The Dhamma 

Dhamma refers to the omnipotent Truth that Siddhartha Gotama realized. It also refers to the collection of teachings that he delivered. The Buddha differentiated between intuitive Dhamma which he called "paramattha Dhamma" (sacca) and conventional Dhamma which he referred to as "vohara dhamma".  Conventional Dhamma is to be used an aid for intuitive realization. Much of what he said was recorded orally for four centuries after his death until it was finally written down in the first century BC. There are three extant versions of the Buddhist Canon in Pali, Sanskrit and Chinese. Theravada, the Southern school of Buddhism, follows the Pali Canon as transliterated in Sri Lanka. The various renditions of the Canon differ from school to school but the core discourses are present in all of them. The Buddha often said that his teaching was but a vehicle by which to undertake a journey and must not be clung to. It is not to become a burden and must eventually be let go of, just like all other mind phenomena. 




The Pali word, Dhamma, has three connotations. In its simplest meaning, without using a capital D, it means "thing" or "phenomena". When transcribed with a capital D it can mean "omnipotent Truth" expressed as Sacca Dhamma being the goal of Buddhist practice. It is also most generally used to refer to the accumulated teachings of the Buddha as recorded in the Buddhist scriptures or Tipitaka 


Twenty-six centuries ago very few people could read and write. It was limited probably to the Brahman class. It is likely that Siddhartha Gotama was illiterate, an illiterate genius. During the decades of his ministry, the many talks he gave, the conversations he had, the philosophical debates he undertook, the advice he rendered, the incidents that occurred, every word of significance was systematically organized and committed to memory by his faithful disciples. Nothing was written down. Everything was memorized and recited in the language in which the Buddha taught (Magadha or Pali). In this way his teaching was made accessible to people from all levels of society. Pali is like Latin. It is now defunct as a spoken medium but it still lives on in the Buddhist scriptures and in every morning and evening chanting session in every temple in the Buddhist world.


In the centuries after the Buddha’s passing, passages and teachings attributed to him were also included. More and more passages were added to the collection until it became so immense that it was difficult to manage. So, during the century before Jesus was living, the elders (or Theras) of the Sangha in Sri Lanka decided to write everything down, possibly to put an end to the growth of heretical teachings as they saw it. But more probably it was to protect the teaching from disappearing altogether as the Sangha declined. The various schools and monasteries from around the island were called upon to come and recite their collection of passages. 


The Pali chants were then written on palm leaves and placed into three bamboo baskets (Pitaka), one for each classification they fell under. The three collections of Suttas (discourses), Abhidhamma (higher Dhamma) and Vinaya (rules of discipline of the Sangha) became known as the Tipitaka or Three Baskets of Buddhist Teaching. This was most probably the greatest human literary achievement of all time and took many years to complete. Because the Theras were fearful of omitting something the Buddha may have said, they included everything. The Pitakas have now been translated into English and other languages. When arrayed in book form, they could fill several library shelves. When we consider all the other books and commentaries that have been written over the last 2000 years the task of finding what the Buddha actually taught can be quite daunting. [The collected teachings of the Buddha are called "sutta" (Pali) or "sutra". (Sanskrit) The compilation was first committed to a written form around 100BCE, forming what is called the Tipitaka (Pali) or "Tripitaka" (Sanskrit), or "3 Baskets". It has also come to known as the Pali Canon


Put simply, these baskets consists of

(1)   The Vinaya Pitaka - instructions for the sangha;

(2)   The Sutta Pitaka - the collection of the Buddha's teachings, comprising five collections, or nikayas, and totalling some 5,505 suttas, plus further compilations of many of his other quotes, etc grouped as the "Collection of Small Texts" which includes amongst them, the more widely-known Dhammapada and Jataka Tales; and

(3)  the Abhidharma Pitaka - the collection of the more profound philosophical texts. Collectively, the Tipitaka is said to be about eleven times the size of the Christian Bible.

(Source: Buddhist Council of Queensland website).]


Each of the Pitakas has its appeal to certain character types. Those who admire the skillful use of words, metaphors and expressions of profound wisdom relate to the Sutta Pitaka. Those who have a bent for heavy philosophical thought on the nature of the mind are attracted to the Abhidhamma Pitaka. For those who have chosen the path of ordination and a life in the Sangha, the Vinaya Pitaka must be studied. Of course, they are not mutually exclusive and knowledge of each can be very useful in our practice. It is just that there is so much content in it all that we can easily become distracted from the real task, and the Dhamma can become a burden if we are not mindful.


