Cause and effect

Creation, says Hinduïsm, is the result of a cause. That is, the highest Hindu god, by the name of Krishna, Brahman, or any other name, causes himself, or itself, to manifest in different forms. Hence Hinduïsm speaks of “result-cause“. We first see the result, and on the basis of this we infer that which caused the result: result being the manifest, and cause is he who manifests. This in contrast to the Abrahamic assumption of cause (= God) and result or effect (= the universe).

In classical Sanskrit “result-cause”, in the Vedic-Hinduistic sense is given as phalam, result, or parināma, and
adihetu, first cause, or adikārana, first cause, i.e. the divine mind.

In contrast to this Buddhism rejects the notion of causation or creation in the absolute sense of the word, whether it be in the Hinduistic sense or the Abrahamic. There is no causation-creation of the universe, no causation-creation of beings. There is an ongoing cycle of matter and time in which cycle no ultimate cause, creation, or creator can or needs to be be discerned.
Here the component hetu, as in the Sanskrit adihetu where it carries the meaning of first cause, is considered a relative designation as in the Pāli-word hetu-paccaya: cause and condition(ing) when describing the cyclical wheel of life where one link causes another to act or react. (Pratyaya in Hybrid Sanskrit)
So also the Pāli-word vipāka, product / effect, needs to be understood in the ethical sense of the word, and not as an absolute. (Vipaksa in Hybrid Sanskrit) It stands for the product of karma-producing actions, and not as the effect of ultimate causation or creation.


Esoteric and exoteric

Somewhere mid-20th century a German nun (dasa-sil-mata in Srilankan parlance) undertook a voyage to Sarnath, the place where Buddha spoke his First Sermon, that is, his first official sermon. Impressed by the story of his life, and educated in translatory work Sister Vajira put herself to translating the Maha-parinibbana Sutta, the Teaching (sutta) on the last days of Buddha, how he died, how he spoke in the weeks prior to this event, and what happened afterwards.

The Maha-parinibbana Sutta is one of the texts that appears in the Pali Dīgha Nikaya, the Compendium (nikáya) containing the Longer (dīgha) Teachings.

Sister Vajira’s efforts have been put online by Thaníssaro bhikkhu (a bhikkhu is a fully ordained monk in the theravāda-tradition).
He provided a number of footnotes on difficult technical terms, but omitted a lemma on the “esoteric and exoteric” as Vajira — and by the way, a number of other translators among whom the Srilankan monk Pategáma Ñana-ráma — gave it.

In Vajira’s words the passage containing “esoteric and exoteric” runs as follows:

Thus spoke the Venerable Ānanda, but the Blessed One answered him, saying: “What more does the community of bhikkhus expect from me, Ānanda? I have set forth the Dhamma without making any distinction of esoteric and exoteric doctrine; there is nothing, Ānanda, with regard to the teachings that the Tathágata holds to the last with the closed fist of a teacher who keeps some things back.”

The Pali text runs as follows:
Desito Ānanda mayā dhammo anantaram abāhiram karitvā natthi
Ānanda tathāgatassa dhammesu acariyamutthi.

Anàntaram (my emphasis on the à) means “without end, exhaustive”.
Abāhiram must be interpreted in the sense of “the interior and the exterior”.

Therefore Buddha says that he taught his monks all there is to know about what goes on in our own body-mind complex, and he says that he taugt all there is to know about the world outside our body-mind complex.

To translate Abāhiram and the rest with the abbreviation “esoteric and exoteric” is totally besides the subject, especially when remembering that the Pali (= theravāda) tradition explicitely denies that Buddhism has anything esoteric, anything that could be called a hidden teaching or a concealed practice. To illustrate this point of view they cite the same given passage where Buddha says: “… there is nothing, Ānanda, with regard to the teachings that the Tathágata holds to the last with the closed fist of a teacher who keeps some things back.”


Especially in online references to the word “dharma” (Skr.) or “Dhamma” (Pāli) a number of editors see “dharma” and “religion” as interchangeable. This incorrect representation of “dharma” has in the 19th-20th century been introduced by western scholars-translators who were raised in the Christian or at least theïstic vocabulary. They were of good faith, but made a mistake as far as translation of the words dharma or dhamma go.
Somewhere in 2017 a commentator correctly stated that the Sanskrit dictionaries have no word for “religion”. In addition to that he surmised that the Western-Christian “religion” and the Arab “mazhab” were interchangeable.

