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What is the Dhamma?

I’m looking for sutta references that describe “Dhamma” for purposes of recollecting the Dhamma to purify the mind, as the Buddha teaches in AN 3.70 and AN 11.13. In those suttas, the Dhamma is described as:

“Then there is the case where you recollect the Dhamma: ‘The Dhamma is well taught by the Blessed One, to be seen here & now, timeless, inviting verification, pertinent, to be experienced by the observant for themselves."
AN 11.13 (I’m using Thanissaro Bikkhu’s translations here because he leaves Dhamma untranslated, which I find more helpful than translations that translate Dhamma as “Teachings”.)

Is anyone aware of other suttas where the Dhamma is described differently or more qualities or attributes are mentioned?

Thanks!

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A.N 5.73
Then there is the case where a monk studies the Dhamma: dialogues, narratives of mixed prose and verse, explanations, verses, spontaneous exclamations, quotations, birth stories, amazing events, question & answer sessions. He doesn’t spend the day in Dhamma-study. He doesn’t neglect seclusion. He commits himself to internal tranquillity of awareness. This is called a monk who dwells in the Dhamma.

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Iti39
There are, bhikkhus, two successive Dhamma-teachings of the Tathāgata, the Arahant, the Fully Enlightened One. What are the two? ‘See evil as evil’— this is the first Dhamma-teaching. ‘Having seen evil as evil, be rid of it, be detached from it, be freed from it’—this is the second Dhamma-teaching. These, bhikkhus, are the two successive Dhamma-teachings of the Tathāgata.

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A.N4.29
Bhikkhus, there are these four Dhamma factors, primal, of long standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated and never before adulterated, which are not being adulterated and will not be adulterated, which are not repudiated by wise ascetics and brahmins. What four?

(1) “Non-longing is a Dhamma factor, primal, of long standing, traditional, ancient, unadulterated and never before adulterated, which is not being adulterated and will not be adulterated, which is not repudiated by wise ascetics and brahmins. (2) Good will is a Dhamma factor, primal, of long standing … (3) Right mindfulness is a Dhamma factor, primal, of long standing … (4) Right concentration is a Dhamma factor, primal, of long standing … not repudiated by wise ascetics and brahmins.

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> A.N 3.136

Monks, whether or not there is the arising of Tathagatas, this property stands—this steadfastness of the Dhamma, this orderliness of the Dhamma: All processes are inconstant… Stressful… Not- Self.

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The function of the recollections in AN 3.70 and 11.13 is not to purify the mind (which is the job of wisdom), but to correct unbalanced mind states such as on the one hand a dull mind state, or on the other an outwardly-scattered desire-affected mind. Recollection of the dhamma will infuse joy into an uninspired mind. That both those suttas are delivered to lay people is an indication of that level of teaching.

"[3] On whatever occasion a monk trains himself, ‘I will breathe in…&…out sensitive to the mind’; trains himself, ‘I will breathe in…&…out satisfying (gladdening) the mind’; trains himself, ‘I will breathe in…&…out steadying the mind’; —-MN 118

There are two faces to the dhamma, one where a practitioner studies the words, and another where they enter the path and put the words into practice. Your question is seeking a defined way to make the second step, which doesn’t exist. The Buddha cannot address the multitude of particular experience of individuals at different levels. The general instruction is contained in the seven factors of awakening beginning with the second factor investigation, whose eventual aim is to penetrate the four noble truths, particularly the second and third.

The Bodhisatta practises investigation:

"And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with sensuality arose in me. I discerned that 'Thinking imbued with sensuality has arisen in me; and that leads to my own affliction or to the affliction of others or to the affliction of both. It obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding.'

“As I noticed that it leads to my own affliction, it subsided. As I noticed that it leads to the affliction of others… to the affliction of both… it obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding, it subsided. Whenever thinking imbued with sensuality had arisen, I simply abandoned it, dispelled it, wiped it out of existence.”—MN 19

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AN 3.70 Reads:

“A corrupt mind is cleaned by applying effort. And how is a corrupt mind cleaned by applying effort? It’s when a noble disciple recollects the [Dhamma]:”

That’s what I was referring to when I said to purify the mind. Cleaning the mind sounds synonymous with purifying the mind, no? “Clean” is a synonym of “purify.” Purify Synonyms, Purify Antonyms | Thesaurus.com

That said, it sounds like we’re in agreement that to fully purify the mind of all defilements requires more than these recollection. On the other hand, I do find these recollections helpful on the path, and they are also included in instructions to the Sangha in at least on sutta.

Thanks for taking the time to respond:-)

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This link gives a very broad description of what Dhamma is all about.
Dhamma as the teaching is nothing but dependent origination. That is why the Buddha said;

“One who sees dependent origination sees the teaching (Dhamma); one who sees the teaching (Dhamma) sees dependent origination” . Mahāhatthipadopama Sutta (MN.28).

