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Disharmony with Dhamma

August 23, 2013

Q: What is the Dhamma, and why is it important to understand it?

The Arahant: Dhamma is a very rich term with many deep meanings. When we speak of dhamma in general, it means the essence of something, that which makes it what it is. But when we speak of ‘The Dhamma’, we mean the universal law, the essence of everything that makes the whole existence what it is.

And what is The Dhamma, the universal law? It is impossible to express it in words, for the same reason as enlightenment is inexpressible in words. But it is possible to describe our disease of being out of harmony with the Dhamma, and the method of curing that disease. Probably the most succinct expression possible is the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths:

“Now this, monks, is the noble truth of suffering (dukkha): Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful.

“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the origination of dukkha: the craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now here & now there — i.e., craving for sensual pleasure, craving for becoming, craving for non-becoming.

“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the cessation of dukkha: the remainderless fading & cessation, renunciation, relinquishment, release & letting go of that very craving.

“And this, monks, is the noble truth of the way of practice leading to the cessation of dukkha: precisely this Noble Eightfold Path: right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration.” — Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (SN 56.11)

Another way of saying this is that ‘existence’, in the sense of being a ‘person’ with a permanent ‘identity’, is a fabrication, an illusion. To continue to strive to create and maintain this fabrication causes tremendous suffering, because it is out of harmony with the Dhamma. The only way to relieve this suffering is to get back into harmony, and that is what the Buddha’s teaching is for.

Now the problem with our contemporary society is that we don’t recognize this. Instead, everything—the government, the economy, even the language—is set up based on the assumption of a permanent and unchanging ‘I’. This structure, based on the illusion of ego, is a tremendous obstacle to the expression of truth and the implementation of the Buddha’s teaching, leading to the eradication of suffering.

Our harmony with the Dhamma is broken because we are conditioned: trained up by society to fabricate and maintain an ego, a false ‘I’, against the principles of the Dhamma. This may be because of society, family or other people, an element in one’s personality, or both. In any case, if the appropriate response is not made, the disharmony and suffering keep on increasing, and serious misfortune will result. The Buddha’s teaching is very clear about the proper action when confronted with this situation: withdraw into contemplation and give up our egotism and individual interests in the interest of a higher good.

“And how is the mind said to be internally positioned? There is the case where a monk, quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful (mental) qualities, enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. His consciousness follows the drift of the rapture & pleasure born of withdrawal, is tied to the attraction of the rapture & pleasure born of withdrawal.” — Uddesa-vibhanga Sutta (MN 138)

There are many plans and proposals to mitigate suffering in the world, but in the case of disharmony with the Dhamma, aggressive action or intervention can only compound the misfortune. This is because any such initiative is still based on the illusion of ego and personal power. For example, governments and corporations are trying desperately to keep their wrongdoing secret, to keep the people from finding out and toppling them in a revolution. This will only delay the inevitable day when the secrets leak out, and then the reaction will be all the more severe because of the coverup.

We become monks because we see this, and we do not wish to remain aligned with the cause of suffering, but rather with its cure. It is certainly the responsibility of all honest men to point out when something has gone wrong, but we do not have the right to punish anyone. There is already perfect justice in this universe through the law of kamma.

Our role is to forgive, but not to forget. When truth predominates in society, we can aid the society by training people to cure themselves of the disease of fabrication that is the cause of suffering. But in times like today, when truth is eclipsed in human society, we are obligated to withdraw and surrender the matter to the Dhamma for resolution.

And what will be the result? Their obstinate attitude will result in an embarrassing and severe punishment. When the truly enlightened sages withdraw from society, false philosophies and concocted religions spread among the people. The natural tendency of unenlightened people is to rely on the strategies of the ego: desire, scheming and striving. When such egotistic activity becomes the norm in society, spiritual development stops. Because of wrong beliefs, people perform foolish actions that condition them to suffering and hellish rebirth. This eventually results in a strong kammic reaction that sets things aright, preparing the way for a new dispensation of the Dhamma.

