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  1. Angutt, t.5: Mahāparinirv., 64.

  2. Majjh., 39. 2 t . Angutt., 8.19.

  1. Majjh., 70.

  2. Ibid., 95.

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fore strenuous training is the most important thing for the achieving of truth."24

Naturally, there is here an implicit assumption, which we shall discuss before long in detail, an assumption, that is to say, that the men to whom the doctrine was directed were not entirely in the state of brute beasts: that they recognised, not as an intellectual opinion, but through a natural and innate sense, the existence of a reality superior to that of the senses. For the "common man," one who thinks in his heart: "There is no giving, no offering, no alms, there is no resut of good and bad actions, there is no this world, there, is no other world, there is no spiritual rebirth, there are not in the world ascetics or Brāhmans who are perfect and fulfilled and who, having with their own understanding comprehended, and realised this world and the other world, make known their knowledge"-for such the doctrine was not considered to have been expounded, since they lack the elementary quality of "confidence" that defines the "noble son" and that is the first member of the series we have mentioned, Such men, according to an apt textual illustration, are as "arrows shot by night."

As for the preeminence accorded, in a pragmatic and anti-intellectualistic spirit, to action in the Doctrine of Awakening, we quote another Buddhist simile. A man struck by a poisoned arrow, for whom his friends and companions wish to fetch a surgeon, refuses to have the arrow extracted before learning who struck him, what his name might he, who his people are, what his appearance, if his bow was great or small, of what wood it was made, with what it was strung, and so on. This man would not succeed in learning enough to satisfy him before he died. Just so-says the text26-would a man behave who followed the Sublime One only on the condition that the latter gave him answers to various speculative problems, telling him if the world was eternal or not, if body and the life-principle are distinct or not, what happens to the Accomplished One after death, and so on. None of this-says the Buddha-has been explained by me. "And why has it not been explained by me? Because this is not salutary, it is not truly ascetic, it does not lead to disgust, it does not lead to detachment, it does not lead to dispassion, it does not lead to calmness, it does not lead to contemplation, it does not lead to awakening, it does not lead to extinction: therefore has this not been explained by me."27

In the opposing theories regarding the world and regarding man, character­istically reminiscent of the Kantian antinomies, either one opposite or the other might he true. One thing is certain, however: the state in which man actually finds himself, and the possibility of his training himself, during his lifetime, to achieve the destruction of this state.28


  1. Ibid.

  2. Dhammapada. 304.

  3. Majjh., 63.

  4. Digha, 9.28; Majjh.. 63.

  5. 63.

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5

The Flame


and Samsāric Consciousness

In order to understand the Buddhist teaching we must start from the idea that to the man it had in mind the ātma-brahman, the immortal and immutable "I" identical with the supreme essence of the universe, would not he a concept "conforming to reality" (vathā-bhutarh), based, that is to say, on the actual evidence of experience, but rather that it would be only a speculation, a creation of philosophy or theology. The Doctrine of Awakening aims at being entirely realistic. From the realistic point of view, the immediate evidence for such a man is what we have already called "samsāric consciousness." Buddhism proceeds to analyze this consciousness and to determine the "truth" corresponding to it, summarized in the theory of universal im­permanence and insubstantiality (anattā).

n previous speculation, the first term of the binomial ātma-samsāra-that is, the immutable, transcendent "I" and the current of becoming-stood in the fore-ground. In the teaching that serves as the point of departure for the Buddhist ascesis emphasis is placed instead almost exclusively on the second term, samsāra, and the consciousness associated with it. This second term, however, is considered in all those aspects of contingency, relativity, and irrationality that can only proceed from a comparison with the metaphysical reality already directly intuited. This reality itself therefore remains tacitly presupposed, even if, for practical reasons, it is not mentioned in the argument.

The world of "becoming" is thus, in a manner of speaking, the truth Buddhism uses from the start. n the becoming nothing remains identical, there is nothing sub­stantial, and nothing permanent. t is the becoming of experience itself, consuming itself in its own momentary content. Ceaseless and limitless, it is also conceived as nothing more than a succession of states that give place one to another according to an impersonal law, as in an eternal circle. We can here see an exact parallel of the

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Hellenic concept of the "cycle of generation" κύκλος της γενέσεως, and the "wheel of necessity." είψαρψένης.



