The Abhidhamma

by Ven. Namgyal Rinpoche
Edited by Cecilie Kwiat

Introduction to the Abhidhamma
August – September 1977
8th of 16 Lectures

This evening I’d like to speak briefly on suggestions for purification of the being, which is necessary for the realization of enlightenment. One of the two major sections of the Visuddhimagga is concerned with this subject. Directly following this section, the text outlines methods for developing concentration (the Brahma Vihara meditations, the kasina practices, and so forth), and the remainder of the book deals with purification of view or Right View. Tonight I would like to speak on how direct seeing – or Right View – comes about when the mind has first been prepared by developing one-pointed concentration.

This preparation is essential for Right View. Most beings have an undirected flow of mental continuum, so the mind is truly wandering in Samsara: now here, now there in a fluctuation of vague thoughts and happenings. They seem to arise almost by accident. In place of that, with the training in concentration, the experience is more a continuity of one object, a flowing, easeful state of consciousness. In order to establish Right View, there needs to be clear, bright awareness – which is also a flow, but more like a cascading waterfall descending into an ocean rather than like the smaller flows of a swamp.

The path unfolds through progressive states of clarity. There are three ways that view arises: miccha ditthi, ditthi, and samma ditthi. Samma ditthi is total view, clarity; the bright awareness of the Vajradhara mind. Vajradhara is the holder and user of the vajra state. ‘Dharam’ indicates that which is able to work with the dharma. Vajradhara is one who works with the diamond state of consciousness. This is a state of constant, on-going clarity; a state where one is able to see all associations of the mind in one instant should it be necessary to do so.

There are beings that have total recall of any event within the time of three breaths. That is a state of clarity. The communication lines are open to the past in such beings, but they aren’t flooded by memory all the time. They are actually holders of memory. It is not like when someone is subject to schizophrenic states, in the grip of repetitive memories and emotions of the past. A holder of memory is able to view time and space when required. That is called samma ditthi, right understanding.

I suppose you might think that this would mean you would be able to keep all those Abhidhamma lists straight; that would be very nice, I’m sure! But it doesn’t mean just intellectual view; it means complete viewing – to be able to see or hear the universe. A Guru is said to be one who has heard the Divine Sound. One who has the capacity or has manifested the potential to hear and see totally is free. So here we mean viewing all levels of the known, including total recall of past views. ‘Samma’ indicates total capacity. You can study this in the doctrine of totality.

Every part of the Eightfold Noble Path is preceded by the word ‘Samma’. Every possible thing. An Arahant would have total memory recall. Now you have partial recall, moulded or distorted by many factors. Total view through purification is when the telephone lines are fully operating and all messages come through clearly.

The Buddha used the phrase “Consciousness having arisen …” In a way, a Buddha doesn’t think things through. Consciousness arises in each moment, and the lines are clear. It is an event. There is no sitting down to work out a problem. If a situation presents a problem, there is an arising of the solution intuitively and spontaneously. In fact, the memory is on-going, constantly involved rather than broken into compartments based on emotional clinging. When you are in touch with the depth of consciousness, all the lines are clear. Such a consciousness can speak in terms of having no subconscious mind. There is just alaya consciousness; that’s Samma Ditthi.

‘Ditthi’ on its own means partial view, or what you now think of as your memory – which is selective viewing. Even conventional viewing is considered to be ditthi. Miccha ditthi actually retards the being. For example, someone who thinks that war is good, that it is good to kill, is suffering from miccha ditthi or wrong view. Why? Because hate is a manifestation of suffering; greed is a manifestation of suffering; dullness is a manifestation of suffering. When those motives are present, right then and there wrong view is present and creating suffering. Notice that it doesn’t lead to suffering; it is suffering.

When there is greed, hatred, or dullness the being is not capable of full viewing. Certainly if you want to kill, then you have no view; no possibility of seeing further, and hence no possibility of unfoldment. Conventionally we say that miccha ditthi will lead to further suffering, but at the very moment of its arising there is torture of the mind.

The teaching is only concerned with whether or not an action leads to enlightenment. Everything is defined from that standpoint. Restlessness, worry, tiredness, distraction, fearfulness, clinging – all these states could go on and on, could they not? Or not, as the case may be! Used skilfully, they could lead to liberation. But in any event, these sequential patterns exist, and at the moment an unwholesome pattern is present, dukkha is also present. Even ditthi, partial view, is dukkha. Samma ditthi is not dukkha. To study this further you would be wise to consult the Visuddhimagga.

STUDENT: Would you explain what is meant by something being rooted?

TEACHER: The word for ‘root’ – ‘hetu’ – is an emphatic. For example, in the name ‘Hevajra’, the ‘he’ indicates ‘something propelled by’. The answer to your question is found in the Pali words. Go and chant them. One meaning is ‘caused by, propelled by, initiated by’. And again there is HA HA HA; something uplifted. Explore the idea of an emphatic, explosive energy while you are chanting.

Earlier I gave the illustration of water causing fishiness; that is hetu. ‘Tu’ is the familiar form of the word ‘you’ in French, and in Pali it has intimations of ‘that which causes’. The word ‘hetu’ very much has the idea of a catalyst forming some child of its own. Don’t think in terms of trees with roots; it is more of an emphatic particle.

To understand any word, study its origins. Break it down to the seed syllables and explore the associations, experience the sense of connections. Allow the mind to work on one thing without leaping to conclusions. I think you are prone to too much ping-ponging in the mind. The answer is in the word. In fact, the answer is the word; the word is answering. Are you asking? HETU – HEY YOU; that’s causation, that’s hetu.

