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What is the Dhamma?

That is much harder to do. I was thinking about the meaning of ‘light of wisdom’. It is light that reveales manifold forms but this is not in an materialistic sense.

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Although this doesn’t relate directly to my question, I appreciate this quote because part of recollecting deities (Anusatti), according to AN 3.70 et al., includes contemplating the deities’ faith (and my own), which is one of the causes for their rebirth in heavenly realms. This sutta gives a clearer picture of what the Buddha means by faith.

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I’ve also seen dhamma defined as the suttas (the nine types of suttas in Theravada and 12 in other traditions), which is basically saying the same thing. The suttas, after all, contain the teachings of the Buddha, the disciples, and other characters great and small who happen to agree with them.

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Venerable, although I already posted a comment about your statement here, upon further reflection, I appreciate your suggestion, and I plan to give more importance to recollecting the teachings as part of the Dhamma than I did before. Thank you!

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I’m a teacher. Passive revision isn’t very powerful. Here are two things which have helped me remember teachings:

  1. Transcribing Dhamma talks
  2. Where possible, actively responding to people who have questions or problems with relevant suttas (not necessarily the most relevant suttas in existence as my knowledge of suttas is extremely limited).

I would imagine that translating suttas is the, or one of the, most effective ways to recollect the teachings.

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Did you mean reflection?

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I have always assumed that Dhammanussati means contemplating the six qualities of the teaching. For example contemplating the qualities of the Buddha is Buddhanussati and contemplating the qualities of the community of monks is Sanghanussati.

Besides, the teaching is so vast that all the discourses in the Sutta Pitaka fall under the teaching. I am not contesting what you have said but I thought I would just clarify.
With Metta

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What are the six qualities of the teaching?

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“svākkhāto bhagavatā dhammo sandiṭṭhiko akāliko ehipassiko opaneyyik-o paccattaṃ veditabbo viññūhīti”.

“The teaching is well explained by the Buddha— directly visible, immediately effective, inviting inspection, relevant, to be personally experienced by the wise”.
With Metta

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Yes, that’s exactly what the recollection says.

Maybe I didn’t make it clear in my post, but I mentioned I wanted to emphasise a practical way of approaching Dhammānussati rather than theoretical, but hopefully it’s obvious that I was using the term Dhammānussati to refer to the qualities listed in the recollection itself.

The list of qualities is the framework of the recollection, but each quality needs to understood through the teachings, that’s how we can know for ourselves those qualities are real and true.

People approach the Anussatis in three unskillful ways. Firstly, they merely recite these words in an unthinking, almost ritualistic way, chanting them as part of ceremony, not knowing the meaning, or thinking if it as some magic formula. This is not really Dhammānussati.

Secondly, simply listing the qualities in one’s own mind, repeating the words over and over, just using the terms of the quality alone - the words will just remain dry and abstract, without useful context or practical application. When words remain isolated from the teachings which they describe they are just words. For example, we cannot get further on the path by reciting “come and see”, we actually need to go and see!

Thirdly, people get stuck on the exact meaning of a translated word, and this can radically change the meaning; e.g. is akāliko timeless, or is it immediately effective? Not knowing creates doubts and confusion, or it just becomes a purely intellectual exercise. They want to see the exact definition, they meditate waiting for an insight into a word. Sure, the meaning of the words is important, but the meaning of the words is not the meaning of the words, if you know what I mean. :laughing: We need to bring something more to this contemplation.

Remembering that the purpose of the Anussatis is to inspire confidence and faith, it’s important to make connections to one’s own experience of the teachings, otherwise it does not produce the verified faith that the contemplation is meant to instill. Without this connection to the teachings, and how they help us, we certainly won’t produce the joy, rapture and other states that are mentioned in the suttas.

After all, there’s a big difference in merely reciting or just thinking about the quality of “inviting inspection” and actually taking up the invitation to do some inspecting! That is exactly what the words of the recollection encourage us to do…

This is how we will get the most out of it and how we come to know for ourselves that the Buddha’s teachings is well explained —because it makes sense to us! Similarly, we can directly see the Dhamma for ourselves in our own experience of the teachings, that’s how we can know it is immediately effective, because we have seen it work in ourselves. We see how useful and relevant it is, and through personal experience of the teachings we can develop wisdom.