The Buddhist term designating a particular reality or individual life or phenom­enon is khandha or santāna. Khandha literally means "a group," "a heap"---to be understood as a bundle or aggregation-and santāna means "current." In the flux of becoming there form vortices or currents of psychophysical elements and of allied states-called dhammā-which persist as long as the conditions and the force remain that have made them come together and pile up. After this they dissolve and, in their becoming (samsāra) they form similar conglomerations elsewhere, no less contin­gent than the preceding ones. Thus it is said: "All the elements of existence are transi­tory"-"All things are without individuality or substance (sabbe dhammā anattā 'ti).' The law of samsāric consciousness is expressed by this formula: sunnam idam atrena va attaniyena vā ti-void of "I" or of anything that resembles "I," void of substance. Another expression: everything is "compounded" (sankhata), "compounded" being the equivalent here of "conditioned."2."` In samsāra there are only conditioned states of ex­istence and consciousness.

This view is valid both for external and internal experience. We must empha­size that the dhammā, the primary elements of existence, are considered by Bud­dhism-and particularly its later forms-to be simple contents of consciousness, and not abstract explanatory principles created by thought, as, for example, the atoms of the ancient schools of physics. Thus we shall find that the doctrine of anattā, of insubstantiality, when applied to external experience will tend more and more to-ward pure empiricism. As the external world directly appears, so it is. We should not say "this object has this form, this color, this taste, etc.," but: "this object is this form, this color, this taste, etc."-there is nothing behind sensible evidence to which it must be referred.' As we would say in modem terms, there only exists and is real the continuum of lived experience.

The same point of view is adopted with coherence-we might even say, with surgical directness-toward internal and personal experience. As the legitimacy of speaking "in conformity with reality" of a permanent substance behind individual phenomena-and even behind all nature, as the Brahmanical theory had it-is con-tested by Buddhism, so it challenges the idea of a substantial, immortal, and un­changeable principle of the person, such as the ātmā of the Upanisads. Even the person-sakkāya--is khandha and santāna, an aggregate and a current of elements and of impermanent, "compounded," and conditioned states. It is also sankhata. Its
I. Dhammapada, 277, 279.


  1. Dhamma-sangani. IS .

  2. Cf. T. Stcherbatsky. The Central Conception of Buddhism (London. 1923), pp. 26-27.

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unity and reality are purely nominal, at the most "functional." If is said: as the word "wagon" is used when the various parts of a wagon are found together, so when the various elements making up human individuality are present, we speak of a "per-son." "As the joining together of the various parts makes up the concept of a wagon, so the aggregation or series of states gives name to a living being.'" The wagon is a functional unity of elements, not a substance; so with the person and the "mind"-"in the same way the words 'living being' and `I' are only a way of speaking of the fivefold stem of attachment."5 When the conditions that have determined the combi­nation of elements and states in that stem are no longer effective, the person as such-that is, as the particular person-dissolves. But even while he endures, the person is not a "being" but a flowing, a "current" (santāna) or rather a section of a "current," since santāna is thought of as something that is neither started by birth nor interrupted by death

The positive basis of this view-not very encouraging for our everyday "spiritu­alists"-is that the only consciousness of which the overwhelming majority of modern men can speak truthfully, yāthā-bhutam, is "become" and "formed" conscious­ness: consciousness determined and conditioned by content, which are, however, impermanent, Consciousness and perception are inseparable: "these two things are joined, not separate, and it is impossible to dissociate them so as to differentiate between them: since of what one has a perception of that one is conscious and that of which one is conscious, of that one has a perception."7 As it is meaningless to talk of fire in general, since a fire is only of logs, dung, faggots, or grass, and so on, so we cannot talk of consciousness in general, but only of a consciousness that is visual, or aural, or olfactive, or gustative, or tactile, or mental-according to the case in ques­tion.' "Through the eye, the object and visual consciousness, sight originates; so for hearing, so for smelling, taste, and touch; and so through the mind and mental states, thought originates, These sensory states, then, derive their origins from other causes and can claim no substantial beginning."9 "It is in relation to body that the idea `I am' arises, and not otherwise. And similarly with feeling, perception, the formations, and consciousness-in relation to such causes the idea `I am' arises, and not otherwise"; but these causes are, however, impermanent.10 Looking at things in this manner, it


  1. Milindapanha, 28.

  2. Visuddhi-magga, 8.

a. The notion of "current" appears as early as Digha, 3.105, and Samyuttt., 3.143: "This current is like a phantasmagoria void of substance": beyond it the ascetic, going as "on whose head is on fire." seeks "rhe unshakable sbade."