You are being dangled by hetu. Feel it, don’t get into “Well, it’s like …” Similarities are studied in the Patthana, but now we’re working with the Dhamma-Sangani. Allow your mind to dwell in hetu. Chant the Pali so you experience direct contact with the bija, the seed. Don’t keep going around the periphery; get to the heart of the matter. HEY! The syllable ‘he’ is related to the heart.

STUDENT: Is the English language dead, or is the way we use it not enlivening?

TEACHER: English is probably the richest language on earth at this time, by way of incorporation. It covers a vast range and it is certainly inventive. The vocabulary is multiplying by incorporating words at an amazing rate, so it could be said to be the world’s most dynamic language at present. In terms of how it is used in daily life, it is also being simplified. So on the basis of dynamic incorporation; it is the most alive language on earth. If it is properly used. The average being only uses two or three thousand words in their daily vocabulary.

Words are really mind cartoons. When you speak you are cartooning, and that’s what allows rapidity of communication. (A good description of the Abhidhamma might be to say that it is a continuous cartooning!) You could say that English is the most unfortunate language on this planet, because to speak it well requires a background in Latin and Greek. There are other languages scattered throughout its construction, but generally speaking, English is divided into Teutonic and Romantic roots which date particularly from the time the Normans entered England (1066). Latin was already part of the English language at that time, but with the Norman invasion it became more sophisticated.

Before the 11th century, the English had stools for sitting, but not chairs. The word ‘chair’ was adapted from ‘chaise’. The word ‘fork’ is from the Romance languages, and ‘knife’ is from Teutonic. So English is a split language! When the Normans came, they not only added many new words, they also restricted the use of herbs for cooking. After their arrival only the ruling classes were allowed to use herbs in the preparation of food. Vestiges of that cultural pattern still exist in England to this day. So in some ways, one could say that the English are more Teutonic than Romance based.

One of the strongest forces in your being is cultural history. It is good for you to know your causation; the roots that cause you to flow this way rather than that. With this type of understanding, you would be more likely to hear the history of your views rather than just believing them to be the definitive view. When we are taught English in schools, I think it would be helpful to include the history, the various influences that created that language. The Northmen, by the way, came from Scotland. The English and French are collectively called the Gauls. There are also the Anglo-Saxons, the Pics, and so on.

It could be that a language feels dead because there isn’t a sense of personal culture, of how it relates to world history. To bring English alive perhaps we need more experience of its place in the world. Our outlook on life has great dependence on how we understand cultural conditions. Trickles from many cultures are constantly entering every tradition, and we can either accept them or insist on remaining ‘pure’. Because of this influx of many influences, English is fast becoming a world language and not just the language of Great Britain.

If English is dead to you, it might be because the words are not sounding in a historic sense. When something is missing, where are your roots? Hey, you! The problem is not that something’s missing out there; it’s more often the case that there’s an isolated ‘you’. You may be out of touch with your cultural conditioning. Do you want to make English alive? But maybe it’s you who is dead. Do you want your language to sing? What might bring the music in is wide experience and great learning. If you are well read, much heard, and widely travelled, then you will very much be in contact with the causes of patternings. The popular view of money; where does that spring from? The love of words; where does that come from? Disliking this or that; what are the roots? Maybe it’s not so much personal preference; maybe it is cultural heritage.

There was a time when all learning was done by rote, by lists, much like how you learned multiplication tables in schoolrooms. The word ‘tabulate’ – which is a synonym for ‘magic’ – came from the word ‘table’. It refers to the tabulating mind. I suggest that you rediscover the tabulating mind – the Emerald Table, with all its facets – and be like the Magician in the Tarot cards. Studying the Abhidhamma will awaken your tabulating mind; bring you to the joy of feeling the many facets of language.

If you feel that there is a lack of joy in your life, perhaps you have forgotten that you are a many faceted historical being. Through unearthing the history of your existence, you will find that you are rich. And today you will find that you are becoming even richer because of all the in-coming data received from mass media. You may cling to the identity of Mr. and Mrs. Humdrum, making silly statements in an attempt to shore up your insecurity, but the reality is that you are changing rapidly, moving through multiple levels of data at a great rate of speed. And through your past, because of your history, you have had innumerable inaugurations. They have cause; you. HEY, YOU! They are calling you to come forth.

Presumably the one that is buried the deepest, the one that has the most powerful subterranean effect, goes back to primordial time; the time when you needed to focus on safety. That one seems to be having no difficulty getting your awareness! Modern man carries the safety factor too far, in this day and age. He’s still caught up in the level of fear that was perhaps appropriate in primordial times. He approaches daily life like a caveman; out to do battle with the beasts. I don’t, however, see him as an endangered species – except from himself.

The fear for personal safety seems to overwhelm most people in our time, yet there are other strings singing the messages of our evolution as well. You are a bit of this and a bit of that and a bit of the other. You are Jew, Goy, Indian – east or west – African, Polar Bear – who knows all the animals feeding in the trends and associations of your being?

If you have a problem, perhaps it persists because you haven’t found the transmission point, the inaugural point. How was it started? You haven’t even looked! Callow youth! That’s what you’re lacking. Perhaps this will help you to greater meditation experience, because at the moment you love to hold yourself responsible for everything instead of seeing the entire stream of history that is pushing you along. You get caught in ego-reference, asking “Why am I worrying?” instead of asking “What are the roots of worry?” What does trigger worry? Maybe worry isn’t personal – maybe it’s cultural.