no less than Hinayana is concerned vitally with the practical end, and its philosophy is of value merely in so far as it helps men to attain their aim.” (Sir Arthur Berriedale Keith, recited by Alan W. Watt in The Way of Zen, The New American Library, New York, 1961, p. 65).
7 duḥkha-duḥkhatā: suffering as it is ordinarily conceived;
vipariṇāma-duḥkhatā: suffering as it changes;
saṃskāra-duḥkhatā: suffering as it is a conditioned state.
8 Junjirö Takakusu, The Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy, Honolulu, 1956, Chapter III.
9 … sabbe te imeh’ eva dvā-saṭṭhiyā vatthūhi anto-jāli-katā, ettha sitā va ummujjāmāna ummujjanti, ettha pariyāpannā anto-jāli-katā va ummujjāmāna ummujjanti.” (Brahmajāla Sutta, 72
10 Louis de la Vallée Poussin, L’Abhidharmakośa de Vasubandhu, Bruxelles, 1971, Tome IV, Chapitre 5, p.p. 15, 17.
11 Satkāyadṛṣṭi, antagrāhadṛṣṭi, mithyādṛṣṭi, dṛṣṭiparāmarśa, śīlavrataparāmarśa.
12 Ibid. p. 31.
13 Harivarman, translated into Chinese by Kumārajīva, Taisho, 1646, vol. 32, p. 239-374.
14 Vasubandhu, translated into Chinese by Hiuan-Tsang, Taisho, 1558, vol. 29, p. 1-160.
Cf. Louis de la Valle Poussin, L’Abhidharmakośa de Vasubandhu, Bruxelles, 1971.
Cf. Dr. Subhadra Jna, The Abhidharmakośa of Vasubandhu, Patna, 1983.
15 Dharmapāla and other scholars, translated into Chinese by Hiuan-Tsang, Taisho, 1585, vol. 31, p. 1-59.
Cf. French translation by Louis de la Vallee Poussin, Bruxelles, 1971.
16 Anuruddhācariya, translated into English with explanatory notes by Nārada Thera, Colombo, 1956.
17 Yat kiṃcid rūpam atītānāgatapratyutpannam ādhyātmikaṃ vā bāhyaṃ vā audarikāṃ vā sūkṣmaṃ vā hīnaṃ vā praṇītaṃ vā dūraṃ vā antikaṃ vā tad ekadhyam abhisaṃkṣipya ayam ucyate rūpaskandhaḥ.” (Saṃyukta, 25, 2
18 It is any of the six consciousnesses that has just perished.
19 Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, New York, 1999, p. 684.
20 Oxford Advanced Learner’s  Dictionary of Current English, Oxford University Press, 1992.
21 As a pleasant feeling it is included in Vedanaskandha; as a feeling of shame, etc. it is included in samskaraskandha.
22 Being included in vedana and saṃskāra.
23 Junjirō Takakusu, ibid. pp. 196, 197.
24 Vajracchedika 32.
25 D. T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, Grove Press, Inc., New York, 1964, p. 131.
26 Avataṃsaka sūtra, Ten Great Vows of Samantabhadra Bodhisattva, Taisho, 279, vol. 10.

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