But a raft is for crossing over, not for carrying with you. A traveller along a highway encounters a stretch of water. The bank this side is dangerous and frightening. The further bank is safe and not frightening. But what if there is no ferry or bridge that will take him from the near side to the one beyond?

Then he could fashion a raft from bamboo and foliage and, striving with feet and arms he could cross safely to the other side.

What would you think if that man, having reached the other side, decided to lift that raft onto his shoulders and carry it with him? Is he doing what should be done with the raft? Having crossed over on the raft he should leave it at the beach for others to use and proceed on without it. This is what should be done with the raft.

This raft is the Dhamma taught by me for crossing over and not for holding onto afterwards. Thus will we be rid of all views, right or wrong.’ (M.N.1.21)

(This is the discourse to end all discourses.  It effectively distinguishes the teachings of the Buddha from all other political, religious and philosophical dogma that human intelligence has ever conceived.)


To condense all this accumulation of thought into a few pages is a difficult task. But there is one passage which sums up what the Buddha was all about:

‘Friend, I declare that in this fathom length body with its perceptions, moods and thoughts, there is the world’s origin, the world’s ending and the path leading to the world’s end.

The end of the world can never be reached by walking. Yet there can be no release from suffering so long as the end of the world has not been reached.

But someone who understands the world through wisdom and has perfected the decent way of living, will reach its end. Having realized the world’s end, never again will we long for this world or any other.’ (A.N. the 4s)


The world arises within our mind. The world’s termination is within our mind. Heaven and hell are to be found within. God and the devil are there too. We only know of the world through the faculties of our mind. This is a world of suffering. Outside the world we know with our mind there is no world. We have the capacity to create the world we experience through the power of our mind. We also have the capacity to bring an end to this same world through the development of wisdom.

Though we cannot physically walk to the end of this world, we can take little steps and develop a way of living that will progress us along the pathway to the end of this world. Having reached that end we will crave for this kind of world no longer.


‘Just as a stick thrown up in the air sometimes lands on its end, sometimes on its side or its tip, so too do beings obstructed by ignorance and fettered by desire migrate the round of births. Sometimes they go from this world into another and sometimes they come from another into this.

Friends, a beginning to the round of births is unimaginable. A starting point is not evident. Thus, for a long time, you have experienced dukkha, pain and destruction, and the cemeteries have grown. It has been a long enough time for you to have become dispassionate towards conditioned things, long enough time for you to have become detached from them.

It is not easy to find a being who was not formerly one’s mother, father, brother, sister, son or daughter over this long, long time.’ (S.N. 15.9 & 15.14)


And what is ignorance? Whatever exists in the absence of the understanding of suffering (dukkha), the origin of suffering, the end of suffering and the way leading to the cessation of suffering is called ignorance, friends. (S.N. 12.2)

‘Just as the beams of a house with a gabled roof meet at the peak, are joined at the peak, so too do all the bad states of mind meet in ignorance, join in ignorance and are rooted in ignorance.’ (S.N. 20.1)


The Law of cause and consequence is a fundamental concept within the Buddha’s teaching. Everything that arises in the world and in the mind exists because of a preceding condition. If that condition were removed then it would not arise.

 ‘Bhikkhus, I will teach you about Dependent Arising. With birth as the condition, ageing and death come to be. Whether Tathagatas appear or not, this natural situation will continue. The inter-relationship of things, this regulation of phenomena, this law of conditionality is something a Tathagata is fully awakened to and is able to comprehend. Having understood it, he declares it, teaches it, analyses and explains it. So, friends, this law of conditionality is a reality and not a myth. It is called Dependent Arising.

Ageing, death, birth, becoming, grasping and ignorance are conditioned, impermanent, dependently arisen, and of a nature to decay, pass away and terminate.

Having seen with perfect wisdom this dependent origination and the things which are dependently arisen a true follower does not run back to the past asking himself, “Did I exist at a previous time? What was I like in the past.”  Nor does he run ahead to the future saying, “Will I exist in the future? What will I be like in the future?”

 Nor does he have doubts about himself in the present, “Do I exist? Am I real? This being so, where did I come from, where will I go to?”  (S.N. 12.20)


What is the Noble Truth of the origin of suffering dependent upon? Ignorance conditions kamma formations, consciousness, feeling, craving, clinging, further becoming, rebirth and dukkha (decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, grief and despair.)’