This is incorrect. If we must compare at all, “dharma” and “mazhab” have more in common than “dharma” and “religion”. Mazhab, it is said, denotes a jurisprudence based on the Koran or the Hadith.
The ancient vedic word Dharma denotes a number of things, from “the natural order” over “as it should be” to, in Hinduïsm, “the established Law”.
Buddhism leaves this interpretation of dharma (or dhamma) as “the established Law” out of the list and rather replaces it with “the teachings of (the historical) Buddha.”

Some translate dharma and adharma as “valid resp. invalid ethical conduct”. In all cases the word dharma or dhamma is an untranslatable just als “allelujah” is an untranslatable.

There can be reverence (Skr. bhakti) in Buddhist practice, but there can be no “religion” in the sense of adherence to a revealed moral-philosophical system. Buddhism has no revelation. It rather leans on established knowledge or perception: things are the way we see them; things are not the way an unknown entity wills us to see them. The first is a manifestation of dharma; the latter a manifestation of religion.

Átappan; offering or offering of the self as non-Buddhist concept

In what is considered the oldest set of canonical texts, the Pali-canon of the theravāda or southern Buddhism (Hīnayāna), the compound “offering of the self” does not occur.
We find “offering”, i.e. anukula which is an offering of something for the well-being of the group / clan / family, or country.

In spite of that an early translator of the Pali canon speaks of ātappan as offering of the self. As such it appears in the Monier-Williams dictionary which will not be revised in the foreseable future.
These early translators, mainly brought together in Oxford where they established the Pali Text Society, considered what they encountered against the backdrop of their own Christian-inspired patterns of thinking and writing.
Later generations of translators, stationed in Sri Lanka and/or working for the Wisdom Library could leave the old patterns of thought behind and correctly translated the word ātappan (from Pali: ātappa, Skr.: ātāpya) as “dedicated”, “dedication”, “exertion”, and “exertion” has the Sanskrit root “tap“: giving out heat, practicing austerity.

Practicing austerity, the Christian-inspired says, is self-mortification or offering of self. The Hindu world may agree with this interpretation, but the Buddhist world does not. In the absence of abiding or enduring self it is impossible to chastise this self into submission. Here ātappa simply means putting an effort.

There’s another word that falls under the same category: uttaraná. The same early translators as mentioned above gave it as “saved” or “rescued” as in “saved by a savior”. However, uttaraná means “crossing”(the river), or “having crossed” (the river), i.e. “having arrived at the other shore” (of enlightenment.) “Saving” in the western sense of the word is not the appropriate translation.

The One

The Bukhan mountain range is not too far from South-Korea’s capital city, and cool enough to spend the summer. Bhukhan is furthermore known as the seat of the monk Seongga (or Seonga) who lived during the Tang dynasty of China, the era of emperor Gaozong. Seongga went to China and came back as a Línjì chan monk. (chan = zen, and línjì = rinzai in Japanese)

Part 3 of Korean Jogye Anthology describes Seongga’s monkhood and how he penned down his Seongga gwigam (his ‘guide to seon’ [chan/zen]). In this guide Seongga shows himself as a proponent of both “Patriarchal Teacher Seon” and “Ganhwa Seon”. The latter, Ganhwa Seon, is about what the West knows as koan, and what China and Korea know as huatou, respectively hwadu.

Seongga sunim (sunim = monastic) introduced this hwadu: “What is the single thing?” As many western zennists have scant knowledge of the Buddhist philosophy, this “What is the single thing?” came to be abbreviated to “What is it?” leaving “the single thing” out — and leaving thousands of zen-pupils in the woods. Nevertheless, this “single thing” is at the heart of the most important refutation as the historic Buddha had it. “The One” is in early Buddhist philosophy an unthinkable something.

We find the probably oldest and most historically “true” instance of the discussion around “The One [thing]” in the Pali canon of the Southern Buddhism, the Songs of the Elder Bhikkhuni (Théri-gāta. 5.9 ——; a bhikkhuni = a fully ordained Buddhist nun; a théri = an elderly nun with at least 12 years standing).
This occurred somewhere between the 6th and 5th Cent. aD, somewhere in Northern India. In this Théri-gāta we read the conversation between the bhikkhu (monk) Sariputta and the bhikkhuni Bhadda Kúndalakésa. Bhikkhu Sariputta asks: “What is the One”, and bhikkhuni Bhadda remains silent. Much later she will find the answer all by herself and will Awaken to the Truth of Buddhism.