“One who sees the teaching (Dhamma) sees me. One who sees me sees the teaching (Dhamma)”. Vakkali Sutta (SN 22.87).
With Metta

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According to SN 55.28-29 (= SA 845-846), dhamma is ariyo ñāyo paññāya sudiṭṭho supaṭividdho “seeing well the noble method and penetrating it by insight”, which the specific contents are fully seeing paṭiccasamuppāda “arising by causal condition” (p. 231 in Choong MK’s The Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism).

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Hi @brooks

It’s great that you are practising the Anussatis, I personally believe they are a greatly undervalued as tools for making progress on the path. So, I want to reply in a way that emphasises the practice rather than an academic approach when doing Dhammānussati.

Remember that Dhammānussati is a contemplation, a recollection. This means that when we are exploring Dhamma in this context we are not we are not trying to see a textbook definition of “Dhamma”, we are not trying to force ourselves to suddenly have insight into dependent origination. We are not necessarily silent either, rather; it is a directed thinking practice, a pondering practice. So we are talking to our self a bit, remembering things we have heard, trying to make connections in our mind, and understand how all these things fit together.

When we contemplate in this way, we move beyond a theoretical understanding of Dhamma. We make the Buddha’s teaching more meaningful to ourselves because we are ‘synthesising’ it—to use an educational term—making sense of it in our own mind. This is important because so often we miss the stage of ‘pondering’ the Dhamma, which is what makes it authentic to our own experience and our personal understanding, and it’s also how we make the teachings stick in our mind long term.

This is how people would have learnt the Dhamma in the Buddha’s time; hearing a short teaching, contemplating it, pondering it, repeating it, memorising it, reciting it, really taking it to heart, and then seeing it for themselves and understanding it fully. We tend to miss such important steps these days, with our abundance of suttas online and in books full of teachings which we only half know, but mostly forget. We rarely take these teachings “inside” us by recollecting them or contemplating them deeply.

The Dhammānussati recollection is designed to lift the mind, especially to introduce joy into the mind. Once that happens, the thinking/contemplating/recollecting aspect falls away, being replaced by steady awareness of the various sequential stages mentioned in all the anussatis of joy, rapture, bodily tranquility, bliss, and samadhi which arise in dependence on each other, inspired by the contemplation of Dhamma.

In the context of Dhammānussati, the teachings is what we are recollecting. I think it’s a mistake to go looking for the Dhamma as a definition or some sort of insight aspect of Dhamma. Instead, we are specifically recollecting teachings we have heard.

A good example of this is seen in the Vimuttāyatana Sutta AN 5.26, where the Buddha discusses five opportunities for liberation:

  1. Hearing the Dhamma
  2. Teaching the Dhamma to others
  3. Reciting the Dhamma
  4. Pondering the Dhamma
  5. Using the teaching as a meditation object for samadhi and basis for wisdom

In each case, the meditator gets more and more famiiar with the meaning of the teaching and gains inspiration and joy from the teaching, leading to the same sequence of meditative states listed in the anussatis. This is the verse on pondering:

…the mendicant thinks about and considers the teaching in their heart, examining it with the mind as they learned and memorized it. That mendicant feels inspired by the meaning and the teaching in that Dhamma, no matter how they think about and consider it in their heart, examining it with the mind as they learned and memorized it. Feeling inspired, joy springs up… etc…

It’s this type of practice that we bring to Dhammānussati.

Sometimes the Dhamma is divided into three categories. I don’t know of any suttas where this is done, so it’s either abhidhamma or commentarial, but is interesting none-the-less:

  1. Pariyatti — that which is to be studied (the teachings of dhammavinaya generally)
  2. Patipatti — that which is to be practiced (sila, samadhi, panna, Noble Eightfold Path)
  3. Pativedha — that which is to be penetrated and attained (path attainments)

Hope this helps!

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I think ‘Dhammavinaya’ is about Dhamma and Vinaya, which are not the same meaning of just Dhamma. Dhamma and Vinaya are not the same contents.

I’ve seen Vinaya passages define Dharma as what the Buddha taught and whatever agrees with what the Buddha taught. The different versions have a list of five or six kinds of teachers (the Buddha, the disciples, gods, worldly sages, etc).

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@brooks @Akaliko It’s so nice to see the practice of recollection being discussed and praised. Thank you. :pray:t2:

I don’t think I’m contributing much to answering @brooks original question but from personal experience find this to be an essential part of practice and am happy to give it praise as well.

I give myself and imaginary audiences little dhamma talks reviewing the four noble truths, the eightfold path, and (my favorite) the five remembrances as the first part of my sitting practice or when I am too sleepy to attempt a sit.

With grattitude,

Mark

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I like this practical method of deciding what is/ is not the Dhamma Vinaya…

AN8.53
Gotami, the qualities of which you may know, ‘These qualities lead to passion, not to dispassion; to being fettered, not to being unfettered; to accumulating, not to shedding; to self-aggrandizement, not to modesty; to discontent, not to contentment; to entanglement, not to seclusion; to laziness, not to aroused persistence; to being burdensome, not to being unburdensome’: You may categorically hold, ‘This is not the Dhamma, this is not the Vinaya, this is not the Teacher’s instruction.’