The kammic reaction takes the form of a shock: a series of unprecedented, unexpected, unsettling events that bring fear, forcing people to see the error of their ways. Thus there will be a continuing and escalating series of shocks until the wrong attitude is removed. For example, in the secrecy wars happening now, the government is reacting strongly against the whistleblowers. This is precisely the wrong strategy, and if continued will lead to their downfall.

Do not react against these shocks, but quiet and open your mind, and accept what is happening as a specific lesson, necessary to correct your wrong attitude. Look inside and see where you are resisting the law of the Dhamma. The sooner you surrender your ego and return to innocence and acceptance, the sooner the shocks will subside.

Those of us who are enlightened, who revere proper principles and remain committed to the Dhamma, are unperturbed by shocking events. In fact, we welcome them; they help us focus on deepening our understanding. If you find yourself feeling threatened by circumstances, withdraw into stillness and meditation. The only remedy for doubt and fear is a reconnection with higher truth.

The shocking kammic reactions to the disharmony with the Dhamma indicate an immediate need for self-examination, self-correction, and a renewal of commitment to following the path of the Dhamma. Shock is an important and beneficial teacher to those who follow the path of the Buddha. Make good use of this new beginning and good fortune results.

From → Q&A

  1. peaceandwisdom2013 permalink

    As I am progressing through the Sutta passages, I am slowy and little by little beginning to understand the path presented by the Buddha. The Buddha essentially gives instructions on how to be released in the following very important Suttas: Kimattha Sutta, Cetana Sutta, Bhutamidam Sutta. I mean, these are practical instructions, not just theory! You have mentioned this numerous times: everything IS in the Suttas.

    As I read these and other discourses, I ask myself: “What am I doing with my life? The Buddha has presented all the instructions (morality, concentration, wisdom) to be released in his Discourses.” Indeed, I realize there is a disharmony with the Dhamma. Yes, I am a beginning student and have much more to learn, but I can see the disconnect between society and what the Buddha teaches, or what the Dhamma is.

    These days, I am feel there are two parts to myself: the “new” me who is very slowy beginning to see the path and the old me, the one in automatic mode with society. Anyway, I shall continue my study and understanding of the Suttas. I am also very fortunate and thankful that translations are available on the internet (ie. Access to Insight).

    Can you explain when you stated the following, “Make good use of this new beginning and good fortune results.” So, this kammic shock occurs when society masks the Dhamma?

    • Yes, and don’t forget Mulapariyaya-Sutta and Paticca-Samupada-vibhanga-Sutta.

      All the Buddha’s teachings are in the Suttas. He says in Mahaparinibbana-Sutta, “I teach with an open hand; there is nothing esoteric, nothing held back.” We can receive all the benefits the Buddha intended for us as soon as we hold nothing back, but engage his teaching with our full energy. It is seldom, though, that one gets to implement his full teaching immediately. Most people are burdened with pre-existing kammic attachments. Trying to jump over these obstacles will only result in them coming up again at the least convenient moment. They must be resolved properly before we can attain the higher stages of the Path.

      When human society rejects the Dhamma, religion becomes corrupt, and ethics and morality fail. Overwhelmed by lies, true spirituality withdraws into its eternal hiding place within the human spirit. This leads to a drastic loss of intelligence and performance, both of the leaders and their minions, and among the people at large. This in turn causes the society to fail, often violently. History is full of examples; consider Ozymandias.

      So the society is already fallen spiritually and morally, and it is only a matter of time until the devastating shocks come. Actually they are already coming, and we are in the middle of them. The whole fabrication is coming apart at the seams; it is clear to anyone who knows the signs. The social contract is up for renegotiation, and the rulers ignore this necessity at their peril. They cling to the false certainty of the past instead of bending to the immediacy of the present and embracing the unknown future.

      Our role is to keep the truth alive, in retreat or even in secret if necessary, until the wave of destruction passes and it becomes possible again to teach with integrity. We must watch for this new beginning and take the opportunity as soon as it comes.

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