Why did Bhadda remain silent? Some commentators state that she used to be a Jain nun before she came to the Buddhist sangha. But the mention that she was a Kúndalakésa, someone with dreadlocks, makes that hard to believe. The unclothed Naga sadhus in this part of the world have dreadlocks, but there never have been female naga sadhus. It is furthermore hard to conceive the naga sadhus as being hindu, let alone brahmin. This was and is a religious movement in and out of itself. There were and are Saiva ascetics; they wear dreadlocks. Saivists are devotees of the Hindu god Shiva who receives the name The One, as being one of the manifestations of the ultimate in Hinduïsm. Could there have been Saiva nuns, in those days? Possibly, possibly not.

Nevertheless Bhadda(1) could have been raised in this belief of The One, and in becoming a Buddhist nun she must have received the information that this precisely was what Buddha refuted. Hence, in conversation with bhikkhu Sariputta (the son [putta] of the woman Sari) she doesn’t dare to speak for fear of making a serious mistake — in the eyes of Buddhists, that is. Deïsms, in whatever shape or form they appear, think higly of The One.

Let’s assume that this conversation is the first instance where there is mention of The One, and that scribe-monks, shortly after Buddha’s demise, picked up on this theme and used it twice more, after which these two more instances became part of the early Pali canon. That is, it is highly likely that the conversation between the monk and the nun actually took place, but whether the next two instances in the Pali canon are historically true is less evident.

Whatever the case may be, the theme of The One returned once more in the form of a meeting between a Brahmin monk and a Buddhist bhikkhuni: “The One, what is it?” the monk asks. And she, according to the Pali canon: “Sabbé-sattá áhára thítika — all things subsist on food.”

We might say that this is one of the first huatou / hwadu / koan: What is … (nonsense question)? Answer: …. (nonsense in the eyes and ears of outsiders).
Nevertheless, this refutation of The One is not nonsense. It’s an ultimate truth in Buddhism: there is not such a thing as “a first instance”, a One as Creator/Destroyer, or a One “tout court”. Underlying all things are multiple causes and conditions. It never occurs that óne thing arises on the basis of óne prior thing or óne instance. Multiplicity is the answer, not a One.

Since this Buddhist concept of oneness, as the (non-)thing that precedes the dichotomy between the singular and the plural, which therefore is beyond words, must have been rather “en vogue“, the early 8th Century hindu philosopher Sánkara made it the pivot around which his Advaita Vedanta is woven. He however strongly believed in The One in the old sense of the Hindu-word but added that this One comprises all there is, and that all there is is a manifestation of The One, the whole.

(1): in Pali language Bhadda = auspicious; she received this name upon taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma (dharma) and the Sangha.

The sword in Buddhism

One might conclude that the word “sword” in Buddhist scriptures appeared for the first time in a Song of the Brethren (Theragāta 1, 757). There we find asattha (n. adj.) [a = negating particle + sattha] “absence of a sword or knife”, which indicates a characteristic of the monk: he is non-violent.
The word sword, however, is more often given als asi, a vedic expression, i.e. belonging to the Sanskrit lore that shaped Hinduism.

It is therefore remarkable that Buddha-ghosa (“Buddha-voice”), a fifth-century native of Bodhgaya in northern India, who migrated to Sri Lanka where he penned his large commentary on the Pali canon under the title Visuddhi-magga, mixed Sanskrit-elements with his newly acquired command of the Pali language. We find another example in Cittā’s gātā.

In his Visuddhimagga Buddhaghosa speaks of ñānāsi which by most translators is translated as “the sword of knowledge“. The paragraph in one of the translation runs as follows (Vism.II, ch, xii):
6. And these enemies (ari), these defilements, are destroyed (hata) by the path. / Because the enemies are thus destroyed he is thus accomplished (arahanta)./ The enemies (ari) that were deployed / [i.e.] greed and the rest, have been destroyed (hata) / by his, the Helper’s, wisdom’s sword (ñānāsi), / So he is “accomplished” (arahanta), all agree on that.

We might say that here, in ñānāsi, we do not encounter a combination of subject and object. Therefore we might translate it as “the sword (āsi) which is knowledge (ñānā).” Ñānā in Buddhist philosophical thinking is generally given a somewhat subordinate place in comparison with paññā, and especially with bodhi. Bodhi (or buddh) is invariably given as “wisdom”. When at the end of his First Exposition of his dharma (or dhamma) Buddha exclaims: “Aññā Kondañña“, he says: “Kondañña knows!”, not “Kondañña has attained to supreme wisdom [buddhi] or insight [pañña]”.