With ignorance as the first condition all volitional acts come into being.

Conditioned by intentional acts consciousness comes into being.

With consciousness as the condition, mind and body come into being.

With mind and body as the condition, the six sense fields come into being.

With these six senses as the condition, contact comes about.

Because of this contact, feeling comes into being.

With feeling as the condition, craving comes into being.

With craving as the condition, existence arises.

With desire for existence as the condition, birth comes about.

Conditioned by birth, ageing, despair, death and all dukkha comes to be.

Friends, that is how this whole mass of dukkha originates,

And this is called Dependant Origination.

But with the complete disappearance and cessation of ignorance (the chain of dependence is reversed). That is how this whole mass of dukkha ceases.’ (S.N. 12.1)


‘I am the owner of my deeds, heir to them. My actions are my womb. My deeds are my kin. My actions are my protector. Whatever deeds I do, be they good or bad, I shall become their heir.’ (A.N. the 5s)


Every intentional act of body, speech or mind that we commit has a consequence. The word “karma” is now widely used in English to mean the result as well as the act which precedes it. The Pali word ‘kamma’ refers to an action and the word ‘vipaka’ refers to the consequence of that deed. It is an expression of the law of cause and effect once again. It relates to acts that arise out of volitional intent in the mind, not unintentional, random acts. In the Buddha’s teaching an act can include the words we choose to speak and the thoughts we choose think. How often is great harm done to others by the words we choose to say? How much suffering can one harsh word cause another?

As well as actions of body and speech, the thoughts we think also have consequences and can be the source of much distress especially to ourselves. Negative thoughts result in negative moods. Bad begets bad and good begets good.

‘Both the good and the corrupt deeds that we perform in life are our true property, which we take along with us. Our deeds are what follow us, like our shadow, never parting.  The decent acts that we perform are stored as luggage for a future life. Good deeds will be of good assistance to all beings in a world ahead.’ (S.N. 3.1.4)

‘What is their cessation? With the fading away and total ending of ignorance are the kamma formations extinguished. This takes place and so the extinction of the whole mass of suffering follows. And what is the course of practice? It is the decent eight-facetted way.’ (S.N.)


Thirty years or more ago there was a very popular Japanese children’s television program which had a cult following of adults. Monkey Magic traced the adventures of Pigsy, Monkey and Sandy as they escorted Tipataka the monk on a long journey to collect the Buddha’s teaching.

They had distinct personalities or character traits. Pigsy was a greedy, lazy and sleepy fellow. Monkey was an angry, impetuous, speedy character, prone to violence and always flying off the handle. Sandy had a stressed nature, full of anxiety and worry- a dreamer who was often ‘off with the fairies’. 

These three personified the basic traits of human nature of greed, anger and delusion (lobha, dosa , moha) which we all possess in varying degrees.

Tipitaka, however, was too good to be true. Of pure mind and noble intent he represented all that is good in human nature. He was always trying to keep the other three under control. Though at times prone to self-doubt, Tipitaka was stubbornly relentless in his quest to find the truth, much to the frustration of Monkey who reluctantly provided protection along the way. 

We were always unsure whether Tipitaka was male or female. He or she represented our ambivalent nature and the potential for highest human achievement latent in us all, our Buddha nature.


Four Brahmavihara - To have developed a mind filled with friendliness, compassion, mutual joy (taking joy in the pleasure of others) and equanimity is like living in the house of Brahma, the great God of the Hindu religion. The four brahmavihara address the way in which we should regard our fellow human and non- human beings without exception. We can cultivate a mind filled with these qualities and direct it to all beings that, like us, experience the impermanence of existence.


In the House of Metta (Friendliness), the Home of Karuna  (Compassion), the House of Mudita  (Mutual joy),  the Home of Upekkha  (Equanimity), this is where God truly resides.


Why do we do all this practice? Why go to so much effort and give up so much of what we treasure? Why put ourselves through all this without any guarantees of success?

We practice so that wisdom can arise. When the wisdom becomes intuitive and not discursive then the Dhamma, the real Dhamma (Saccadhamma), can be realized for ourselves. But once having realized the Dhamma we treat it as we do all other dhammas. We do not cling to it.

