The Buddha’s basic teaching and their correct practice


(An extract)

by Sayagyi U Ba Khin

The threefold Buddha-sasana is the pariyatti-sasana (the study of the scriptures), the patipatti-sasana (the practice of silasamadhi and pañña: morality, concentration and insight) and the pativedha-sasana (the practice of the attainments of the paths and fruits). The study of the scriptures is the base for the practice of morality, concentration and insight. In the same way the practice of morality, concentration and insight is the cause for the attainment of the paths and fruits of awakening. Therefore, if we reject the study of the scriptures and the practice of morality, concentration and insight, we cannot attain pativedha which is the bliss of Nibbana.

The Buddha said to Ananda before attaining final Parinibbana, “Ananda, the Dhamma (Suttanta and Abhidhamma) and the Vinaya have been taught by me, expounded by me. The teachings are your teacher when I am gone.”

Pariyatti is the teaching of the Buddha, the arahats (fully awakened beings) and the ariyas (persons who have tasted Nibbana), who have really and in detail understood the Four Noble Truths and teach what they themselves know to be true, what they have seen to be true and real from their own experience. At times, when it is not possible to find noble people such as a Buddha, arahats or ariyas to revere and rely on, one will have to establish as one’s teacher the teachings of the Buddha contained in the 84,000 sections of the scriptures. One has to practise these teachings which lead to the path (magga) and fruition (phala) states and Nibbana. When one meets with a Buddha, arahats and noble ariyas, it is truly possible to practise morality, concentration and insight and attain the paths and fruits of awakening by merely listening to and following their teachings, which are given based on firsthand personal experience and knowledge.

In short, we can say that one can attain the path and fruition stages of Nibbana, which are called pativedha, after the study of the texts and after subsequent practice of the teachings. In the same way, those who approach noble people who have reached the attainment of the paths and fruits of awakening can take and follow instructions given by these ariyas, practise sila, samadhi and pañña and attain the path and fruition stages of Nibbana.

There are three ways of teaching the texts:
(1) teaching through similes, also called “The snake charmer’s way” (alaggaddupama)
(2) teaching to effect the escape from samsara, (nissaranattha)
(3) teaching like a treasurer. (bhandagarika)

The snake charmer’s way. In this method the teacher has forgotten that the primary benefit of the Buddha Dhamma is the escape from the conditioned world and the attainment of the path and fruition stages of Nibbana. This person, who is lost to the path and fruition stages, teaches like a snake charmer with the intention to oppress and control others with his knowledge. This type of person does not know the real benefits of the Dhamma and is unable to experience the taste and essence of the Dhamma. Therefore, this way of teaching the scriptures is called the snake charmer’s way.

Teaching to effect the escape from samsara. This way of teaching can have two aims: (a) to cause people to escape from this world and attain magga, phala, nibbana in the dispensation of this Buddha, or (b) to cause people to fulfil the perfections (parami) through the practice of sila, samadhi and the other noble practices.

Teaching like a treasurer. The arahats, who have attained freedom from defilements in the dispensation of the Buddha, aim to establish the teachings for a long time to come, and in order to ensure the continuation of the teachings, they teach the Suttanta, Vinaya and Abhidhamma. The arahats who called the Buddhist councils practised this way of teaching and by their instruction they protected and guarded the noble sasana.

The first discourse of the Buddha, called the Setting in Motion of the Wheel of the Dhamma, (“Dhamma-cakka-ppavattana Sutta”), is the source from which the great river of sweet water called the pariyatti-sasana springs. The pariyatti-sasana consists of the 84,000 sections of Suttanta, Vinaya and Abhidhamma. The Discourse on Setting in Motion of the Wheel of the Dhamma incorporates the Four Noble Truths: the truth of suffering, the truth of the origin of suffering, the truth of the ending of suffering and the truth of the path leading to the end of suffering. These are the pivot of the Buddhist faith. To establish this pivot, the truth of suffering has to be understood completely and with this understanding the cause of suffering is removed and destroyed. On doing away with the cause of suffering, suffering ceases and Nibbana is attained. It is very important to always keep in mind the fact that in order to attain Nibbana the Eightfold Noble Path has to be practised and that only this practice, which is patipatti, has the power to lead the seeker to the understanding of the path and fruition stages of Nibbana (magga and phala).