As Buddhaghosa’s family belonged to the upper stratum of Indian society he must have had discussions with brahmin priests who cited the famous Bhagavad Gīta verse (ch.4, 42):
“Therefore, with the sword of knowledge, cut asunder the doubts that have arisen in your heart. O scion of Bharat (India), establish yourself in karm[a] yog[a]. Arise, stand up, and take action!” (“Karma yoga” being the religious cultivation through action.)

Certainly this verse speaks of knowledge that cuts through doubts (or ignorance in other translations) just as a sword cuts through matter. Why later on Arjuna, the main character of the Gīta yet saw the need for using the sword in cutting through matter, Buddhaghosa may not have gotten a satisfactory answer to. Nevertheless, this use of the word sword in connection with knowledge (or wisdom in other translations) must have stuck in his mind, and once in Sri Lanka he jotted the ñānāsi down at the appropriate place, in the passage that describes how the arahan (the enlightened who has almost attained to Buddhahood) cut through the defilements of the mind, so liberating himself. In doing so Buddhaghosa led the reader back to the original meaning of the word: the monk, or arahan (arhat) does not use a sword, and certainly not in the literal sense. His “sword” is his knowledge/wisdom.

Many centuries later when the 13th century Vietnamese zenmonk Tue Trung apparently spoke in riddles when answering questions by his disciples he too refers to the sword, but hardly in combination with knowledge or wisdom.
He says (Les Propos de l’Éveillé Tue Trung, Paris 2015, p.63/64)

Kiém truóc Long Tuyén hiêu
A marvelous sword called Dragon’s Source (Une épée merveilleuse appelée Source de Dragons)


Kiém xung xuát hap cáu khói phuc,
The sword is drawn out of its sheat to re-establish peace (L’épée sort du fourreau pour rétablir la paix),

The Vietnamese word for sword is kiẽm.

Where did Tue Trung got this concept of sword from? Was he inspired by Buddhaghosa? That is highly unlikely since his first utterance “A marvellous sword called Dragon’s Source” rather belongs to East-Asian religio-philosophical iconography, and not to the Indian lore.
In the Chinese language one of the translations for sword is jiàn. Is the Vietnamese kiẽm a degeneration of the Chinese jiàn? This seems to be the case. Where did Buddhist China the concept of “the sword called Dragon’s Source” get from? From the Serindian Buddhist canon as it had been carried over the border at Dunhuang? Not so sure.

In Tibetan Buddhist parlance, taught and brought back from the earliest university of Nalanda — a Buddhist(ic) interpretation that did not come to the fore before the 6th/7th century — we find: “flaming ‘sword of wisdom’ “, given as “shes rab ral gri“. Gri meaning “sword”. Tibetan translators even came up with a Sanskrit(ic) source: chūrikā as in prajñā-chūrikā: “knife of wisdom” which they eventually altered into ‘sword of wisdom’, in line with Buddhaghosa’s ñānāsi but a tad different because ‘we’re no theravādin, we’re sarvastivādin if not vajra-yānin. Hence we don’t employ the dictionary of the theravādin.’

It’s therefore not the Tibetan prajñā-chūrikā (wisdom-sword) that Tue Trung had come across. Was he inspired by monks that accompanied Mongolian invadors into Vietnam and Korea? The Mongolian word for sword is ildü (or ildy(n) in the first English-Mongolian dictionary by the hand of Ferdinand D Lessing). No, ildü and kiẽm are in no way comparable.
The only conclusion is therefore that Vietnam obtained the concept of flaming sword out of China, and that China used this concept in the most literal form possible — as all concepts that China uses are to be understood in the literal sense of the word.

The sequence is therefore as follows:
In the earliest period of Buddhism the monk did not carry a sword, i.e. he was by nature and praxis non-violent;
In Buddhaghosa’s 5th century wisdom had become a symbol that, as a sword, cut through mental defilements;
In the next Chinese and Mongolian period of Buddhism one employed a literal flaming sword in ceremonies that were designed to establish the opinion that (evil and/or) ignorance had to be forcefully destroyed — stamp it out!;
In the Vietnamese 13th century the king-monk used the sword wisely (in his opinion) to literally re-establish peace, not to cut through ignorance of defilements.

Brain, mind and consciousness

Recently work of the artists Antoni Tapiès (1923 – 2012) and Salvador Dali (1904 – 1989) came into auction, respectively were brought together in a dedicated exhibition.
That allows us to dwell on the concepts of the brain in connection with physical feelings and that of consciousness and unconsciousness/the subconscious.