‘With the fading away of desire there is liberation of mind. By the fading away of ignorance there is liberation by wisdom. A mind flawed by craving is not free. Wisdom flawed by ignorance cannot develop.’ (A.N. the 2s)

‘When lust, anger and delusion have been abandoned one never thinks of harming oneself, or of harming others. Nor do we experience suffering and grief in our minds. We will not lead a bad life in actions, words or thoughts and we will understand, as it really is, what constitutes our own welfare and the welfare of others.

In this way the Dhamma is realizable here and now, of immediate result to be directly experienced by the wise.’ (A.N. the 3s)


It is said that the Buddha’s first discourse included four conspicuous truths about human existence. Though the first two are easily acknowledged, the other two require an element of trust that the great coach knew what he was talking about.


First Truth: Life is characterized by suffering and then you die!

No, this isn’t exactly what he said but it pretty much sums up the first truth. The obvious fact that we all are born, we experience pain and sickness, we suffer, we age and then we die is fundamentally unsatisfactory.


All this is called dukkha. It is our lot. Not all of us go through the whole process. Some of us experience varying degrees of suffering, some of us die young but we all die eventually. We often live out our life with unsatisfied desire. We wish our life could have been different. We harbour regret that perhaps we could have been more successful, wealthier, more loved, more respected, more famous and so on.


At some stage of our life we will face up to losing something we treasure. This could be someone or something we love. It could be youth or it could be life itself. All this is dukkha.


Second Truth: Craving is the cause of it all:


‘A beginning to the round of births is unimaginable. For beings obstructed by ignorance and chained by craving, migrating and going the rounds, a starting point is not evident. Just like a dog tethered to a post, if he moves or stands or sits or lies down, he is always close to that post.’ (S.N. 15.9)


From the time we are born we are driven by desire for one thing or another. Our desires are an endless procession of wants. It seems that no sooner is one desire fulfilled than another arises to take its place. Not getting what we want results in dukkha of one form or another. We long for fame, for beauty, for intelligence, or for happiness. We experience the sensual desires of taste, of beauty, of music and sex. Whether we crave for existence or we crave for death it is still craving. Unfulfilled desire also results in suffering. All this is observable in our own life.


‘The world is led by craving. By craving is it flawed and it is the primal thing that everyone follows after under its control.’  (S.N. 1.7.3)

Craving also has a cause. The root cause of craving is ignorance. Through the development of wisdom, ignorance is overcome and so craving is ended.


Third Truth: There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

The good news is that there is an end to suffering. The Buddha’s teaching is not all doom and gloom as some commentators seem to think. It is here that we are required to trust the Buddha when he says that there is an end to all this dukkha. At the same time he insists that we don’t just blindly believe him but that we practice and find out for ourselves. Only then can we know for sure.


Fourth Truth: There is a path of practice that leads to the end of the tunnel.

The Eightfold Path is the personal training program that the Buddha indicated would lead us to the end of the world. It consists of a series of training steps that we should take. Together they develop in us the decent way of living that he talked about.

The Eightfold training program is all about:


The way we see the world and the thoughts we think, the way we speak and the way we act, the lifestyle we choose and the amount of effort we exert, and the way we develop mindfulness and concentration through the practice of meditation.


Our training and practice is founded in the decent behaviour (Sila) of our daily life. It requires regular meditation (Samadhi) and the development of mindfulness (Sati). Out of this will grow the wisdom (Panna) we need to overcome the ignorance that chains us and break the conditioned cycle of life.

In summary the path of practice requires the perfect development of Sila, Samadhi and Panna. There is more on the Eightfold Way later in this booklet.


Dukkhanirodha gamini patipada – The fourth salient truth translates as ‘the practice steps that lead to the cessation of dukkha’. There is a path leading to the cessation of dukkha and there are steps we can take to progress along that way. This path is the Noble Eightfold Way (ariya atthangika magga). We could also call it the decent, eight facetted road. There are eight equal facets or components of practice that must be done in order to reach the state of existence where dukkha is terminated. The path is also referred to as the Middle Way (majjhimapatipada), the middle way of practice between the extremes of asceticism and hedonism. In our life as in our practice we try to travel the middle way, the steady path between excess.

The eightfold way of practice can be summarized as the development of perfect Sila (moral behaviour), Samadhi (concentration) and Panna (wisdom). With practice, we train ourselves in eight areas of body, speech and mind. Our practice is directed at these areas which need to be improved and developed. We chip away at it and hopefully one day we become perfect in these areas and intuitive wisdom arises. It is this wisdom which has the power to overcome the ignorance and delusion which initiates craving and breaks the cycle of ceaseless becoming.