“As for the qualities of which you may know, ‘These qualities lead to dispassion, not to passion; to being unfettered, not to being fettered; to shedding, not to accumulating; to modesty, not to self-aggrandizement; to contentment, not to discontent; to seclusion, not to entanglement; to aroused persistence, not to laziness; to being unburdensome, not to being burdensome’: You may categorically hold, ‘This is the Dhamma, this is the Vinaya, this is the Teacher’s instruction.

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Thanks for sharing, Mark. I do the same when contemplating the “Dhamma” portion of Anussati.

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Thanks you Venerable for your thoughtful and thorough direct response to my question!

Sadhu! I’ve been practicing Anussati for a period of months now and have found that this practice has indeed helped the Dhamma stay to the front of my attention and mind more than ever, especially off the cushion.

Helpful point:-)

The primary reason I prefer “Dhamma” over “Teachings” is because Dhamma seems to me to be like both the map and the path. In contrast, “Teachings” is just the map. My understanding is that the Dhamma exists regardless of whether a Buddha or Buddha’s teaching has arisen, but of course does include the Buddha’s teachings.

Wow! This is interesting and suggests that Dhammanussati can be a vehicle for awakening.

Thanks again:-)

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It’s a mighty thing, Kaccāna, the element of ignorance.

Mahati kho esā, kaccāna, dhātu yadidaṃ avijjādhātu.
~SN14. 13

in this population lost in ignorance, trapped in their shells, I alone have broken open the egg of ignorance and realized the supreme perfect awakening.

avijjāgatāya pajāya aṇḍabhūtāya pariyonaddhāya avijjaṇḍakosaṃ padāletvā ekova loke anuttaraṃ sammāsambodhiṃ abhisambuddho.
~AN8. 11

Such was the vision, knowledge, wisdom, realization, and light that arose in me regarding teachings not learned before from another.

pubbe ananussutesu dhammesu cakkhuṃ udapādi, ñāṇaṃ udapādi, paññā udapādi, vijjā udapādi, āloko udapādi.
~Sn56. 11

Realized One has clearly comprehended the principle of the teachings

dhammadhātu suppaṭividdhā yassā dhammadhātuyā suppaṭividdhattā
~MN58

A Realized One understands this and comprehends it,
Taṃ tathāgato abhisambujjhati abhisameti.

then he explains, teaches, asserts, establishes, clarifies, analyzes, and reveals it.
Abhisambujjhitvā abhisametvā ācikkhati deseti paññāpeti paṭṭhapeti vivarati vibhajati uttānīkaroti.

‘Look,’ he says,
‘Passathā’ti cāha
~Sn12. 20

This for the world’s the leading out,
its “as-it-is” declared to you,
and this to you I do declare:
be thus from dukkha free.

Etaṃ lokassa niyyānaṃ,
Akkhātaṃ vo yathātathaṃ;
Etaṃ vo ahamakkhāmi,
Evaṃ dukkhā pamuccati”
~Snp1. 9

The teaching is well explained by the Buddha—visible in this very life, immediately effective, inviting inspection, relevant, so that sensible people can know it for themselves.

svākkhāto bhagavatā dhammo sandiṭṭhiko akāliko ehipassiko opaneyyiko paccattaṃ veditabbo viññūhīti.

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Bhikkhus, there are these three foremost kinds of faith. What are the three?

“Whatever beings there are, whether footless or two-footed or four-footed, with form or without form, percipient or non-percipient or neither-percipient-nor-non-percipient, of these the Tathāgata is reckoned foremost, the Arahant, the Fully Enlightened One. Those who have faith in the Buddha have faith in the foremost, and for those with faith in the foremost the result will be foremost.

“Whatever states there are, whether conditioned or unconditioned, of these detachment is reckoned foremost, that is, the subduing of vanity, the elimination of thirst, the removal of reliance, the termination of the round (of rebirths), the destruction of craving, detachment, cessation, Nibbāna. Those who have faith in the Dhamma of detachment have faith in the foremost, and for those with faith in the foremost the result will be foremost.

“Whatever communities or groups there are, bhikkhus, of these the Sangha of the Tathāgata’s disciples is reckoned foremost, that is, the four pairs of persons, the eight individuals. This Sangha of the Lord’s disciples is worthy of gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, worthy of reverential salutation, the unsurpassable field of merit for the world. Those who have faith in the Sangha have faith in the foremost, and for those with faith in the foremost the result will be foremost.
Iti90

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But Dhamma is not Vinaya; Vinaya is not Dhamma.

Thank you for sharing all those quotations @lankaputra. Would you like to share with us the overall thinking that prompted you to collect and share them? :pray:

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