We make progress when we develop convicton. This happens when we make connections between the Dhamma we have heard and the qualities of the Dhamma in the recollection.

A good example of merely knowing the words of Dhammānussati and knowing how to understand them is shown in the Aññatarabrāhmaṇa Sutta
AN 3.53
:

"Master Gotama, they speak of ‘a teaching visible in this very life’. In what way is the teaching visible in this very life, immediately effective, inviting inspection, relevant, so that sensible people can know it for themselves?”

“A greedy person, overcome and overwhelmed by greed, intends to hurt themselves, hurt others, and hurt both. They experience mental pain and sadness. When greed has been given up, they don’t intend to hurt themselves, hurt others, and hurt both. They don’t experience mental pain and sadness. This is how the teaching is visible in this very life, immediately effective, inviting inspection, relevant, so that sensible people can know it for themselves…"

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Thank you Bhante for your detailed and thorough explanation. One practical problem however is understanding what the essence of the teaching is because as I said earlier teaching is vast. In the Sutta Pitaka alone there are over 17 thousand discourses let alone Abhidhamma.

The quintessence of the teaching is Dependent Origination. As you know DO is interpreted in so many ways with each proponent steadfastly sticking to their version. In this context do you think it is correct to contemplate the six qualities in relation to the version of the DO that one accepts as correct although it may not be what the Buddha taught.
I ask this question because not all versions can be correct. Yet the proponent may be able to contemplate its version in the light of the six qualities.
What are your thoughts?
With Metta

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My suggestion would be keep it simple and to not overthink it. Why don’t you put DO aside and use
something easy for you to see and verify for yourself, such as greed, hatred and delusion as the Buddha himself described in Sutta above?

My personal practice of Dhammānussati is not intellectually analysing the teachings, it’s more that in the process of doing the recollection something comes to mind, I don’t go looking for teachings to ponder, but an aspect of Dhamma comes up because of the recollection itself. It’s more an emotional response than an intellectual one. But my headspace is often in the teachings, people who are not regularly interacting with the suttas might need more of a prompt, perhaps?

Remember that the recollection is designed to kick off the sequence of joy, rapture etc. So, if you’re getting stuck in the analysis stage then you arent getting the full benefit of the practice. You won’t experience all those blissfully wholesome states that draw the mind deeper into samadhi, which is what we need have the clarity and power to see with insight and develop wisdom.

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Thanks again Bhante for your prompt response and I agree with you wholeheartedly.
With Metta

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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.

The verse literally begins ‘svākkhāto’. The question for me in context of the OP. Does dhamma here mean what is spoken or what it is pointing to, in a general sense or even a specific sense as in Iti90? Although dhamma can have both meanings.

I thought the quintessential teachings are the Four Noble Truths and Eight-Fold Path? Of course, the Four Noble Truths would include DO. I also heard someone say recently the quintessential teachings are about impermanence. That seemed a little overly reductionist.

I bring this up because I find contemplating the Four Noble Truths, including the Eight-Fold Path, to be fairly straight forward and usually an effective contemplation.
with metta:-)

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Maybe different context will clear up some things. Compare SN 42.12 where in the context of ascetism dhamma is substituted for “wearing away” (nijjarā):

There are these three kinds of wearing away (nijjarā) that are visible in this very life, immediately effective, inviting inspection, relevant, so that sensible people can know them for themselves. What three?

A greedy person, because of greed, intends to hurt themselves, hurt others, and hurt both. When they’ve given up greed they don’t have such intentions. This wearing away is visible in this very life, immediately effective, inviting inspection, relevant, so that sensible people can know it for themselves.

A hateful person, because of hate, intends to hurt themselves, hurt others, and hurt both. When they’ve given up hate they don’t have such intentions. This wearing away is visible in this very life, immediately effective, inviting inspection, relevant, so that sensible people can know it for themselves.