Proper View (samma ditthi) – We train to achieve an ability to see the world for ourselves as it really is, the world as the Buddha saw it, unsatisfactory, impermanent and devoid of self. This view accords with Dhamma and is a foundation for the arrival of wisdom.

Proper Thoughts (samma sankappo) – We need to cultivate better thought patterns. We can choose the thoughts we think. Unhelpful, negative, thoughts are to be put aside and replaced with positive thoughts of friendliness, compassion, good will, kindness, generosity and mutual joy.

Proper Speech (samma vaca) – We train ourselves to be in control of the words we utter and not let them control us. We try not to express everything that pops into our mind without first considering the appropriateness or consequences of what we say. We try to slow down the flow of words from mind to tongue. How often do we regret the words we have just blurted out and wish we could take them back? Better we intercept them before we face that regret. Wars have started over a verbal insult.

Proper Actions (samma kammanto) – Every intentional act of body, speech or mind has a corresponding consequence. We train to improve the way we act and the way we behave. We try to eliminate unhelpful acts and perform deeds that build beneficial consequences. We try not to cause harm to others with our physical actions and try to do deeds which are helpful to others and ourselves.

Proper Lifestyle (samma ajivo) – We develop a lifestyle that supports our practice. This may involve a career change from occupations that are contrary to the Dhamma. We should live in an environment that best supports our practice. We may decide to change how we live altogether. Have a sea change, tree change. Though life in the Sangha provides a lifestyle that is most conducive, it is not suited to everyone.

Proper Effort (samma vayamo) – All facets of the path require effort on our behalf. We must be diligent and consistent in how we approach our practice and give it a priority in our daily life.

Proper Mindfulness (samma sati) – The development of mindfulness (sati) is very critical in our practice. Sati is discussed at length later in this booklet.

Proper Concentration (samma samadhi) – The development of a mind that is capable of deep concentration and focus is integral to the practice and is also the subject of expanded discussion later in this booklet.


The Nineteenth Century German philosopher, Friedrick Nietsche, was influenced by the emergence of Buddhist philosophical thought in Europe. From this he developed the corrupted notion of a superman. Adolf Hitler later took this to the extreme in the conceited vision of a master race. What the Buddha did describe were ten qualities that we have the capacity to develop within us and so become a super human being.

GENEROSITY (Dana) The capacity to give without expectation, not only in material items but of our own self for the benefit of others.  Mudita or mutual joy is a consequence of such selfless giving

MORAL BEHAVIOUR (Sila) The ability to behave responsibly and with discipline.

RENUNCIATION (Nekkhamma) The ability to let go and renounce all that we abhor and all that we hold dear.

WISDOM (Panna) The wisdom to understand the world as it really is.

ENERGY (Viriya) The energy to complete the difficult task of practice.

PATIENCE (Khanti) The patience to take however much time it takes without wavering.

TRUTHFULNESS (Sacca) To be truthful to others and to ourselves

DETERMINATION(Adhittana) The determination to endure the tension and vagiaries that will assault us on our journey. The ability to never, ever give up.

FRIENDLINESS (Metta) The demeanour to engage, support and encourage others through the understanding that all beings go through the same tribulations  and experiences of life as we do.

EQUANIMITY (Upekkha) The ability to accept the good with the bad as if they were the same.

These are known as the ten paramita or “perfections”.


‘When ignorance is got rid of and knowledge arises then grasping ceases. Not clinging, we are untroubled. We have individually attained to Nibbana. Destroyed is birth. So too is the noble way of living finished. Done is what was to be done. There is no more of being such and such, or so and so.


So it is that the decent way of living is not for personal achievement, nor honour, nor fame. It is not just for the development of moral behaviour, nor just for the benefit of meditation and the attainment of knowledge. Unshakeable freedom of mind, friends, is the goal of this life. This is the core. This is the ultimate aim.’ (MN 1).


Whether we call them heaps or aggregates or khandhas these five components when put together constitute our human existence. When these five khandhas break up and separate, we call it death. The five heaps are 1 part body, 3 parts mind and 1 part consciousness.


1)   Rupa – Body. It refers to our physical presence or corporeality. It includes any external bodily form, shapes, or material objects.