  1. Majjh„ 43.

  2. Ibid.. 38.

  3. Milindapanhs,54-57.

  4. Samyutt., 22.83.

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becomes quite evident that the idea of an ātmā . of a substantial unconditioned "I" cannot he accepted. Consciousness is thus "void of '1'," since consciousness always atises in the presence of any sensory or psychic content." More generally, the real "I" experienced by everyone, not the theoretical "1" of the philosophers, is condi­tioned by "name-and-form." This expression, taken by Buddhism from the Vedic tradition, designates the psychophysical individual: "that part of this aggregate, which is gross and material"-it is said'-"is form; that part which is subtle and mental is name," and between the one and the other there is an interdependent relationship. Bound to "name-and-form," the "soul" follows its fated changes, and for this reason as we shall see, anguish and trepidation belong to the deepest stratum of every hu­man and, more generally, samāric life.13 Finally, individual consciousness and "name-and-form" condition each other. One cannot stand without the other as, according to a textual simile, two planks cannot stand without one leaning against the other, This is the same as saying that person is considered as a "functional" whole to which the becoming is not accidental but is his very substance. "One state ends and another begins: and the succession is such that it is almost possible to say that nothing pre-cedes and nothing follows."14

All this can be considered as a general introduction to the theory of the "four truths of the Ariya" (cāttāri ariya-saccāni) and of "conditioned genesis" (paticca-samuppāda). The view of insubstantiality, as already discussed, does not go beyond a phenomenalistic consideration of the inward and outward world. To go further, we must adopt a different point of view in order to discover-in terms of direct experi­ence-the deeper meaning and the law of this flowing, of this succession of states. The first two truths of the Ariya corresponding to the terms dukkha and tanhā, then appear.

Already at this point of our investigations we have to undertake the task of separating the core of the Buddhist teaching from its accessory elements and from its popular adaptations; and, furthermore, we have to contend with a terminology whose precise significance is extremely difficult to formulate in Western languages, particularly as the meaning of a term often changes even in the course of a single text. While the terms of modern Western languages have strictly precise mean­ings, due to their being based for the most part on verbal and conceptual abstrac­tions, the terms of Indo-Aryan languages have, on the other hand, essentially



  1. Ibid, 35.193.

  2. Milindapanha, 49.

  3. Ibid., 49; cf. Visuddhi-magga. 17 (W., 184). The same idea is expressed with the following simile: if the oil and the wick or a light are impermanent, then it cannot be. thought that the light is permanent or eternal {Majjh., 146).

  4. Milindapanha, 40-41.

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variable meanings as they have to express the richness of direcr experience.

The term dukkha is frequently translated as "pain," whence the stereotyped notion that the essence of Buddhist teaching is simply that the world is pain. But this is the most popular and, we might almost say, profane interpretation of the Buddhist doctrine. It is quite true that dukkha in the texts also refers to such things as growing old, being ill, undergoing what one wishes to avoid and being deprived of what one desires, and so on; all of which can in general be considered as pain or suffering. Yet, for example, the idea that birth itself is dukkha should make us pause, and particu­larly as the same term refers to nonhuman, "celestial" or "divine" states of con­sciousness that certainly cannot be considered as subject to "pain" in the ordinary sense of the word. The deeper, doctrinal, and nonpopular significance of the term dukkha is a state of agitation, of restlessness, or of "commotion''' rather than "suf­fering." We can describe it as the lived counterpart of what is expressed in the theory of universal impermanence and insubstantiality, of anicca and of anattā. And it is for this reason that, in the texts, dukkha, anicca, and anattā when they do not actually appear as synonyms,16 are always found in close relationship. This interpretation is confirmed if we consider dukkha in the light of its opposite. that is, of the states of "liberation"; dukkha now appears as the antithesis of unshakable calm, which is superior not only to pain, but also to pleasure; as the opposite of the "incomparable safety," the state in which there is no more "restless wandering," no more "coming and going," and where fear and anguish are destroyed. In order really to understand the implications of dukkha, the first truth of the Ariya, and therefore to grasp the deepest significance of samsāric existence, we must associate the notion of "an­guish" with that of "commotion" and "agitation." The Buddha saw in the world: "A race which trembles"-men trembling, attached to their persons. "like fish in a stream that is almosr dry."17 "This world is fallen into agitation" is the thought that came to him while he was still striving to achieve illumination,' "in truth, this world has been overcome by agitation. We are horn, we die, we pass away from one state, we arise in another. And from this sorrow, from this decay and death, no one knows the escape."' Therefore it is a question of something far deeper and larger than anything the usual notion of pain can designate.

