Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bát Nhã Tâm Kinh (6)

Vô khổ tập diệt đạo.

(Chẳng có khổ, nguyên nhân khổ, sự diệt khổ, và con đường diệt khổ.)

(There is no suffering, no cause of suffering, no extinction of suffering, no path to extinction of suffering.)

This is the negation of the most fundamental of all Buddhist teachings: The Fourth Noble Truth (Tứ Diệu Đế) and the Noble Eightfold Path (Bát Chánh Đạo).

Tứ diệu đế (The Four Noble Truth) is four basic truths about life: khổ tập diệt đạo (suffering, causes of suffering, extinction of suffering, path to extinction of suffering). Tứ Diệu Đế is the first teaching by the Buddha after he reached Enlightenment, written in Kinh Chuyển Pháp Luân (Dharma-Wheel Turning Sutra).

1. Khổ (Suffering): Life contains suffering. Generally we can classify suffering into physical suffering and mental sufering. (a) Physical suffering includes birth, old age, sickness, and death (sinh lão bệnh tử). (b) Mental suffering includes losing what we like (thương mà mất), contacting what we don't like (ghét mà gặp), and unfulfilled desires (muốn mà không được). (c) However, there is also another kind of suffering that encompasses all other suffering—it is the suffering coming from "grasping onto the self" as a permanent everlasting self. We all can just see how a person who lives like he never dies will suffer.

But what about so many happy times we have in life? Wouldn't it be too negative to define life merely as a sea of suffering?

Yes, life contains both unhappy times and happy times (assuming that they are really happy times and not miseries in disguise as our experience shows often). Let's just say that Buddhist knowledge and practices take away unhappy times, by training our mind to be absolutely tranquil. A tranquil mind is always calm. It is not excited. It surpasses the typical excitement of sorrow and jollity. It constantly carries with it a quiet everlasting joy, which is different from the noisy happiness of a beer drinking bout.

Suffering, ultimately, is a mental phenomenon. Even if the stimulus is external, such as a hard slap on the face, it is still the mind that suffers or not—if your cheek is burning from the slap but your mind feels happy about it, then where is the suffering? Therefore, Buddhism teaches the extinction of suffering by teaching us to control our mind, i.e., to keep the mind tranquil at all time. The mind is the beginning and the end—the mind is ignorance and Buddha.

Kinh Pháp Cú (Dhammpada) is the most important sutra in Theravada Buddhism (Phật giáo nguyên thủy) and one of the most fundamental sutras in the entire Buddhist tradition. The first verse of Kinh Pháp Cú says, "The mind leads all the phenomena of existence; the mind is the leader, the mind makes them." (Ý dẫn đầu các pháp, ý làm chủ ý tạo). And verse 35 says, "The mind is unstable and flighty. It wanders wherever it desires. Therefore it is good to control the mind. A disciplined mind brings happiness." (Khó nắm giữ, khinh động, theo các dục quay cuồng. Lành thay điều phục tâm, tâm điều an lạc đến). (English by Harischandra Kaviratna at; Vietnamese by Thich Minh Chau at

Thus, ultimately, the mind is the cause of both suffering and liberation. Buddhism takes away our suffering by training our own mind, not by directly changing the external world that we live in. But of course, when our mind is changed inside, we will change our external world accordingly.

2. Tập (Causes of Suffering)

Craving causes suffering. In Vietnamese, it is tham ái (greed and desire) or ái dục (desire and want). Verse 335 of Kinh Pháp Cú (Dhammapada) says, "Whosoever is overcome by this shameful craving which creates entanglements in this world, his sorrows increase like the luxuriant birana grass in the rainy season" (Ai sống trong dời này, bị ái dục buộc ràng, sầu khổ sẽ tăng trưởng, như cỏ Bi gặp mưa).

Kinh Chuyển Pháp Luân (Dharma-Wheel Sutra) mentions 3 types of craving: a) Craving for sensual things; b) craving based on the idea that life is permanent—chasing after things thinking that life never ends, c) craving based on the idea that death is the end of all things—indulging in things thinking that there is nothing after death.