A deluded person, because of delusion, intends to hurt themselves, hurt others, and hurt both. When they’ve given up delusion they don’t have such intentions. This wearing away is visible in this very life, immediately effective, inviting inspection, relevant, so that sensible people can know it for themselves.

These are the three kinds of wearing away that are visible in this very life, immediately effective, inviting inspection, relevant, so that sensible people can know them for themselves.”

Or AN 3.55 where in the dialog with a brahmin dhamma is substituted with an extinguishment (nibbāna):

“Master Gotama, they say that ‘extinguishment (nibbāna) is visible in this very life’. In what way is extinguishment visible in this very life, immediately effective, inviting inspection, relevant, so that sensible people can know it for themselves?”

“A greedy person, overcome by greed, intends to hurt themselves, hurt others, and hurt both. They experience mental pain and sadness. When greed has been given up, they don’t intend to hurt themselves, hurt others, and hurt both. They don’t experience mental pain and sadness. This is how extinguishment is visible in this very life.

A hateful person …

A deluded person, overcome by delusion, intends to hurt themselves, hurt others, and hurt both. They experience mental pain and sadness. When delusion has been given up, they don’t intend to hurt themselves, hurt others, and hurt both. They don’t experience mental pain and sadness. This, too, is how extinguishment is visible in this very life.

When you experience the ending of greed, hate, and delusion without anything left over, that’s how extinguishment is visible in this very life, immediately effective, inviting inspection, relevant, so that sensible people can know it for themselves.”

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This is not so. If that was the case the Buddha would not have said the following.

“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).

It is in fact the other way around. DO includes the four noble truths and the noble eight fold path as well. More specifically the forward order of DO explains the first two truths and the reverse order explains the third and fourth truths.

This again is only partly correct because the three characteristics of all conditioned phenomena are impermanence, suffering and not-self. DO is an embodiment of these three characteristics.

Path is the rational option for anyone who understands the Noble Truths. You would be better off if you try to see the four noble truths from within DO.
With Metta

The sutta you quote above MN28, spoken by Sariputta, specifically states that all skillful qualities (including the description of Dependent Origination towards the end ) can be included in the four Noble Truths; indeed this is the point of the whole sutta, and the very meaning of the sutta’s title:

The footprints of all creatures that walk can fit inside an elephant’s footprint, so an elephant’s footprint is said to be the biggest of them all. In the same way, all skillful qualities can be included in the four noble truths.2.2

Here, Sariputta is using the Four Noble Truths as a framework through which all other dhamma can be explored, and given that all the meditations mentioned in this sutta come under the Four Noble Truths, it is clear that it is being treated as an expansion of the Four Noble Truths rather than the other way around.

Yes. This is said to be the special insight of the Buddhas. This is the teaching he specifically mentions in his very first sermon, whereas DO is not mentioned at all.
In suttas where the gradual instruction method is used, such as the Upali sutta MN56, the Four Noble Truths are again made known as the teachings special to the Buddhas.

And when he knew that Upāli’s mind was ready, pliable, rid of hindrances, joyful, and confident he explained the special teaching of the Buddhas, suffering, its origin, its cessation, and the path.

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It’s because of dependent origination that the eightfold path is possible, and the four Noble truths and their respective ennobling tasks effective.

Why is that ? It’s because the natural and impersonal process of liberating insight as summarised in different texts such as SN12.23 is at the core of the reality and possibility of awakening.

:anjal:

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With all due respects to you Bhante I think this is where we have to agree to disagree. I will draw your attention to the following which clearly talks about the arising of the aggregates on dependence.

“And these five grasping aggregates are indeed dependently originated. The desire, adherence, attraction, and attachment for these five grasping aggregates is the origin of suffering. Giving up and getting rid of desire and greed for these five grasping aggregates is the cessation of suffering.”

Further, Venerable Sariputta sumps up the discourse with;
“One who sees dependent origination sees the teaching. One who sees the teaching sees dependent origination"
which shows that since the suffering and its origin are dependently originated the teaching of the four noble truths is DO hence it is the quintessence.
With Metta