2)  Vedana – Feeling. It refers to feeling in the broadest sense. It includes sensation and sensory stimulation. It includes good feelings, bad feelings and neutral feelings. There is contact between the eye and a visible form and we become conscious of the sensation of sight and colour. The ear contacts a sound and we experience the sensation of hearing. The nose contacts an odour and the sensation of smell arises. The tongue contacts a flavour and we get the sensation of taste. The body surface contacts a texture and the sensation of touch arises. All these sensations can be painful or pleasant or neutral.

These are easily recognizable as the five senses in a Western concept. However, there is a sixth sense organ and sense field in Buddhist teaching, the citta or mind-heart. If we were to try and locate the mind it would not be in the region of the head or brain. It would be in the vicinity of the human heart. Mind objects (dhamma arammana) are features of mind. They continuously arise and contact the mind and feelings result. These feelings may be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Mind objects such as humour arise and we have pleasant feelings. Anger or fear may arise and it is unpleasant. Other objects of the mind, such as sleepiness have neutral feelings associated. It is all vedana.

3)  Sanna – Perception. Sanna is that aspect of mind which perceives, labels, identifies, remembers, and organizes data. Sanna is that aspect of thought that is dependent upon memory, learnt knowledge from the past, language based thought, or discursive thought. It encompasses perception, speech, recognition, memory, identification, naming, and labelling. Sanna gives meaning to mind objects as they arise. It is the chatter of the mind as it thinks discursively in a language it has learnt.

Sanna is the mind’s capacity for the identification of material form as being black, white, or beautiful. Sanna identifies a human form as being John or Mary. It gives things a name. The same applies for the other sensations, the identification of sound as loud, soft, sharp or musical; the recognition of odours as being, fragrant or putrid; the perception of taste as sweet, sour, or salty; the perception of touch as hard, soft, rough, smooth, hot, or cold; and the recognition of objects of the mind as anger, fear, tiredness, joy, envy or any emotion which may arise.

4) Sankhara – Mind fabrications. Sankhara is the aspect of mind which creates, enhances, exaggerates, builds habitual tendencies and constructs all sorts of things in the mind. It includes the ability of our minds to exercise free will and act with intent. It may be an idea or it may be a mood. A mood results when Sankharagoes to work on mind objects. Sankhara has the power to turn an emotion into a mood. The dhamma of fear becomes a phobia. A desire becomes lust. A thought becomes a fantasy. An idea becomes a philosophy. A notion of ‘I’ arises it becomes conceit.

For example, a mind object such as regret arises. Before it is allowed to pass away naturally, Sankhara exaggerates the object and it becomes a mood called depression and it stays with us longer than it otherwise would have.

Sankhara also includes various properties of mind which have intent (cetana) as its companion. It is Sankhara that wills the body to act. It is Sankhara that creates our habitual tendencies. Sankhara is the capacity of mind that embellishes the natural mind and can make it wholesome, unwholesome or neither. It includes our imagination, our creative thought, our ideas, our fantasies, our habits and the numerous moods generated by the mind. It is all Sankhara 

That facet of mind which is Sankhara can be responsible for the highest good and the deepest harm. It can come up with the greatest idea, create the most beautiful art or music. It can also take the human mind to the depths of depression and depravity. It is the birthplace of pride and conceit.  It is through Sankhara that the whole notion of ‘self’ is created, exaggerated and perpetuated.

5)  Vinnana – Most commonly referred to as "consciousness". It can also be described as 'separate knowing". Vinnana is the flame that ignites human existence. Without it the body could not form, we would have no cognition of sensation, no capacity to identify or perceive and no potential to create.  Consciousness arises at conception and sets in play the development of body and mind (nama). Nama here refers to the combination of vedana, sanna and Sankhara.

Vinnana is what is there before all else has developed. It is the primary state of clear awareness. Vinnana is the life force that conditions existence and fires up the khandhas. It is sometimes believed that Vinnana is the vehicle which carries the kamma of past and present existence, our instincts, our intuition and our inspiration. This may be conjecture but it is interesting to consider.

To more easily understand how the five Khandhas combine to become a human existence we should try to imagine the mind state of a new born baby. The infant has all the bodily features of a human which are undergoing rapid processes of change and growth. But the mind is truly a work in progress. The pure mind of the new born infant is bombarded with all sorts of sensations and mind objects. With eyes wide open she struggles to make sense of it all – light, dark, colour, hot, cold, pleasant, unpleasant feelings of all sorts, fears, images, sounds, smells, tastes and mind objects.