Tapiès’ biography (on “Fundacio Tapiès”) states: “The works of the last years are, most of all, a reflection on pain – both physical and spiritual – understood as an integral part of life. Influenced by Buddhist thought, Tàpies believes that a better knowledge of pain allows us to soften its effects and therefore improve our quality of life.

antoni-tàpies-ondulacions-i-brac 2009

Modern science says that at any one moment our brain is receiving about 100 million pieces of information which are fed into the nervous system through the ears, eyes, nose, tongue and touch receptors in the skin. This enumeration, and nothing more than the enumeration, by the way, is taken from the Abhidharmic Buddhist teachings, particularly where it deals with the concept of (Skr./Pali) vedanā, physical feelings. Well done, we might say; the scientific world is learning fast.

There is however a little snag, because in cases of Tapiès’ pains, for example, it’s not the brain that receives information and sends it through to the sense-organs. Rather it’s a malfunction of the body somewhere that sends it’s information “up” to the brain where it is processed as “arm hurts”, to give an example.
Now we must deal with the question of where this pain is located. Where is it sensed? Is there a sensing part of the brains’ functioning in that painful arm? No, actually, there is no proof of the presence of brain-matter anywhere else but in the head.
Well then, is the pain located inside the brain, in the head? No, in the case of a hurting arm or a broken leg the (physical) brain is without pain, it merely processes information.
So where is pain? What is pain?
In the mind of a meditator these questions might lead to a particular insight into the concept of pain — without however solving the scientific question, that’s not the task and function of meditation.

All this is not to say that Mr. Tapiès had a little meditative breakthrough; we don’t know what his “knowledge of pain” consisted of. It merely shows that the scientific labour of love on concepts such as physical sensations and their connections with the brain is only halfway through. More has to be figured out.

Salvador Dali gained fame with his dreamlike paintings: warped watches, dreamlike landscapes, etc.
No doubt the scientific worlds of psychiatry and psychology will be more than happy in suggesting that here the subconscious came into action — subconscious in the sense De Quincey gave it in 1823: “not wholly conscious” ( As of 1874 subconscious morphed into something like ‘consciousness on a deeper level’, to emerge suddenly and without manifesting itself as “sub-“; i.e. in the person’s perception it’s seen as real, physically existing, or on an artistic level not to be denied.

Western writers on Buddhism used this Romantic and post-Romantic concept of subconscious when treating the word/concept of (Skr./Pali) Citta: consciousness, as it appears in almost all canonical works of Buddhism.
However, as Buddhism did not arise in the Western world, but in the East, the word subconsciousness cannot be found in any of the canonical treaties of Eastern religion and philosophy. Subconsciousness is foreign to the Eastern thinking.

What we dó find in Eastern thinking is the concept of “unprompted consciousness”, and “consciousness” here is not cittá, but the above-mentioned physical experience called vedanā: feeling with the body.
In that case there is mention of ansankharika vedanā (speak: asan khá rika). Len Rek interprets it as “an attribute of an intention”. A ninth-century Pali-Abhidhamma compiler uses it in a citation that begins with “Vedanā-ñāna-[a]sankhāra …”: knowing that there is an unprompted ([a]sankhāra) feeling (vedanā).
This in apposition with “prompted feeling” as in (Pali) “itthā kantā manāpā piyarūpā kāma rajaniyā“: … endowed with pleasantness, prompting desires. (D i.245=M i.85; 504; D ii.265; M iii.267; VvA 127.)

“Unprompted” seen as “suddenly” has become an important subject in Eastern Buddhist thought when contrasted to, or compared with Daoist thinking. In his translation of Asvaghosa’s Sraddhotpāda shastra (The Awakening of Faith) Yoshito S. Hakeda points to the Chinese concept of hu-jan as in “Suddenly, a deluded thought arises; this state is called ignorance.” His dwelling on the concept is no longer extant in the online Heidelberg translation, but it is referred to in Whalen Lai’s treatment of the scripture called Hu-Jan Nien-Ch’i: Suddenly a Thought Rose; Chinese understanding of Mind and Consciousness. (The Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, 1980, Vol. 3, Nr 2)
The Chinese understanding of “suddenly”, hu-jan, is that actually this particular piece of consciousness did not arise (out of nothing or out of the subconscious) but was there all along, though not realised. Now when it is suddenly there this non-arisen present mind (i.e. a piece of memory) has in the East never been called subconscious. It is “unconsciousness” and as such a source of embarrassment. Hence it is called ignorance — how stupid could I be, not to see this before! Had I been conscious of it, had I been smarter, I would have had more wisdom; there’s work to be done.