We now come to the second truth of the Ariya, which deals with samudaya, that is, with origin. From what does this experience of ours, which manifests itself as dukkha, as agitation, as anguished becoming, originate; from where does it draw nourishment




  1. Cr. Stcherbatsky, Central Conception. p, 48.

  2. Jansink, Mistica del buddismo. p. 95.

  3. Suttanipāta, 4.2.5-6.

  4. Samyutt„ 12.t0.

19. Digha. 14.2.18.

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and what maintains it? The answer is tanhā (Skt,: trsna) that is to say, craving or thirst: "thirst for life for ever renewing itself, which, when it is joined to the pleasure of satis­faction and gratifies itself here and there, is thirst for sensual pleasure, thirst for exist­ence, thirst for becoming." This is the central force of samsāric existence, this is the principle that determines the anatta, that is, the nonaseity of any thing and any life whatsoever and that endows all life with alteration and death. Thirst, craving, burning, according to the Buddhist teaching, stand not only at the root of all states of mind, but also of experience in general, of the forms of feeling, perception, and observation that are most nearly considered to he neutral and mechanical. Thus we get the suggestive symbolism of the "burning world" "The whole world is in flames, the whole world is consumed by fire, the whole world trembles."20 All is in flames. And what is the all that is in flames? The eye is burning, what is visible is burning, consciousness of the visible is burning, contact of the eye with what is visible is burning, the feeling-be it pleasure or pain, or neither pain nor pleasure-which arises from the contact with what is visible is burning. And with what is it burning? With the fire of desire, with the fire of aversion, with the fire of delusion"--and the same theme is repeated separately for what is heard, for what is tasted, touched, and smelled, and for what is thought;21 and again there is the same theme for the pancakkhandhā, the fivefold stem of the person­ality: materiality, feeling, perception, the formations, consciousness.22 This flame butns not only in desire, aversion, and delusion, but also in birth and death, in decay, in every kind of pain and suffering?



Such is the second truth of the Ariya, the truth about "origin." To understand it we must go beyond the most superficial plane of consciousness: since although ev­eryone will probably concede that desire is the root of a large number of human actions, practically none will ever understand intuitively that it is the substance of his own bodily form, the root of his very individuality, the base of his every experience, even of that of a color or a sound, to which he is indifferent, This holds good to a certain extent for the first truth also, since it is most improbable that everyone will understand that beneath his joy lies dukkha, that is, agitation, suffering, and restless­ness. The fact is that these two truths are already, in a certain measure, related to the "other shore," being directly evident only to those who have already crossed over and can comprehend objectively and fully the nature of the state in which they previously found themselves? In this particular connection the texts provide an

20..Samyutt., 1.133.



  1. Mahavagga (Vinaya), 121.2 3; Samyutt..35.28.

  2. Samyutt, 22.61.

  3. Ibid.. 35.28: Mahavagga (Vin.), 1.21.2-3.

  4. In Majjh., 80. it is, in tact, explicitly stated rhat only those who have arrived at the goal. have laid aside tbe burden, have done what was to he dome. and who have freed themselves from the bonds of existence, can understand what craving and thirst for craving are.

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illuminating simile, that of the leper. Those who, "driven by desire, consumed by the thirst of desire, burned by the fever of desire, delight in desire," are like those lepers, their bodies covered with sores, ulcerated. eaten by worms, who, in scratching their sores and scorching their limbs, feel a morbid delight. But one who frees himself from leprosy, feels cured, heathy, and independent, "master of where he would go"; this man would then understand "according to reality" the morbid delight of the leper, and should anyone attempt to drag him by force toward the fire in which he formerly found delight, he would struggle in every manner possible to withdraw his body.25

Apart from this, fhe symbolism of the flame and of the fire is enough to help us to understand approximately the law of conditioned existence and of becoming as "craving" or "thirst." Besides, let us take as an illustration physical thirst or, in gen­eral, nourishment. Instinct induces an organism to satisfy itself by assimilating and consuming something for maintenance, Maintenance, however, implies that there is later a fresh feeling of hunger or thirst, because of the law of the organism that has been strengthened through the very satisfaction of the need. It is stated thus in the Gospels: "Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again. But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life."26 Still more appro­priate is the symbolism of the flame and of the processes of combustion, We owe to Dahlke an account of it that allows us to penetrate into the secret of samsaric life. Having likened craving to a fire, every living being appears, not as an "I," but as a process of combustion since. at the level on which we are talking, we cannot say that a being has craving, but rather that he himself is craving. There is then---latent in everyone---a will to bum, to become a flame consuming some particular material. The fuel stimulates this will and starts the fire in a process of combustion that, how-ever, results in a greater degree of heat, that is, in a fresh will to burn, thus starting a new combustion, and so on, endlessly. From this point of view it is a process that generates and sustains itself; and at each instant the flame represents a particular degree of heat that, as such, is the potentiality for a new combustion as soon as contact is made with some fresh inflammable material.27 In this way the text we have been following considers every contact, every perception, vision, or thought as a species of "burning." The fire is the craving that the will induces toward this or that contact, in which it spreads and sharpens itself, feeding itself, in a manner of speak­ing, on itself and provoking itself in the very act of satisfaction and of consuming its fuel. The "I" as santana, or "current," is none other than the continuity of this fire that

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