What does it mean to "see the Dhamma"?

In a number of the books I’m reading on Buddhism, and in a number of talks I’ve heard on the subject, I repeatedly encounter the idea that the Buddha “saw the Dhamma” or that he “witnessed Dhamma” or the like. Other times, I’ve heard/read that the Buddha “saw” beings dying and taking rebirth, or that he “saw” the reality of anicca, dukkha, anatta, and the Four Noble Truths, etc.

I’m having difficulty understanding what this all means. Is this metaphorical sight? Is it literal sight, in the sense of a vision or dream?

In terms of our own meditation practices, when we are told that we should “see” certain things, e.g. seeing a nimitta, should we expect something similar? Metaphorical “sight”? Literal sight? Something else entirely?

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In India philosophy, also Buddhism, “seeing” means knowing something by direct experience,
In contrast with :

  1. Hearing from others
  2. Deducting conclusion from facts and hints
  3. Speculation

For example, you may hear from science teacher that water has boiling point of 100 C, and when water is boiling it will evaporate. This is knowing by hearing.
And then you experiment by boiling water until it is all gone, evaporate to the air. You see this yourself, you know this by yourself, through experience. This is seeing.

In the case of “seeing beings taking rebirth”, this is because Buddha has gained psychic power of clairvoyance, so He literally seeing this, though of course the previous meaning also apply.

So, while most of us here intellectually know about impermanence, it is still just a concept. We still based most of our decision and behavior on subconscious belief that we are immortal, and our object of desire is permanent.
The one who see the Dhamma, see directly that impermanence is not a concept - just like boiling water is not a concept. And so there would be paradigm shift. This happen at least at stream entry (sotapanna) - so “seeing the Dhamma” also sometimes means that someone has attained stream entry.

I hope this answer your question?


Thanks for the answer.
But what I’m trying to also ask is that what is the nature of seeing, like if an Arhat sees impermanence, does it mean like he is watching with his eyes shut like how one would watch something tangible under the microscope. Like is it literal seeing but with eyes closed? What is the experience like? While reading Ajahn Mun’s biography, it seemed like he could see the mind, the arising of a thought etc, like literally see something like how we see with open eyes, as though a world is seen but with the eyes shut. So it got me wondering!!

There is a difference between seeing the dhamma and seeing the rebirth destinations of beings. The latter is a higher power (of which there are six), five of which require acquisition of jhanas. Seeing is a property of insight as opposed to tranquillity. Seeing the dhamma as has been pointed out, means being able to ‘realize’ events of daily life as principles of dhamma. Everyone in secular life has the experience of ‘realization’ in some form, and it is the act of becoming fully aware of something as a fact. When there is ‘seeing’ of dhamma it is a direct experience.

In the Anapanasati sutta there is this connected with the fourth tetrad, which deals with insight:

"He who sees with discernment the abandoning of greed and distress is one who watches carefully with equanimity "—MN 118

Developing seeing dhamma as a skill therefore requires 1) concentration, and 2) focus on the impermanence of objects. This arising, maturing, and passing away should be contemplated internally and externally, with the consequent arising of dispassion for material objects. When that occurs then seeing reality from another hitherto unknown perspective will be opened up. That is seeing the dhamma.


‘Seeing’ a concept means having an experiential realization which translates information which has been acquired and is only ‘known’ into an observable and irrefutable fact. Once this happens, one has no further doubt about the veracity of the concept. One is independent of the teacher in that respect.

For a simple way of understanding this, one may just think back to one’s school lessons. Addition, multiplication, the laws of magnetism, valencies… these were just concepts when we were first exposed to them. Our initial practice of these concepts was hesitant and perhaps we often got it wrong. (I certainly struggled a lot with Math!! :laughing:) And then came the ‘aha’ moment. We grasped the concept, understood it fully… we could say with confidence that ‘Yes, I know multiplication, I can see how it works! Its like this!!’

In the same way, when one sees the essential principle of the Dhamma, one has no further doubt. Impermanence, Suffering, Not Self, Rebirth, Karma… everything clicks into place. Its that ‘Aha’ moment when the stainless vision of Ultimate Truth becomes crystal clear that marks stream entry. Sure, one may still have much work to be done to completely be free of Delusion. But the way forward is clear - all we have to do is walk it.


Nicely said, @faujidoc1 !

I just wanted to add how I “saw” the Dhamma for the first time clearly. It was the first precept “not killing/harming”. I simply couldn’t harm any “pests” anymore. I was unable to kill the mosquito on my arm.
I didn’t need eyes for it - just “the knowing” :slightly_smiling_face:It was a beautiful relief…


In this context, there is the eye of the flesh, the heavenly eye, the wisdom eye, i belief also the Dhamma-eye.

If you imagine your house that is also a kind of seeing, but it is not with the eye of the flesh.

As i have understood the heavenly eye can be opened and with this eye one see deva’s (and I also belief kamma and rebirth, but not sure about that)

Sometimes people experience some trauma and they see important parts of their life as in a video.
This is also a kind of seeing not with the eye of the flesh. It is a strange seeing.
Seeing ones past lives is probably similar.

Sometimes you can also see what will happen. One day i was an assistent caretakers. I was talking in the entree of the building with the chief caretaker. There was a lot of theft in the school. In the corner of my eye i saw a person entering the building. I new at once he was a thief. I said to the chiefcaretaker, 'please follow that person". In the canteen he was already forcing the coffeemachine to get the money. As an example of seeing. Like in intuition.

Seeing Dhamma, the opening of the Dhamama-eye, i do not truly understand yet. It is in the texts described as the kind of knowledge that: anything that arises will cease too. But what this really means i do not know.

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This is a very interesting thing to me also, and I think it’s a bit too easy to tone down its significance into a mere figure of speech given the amount of emphasis on themes involving vision throughout the sutras, esp. if you are willing and able to read sutras that aren’t strictly speaking EBT. The Lotus sutra, with its many notorious embellishments, contains so many thousands of references to vision that it seems impossible (to me) to not see it as a teaching concerned largely with the profound nature of vision itself, as well as a vision of the Dharma. The first section of the Surangama Sutra also is concerned largely with vision, but seems to require more intellectual power than I think I have! The Lotus seems more accessible to me, but there’s an element of how accessible my mind is to the thing also. Without genuine love and interest and respect there can be no having it for one’s own, no knowledge, and no right to it.

If you have a desire to know about a vision of the Dharma, you should not miss these sutras.

Seeing the 3 poisons manifested as the 5 hindrances

As he was sitting there, he said to the Blessed One, “‘The Dhamma is visible here-&-now, the Dhamma is visible here-&-now,’ it is said. To what extent is the Dhamma visible here-&-now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the wise for themselves?”

“Very well, then, Sivaka, I will ask you a question in return. Answer as you see fit. What do you think: When greed is present within you, do you discern that ‘Greed is present within me’? And when greed is not present within you, do you discern that ‘Greed is not present within me’?”

“Yes, lord.”

“The fact that when greed is present within you, you discern that greed is present within you; and when greed is not present within you, you discern that greed is not present within you: that is one way in which the Dhamma is visible in the here-&-now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be realized by the wise for themselves.


We learn from suttas to develop the perception of impermanence and non-self etc

I think there comes a point there is Aha! Moment. The mind suddenly see impermanence and non-self not with two eyes. But it’s a deep understanding that you have understood. So your seeing with the divine eye. What they call third eye.