As the weeks pass sanna starts to develop and the baby starts to identify and classify things around her. At first it is only food or a gentle caress. Soon she is able to identify her mother’s face. Sankhara is at work too. Every emotion is exaggerated to achieve a result. The baby quickly learns that when she feels hunger she need only scream and food will be forthcoming.

Within a couple years the baby is starting to make sense of it all. She is getting it organized. She is beginning to cope with the world developing in her mind. She is developing language which helps to identify and classify things. She has memories now and knows when she has encountered something before.  She recognizes and labels the people and objects around her. She starts to perceive that she is at the centre of everything. Then, at some magical moment she becomes aware of herself and the notion of “I” and “mine” arises. The khandhas have assembled and she is in for a wild ride.


 ‘When little girls and boys play with mud pies they value and cherish them. So long as they are not rid of attachment, desire, affection, excitement and craving for those mud pies they will cherish them. But when those children are finished with all this and are no longer amused by mud pies, they destroy them with their feet and stop playing with them.

In the same way we should stop playing with the five heaps (rupa, vedana, sanna, sankhara and vinnana) and practise so as to end craving for the khandhas. Indeed Radha, the termination of this craving is Nibbana.’ (S.N. 22.2)

 (Dukkha, Anicca, Anatta)

The birth of wisdom accompanies the realization, the deepest insight that these five heaps that make up human life are full of disappointment and suffering. They are impermanent and transient. If we can’t hold onto them for long then we can’t own them and therefore they are not ours. All things, both physical and of the mind are unsatisfactory and full of disappointment. They are subject to change, decay and termination. This being so, we cannot regard them as being our self.

It is true for the human body and all material form. It is also true for everything that arises in the mind. It is the natural process for all things to be born, to grow, decline and pass away if left to follow the natural course. If we decide to cling to them or hold on to them, they may last a little longer but eventually they ‘all just fade away’.  

A mind object such as anger arises. If it is left alone it will pass. If we let Sankhara take hold of it, exaggerate it and call it “mine” then it will stay with us much longer but it too will eventually pass away. We can’t stay angry all the time.

So into our practice of Dhamma we have to incorporate this recognition and train ourselves not to hold onto these mental phenomena. We must practice at letting go. We know that they are filled with disappointment and misery, they will not last and so they cannot be anything that belongs to us much less anything that is us or our self. With the development of mindfulness we become skilled at letting go. The earlier we let go the less harm they can cause. We let go of them through the application of wisdom. They are just things of mind.  That’s all, no matter, never mind!

·    ‘Friends, the body, feelings, perception, mind fabrications and consciousness are impermanent. Whatever is impermanent is suffering (dukkha). Whatever is dukkha is not self. Whatever is not self should be seen with perfect wisdom for what it is, “This is not mine. I am not this. This is no self.’  (S.N. 22.15)

·   ‘Friends, an ordinary, untrained person might well be dispassionate towards the body and might well detach and release himself from it. He can see how it grows and decays, and how it is taken up and laid aside. But towards this thing which is called mind, is called thought, is called consciousness, an ordinary, untrained person is not able to be dispassionate, become detached and released from it, because for a long time it is that by which he identifies himself. It is that to which he has been attached and has held on to thinking, “This is mine. I am this.  This is my self.” Therefore, he is not able to detach from it.

·    It would be better if he regarded the body as himself rather than the mind because this body can easily be seen to last for just a year or ten years or fifty years or maybe a hundred years or more. But that which is called mind and thought continuously arises, both day and night, in every moment, one then another, just like a monkey wandering the forest, grabs one branch then lets it go to grab another.

·    Now, when contemplating this, a noble disciple gives rational attention to Dependent Origination thinking, ‘This being so, that comes to be. From the arising of this, that arises. If this had not arisen then that would not have come to be. With the cessation of this, that also ceases.’ (S.N. 12.61)

·   Bhikkhus, the development of the understanding of impermanence when practised removes all sensual passion and all passion for material existence. It removes all passion for becoming, removes all ignorance and abolishes all the conceit, “I am”. The development and practise of the understanding of impermanence removes (all this), just as a farmer’s plough cuts through all the spreading roots as he ploughs.’ (S.N. 22.102).