3. Diệt (Extinction of Suffering)

Since craving is the cause of suffering, to stop suffering we need "to stop, to denounce, to leave, to cut away craving." The extinction of craving means the extinction of suffering and, therefore, means nirvana.

Please note, in Thập Nhị Nhân Duyên (twelve links of cause and effect), we have said ignorance is the first cause of suffering, and craving is the 8th link in the causal chain. To stop suffering there, we stop ignorance. But here in Tứ Diệu Đế (Four Noble Truths), we say that to stop suffering, we stop craving, meaning cutting off the causal chain in the middle at the 8th link.

This seemingly technical distinction has a profound implication in practice: If we are intelligent enough to gain wisdom, our wisdom will conquer everything, including craving and suffering. If we are not endowed with high intellectual capacity to gain the ultimate wisdom, we still can stop suffering by following the simple rules of conduct to stop craving. The Buddhists usually say "There are 84 thousand Dharmas" (tám mươi bốn ngàn pháp môn), enough for each person in the world to choose a practice (pháp môn) that fits him/her. This methodology of using appropriate means for different kinds of people is called "phương tiện" (means, method). It allows Buddhism to grow everywhere, in all cultures, among all peoples, at all times.

4. Đạo (the Path to Extinction of Suffering)

This path has eight lanes and is called The Noble Eightfold Path (Bát Chánh Đạo)

1. Chánh kiến (right view): The understanding of the Four Noble Truths (Tứ Diệu Đế), vô thường (non-permanence) and vô ngã (non-self)

2. Chánh tư duy (right thought): Thoughts about stopping craving (lìa bỏ ái dục), about no anger and violence (vô sân), about no harmful activities (vô hại).

3. Chánh ngữ (right speech): no lying (không nói láo), no divisive speech (không nói hai lưỡi, nói đâm thọc), no abusive speech (không nói lời đôc ác), no idle chatters (không nói lời phù phiếm).

4. Chánh nghiệp (right action): No killing (không sát sinh), no stealing (không trộm cắp), no wrongful sexual conduct (không tà dâm).

5. Chánh mạng (right livelihood): No engaging in trade or profession that, either directly or indirectly, results in harm to other living beings.

6. Chánh tinh tấn (right effort): Try to prevent wrongful thoughts and actions from arising; if they have already arisen, try to stop them. Try to bring up good thoughts and actions; if they have already come, try to continue them.

7. Chánh niệm (right mindfulness): Observing our body, our feelings, our thoughts and Dharma (all things, all teachings) to conquer all cravings and distress.

8. Chánh định (right concentration): This is about the practice of meditation (thiền).

(For more about Tứ Diệu Đế and Bát Chánh Đạo, please read by Bình Anson,, by Phạm Kim Khánh, by Thích Viên Giác).

Tứ Diệu Đế is the first and most fundamental Buddhist teaching about a path to enlightenment. It is the way to reach A la hán enlightenment in Theravada. However, Bát Nhã Tâm Kinh now negates Tứ Diệu Đế.

Vô trí diệc vô đắc.

(Không có trí, cũng không có đạt. No understanding and no attaining).

This is another negation of a very fundamental principle of Buddhism. All Buddhist teachings, regardless of what school, focus heavily on wisdom and knowledge (Trí), to conquer ignorance. Ignorance creates suffering. In Tứ Diệu Đế (Four Noble Truths), right view is the first element of The Noble Eightfold Path to extinction of suffering. In Thập Nhị Nhân Duyên (the twelve links of cause and effect), eliminating ignorance is the method to stop suffering. And of course, Bát Nhã itself is supposed to be the highest wisdom ever. Simply put, there is no Buddhism without knowledge and wisdom.

And, of course, the ultimate purpose of Buddhism is to cross over to the other shore, to attain enlightenment. But now Bát Nhã negates both wisdom and attaining (Nirvana). This is another way to say that no Buddhist teaching exists at all! The negation of all teachings has completed!

But why negate all the teachings? What does this negation mean?

(To be continued)
Tran Dinh Hoanh, Esq., LLB, JD
Washington DC